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Jackson Hole is expensive. I’m sure it can be visited on a budget, I just didn’t really do that, mostly because I was living there, not just visiting. BUT this is one way to save you a pretty penny on your visit to Jackson in the winter (or summer, but most of this applies to winter as I know nothing about wildlife in the area in the summer.)
Jackson Hole offers a wide variety of winter wildlife safaris, most being anywhere from $250-$1200 depending on the type of tour and how far it goes. Private tours are the expensive end of that range. So now I’m going to teach you how to do a winter wildlife safari in the Jackson area all on your own.
Car rentals range anywhere from $40 per day to $150 per day. Smaller cars will be cheaper than and SUV, but when deciding what type of car to get, think about how many people will be going, budget, and how comfortable you are driving in snow. Unless it just snowed, it’s usually packed down and pretty easy to drive on, but I learned how to drive in snow, so I have plenty of experience. And all of this driving I did to see this wildlife was done in a Smart car. In the snow. And it was actually really nice and easy. I never thought I needed an SUV, but if that’s what you feel more comfortable driving, go for it.
I’ll organize this by animal and tell you where I saw them and when. All the directions and when I say before the campground, I mean coming from Jackson. Just keep in mind, this is all from my personal experience and in no way reflected on any type of scientific research on living habits or anything like that. Now, let’s go!
I didn’t see my first (and only) wolf until about a month (sometime in March) before I left Wyoming for the winter. I had three animal sightings on my list of goals for the winter and wolves was the first one, followed by moose and bears.
Gros Ventre Road
I saw my wolf on Gros Ventre Road. That may not be the section of road I saw it on, but I started on it. Just past Kelly there is a sign directing you to the right for Gros Ventre Road, which keeps going to Slide Lake and all kinds of other cool stuff. We went past the turn and towards Antelope Flats Road, which we also passed. There is a little cabin off on the left a little ways past the Antelope Flats turnoff. I saw the wolf right before the cabin. It ran across the road then walked along the side before walking off towards Gros Ventre Road again.
I didn’t personally see any here, but a few people I worked with did in March. To get here from Jackson head down the main Highway that runs through Grand Teton National Park, not the scenic one, but Highway 191. Then at Moran Junction, take a right, well just follow the road, really. There will be a sign for Yellowstone to turn left. Don’t do that. Follow the highway and after the Black Rock Creek Ranger Station and before Togwotee Mountain Lodge is where they were seen. This is where the Black Rock Pack lives.
There were also some spotted in late February or early March on Moose-Wilson Road as well, but I didn’t see them or know anyone that did.
I saw bison a few different occasions, but all in the same spot. I bet you’ll never guess where. I kid, I kid, it’s where I saw everything else.
Gros Ventre Road
Yes, this is where I saw them. In December sometime I saw five baby bison wandering through the Gros Ventre River at one of the pullouts. It’s got a clear view over the river, it’s pretty easy to see and there’s a good chance someone is already stopped there. Then just past that, before the campground, there was a whole herd in the road. That was in early January. The last time I saw them was after you turn right past Kelly to continue down Gros Ventre Road. There is an old barn, like really old with a roof caving in on the left side of the road (heading away from Jackson) and they were right around there. That was also in January and the last I saw of them.
I saw SO MANY MOOSE and I saw them EVERYWHERE. This was the second animal on my list of things to see over the winter and I saw one on our first trip into Jackson and every trip after that.
Gros Ventre Road
This is where I saw the most. They were usually along the road (on the right coming from Jackson) before the campground and almost always at ‘the spot’ overlooking the river. I don’t think this pullout had a name or if it did, I never found out what it was. Occasionally we saw a straggler on the left side. In March we saw most of them near the turnoff to the campground. I think this is the best place to see moose all winter.
Most of the moose I saw along highway 191, the main highway going from Jackson through the Tetons that isn’t the scenic road, were in the vicinity of the airport. They were usually between Jackson and Moose Junction. I saw a couple loose moose in Jackson itself, too.
This is the highway that goes to the right at Moran Junction. I’ve seen a few along there, not many though, and it was all throughout the winter. If I were looking for moose, I wouldn’t go here unless I couldn’t find them anywhere else. This is where I saw the least.
