The National Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride, Jackson Hole

Visiting Jackson Hole

I live in the south, where our most exotic animal encounters are trying not to hit deer or skunks while driving. To people in other parts of the country, these may be rare sightings, just like the elk and moose in Jackson Hole were to us. In my world, seeing a few snow flurries also induces feelings of  joy, and one of my dream bucket list items has always been a sleigh ride. I was truly blessed to take a trip to a place that fulfilled all of the above.

While visiting Jackson Hole, snow was in abundance; they had a record of over 500 inches through last season. But we did, by choice, trek through snow up to our knees a few times. And once or twice, we found ourselves almost to our waists in the beautiful, white, fluffy stuff!

Sleigh Riding in the National Elk Refuge

Most southerners shutter at the thought of this much snow. But out west, it is a whole different “marshmallow world in the winter”! The snow really is fluffy, and brushes right off, instead of making one soaking wet. It crunches under your feet instead of causing slipping and sliding on slush that has melted and refrozen into an accident waiting to happen. My vision of snow, as I always dreamed it to be, was finally a reality.

But the dreams didn’t end there. The sleigh ride came true at the National Elk Refuge. Drawn by horses and accompanied with a very knowledgeable guide, we were taken out to see the thousands of Elk in the habitat…up close. We Stopped for some of the most amazing photography you could hope for.

The National Elk Refuge is a habitat operated by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, to protect wintering elk from starvation and distressing human interaction. Elk can not detect humans when they are traveling in the sleighs, meaning guests can experience encounters mere feet away from these beautiful animals. Humans are not allowed on the refuge by foot.

These gorgeous animals sat patiently for as many pictures as you wanted to take. Some even strolled within a few feet of us and our anxious cameras, almost as if proudly stopping to pose.
There were also antlers randomly lying around that had been naturally shed. Designated individuals come at certain times to collect them to sell downtown.

The tour was not too long and definitely not too short, coming in at about 40 minutes. Plenty of time is allowed to learn, ask questions, watch, and of course photograph ’til your heart’s content. You can also get a great view of the refuge from pull offs along the road, or the wildlife museum.

What to Know

  • A shuttle bus will take you to and from the sleigh launch site
  • Shuttles depart from the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitors Center
  • Tickets are $23 for adults and $15 for children 5-12
  • You can buy tickets and momentos at the Visitors Center
  • Dress warmly, wearing plenty of layers, since the operating months from late November to April are quite chilly in the Tetons
  • Don’t put yourself in a position to drop anything on the ground while sleigh riding through the refuge, you won’t be allowed to get it. Stress from human interaction puts the elk in danger of burning precious winter fat reserves

Visiting the refuge is a great way to learn about the conservation efforts of Jackson Hole, and the importance of a healthy wildlife balance. We must do what we can to not disrupt the delicate balance of our eco systems, and the sleigh ride is a great way to do that. This is truly a magical place, and a trip that will never be forgotten!

Article and Photos by Pam Tyson Yasinski

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