About 4 miles north of Jackson is the National Elk Refuge, a federally-funded parcel of land that allows, elk, bison, bighorn sheep and pronghorn, along with predators like bears, coyote, and wolves to shelter from the winter at lower altitude where there’s feed. Situated in the Teton Valley, during the peak time (late January), the number of elk can reach 9000 head. Should the natural feed not be enough, feed is supplied, but in a small amounts so as not to have the animals rely on handouts.
Horse-drawn sleigh rides are offered as a way of showing tourists the elk and to raise money for keeping the refuge running. We booked weeks ago and we’re lucky enough to get seats (last ones!) on the first ride at 10am. After getting our tickets at the Visitor’s Center, we rode the shuttle bus to where the horses and sleighs are readied. Our guide for the morning was Lynn, a local from Victor (just over the range) who has been taking tourists through the elk refuge for the last 11 years.
Despite the cold (it’s was -5 degrees but with a wind blowing) we all enjoyed ourselves and got close to a herd of bull elk in order to see them feed and admire their antlers. Since it’s been a slow start to the winter, the elk have not yet made their way to the refuge, with only about 100 or so there at the moment. There was another large herd on the hills outside the refuge getting ready to come across the road, but until their feed runs out there they’ll stay put. Crossing the road, which leads to Yellowstone Park, is quite dangerous for the elk with many hit each year. To make it easy they have designated crossing areas and left gaps in the fence to allow them easy access, but I can imagine the cram if several hundred wanted to cross at once!
After our sleigh ride had finished we had lunch at the Snake River Brewery where I tried a few of the local brews which we great! I even have a can of Pale Ale for tonight.
Tomorrow we’re going to take a drive into Yellowstone Park to visit Old Faithful geyser. As it’s about 90 minutes drive each way, we’ll have lunch in the park near the Old Faithful visitor center.