Sleigh Rides on the National Elk Refuge
December 22, 2004
Each year, from mid-November through December, as many as 10,000 elk migrate from surrounding areas in northwest Wyoming to the National Elk Refuge just north of the town of Jackson, about 80 miles north of Pinedale. These elk spend the long winter at the refuge until spring when the snow melts and they can again return to the high country.
Through April, the National Elk Refuge, in conjunction with the nearby National Museum of Wildlife Art, conducts daily horse-drawn sleigh rides out to the refuge to view the elk. The rides originate at the museum. Sleigh rides run approximately every 20 minutes from 10 am to 4 pm, on a first-come, first-serve basis. Reservations are available for groups of 20 or more. National Elk Refuge sleigh rides depart 3-4 times per hour from the National Museum of Wildlife Art, 2.5 miles north of Jackson, WY, on highway 26/89/191. Visitors must purchase tickets at the museum and take a shuttle bus to the boarding area. Accommodations exist for visitors with disabilities.
In December and January large bulls, still carrying magnificent antlers, may be seen resting or feeding on the refuge. In late February, bulls begin to shed their antlers. During this time, it is common to see bulls engaged in ritual sparring matches. In the spring and summer, the elk begin to leisurely leave the refuge and return to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the forests of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
The rides take approximately one hour and provide a wonderful close look at big bulls, cows and calves as they feed, rest and move around the refuge area. Surprisingly, they animals do not mind the horses and wagons with people moving through them. Visitors are not allowed to get off the wagons, but plenty of photo opportunities are provided from the wagon vantage point. Be sure to bring your camera!
Sleigh ride tickets cost $15 for adults, $11 for children 6-12 years of age, and ages 5 and under are free. Family tickets are available for $48 (2 adults and 2 children age 6-12). Combo tickets that include the sleigh ride and entrance to the museum are $20 for adults, $15 for children 6-12 years, and $63 for family. Special rates are available for groups of adults and children (see the website link at the end of this article for specifics.)
For those not used to winter in Wyoming, appropriate dress for a sleigh ride includes a warm coat, hat, gloves and warm boots. Surprisingly, the temperature can feel significantly colder on the sleigh ride in comparison to conditions in town or at the museum. Chilling winds often blow up the valley and snowstorms can happen anytime.
While in Jackson, be sure to allot time for the nearby National Museum of Wildlife Art. It is home to the nation's premiere collection of fine art devoted to wildlife. Located 2.5 miles north of Jackson, the museum overlooks the National Elk Refuge and serves as the departure point for the winter sleigh rides on the refuge. The museum houses 12 galleries featuring both the permanent collection and traveling exhibits, a museum shop, and cafe. Museum hours are 9 am to 5 pm daily. (Closed Christmas) Phone: 307-733-5771.
National Elk Refuge
National Museum of Wildlife Art