Frequently Asked Questions


Look for answers to some commonly asked questions about the National Elk Refuge

Q. Where are the elk?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions by summer visitors when they are at the National Elk Refuge. The refuge was established to provide winter habitat for the Jackson Elk Herd. Elk leave the lower elevations in April and May, following the receding snowline back into the high country. In their summer range, elk feed on lush meadow plants and use forests for shelter. Visitor service agents at the Visitor Center can recommend areas where you may see elk during the summer months. Dawn and dusk are the best times for spotting elk. 

Q. How many elk winter on the National Elk Refuge?

When winter approaches and cold weather settles in, elk migrate down from the high country to the valley floor. Thousands of elk make their winter home on the National Elk Refuge, while others use State feed grounds or remain on other Federal or private lands. 


Q. How many elk winter on the National Elk Refuge?


The wintering population objective is 5,000 elk. However, the size of the wintering herd can reaches 6,000-7,000 elk or more. Refuge managers continue to work with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and Grand Teton National Park to bring the number of wintering animals closer to established targets as outline in the Bison and Elk Management Plan

Q. Are the elk fenced in on the National Elk Refuge?

Elk are free to come and go on the National Elk Refuge, but an 8-foot-high fence along the western and southern boundaries helps them avoid conflicts with people and vehicles. Openings in the fence, referred to as “elk jumps,” are scattered along the western boundary, giving animals running along the highway a means to get onto the refuge. Elk jumps are mounded and raised, making it difficult for animals to leap back up onto the highway area once they are on the refuge. Instead, they can leave the refuge from unfenced areas further from the highway, reducing the chances of a collision with a motor vehicle or pedestrian.


Q. Can I take an antler I find on the National Elk Refuge, or can I buy one?

It's illegal to collect items from the National Elk Refuge, such as antlers, fossils, artifacts, etc. The refuge, along with Jackson District Boy Scouts, holds a large antler auction each May, part of a larger weekend festival called ElkFest. However, the antlers are usually sold in small bundles. Single antlers are often available for sale throughout the year at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center.  


Q. How much do elk weigh? 

At birth, calves weigh an average of 35 pounds. Mature cows in winter average 500 pounds, while mature bulls generally weigh 550-600 pounds.


Q. When are calves born?

Elk calves born in mid-May through June. The breeding season, or rut, occurs in September, and a cow's pregnancy is about 8 1/2 months long.    


Q. How do I sign up for a sleigh ride?

Sleigh rides are a popular winter refuge program. Tickets are purchased at the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center, where visitors depart for their ride. For more info see the Winter Sleigh Ride page.


Q. Can I drive onto the National Elk Refuge myself?

The Refuge Road begins at the end of East Broadway Avenue in Jackson. There is no entrance fee to drive onto the Refuge Road. During the winter, only the first 3.5 miles are open to the public in order to limit disturbance to the wintering wildlife. Driving is restricted to the main Refuge Road, Curtis Canyon, and Flat Creek Roads. Other roads are marked and indicate travel is restricted to administrative travel only or those with current hunting permits at certain times of the year. In addition, recreational activities like walking, biking, and jogging, are restricted to the same roads but may also use the multi-use pathway on the west side of the Refuge (May-October only) or designated trails. Visit our winter wildlife viewing page to learn how you can be a good conservation steward while observing and photographing wildlife from areas open to the public, especially when traveling on the Refuge Road.


Q. What is the difference between Jackson and Jackson Hole?

Jackson refers to the town, which serves as the county seat for Teton County, Wyoming. Jackson Hole, however, refers to the entire valley. A "hole" was a trapper’s term for a low-lying valley surrounded by mountains. The town and valley are named after Davey Jackson, a mountain man that frequently trapped in this area.  


Q. Are maps available to help me plan my trip?

Many visitors to the National Elk Refuge, especially those that come in the summer months, also plan to visito some of the other federal lands in the area, including the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Travel maps of the area are available to help plan your trip. Visitors are encouraged to pre-print the travel maps in order to help you find your way here and serve as a key planning tool once you have arrived.