The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is one of the few ecosystems in the country that still has populations of all the major species of animals that it did before the arrival of Europeans. True, wolves were once eradicated from the area, but they were successfully reintroduced in 1995. Grizzly bears were also on the endangered species list for some time, but today populations of that animal are growing in the Jackson Hole area. Jackson Hole is also home to the National Elk Herd, which winters on the National Elk Refuge, a snowball’s throw from the Town Square. Moose numbers have declined in the last decade or so, but these giant—and highly unpredictable, so keep your distance—ungulates can still be spotted, if you know where to go. And of course there are bison, which, despite their impressive girth, can run at speeds upwards of 40 mph, and jump six-foot fences. If you’re really lucky, you might see a wolf. Here's where to go to boost your odds of seeing wildlife:
The middle section of this narrow, winding road between Teton Village and the tiny town of Moose is closed between Nov. 1 and May 1. Year-round, however, its northern half offers some of the best odds of seeing moose in the valley. Wolves are also a possibility, and bears have been spotted here in the spring, summer, and fall.
This 13-mile loop, starting and ending at Highway 26/89/191, takes you through the heart of the grazing grounds of the country’s largest herd of free-roaming buffalo. If you’re really lucky, some of the herd will be grazing in front of the iconic Moulton Barn, posing for what is surely to be the best photo of your Jackson Hole vacation.
The most easily-accessible hiking, Nordic skiing and mountain biking area from downtown Jackson has wildlife, too … if you make it past the dog-heavy, two- to three miles of the initial double-track trail, which parallels burbling Cache Creek. The farther up the creek you go, the better your chances for spotting moose.
National Elk Refuge
From April through October, there’s not much to see on this 25,000-some acre plot of land north of Jackson. In winter, though, nearly 8,000 elk, along with several hundred bison, call this area—the National Elk Refuge—home. Watch them from the highway, or experience them by taking a horse-drawn sleigh into the middle of the herd (wool blankets are provided).
Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center
A giant diorama inside this visitor center is life-sized and includes eight taxidermy elk, which look like they're running. From an outside deck, overlooking wetlands, you might see yellow-headed blackbirds, common yellowthroat and northern shovelers. It’s not hard to forget that you’re only several blocks from the Town Square.