Frequently Asked Questions

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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 of the National Elk Refuge in April and May, following the receding snowline back into the high country in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. In their summer range, elk feed on lush meadow plants and use forests for shelter. Staff at the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone 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?
The wintering population objective is 5,000 elk. However, the size of the wintering herd can reach 6,000-8,000 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 outlined 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, called “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 the northern and eastern boundary of the refuge, which is 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 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.