Discover Jackson Hole’s Top Winter Wildlife Experiences & Tours
Astonishingly beautiful and breathtakingly wild, Jackson Hole’s sweeping mountain landscapes deliver more than meets the eye. Take a closer look and you can catch glimpses of our wild neighbors. Our valley and surrounding wild lands and national parks provide a year-round refuge for an abundance of iconic species. For nature enthusiasts, Jackson Hole in winter does not get any better.
The allure of Jackson Hole’s abundant wildlife has long captivated animal lovers and wildlife watchers from around the world. In an extraordinary event over 20 years ago, a mother mountain lion with three cubs denned on Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge in the winter near Jackson Hole for 42 days enthralling photographers, biologists, naturalists, and visitors. More recently, a beloved 26-year-old grizzly bear emerged from hibernation in the spring of 2020 with not the typical one or two cubs, but four cubs of the year (known as coy) in Grand Teton National Park delighting onlookers with her rare litter.
Such is the element of surprise that awaits the curious here in Jackson. This region, situated in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, is one of the few areas in the lower 48 states where the wilderness still brims with native species of wildlife.
Every winter, thousands of elk migrate south from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks to spend the coldest days of the year on the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge. This herd represents the largest concentration of wintering elk in North America and remarkably, is just footsteps away from the town of Jackson.
Just a mile down on the National Elk Refuge Road, bighorn sheep often graze in winter amid the ragged outcroppings of rocks on Miller Butte where they can be easily viewed. Occasionally, the sheep venture into the meadows near the roadside making for an up-close and personal encounter with them. The lambs, already skilled at technical climbing, are particularly amusing to watch alongside the adult rams and ewes. Witnessing the large rams butting heads in winter is possible, but it is a courtship behavior that is more common during the fall.
Among the braided channels along the northern reaches of Flat Creek — the creek that meanders south through Jackson — trumpeter swans, North America’s largest waterfowl, gracefully swim and forage for underwater grasses. These swans like to winter in this site, and watching them float in the still waters of the creek as the early morning mist rises with the sun is breathtaking, especially amid the backdrop of wintering elk and Sheep Mountain, colloquially called the Sleeping Indian because of its distinctive silhouette.
A viewing platform at the north border of Jackson provides an intimate glimpse of the National Elk Refuge. From there you can observe the massive elk herd and trumpeter swans while often spotting bald eagles, mule deer, coyotes, red tail hawks, foxes, and even wolves from time to time.
Just a few miles north of Jackson is prime moose habitat. Often six to eight bull moose known as the ‘boys club’ bed down near the Gros Ventre River and are visible from the highway between the Jackson Hole Airport and the town of Jackson Hole. The Kelly loop that starts from the highway at the roundabout heading to Kelly and traverses the Antelope Flat Road is another stretch where moose often gather providing a chance to cast your eyes upon this popular species — the largest of all the deer species.
The perfect way to punctuate your Jackson Hole wildlife viewing experience is to visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art which is perched high above the National Elk Refuge. The view from the Members’ Lounge which is equipped with two spotting scopes and open to admission passholders (except during private events) provides a sweeping vista of the valley, the Gros Ventre range, and the wildlife therein. To get a sneak peek, check out the museum’s webcam where you can watch the elk congregating on the refuge during the winter.
In addition to exceptional wildlife viewing, the National Museum of Wildlife Art features an inspiring collection of more than 5,000 wildlife art pieces from around the world and is home to the Palate restaurant, offering delicious selections of soups, salads, and sandwiches.
It is exhilarating to observe wild animals living in their natural environments, and taking a guided tour in the winter with a professional touring company is one of the best ways to not only observe wildlife but to also learn about the history, biology, geology, and fun facts of the area.
Embark on an Unforgettable Winter Wildlife Tour with these Top Touring Companies
1. Eco Tour Adventures
Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures provides luxury guided winter wildlife tours into and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Tours are led by trained naturalist guides who include former NPS interpretative rangers along with wildlife biologists, wildlife trackers, and microbiologists. Their skilled guides can offer interest-specific tours such as itineraries centered around photography or wilderness skills.
2. Backcountry Safaris
Enjoy a winter tour of Jackson Hole exploring Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge with Backcountry Safaris. Their team of expert guides can speak about the geology, science, wildlife, and history of this area — all from the warm comfort of one of their luxurious vehicles. Private tours are available.
3. JH Wildlife Safaris
Experience the best of Jackson Hole in the winter with a full-day wildlife tour for in search of the area’s abundant wintering wildlife for a chance meeting with everything from elk and swans to bald eagles and foxes. Helmed by a professional wildlife photographer and guide, JH Wildlife Safaris provides guests with once-in-a-lifetime experiences while providing a deeper understanding of the geology, history, and ecology of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Small group safaris and private tours are available.
4. National Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides
Of course, a visit to Jackson Hole in the winter isn’t complete without a sleigh ride on the National Elk Refuge itself. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket and experience the magic of Jackson’s wildlife with the century-long tradition of adventuring in a horse-drawn sleigh through the middle of the incredible National Elk Refuge. Sleigh drivers are knowledgeable and provide fascinating facts in this one-of-a-kind tour. Surrounded by spectacular views in every direction including the Grand Tetons, a sleigh ride allows for an up-close and unique way of viewing wintering wildlife. Private sleigh rides are available upon request.
Let Us Plan Your
There is so much to do in Jackson Hole. Rush downriver in a kayak. Ride horseback through a sea of golden grass. Cast a line into water clear as the sky, while the fish flash by like stars. There’s hiking, biking, snowmobiling, and of course, skiing. The Clear Creek Group affiliates with the best service providers in the area, people as passionate as we are about providing great experiences. We can arrange anything imaginable, from backcountry pack trips and heli-skiing to the selection of a personal chef.