The wild things are all around you out here, but you need to know what to look for and where to look if the animals and birds aren’t necessarily making their presence known. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. Here are our tips about where to spot wildlife in and around Grand Teton National Park.
Where to Spot Wildlife in Grand Teton National Park
Moose Wilson Road
Skirting the mountains between the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center and the Granite Canyon park entrance, look for beaver ponds, moose in the willow marshes and bears ransacking the berry bushes.
Kelly Loop and Antelope Flats
This less-traveled road in the eastern section of the park is a great place to observe plains species, such as bison and pronghorn, amongst the sagebrush, and to pick out historic buildings.
One of the most scenic Grand Teton National Park vistas, this is also one of the richest for wildlife, with moose wading in the wetlands, hundreds of species of birds and many other critters dropping by for a drink or graze.
National Elk Refuge
Throughout winter the National Elk Refuge is home to some 7,300 elk. Although the wapiti (the Shawnee term for elk) are visible as you drive by, the best way to meet them up close is by taking a Double H Bar horse-driven sleigh ride around the 25,000-acre refuge.
Rides are offered from mid-December through early April. Tickets may be purchased at the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor’s Center on N. Cache St.
Bison, coyotes, bald eagles and occasionally wolves can also be viewed out on the refuge. During winter, plentiful big horn sheep climb up and down Miller Butte and wander about the elk refuge road.
Bear in mind (pun intended) that bruins sleep through winter in their dens so you will not be able to spot them in the valley during that season. Come spring, summer and fall, however, you might have an opportunity—hopefully at distance—to “meet” one.
Wild Creatures Demand Space
Nearly 500 animal species inhabit the Greater Yellowstone region. Viewing wildlife can be the highlight of any vacation, but remember, these animals are truly wild and unpredictable. Staying safe around wildlife means giving animals a lot of space.
Different species and individual animals have different needs for space, but it's best to stay at least a couple hundred feet away from wildlife, particularly around mothers with young. Not only can animals attack, but the presence of human beings can be a severe stress to them. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens on your camera to get close. Wildlife watchers should always avoid following or approaching wildlife.
Wild animals will often give warning signs if people are getting too close. Those signs can range from laying their ears back and pawing or stomping the ground to lifting their tail, raising the fur on their back or woofing in the case of bears. Sometimes a wild animal simply raising its head to stare at people is a sign that an attack is possible. People often recognize that bears can be dangerous, but they don't think about seemingly docile animals such as moose or bison. One of the most dangerous animals is a cow moose with a calf. Grizzlies are dangerous, but your chances of having an encounter with a bison or moose are much greater.
For specific suggestions on good places to go at different times of the summer and fall, talk to the naturalists at one of the valley's visitor centers such as the Jackson Hole-Greater Yellowstone Interagency Visitor Center at 532 N. Cache. Another option is at Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center in Grand Teton National Park headquarters, Moose. Download Grand Teton's brochure on wildlife viewing.
Large bulls weigh up to 750 pounds. Predominantly grazers, elk eat grass most of the year. During winter, when snow covers the grass, they may consume the bark of aspen trees.
Best places to view: Summer—early and late in the day near Timbered Island and Jenny Lake, in Grand Teton National Park. Winter—on the National Elk Refuge.
Interesting facts: During the fall rut, dominant males collect harems of about 30 females (cows) on average, breeding with them and driving away other adult males. Before an during this time, bulls bugle (make a loud, screaming vocalization) to advertise their strength and fitness to to other elk.
The bison is the largest North American land mammal; adult males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. These giant animals are herbivores that mostly graze on grass. They look docile but they are not; do not approach one! Bison account for the majority of animal attacks in the region.
Jackson Hole bison calve from early April through July; the majority of calves are born in May. Another great time to view bison is in August during breeding season, known as the "rut," because of the males' aggressive interactions with one another.
Best places to view: Yellowstone National Park, Kelly/Antelope Flats loop and Elk Ranch Flats during the summer; National Elk Refuge during the winter.
Interesting facts: Bison can jump a 6-foot fence from a standstill and gallop at speeds up to 35 mph. Calves weigh up to 50 pounds and are reddish in color for the first three months of life.
After the arrival of settlers, hunting reduced the North American bison population—once estimated to be 30 million—to near extinction. Conservation efforts have restored numbers from some 1,000 animals to about 500,000.
Myth buster: Although the term "buffalo" is often used—inaccurately—to describe the American bison, these animals are not even closely related to the two major "true" buffalo species, which reside in African and Asia.
Wildlife Photography Tips in Grand Teton National Park with Tom Mangelsen
Jackson Hole's legendary nature photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen shares his thoughts and advice on photographing the big game in Grand Teton National Park. One of the most prolific nature photographers of our time, Mangelsen is as much an artist as he is a conservationist. Tom was named the 2011 Conservation Photographer of the Year by Nature's Best Photography, placing his work in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He was named one of the 40 Most Influential Nature Photographers by Outdoor Photography. See his gallery, Mangelsen-Images of Nature, in downtown Jackson, Wyoming during your visit.
