Elk are the priority species on the refuge because they are the only species specifically mentioned in the refuge's enabling legislation. The refuge provides winter habitat for the Jackson Elk Herd.

While Jackson Hole is probably best known for the splendor and ruggedness of the Teton Range, the Jackson Elk Herd certainly ranks among the top characterizing features of the valley. Elk figure prominently in Jackson Hole's history and culture and are just as important to today's residents of the valley.

There are an estimated 11,000 elk in the Jackson elk herd. The elk migrate across several jurisdictional boundaries, including the National Elk Refuge, Grand Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, Yellowstone National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Bureau of Land Management resource areas, and state and private lands. Elk use extensive spring, summer, and fall ranges to the north west, and east of the refuge and as far away as southern Yellowstone National Park. 

There have been some notable changes in the elk summer population segments that occupy the Refuge during the winter. Over the last decade, there has been an increase in short distance migrants as well as a decrease in elk that summer in Yellowstone National Park. Additionally, there has been a recent increase in elk that summer in the Gros Ventre range and other areas east of the National Elk Refuge.

Elk migrations may occur over periods of a few days to several weeks. Some Jackson elk move hardly at all because their ranges are closer to the refuge, while others cover up to 60 miles between summer and winter ranges. Spring migrations to calving and summer range begin when the snow recedes and new vegetation appears, usually in April and May.

Use this link to learn a few fun facts about elk. Photos of wintering elk on the refuge can be found in the National Elk Refuge's photo gallery.