Attraction of the Week: The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole, a skier’s paradise with 3 fantastic ski resorts, including Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which averages an incredible 360 inches of snow per year, is an ideal location for a winter getaway! Grand Targhee (receives over 500 inches of snow per year) and Snow King Resort (offers night skiing) are 2 other options. While you could easily keep yourself busy skiing your entire vacation, unfortunately, you would be missing out on other great winter activities in the area, namely the fantastic National Elk Refuge.
The National Elk Refuge – a hidden gem
The National Elk Refuge provides a winter home for the Jackson Elk herd. Each winter, thousands of elk migrate to the lower elevation refuge for the food supply. In early spring, they begin to make their way back to the mountains. Depending on when you visit, you can see hundreds or just a handful of these beautiful animals. In addition to elk, you may get lucky and catch a glimpse of wolves and bison. Special boundaries are set up so the elk are free to leave, however, special fences prevent them from walking into traffic.
Winter horse drawn sleigh rides take guests around the refuge. On this narrated ride, you will learn all about the refuge and the Jackson Hole area. The guides are very friendly and interesting, and the tour both educational and fun.
The famous Elk Antler Arches
As you travel around the refuge, you will notice tons of elk antlers. Note that it is illegal to take them from the refuge. Each year the elk shed their old antlers and new ones take their place. Elkfest is an annual auction of the antlers with 75% of the proceeds going back into maintaining the refuge. Jackson Town Square is home to 4 elk antler arches made from the shed antlers. If you visit during the holiday season, you will be able to see the arches decorated with beautiful lights.
The sleigh ride is a blast and the photographic opportunities are endless. The spectacular scenery of Jackson Hole is a real treat. What a great winter activity to incorporate into your trip!
Tours begin in December and end sometime in April. In the absence of snow, the sleigh ride becomes a wagon ride. Either way, you are sure to enjoy the picturesque ride around the refuge. I highly recommend visiting the National Elk Refuge, as a fun, educational, and scenic way to explore Jackson Hole.
Location, Hours & Ticketing Information
Tickets for the sleigh ride tour can be purchased at The Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor’s Center located at: 532 North Cache Street in Jackson, Wyoming. From the visitors center, you will take a free shuttle ride over to the refuge.
Prices are as follows: Adults: $20, Children ages 5-12: $15, Children under 5: free. If you want to go all out, you can rent a private sleigh (16-18 people tops) for $350.
For more information on the history of the refuge, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
Other recommended activities around Jackson Hole
Winter recreation at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort – Both Nordic and alpine skiing, tubing, and dog sled rides are available.
Shopping, dining & sightseeing in Jackson Town Square – The unique, picturesque downtown is home to many local businesses and offers great views of surrounding landscapes. Also be sure to check out the elk antler arches!
Scenic drive along Gros Ventre Rd. – Plenty of moose sightings and fantastic mountain views to take in along the way!
Have you ever visited The National Elk Refuge? How many elk (and other types of wildlife) did you see on your tour? In addition, what other Jackson Hole activities would you recommend?