Males weigh up to 140 pounds. Pronghorn are herbivores and prefer shrubs and forbs (wildflowers) to grasses.
Best places to view: Elk Ranch Flats and Antelope Flats.
Interesting facts: It's thought that pronghorn evolved their quick speed when pursued by a now extinct North American cheetah. They have been recorded sprinting up to 60 mph, which is faster than any other mammal in the Western Hemisphere.
Myth buster: Pronghorn are often mistakenly called "antelope," because of their resemblance to some African antelope. However, pronghorn are in a unique taxonomic group and are not closely related to a true antelope.
Males are slightly heavier than females, weighing up to 130 pounds. Usually seen in packs of about 10, wolves are exceptionally capable predators, often running down prey in open territory. In Jackson Hole, they primarily feed on elk.
Best places to view: Infrequently seen in the Willow Flats area or among sagebrush flats throughout Grand Teton National Park. More commonly seen in northern Yellowstone National Park.
Interesting facts: By the 1930s, wolves were extirpated in the Yellowstone ecosystem though hunting, trapping and poisoning. Reintroduction efforts in the mid '90s released 66 wild wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. There are now about 1,600 wolves in the Northern Rockies.
Coyotes have had to keep an eye on their backs since the 1994 reintroduction of the grey wolf to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but the smaller, resilient canine is still doing just fine despite the competition.
Best places to view: Out on the flats approaching the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort one can watch coyotes for hours during the winter as they hunt for mice and other small rodents that live beneath the snow. Year-round, they can often be seen on the sagebrush flats near the Gros Ventre area.
Interesting fact: On summer nights, their yipping and yowling can travel for miles, giving folks settling down for the night either a chill or the sense that this is indeed the Wild West.
The moose is the largest antlered animal in the world. Bulls weigh up to 1,200 pounds. Most moose are solitary, but you may see them in small groups during winter.
Best places to view: Willow Flats, Moose Wilson Road and along river corridors in Grand Teton National Park during the summer; sagebrush flats during winter.
Interesting facts: Moose can eat as much as 70 pounds of leaves, twigs and aquatic vegetation per day. Their main defense mechanisms are their hard, sharp hooves. Their antlers, mainly used for display purposes, are among the fastest-growing tissues in the animal world, growing as much as an inch a day.
Males are larger than females, weighing on average 250 pounds. Sheep are herbivores, browsing shrubs during the winter and grasses and wildflowers during the summer.
Best places to view: Miller Butte, in the National Elk Refuge, primarily during winter. During summer, bighorns can be found at high elevations in the Teton and Gros Ventre ranges that border Jackson Hole.
Interesting facts: Bighorn sheep's hooves are able to cup around rocks for traction on sheer rocky faces. Males establish a dominance hierarchy in the fall by running and clashing together, making contact with their horns, sometimes on very steep slopes.
In the Greater Yellowstone Area, male grizzlies, called boars, can weigh up to 600 pounds. They have a distinctive shoulder hump and their ears are short and rounded. Grizzly bears are known as opportunistic omnivores, which means they'll eat anything from berries, grasses, tubers and insects to fish and newborn elk, deer and bison.
Best places to view: Willow Flats and Oxbow Bend
Interesting facts: Grizzly sows (females) give birth to one to four cubs mid-winter while in their dens; the number may depend on the mother's health. In the fall, one of the most important food sources for grizzlies is the nut from the whitebark pine tree, which is in decline due to pine beetles and a non-native fungus.
Of the estimated 50,000 grizzlies that existed in the West in the early 1880s, fewer than 2,000 remain today—and only in large, remote places like the Yellowstone ecosystem. Since being listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, grizzly populations have rebounded significantly.
See Grand Teton Park's "Safety in Bear Country" recommendations.
Unlike grizzlies, black bears have no distinctive shoulder hump and their ears are tall and pointed. Boars weigh in at 200-plus pounds.
Best places to view: Signal Mountain and Jenny Lake during the summer months. Another good place to spot black bears is along the Moose Wilson Road, which runs along the east side of the Teton Range in the south end of Grand Teton National Park.
Interesting facts: Cubs, born mid-winter, weigh less than a pound. Black bears' curved claws make them great tree climbers. They often climb trees to find food, escape predators—or just to take a nap!
One of the most valuable lessons for visitors to learn is: "A fed bear is a dead bear." Bears given access to human food or trash often have to be euthanized because of the danger their familiarity with people creates.
Myth buster: Bears don't actually hibernate for the winter. They go into a deep sleep, called torpor, but their body temperature doesn't drop as low as that of truly hibernating animals. They can also be awakened by loud noises or attempts to touch or move them.