I saw some moose in the Elk Refuge in March, too. They were in the area right before the turnoff for Gros Ventre Road. I only saw a few here, but keep an eye out.
I didn’t see tons of coyotes, but most that I did see were towards the end of the winter.
Gros Ventre Road
Do you see a trend here? I saw a ton of coyotes out by the Gros ventre campground in late February/early March. I’m sure they are there all winter, I just didn’t see them. One ran across the road not too far from my car and the others were closer to the campground treeline.
Most of (I think all of) the coyotes I saw on 191 were across the street from the Elk Flats Ranch pullout area. I saw most of those in march. It seemed like every time we drove to Jackson (one to three times a week) we saw one or two running around out there.
I saw one on the road towards Yellowstone and a couple eating a dead moose or deer the opposite way on Highway 26, a right at Moran Junction.
I saw three bears this winter and it was the day before I left Wyoming. Talk about exciting! I don’t have any bear pictures, I didn’t have my camera that day, but here are some other nice pictures.
I saw the bears where the coyotes usually are, across from Elk Flats Ranch pullout. We saw a bunch of cars pulled over and a few brown blobs and they were bears! There was a sow and two cubs. I wish I could offer more on bears, but they were really only up and about for the last month or so of me being there.
I love the bighorn sheep. I watched one try to cross a frozen pond and it was so cute and sliding allover. they were not meant for ice. The bottom right is a pronghorn. this is the only place I saw one.
There are tons of bighorn sheep in the elk refuge. In Jackson, coming from the direction of the Tetons, turn left at the main square the block before (or after the lights which is Broadway, no left turns there) then get back to Broadway and follow it to the Elk Refuge. If that doesn’t make sense, it’s past the hospital. That takes you to the inside road of the Elk Refuge. Where the cliffs start on the left side of the road is where the sheep usually are. Keep an eye out for Bald eagles here (and near the Gros Ventre turnoff.)
The elk were probably the thing I got the least excited about after I saw them the first time, I think because I see deer all the time and they’re similar but bigger.
Well, yeah. They’re in the Elk Refuge where you can take a sleigh ride to get up close and personal. Sometimes they’re really close to the road, too for easy viewing. This is one of the places that is winter specific. they were starting to leave the refuge in late March when we were also leaving.
At the end of March we saw a bunch of Elk along Highway 26 between the Moran Junction and Togwotee Mountain Lodge.
Tips for a DIY Jackson Winter Wildlife Safari:
- Bring good Binoculars so you can see the animals that are farther from the road.
- I would start in Gros Ventre and spend a lot of time there. That’s where I saw almost everything, except the bears. Go right towards Kelly Warm Spring and straight towards and past Antelope Flats Road.
- Make note of road closures and be prepared to back track a lot. Here are roads that are closed in the winter:
- Antelope Flats Road
- Grand Teton scenic Road
- All roads in Yellowstone (except to snowmobilers in tours and snow coach), but you can go to Flagg Ranch
- Mormon Row (where the old barns are)
- Most of Moose Wilson road
- Keep your distance from the wildlife. Don’t feed anything. Don’t touch anything.
- Bring a good camera and lens. I wish I had a better, longer lens for the winter to get awesome wildlife shots, but I made what I had work.
- Don’t be afraid to take a zillion pictures of everything. I did and had a lot of stuff that was just a little blurry because of not so good lighting, but I did end up with some good stuff, too.
- If you don’t take pictures, be patient with people in your group that do. We appreciate it. In that case, bring an awesome book.
- If you’re renting a car make sure you feel comfortable driving it in the snow and maybe book ahead.
- Grab a map to keep in the car, just in case.
- If you want to explore on foot, you can rent snowshoes in town to bring with.
- I would bring bear spray just in case. Not all bears hibernate.
- Drink lots of water, especially if you’re out snowshoeing, but just do this all the time.
- Dress in layers. It’ll be warm in the car, cold outside, but if you snowshoe, you might get warm, too.
- Bring toe warmers. Even in the car my feet got super cold, so if you’re outside a lot they’ll be a big help. Plus, they’re good for walking around in town, too.
Have you gone on a Jackson Wildlife Safari? How was it? What did you see? Was it worth the cost?