Tips for locating the area’s Mammals.
You don’t have to worry about finding the Teton range, rivers, and trees. They stay in the same spot from day to day and year to year. It’s easy to at least find them! Wildlife: That’s a different story. They move around daily—and they may move from one area of the park to another based on the seasons of the year. Some hibernate and some leave the area altogether during the Winter.
The purpose of this feature page is to identify where you might go to find the park’s mammals at different times of the year. There’s no guarantees, but it helps to have a general idea where they are seen most often. Sometimes they are bedded down, behind trees and shrubs, or under a ridge and you just can’t see them! There’s a bit of luck involved. Odds of finding wildlife go WAY UP if you are out before the sun comes up. This is probably the single most important aspect of finding them, and if you can find them, you might get a chance to photograph them. Mornings are usually better than afternoons. In the afternoon, they often get up to feed and move to the visible areas about the time the sun goes down.
The number of grizzly bears in the area has increased considerably over the past decade. And, their range is getting bigger! For many years, the grizzlies were most commonly seen in the Oxbow Bend area, along Pacific Creek road, and in the Willow Flats area near the dam. They also roamed north from those areas towards Colter Bay and farther. Back country grizzlies could potentially be found about anywhere. In the past years, grizzlies have been roaming farther south and there have been confirmed sightings on the National Elk Refuge as of this year. Watch for grizzlies around the Oxbow area early in the season, once they leave their winter dens. Sows with new cubs usually appear after the boars and older bears. They forage for roots, dig fish out of the edges of the river, and feed on any leftover winter kills. As the elk move back into the same areas (sometime in June), bears hang around to feed on newborn elk calves.
Many grizzlies and black bears feed on White Bark pine cones. On years with a good crop of cones, they move up in elevation to feed on them. In lean years, they stay low and look for other food sources. Berries are one of the sources, along with gut piles left by hunters. The Moose/Wilson road has a good crop of berries again in 2013, so expect that area to have some grizzlies. The Park Service traditionally closes the road if grizzlies are present close to the roads.
In 2013, the Elk Reduction Program (elk hunt) has numerous changes likely to change some of the Grizzlies’ behavior. The traditional river bottom along the Snake is closed to the hunt, but they added some areas south of the Gros Ventre river next to the National Elk Refuge. Grizzlies have been feeding on gut piles left by bison hunters on the refuge, and will likely be along the Gros Ventre River this year during the elk hunt. Grizzlies have been seen recently on the south end of Blacktail Butte. At times, grizzlies have been seen and photographed near the Mormon Row barns and along Antelope Flats road. In short, the grizzlies go where they hear shooting in the fall and feast on the gut piles left by the hunters.
Again, they are now ranging across most of the park. Numerous grizzlies are seen around Mt. Leidy and in areas around Towgotee Passl—both areas out of the actual park. Grizzlies are relatively common around the Buffalo River at the East boundary of the park.
Grizzlies hibernate in the winter, but exactly when they do so varies yearly. Some were seen in the park as late as January but most move to the den after a good blanket of snow covers the valley and mountains.
Black bears, like Grizzlies, hibernate during the winter, so don’t expect to see them at all when there’s a heavy layer of snow. The best time of the year to find black bears is in the fall when they move to the lover areas of the park in search of berries. The best place to look will likely be along the Moose-Wilson road and on Signal Mountain. Black Hawthorne berry bushes are common along the Moose-Wilson road and Huckleberries grow on Signal Mountain. Black bears have traditionally used the areas around the dam and the Signal Mountain Lodge and campground, but grizzlies have been pushing them out of the areas in the past few years.
The good news about both species of bears: they more or less keep banker’s hours! Some might be out at first light, but most show up after the sun warms things up some. So, look for elk, deer, and moose early, then switch gears and look for bears. They help fill the day. Some of the best photography for either species will probably be on slightly overcast or lightly cloudy days. Otherwise, bright light photography will usually result in images with a lot of contrast. If you are only viewing them, the contrast issue is not a problem at all!
