Part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Elk Refuge protects a 24,700-acre (10,000-hectare) winter habitat for the Jackson Elk Herd and several other endangered species of mammals, birds, and fish. With Grand Teton National Park as a backdrop, visitors can spot 47 species of mammals and nearly 175 species of birds.
The National Elk Refuge represents one of the best wildlife viewing opportunities from Jackson Hole. Visitors can choose to explore independently by driving along Refuge Road or join a guided tour of the land. Sleigh rides are popular in winter, while walking and biking tours occur in the summer.
The Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center, located in the southwest corner of the refuge, offers information on the history and habitats of the surrounding landscapes. History buffs should stop at historic Miller Ranch to learn about the first homesteaders to settle in the area. A visit to the refuge can also be combined with a tour of Grand Teton National Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The National Elk Refuge is a must-visit for families and wildlife enthusiasts visiting Jackson Hole.
- Visit the refuge on a half-day tour, or combine it with Grand Teton National Park for a full day of wildlife viewing.
- Keep a safe distance from wildlife, for both your safety and the animals’.
- Dress in layers with sturdy shoes, and don’t forget to bring sun protection, even in winter.
How to Get There
The entrance to the National Elk Refuge is just a mile from Jackson Hole. Most visitors drive there independently, though it’s also possible to join a wildlife watching tour with included round-trip transportation from Jackson Hole hotels.
When to Get There
It’s possible to spot wildlife at the refuge year-round, but the best time for elk sightings is near dawn or dusk during the winter months, when some 5,000 elk come to the refuge to overwinter. If you visit during summer, ask at the visitor’s center for suggestions on where to spot elk.
Each weekend before Memorial Day, the Jackson Hole community gathers in Town Square to celebrate ElkFest. Among the main events is an antler auction, where thousands of pounds of elk antlers collected by the National Elk Refuge staff are sold to benefit the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Jackson District Boy Scouts.