About Yellowstone

The National Elk Refuge: A Hidden Gem Near Yellowstone National Park

Just beyond Yellowstone National Park lies a hidden gem that has beckoned nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers for generations. A testament to the natural beauty and wildlife diversity of the American West, the National Elk Refuge offers an unique opportunity to witness and experience one of North America's most impressive wildlife spectacles up close. 

A Sanctuary for Elk and More

Located in the heart of Jackson, Wyoming, the National Elk Refuge was established in 1912 to provide a sanctuary for one of the largest elk herds in the world. Spanning over 24,700 acres, this remarkable refuge supports a diverse array of wildlife and serves as a vital winter habitat for the elk, ensuring their survival during the harsh winter months.

A Winter Wonderland for Wildlife

Every winter, thousands of elk migrate from the high mountains to the valley floor of the refuge, creating a breathtaking sight to see. This migration is driven by the search for food, as deep snow covers the higher elevations, and the refuge provides a crucial source of forage, supplemented by feeding programs that help sustain the herd.

Visitors to the refuge during winter can experience this migration up close. Guided sleigh rides offer a unique vantage point, allowing you to traverse the snowy terrain and observe the elk in their natural habitat. The sight of these majestic creatures—their breath visible in the crisp air—is a memory that will last a lifetime.

Year-Round Wildlife Watching

While winter is a prime time to visit the National Elk Refuge, the area offers year-round opportunities for wildlife observation. In spring, the refuge comes alive with the birth of elk calves and the vibrant display of wildflowers. Summer brings a bustling scene as various bird species, including the endangered trumpeter swan, make their home in the refuge's wetlands. Fall, with its golden foliage and cooler temperatures, is perfect for spotting elk during their rutting (mating) season.

Activities and Attractions

The National Elk Refuge is not only a haven for wildlife but also a center for conservation, education, and premier wildlife viewing. The visitor center offers exhibits, guided tours, and interactive displays that highlight the refuge's history, the elk herd, and ongoing conservation efforts, while the refuge itself offers unparalleled opportunities to see the animals of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Visitor Center: The Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center, located near the refuge, provides exhibits, maps, and information about the area's natural history. It's an excellent starting point for your visit.

Wildlife Viewing: Beyond the sleigh rides, there are numerous vantage points and trails around the refuge where visitors can spot elk and other wildlife. Bring binoculars and a camera to capture the stunning sights.

Sleigh Rides: One of the most popular winter activities at the refuge, sleigh rides allow visitors to venture into the heart of the elk herd. These rides offer one-of-a-kind opportunities for photography and wildlife observation.

Bird Watching: The refuge is a haven for bird watchers, with species such as trumpeter swans, bald eagles, and a variety of waterfowl frequenting the area. The wetlands and open water provide ideal bird-watching conditions.

Photography: With its stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife, the National Elk Refuge is a photographer's paradise. Whether you're a professional or an amateur, you'll find plenty of opportunities to capture breathtaking images.

Planning Your Visit

Whether you're planning a winter trip to witness the elk migration or a summer adventure to explore the sanctuary, the National Elk Refuge is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting Yellowstone National Park. 

Beyond its wildlife, the refuge boasts stunning landscapes that change with the seasons and diverse habitats that support a rich tapestry of plants and animals. The backdrop of the Teton Range provides a picturesque setting for outdoor activities such as hiking, birdwatching, and photography.

Best Time to Visit: Winter for elk migration; spring and summer for birdwatching and wildflowers.

Dress Appropriately: Winters in Jackson Hole can be extremely cold. Dress in layers, wear insulated boots, and bring gloves and hats to stay warm during outdoor activities.

Book Sleigh Rides in Advance: Sleigh rides are a popular attraction and can fill up quickly. We advise booking your ride in advance to secure your spot for an unforgettable experience.

Respect Wildlife: While observing wildlife, maintain a safe distance and avoid disturbing the animals. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens for the best close-up views.

Stop in the Visitor Center: Don't miss the exhibits and educational programs to enhance your understanding of the refuge.

Check Weather Conditions: Weather conditions can change rapidly in the region. Check the local weather forecast and road conditions before heading out to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

The National Elk Refuge is a remarkable destination that complements a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Its breathtaking winter scenery and abundant wildlife provide a unique and enriching experience for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. Whether you're marveling at the sight of thousands of elk grazing on the snowy plains or capturing the perfect wildlife photo, a visit to the National Elk Refuge is sure to be a highlight of your journey to this stunning part of the American West.


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At Yellowstone National Park Lodges, you’re invited to discover or rediscover the magic of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone. As proud stewards of the park and this truly extraordinary American wonder