There are numerous packs of wolves in Grand Teton National Park. They “can be” seen just about anywhere in the park and Elk Refuge. Unlike some areas of Yellowstone, the wolves in the Tetons are not particularly easy to see and photograph. I’ve personally seen them on the Elk Refuge, along the East Boundary Road, down in the river bottom near Schwabacher Landing, on the south end of Blacktail Butte and along the Gros Ventre road, at Elk Flats, and in Willow Flats near Oxbow Bend. You might get lucky and see them about anywhere.
A very elusive animal anywhere. They blend in with the background, hunt mostly at night, and tend to stay away from human activity. Last winter, a few were seen at the south end of Blacktail Butte and along the butte near the National Museum of Wildlife Art. They prey on mule deer, so keep an eye out for them wherever you might see mule deer.
Wolves are reported to be taking tolls on moose in the Tetons. At one time, moose were commonly seen around Oxbow Bend and around Willow flats, but reports from friends seem to confirm there are less of them in those areas now. They are probably still there, but seen much less often. Moose can be seen along the Snake River bottoms throughout the entire length, however there aren’t many places to access those areas anymore. Schwabacher Landing has been closed to vehicle and bikes throughout the entire 2013 summer season. Moose can be seen near the bridge across the Snake River at the Moose Junction area and sometimes from the overlook at Blacktail Ponds.
Moose are often seen along the road from Wilson to Teton Village. Many have been killed by vehicles, so speed limits have been reduced to try to save as many as possible. Moose feed on resident’s trees and shrubs all winter and summer and can be found bedded down in about any yard in the zone.
Moose use the Gros Ventre river bottom all summer and into fall. That area is close to my home, so I tend to go there when I want to find moose. During August, moose bulls can be seen as they grow their velvet cover antlers and later as the antlers mature and they scrape the velvet. The area is known to be a fall rut zone. There are several viewing areas along the Gros Ventre road.
As the season progresses towards late fall and early winter, the moose move out to the sage flats north of Kelly and up the road towards the Teton Science School. By mid-December and early January, most of the bulls will shed their antlers. They stay in the sage flats feeding mainly on bitter brush until snows cover the sage flats with a deep layer. Afterwards, they move back into the river bottoms and feed on the tips of the exposed willows.
Many people still refer to them as “Buffalo”. Numbers of bison are up now, so the National Elk Refuge allows hunting for them on the refuge. Special permits are required. The bison have learned to stay off the refuge during the hunt. Bison are usually “confined” to the sage flats, which runs most of the length of the valley floor. That’s the norm, but they also drop down into the river bottoms, especially around Triangle X Ranch and Moosehead Ranch. Many people seem to think of them as cattle, but bison can be extremely dangerous. I never get very far from my truck when viewing and photographing them.
You can usually find bison along the Gros Ventre Road, around the town of Kelly, along Mormon Row and along Antelope Flats Road. Watch for them at Elk Flats farther north. Bison usually move from place to place in herds. They’ll often be in the same general area the next day, but seldom the same place. They usually go to water at least once each day. Along the Gros Ventre road, there are a couple of irrigation ditches and a spring creek. Out in the sage flats, bison move to Ditch Creek or one of the active irrigation ditches in the sagebrush.
The best time to see elk in Jackson Hole is during the winter! About 10,000 of them migrate to the National Elk Refuge and winter in plain sight, sometimes close to the road. Sleigh rides take people out on horse drawn sleighs with elk leisurely feeding only yards away. During the rest of the year, it’s a completely different story!
Elk in this region are subject to being hunted, and until they are safely within the boundaries of the refuge, they are extremely elusive. In fact, elk are hunted within the Park. They are the only animal species subject to being killed by the public within the park boundaries. The Elk Reduction Program, often called the Elk Hunt, happens each fall as the elk try to migrate to the refuge. The hunt is limited to only certain areas of the park, but in 2013, a new section has been added south of the Gros Ventre road and north of the Gros Ventre river. Click Here to see the current specs for the hunt including warnings for tourists, photographers, and fishermen in the hunt areas.
