Your Guide to Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge Adventure

Amidst the snow-kissed landscape, elk gracefully ascend a butte on the National Elk Refuge, frozen in time by the lens of Kari Cieszkiewicz from USFWS

Wyoming is home to a vast array of wildlife, including grizzlies and wolves, as well as birds, bats, and black-footed ferrets. Of course, one cannot overlook the numerous elk that inhabit the Cowboy State.

If you’re eager to witness a large gathering of elk in one location, consider adding a trip to the National Elk Refuge to your travel plans. It’s an excellent addition for nature enthusiasts.

When Was the Refuge Created?

Multiple Acts of Congress and executive orders contributed to the establishment of the National Elk Refuge. The primary Act of Congress was enacted on August 10, 1912, setting aside the land to establish a winter game reserve lying south of Yellowstone Park.

It’s crucial to note that the lands comprising the refuge are indigenous homelands of numerous tribes, including: Aaniih, Assiniboine, Athabascans, Bannock, Comanche, Crow, Eastern Shoshone, Kiowa, Kootenai, Northern Shoshone, Nimiipuu, Salish, Teton, Sioux, Umatilla.

How Big Is the Refuge?

The refuge spans over 24,700 acres of forests, wetlands, and grasslands, providing ample space for approximately 11,000 elk that migrate in and out of the area. The land is also home to a variety of animals beyond elk, including bison, bald eagles, wolves, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep, and cutthroat trout.

Elk roam the enchanting grounds of the National Elk Refuge, immortalized through Gannon Castle’s lens for USFWS

Where Are the Elk?

The greatest number of elk can be observed on the refuge between mid-December and early April.

During late fall and winter, as the snow deepens, the elk move down from higher elevations to seek food and shelter in the Jackson Hole area.

Silent beauty in the wild: Majestic elk gracing the National Elk Refuge, as captured through the lens of Gannon Castle from USFWS

In late spring, the elk migrate away from the refuge toward summer ranges, following the snow line to higher elevations in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park.

Can You Drive Through the Park?

The National Elk Refuge is easily accessible by car. The closest road, Refuge Road, starts at the end of Jackson Hole’s East Broadway Avenue. Keep in mind, though, that in winter, driving is limited to approximately 3.5 miles to prevent disturbance to the elk herd and other wildlife.

For a more immersive experience of the park during the winter months, consider booking a horse-drawn sleigh ride.

Start Planning Your Trip

Are you ready to experience the magic of the National Elk Refuge? Whether you prefer driving through the park or enjoying it from a one-horse open sleigh, there’s something for everyone here. Begin planning your trip today!