Best of the Tetons

Web Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride Jan31

Sleigh Ride on the National Elk Refuge:

The Best Winter Deal in the Valley!

Anytime you visit Jackson Hole in the Winter, you should plan a sleigh ride trip onto the National Elk Refuge. The rides start in Mid-December and run through early April. With plenty of snow, the rides will be with horse drawn sleighs. With less snow, trips are handled with wagons, still horse drawn. The National Elk Refuge began in 1912—over 100 years ago!

Click Here for the Official Winter Sleigh Rides web site. It will contain specifics about your trip info, include all of the pricing and times. This post will highlight what I recently saw and experienced!

Web Heading Out Jan31

Heading Out: Park at the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center  on North Cache. Inside, you can buy tickets, pick up brochures, purchase area books and view the many exhibits and displays. A bus takes your group of visitors to the sleigh loading area a few miles north. The bus driver will explain a little of the history and what you might see on your trip. They load your party on a sleigh and head out into the refuge. Your sleigh driver and host will be informative and entertaining!

Web Flat Creek Jan31

Flat Creek: I had been planning on going out to take the Sleigh Ride Tour for quite a while, but I wanted to wait for a sunny day following a nice snow storm. On January 31, 2014, I did just that! The sleighs cross Flat Creek on a one way bridge just out from the sleigh ride headquarters. Patchy clouds gave me some interesting shadows and light that day. Most of the sleigh rides take visitors into the areas where the Bull Elk like to hang out.

Web Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride Jan31

Returning Sleigh and Sleeping Indian Mountain: Two or three sleighs will likely be already on the Refuge as you are going out. This one was returning. Sleeping Indian mountain is on the East side of the valley floor and may be visible on clear days. Depending on the snow pack, there can be 5000-7000 total elk on the Refuge in the Winter.

Web Resting Bull Elk Jan31

Resting Bull Elk: The elk are almost oblivious to the passing sleighs. They’ve all grown up with them while on the Refuge. Getting this shot “in the wild” would be almost impossible. For this trip, I used a Nikon D4 camera and Nikon 28-300mm zoom lens.

Web Bulls Jan31

Bulls by Flat Creek: Sometimes, it felt a bit “limiting” being in the sleigh. Right? If I were in the field, I’d have moved just a few feet to the right to get the middle bull in a better position. Or, I might have backed up to the left to get more of the left bull’s reflection. Still, you come home with quite a few nice shots and the feeling of a quality Jackson Hole experience.

Web Bulls Waiting Jan31

Bulls of Different Sizes: Bulls ranged from spikes to a 6×8. They are currently feeding on natural grass, but will be supplemented with pellets soon.

Web Palmated Antlers Jan31

Palmated Antlers: Our sleigh driver pull up close to this unique elk with palmated antlers. He explained it is genetic, but also the fact the cow elk tend to not want to breed with a bull without regular antlers.

Web Snow King Jan31

Backlit Bull Elk and Snow King Mountain: Lighting was tough on this one. I took it anyway because is shows Snow King Resort and the refuge’s close proximity to town. The south edge of the National Elk Refuge borders one of the schools and hospital.

Web Incoming Jan31

Heading In: As we were returning to the Sleigh Ride Headquarters, we passed another eager group heading out. The actual sleigh ride lasted about an hour. For my $19 ticket, I think I got a great deal and had a terrific experience. There are blankets on the sleigh to help keep you warm, but I’d suggest dressing warmly to start with. I’ve been out there on bitter cold days, but my January 31 trip this year was pleasant. On the way back to the Visitor’s Center, the bus driver answered a few more questions, then suggested additional areas to visit like the Bighorns on Miller Butte.

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Comments (3)

  1. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, I enjoyed looking at the photos from the Sleigh ride. It certainly looked enjoyable but I know you really have to dress warm for this. It looked like a great for it. thanks for posting the images. It looked like you had the right equipment for this.

  2. Bill Caskey

    I really enjoy you website as well as your images.
    I’ve visited GTNP and YNP many times, exclusively in the fall. Places in Grand Teton and Yellowstone which were once certainties for finding and photographing elk, now seem to be barren. The wolves, in my opinion, have ruined the observation and photographing of elk.
    I would like your opinion on this matter. I love elk. But to travel 1400 miles and find no elk has become a unacceptable venture for me.

  3. Bill, I don’t have official numbers, but just from my observations, it appears wolves are taking their toll on moose in the Tetons. There are few left in Yellowstone anymore. I’ve heard reports saying here are just as many elk in Yellowstone as before wolves, but they are not staying out in the open. Elk numbers on the National Elk Refuge have been steady, from what I hear. Wolves are visible in YS, while you hardly ever see them here. We get all the negatives without at least getting to see and enjoy them. This is one of the topics that is way over my first hand knowledge base. You hear so many statements that may or may not be accurate which can sway your opinion. MJ

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