Jackson Hole for Wildlife Enthusiasts: All About the Amazing National Elk Refuge

The National Elk Refuge seems aptly titled given that it is home to roughly 7,000 elk during the cold Wyoming winters. While the herds of wapiti, as elk are sometimes called, are certainly amazing, nature enthusiasts are guaranteed to experience much more while exploring the refuge’s nearly 25,000 acres of pristine public land. In truth, the area is home to 47 mammals, 175 species of birds, and a host of interesting plants. Here are just a few of the things that await you in the National Elk Refuge.

Mammals Galore

Visitors to the refuge can expect to see bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, wolves, brown bears, and black bears. The bison in this herd, which number nearly 1,000 at this point, are the last remnants of the extensive wild herds that once roamed much of North America. Though they can be difficult to see in colder months due to where they over-winter, they are easily seen during the rest of the year or by taking a sleigh ride.

If your interests extend to predators, then you’ll be pleased to know that the National Elk Refuge is home to a healthy population of wolves. Thanks to efforts of the refuge, the Pinnacle Peak pack of gray wolves thrives to the point that visitors often seen these magnificent animals during outings and occasionally in the town of Jackson itself.

Birds of a Feather

Nothing is more iconic than the bald eagle, national bird of the United States and the only eagle unique to North America. Since being placed on the endangered species list in 1972, the bald eagle has made a remarkable recovery. In the National Elk Refuge, eagles can be seen from the highway or while taking a sleigh ride. The recovery of the bald eagle, and its subsequent upgrade from endangered to threatened, is a testament to what can be accomplished through conservation.

Of course, eagles aren’t the only magnificent birds in the refuge. Trumpeter swans are carefully protected by the National Elk Refuge and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Though exact numbers of swans aren’t readily available, a total of 10 hatchlings survived the 2014 season and can be seen during winter months.

In the summer, the refuge is home to all manner of ducks as well as geese and great blue herons. You can also see the four-foot-tall sand hill crane and all manner of songbirds. Short-eared owls are just one of more than a dozen species of owls that can be found in the refuge.

Seeing Is Believing

The simple fact is that the National Elk Refuge is home to enough wildlife to fill an entire book and enough hotels to accommodate the travelers wishing to see it all. It isn’t just the refuge that draws nature enthusiasts though, the whole area is magical.

What makes the area special are the massive amounts of preserved land that allow critters of all types to flourish. Wyoming is home to eight national wildlife refuges and fifteen wilderness areas in addition to national parks, state parks, and recreation areas. All told, the state of Wyoming offers up more than half of its 62,140,000 acres for public use and conservation.

Angie McNeil is a Jackson Hole regular as well as a wildlife enthusiast. She enjoys the chance to share her insights on how to enjoy the nature on offer and is a regular contributor for several travel-related websites.

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