National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole

Take a sleigh ride and see more than 5,000 elk when they migrate to this lower elevation during the winter near Grand Teton National Park.
Publish date:
Migrating elk at the National Elk Refuge

Migrating elk at the National Elk Refuge

If you have a hankering to see elk—and we mean a lot of elk—then visit the National Elk Refuge, just a mile from Jackson, Wyo.’s Town Square, in the winter. The refuge was originally established in 1912 to protect one of the world's largest elk herds. It spans 24,700 acres. For more information, visit

Run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Elk Refuge provides a winter habitat for elk. During the summer, this "Jackson herd" grazes in higher elevations - 30 percent in Grand Teton National Park, 30 percent in Gros Ventre, 25 percent in Yellowstone National Park and 15 percent in the Teton Wilderness.

The animals typically migrate down from the high country when cold weather sets in from late October through December in search of food. They make their way back to higher elevation in April and May.

So just how many elk will you see? The refuge’s objective is 5,000 elk, but their numbers regularly reach 6,000 to 7,000 or even more. The animals can leave and re-enter the refuge on the northern and eastern boundaries, but 8-ft high fences on the southern and western borders exist to protect the elk from traffic in Jackson and along Highway 26, respectively. There are mounded and raised “elk jumps,” or openings in the fence, on the western boundary that allow animals to get into the refuge, without letting them get out.

Winter sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge. Photo by USFWS Lori Iverson

Winter sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge. 

One of the most popular ways to explore the refuge is by taking a sleigh ride. The tours, which run from mid-December to early April, last for roughly an hour and allow participants to see the elk up close safely. Call or visit the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center at 532 North Cache Street, Jackson, WY; 307-733-3316, or Jackson Hole Central Reservations at (888) 838-6606 for more information.

Because elk shed their antlers each year, you may see the antlers scattered along the ground. Don’t take them home. It’s illegal to collect items from the refuge, including antlers, artifacts and fossils.

Related Story: Jackson Hole's Antler Arch Tradition

If you visit in the summer, you’re not likely to see elk in the refuge. But don’t despair! There are plenty of opportunities to see them up in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, located just a few hours north. Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot them. Check in with the Visitor Center for even more info about where see them.

Horizontal rule
Winter Trip Planner cover

Start planning a winter vacation by downloading the Winter Trip Planner for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park today.


Antler Arch in Jackson, Wyoming's Town Square by Grant Ordelheide

Jackson Hole’s Elk Antler Arch Tradition

The four elk antler arches guarding the corners of Town Square, have been featured in thousands of family photos over the years.

Teton Village at night.

Where to Stay in Winter in Grand Teton National Park

In Grand Teton, all’s quiet on the western front in winter, except one unique lodging operation that come alive when the snow starts to fall.

Trumpeter Swan by Jeff Vanuga

Idaho's Harriman State Park & Wildlife Refuge

A 16,000-acre wildlife refuge with moose, elk, sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans. Enjoy some of the nation's best fly fishing on Henry's Fork.

Winter sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge. Photo by USFWS Lori Iverson

15 Things to Do in Winter in or near Yellowstone

Our list of top Yellowstone winter activities includes watching wildlife, swimming in hot springs, eating waffles and taking exhilarating rides.

Jackson Hole Aerial Tram from Teton Village.

6 Big Adventures at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Right next to Grand Teton National Park, spend a day on the Via Ferrata experience, riding the tram, tackling the ropes or biking and hiking downhill.

Yellowstone Warming Hut

Winter Warming Huts in Yellowstone

Experience Yellowstone in its winter glory, then stop by a warming hut to grab a bite to eat, take a load of your feet and/or get away from the chill.

Snowmobiles passing bison on a road in Yellowstone

48 Hours in Winter in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Day 1: Head to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park for elk, art and views. Then spend Day 2 among Yellowstone's wildlife and geysers.

Mountain Goats at Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park

Where to See Wildlife in Glacier National Park

You’ll see more than incredible views when you visit Glacier. Keep an eye out for these six fascinating animals.

A woman watching a bison from a safe distance in Yellowstone

How close can I get to wild animals in Yellowstone?

Stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from other large mammals like bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes.