How to spot amazing wildlife without even leaving your car: a lazy man’s guide to Jackson Hole wildlife spotting
In my experience, the month of May is the best-kept secret for Jackson Hole wildlife spotting. Come June and July, warmer weather and increased traffic through the parks pushes many animals further up into the mountains. May is an ideal month to find animals if you know where to look. Bison, elk, deer, moose, antelope, and bighorn sheep are all plentiful during this time, and the determined spotter can even find the occasional bear or mountain lion. I spend a lot of time exploring the various roads in Jackson Hole and Grant Teton National Park and my determination to cover as much ground as I can in the smallest amount of time possible has made me basically one of the world’s foremost experts in Jackson Hole wildlife road spotting. For your benefit, I’ve compiled this this handy guide so you can know where to go to spot cool animals pretty much without even having to roll down the car window.
For best results, go early morning or late evening–I do most of my spotting between about 6 and 9 PM. Many animals are out and about in the hours right after sunrise and right before sunset.With one exception, all of these pictures were taken in May or early June and all of them were taken from the road and within 20 miles of Flat Creek Inn. Forgive the amateur photography–these pictures were all taken on my iPhone, in some cases through the window of a moving car. Without further ado, I present to you the lazy man’s guide to wildlife road spotting in Jackson Hole.
Best place to see them: the meadows on Mormon Row, between Blacktail Butte and the town of Kelly. There’s usually a resident herd of a few hundred bison hanging out within a few miles of the Mormon Barn. Driving north on Highway 89, turn right at the Gros Ventre (pronounced GROW-VONT) junction and follow it 5 miles until you come to a turnoff on the left side with a sign saying Mormon Row. This will take you down a dirt road behind Blacktail Butte. This road, which eventually leads to the famous Mormon Barn, is the most reliable place I’ve found to see bison. Keep your eyes on the right side of the road, looking out at the meadows to the east.
My favorite place to find moose is actually on the way to the bison-spotting area. After turning right from Highway 89 at Gros Ventre Junction, you’ll pass some campgrounds on the right for about a mile before the road moves alongside the Gros Ventre River for several miles. Keep your eyes on the river (assuming you’ve got someone else keeping their eyes on the road). The moose like to chill in the bushes and tall grass right next to the water.
Elk, Deer and Antelope
I’ve grouped elk, deer, and antelope together because I generally find them in the same areas. All are fairly common throughout Jackson Hole, but I’ve had particularly good luck finding them on the Teton Park Road leading into Grand Teton National Park. Drive north on Highway 89, turn left at Moose Junction and follow the road into the park. From the point that you pass park headquarters, you have miles of prime spotting ground ahead of you. The deer seem to stay near the trees on the left (west) while the antelope prefer the open sage brush on the right (west). Elk are found equally in both areas.
There are several good places to see bighorn sheep in the area, but I have yet to find anywhere that rivals the Elk Refuge Road. This is very easy to get to and has a high chance of yielding bighorn sheep sightings, particularly during bad weather. On windy, snowy, or rainy days, hundreds of bighorn sheep take shelter behind the butte that runs along the Elk Refuge Road. Starting at the Elkhorn Arches in Jackson, follow the main street, Broadway, east through town until it comes to an end. The Elk Refuge Road begins on the left where Broadway ends. Follow it about 1.5 miles until you’re behind the butte. At this point, just keep your eyes on the hills on either side of you and you have an excellent chance of spotting lone sheep and groups of up to several dozen at a time.
Bears are a little more rare, but you can find both black bears and grizzly bears frequenting the lower lakes of the Tetons (Taggart Lake, String Lake, Jenny Lake, and Phelps Lake), as well as up Gros Ventre Road near Slide Lake. For a pretty drive and a chance of seeing a bear, enter the park through Moose Junction, and follow the road about twenty minutes until you reach the North Jenny Lake Junction. Turn left and you’re on the scenic Jenny Lake loop which winds around the edge of Jenny and String Lakes, coming back out at the Teton Park Road. Be careful when spotting for bears– be smart and keep a safe distance.
Mountain lions are some of the rarest of all, but I’ve seen them on the Gros Ventre Road across from Slide Lake. Turn right at the Gros Ventre Junction and follow it past Kelly. One mile past Kelly is a road on your right going into the hills. Follow it another five miles or so through some of the most incredibly scenery you’ve ever seen and you’ll arrive at Slide Lake. Mountain lions occasionally come down from the hills to the lake; watching in the early morning or late evening will give you the best shot. If you see one, stay in your car.