Elk typically move out to the edges of the sagebrush and grassy areas overnight to feed, but move back into the forests about the time the first glow of light appears. They seldom stay out in the open once light hits the valley floor. So, if you want to see elk, get up very early and be out before the sun comes up. They are difficult to photograph as a result of the low light conditions.
In the fall, bull elk begin to gather cows into a harem for the rut. Fights to gain dominance can happen if you are lucky enough to witness them. Some of the best viewing areas for elk are along the Teton Park Road, also known as the Inner Park Loop road by many locals. Elk often hang out near the ridges along the Moose-Wilson Road and near the Chapel of the Transfiguration. Many people go to the Windy Point pullout just north of the Chapel. Several groups of elk hang out near Timbered Island across from Lupine Meadows. Lupine Meadows is also a great place to view and listen to elk bugle in the fall. Bulls with large harems of cows have been seen recently in 2013 near String Lake and Jenny Lake, mostly near the roads. Be there early, or possibly late in the day.
Also, check out this Feature Post: Sleigh Ride on the National Elk Refuge:
Watch for the trademark large ears and the black tip on the end of their tails. Mule deer mostly inhabit river bottoms and forests, but can also be found in sage flats on occasions. During the fall rut, deer can be found in some of the residential areas south and west of the airport regularly. But, of course, they can be just about anywhere along the entire length of the Buffalo River, Snake River, and Pacific Creek.
After the rut, some of them move towards the small town of Kelly. Others winter on the side of the butte west of the National Elk Refuge and into the town of Jackson. In recent years, mule deer were common south of town and along the Hoback River drainage. I don’t see the large herds nearly as often anymore for some reason. Mule deer bucks shed their antlers later than some of the other ungulates.
Not commonly seen, Whitetails can be found if you are lucky. I’ve seen them a few times near the Buffalo River and along the Gros Ventre river.
Often called Antelope, Pronghorns are often seen in the summer in the Teton Valley. Most migrate out of the valley in the late fall after the rut. A few have been seen here in the Winter over the past few years, mostly around the town of Kelly. The best places to see Antelope are along the Gros Ventre road from the highway to Kelly, along Mormon Row, and along Antelope Flats road. Pronghorns are also seen mixed in with bison and elk near Elk Flats and along the Teton Park road in the areas along Lupine Meadows. Antelope are some of the last mammals to go into the rut.
Bighorns are reported to hang around on the slopes in some of the lesser traveled areas near Mt. Moran. I’ve never actually seen one in the park. Instead, most Bighorns are photographed on Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge. They start showing up sometime after Thanksgiving and hang around until spring. I’ve counted upwards of 60 Bighorns on the refuge. The rams leave long before the last of the rest of the ewes and lambs. Additional Bighorns can be seen and photographed on the rocks near the campground at Slide Lake. In the summer, Bighorns can sometimes be seen farther out the Gros Ventre near Red Rock Ranch.
The best time to see Mountain Goats is the span between late January and early April in the Snake River Canyon south of Jackson and close to Alpine Junction. They were introduced into the area for sport hunting and have been doing very well. Mountain Goats will occasionally graze on grass, leaves, branches and about anything but rocks all the way down to the road. During this time of the year, the goats always have their full, beautiful coats. The goats are usually visible at some time of the day each day, but I’ve been shut out numerous times. And, if you do go down in the winter, be forewarned, it can be brutally cold in the canyon, especially with the winter winds whipping.
Occasionally, a few of the Goats roam up into the Tetons, causing the officials there to go into a tizzy, worrying about them crowding out the native bighorns.
Also check out this more detailed post on Mountain Goats: Mountain Goats of the Snake River Canyon:
Coyotes and foxes can be seen around the valley most of the year. Foxes are usually common in the Wilson area, but I’ve seen foxes off and on all over. Coyotes are seen regularly on the Elk Refuge and in the sage flats. Keep an eye out for Badgers in the sage about anywhere. You can find Chipmonks, Ground Squirrels, Rabbits, and so forth just about all over. River Otter can occasionally be seen in Flat Creek, along the Gros Ventre, and around Oxbow Bend. Beavers build dams in side channels and are usually seen only in the early mornings or late evenings.