Although 700 grizzlies call the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem home, they’re significantly harder to spot then the more numerous black bears. Grizzlies sport a hump on the back of their neck, small rounded ears, a dished-face profile, and are typically bigger than black bears, weighing as much as 800 pounds. Primarily active at dawn and dusk, they are often seen in Yellowstone in the meadows of the Lamar Valley and southward towards Dunraven Pass. In the Tetons, the park’s famed Grizzly 399 and her daughter 610 can often be spotted in the open country around Willow Flats Overlook.
Do not surprise bears. Never hike alone, make plenty of noise, and always remember to bring bear spay!
Reintroduced into Yellowstone Nation Park in 1995, the gray wolf has flourished, expanding to a population of some 500 in the region. While the wolf still has a big, bad rep in some quarters, the animals have played a crucial role in reshaping a Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem long overgrazed by ungulates. Ecologically rich streamside habitats are once again flourishing as the wolves force elk and deer to move more about their range. In Jackson Hole, wolves can reach sizes up to 150 pounds, not to be confused with the equally lanky but much smaller- up to 45 pounds- coyote, and are most frequently spotted on the National Elk Refuge.
Your best chance of spotting elusive wolves is with one of Jackson Holes top wildlife outfitters.
The largest member of the deer family, moose can attain heights of seven feet and weights of 1,500 pounds. Their antlers, which are grown and shed each year, alone can span five feet and weigh as much as 50 pounds a pair. In summer, look for moose near water where they browse streamside willows. In winter, they munch on sagebrush and can be seen on the flats near the Jackson Hole Airport, or wandering in neighborhoods nibbling on choice shrubbery. Beware: Moose may look gangly, but they are fast, fierce, and moody. Locals are more wary of moose than any other commonly encountered wildlife species.
The largest animal in North America, a mature bison can weigh 2,000 pounds. They can also run 40 miles per hour and jump six feet high. Around 1,000 of these amazing animals inhabit the sage flat and forests of Jackson Hole and can often be spotted on a drive to the hamlet of Kelly, at the southeastern edge of Grand Teton National Park, or to the famously photogenic historic houses and barns of Mormon Row.
The Jackson Hole elk heard ranges between 6,000 and 10,000 animals, making it the valley’s most visible mascot. The herd winters on the National Elk Refuge just blocks from the Town Square, and each spring sheds its antlers before dispersing to their summer range throughout the valley. The local Boy Scouts annually collect and auction them off for charity.
Once endangered, America’s national bird has made an impressive comeback in recent decades and remains abundant in Jackson Hole, Grand Teton national Park. Spot the magisterial eagles year-round wheeling through the air, along the Gros Ventre and Snake Rivers where they feed on fish, or on the sage flats, where they compete for carcasses with coyote, magpie and ravens for valuable sustenance. With wingspans as wide as 6 feet, these birds of prey are hard to miss.
These two-toned deer may look like they’re from Africa, but their home is in these wide open plains. Capable of reaching speeds of 65 miles per hour, the pronghorn in north America’s fastest mammal. That doesn’t necessarily mean they move quickly on their annual 170-mile migration between their summer range in Jackson Hole and winter range near Pinedale, Wyoming though. One interesting fact-despite all that speed, pronghorn aren’t great jumpers. When they encounter fences, they’ll often try to wriggle under them rather than leap over.
Because they are the most elusive, smallest- and inarguably the cutest-member of the rabbit family, pika encounters are highly prized among locals. Weighing just six ounces, pikas are tireless foragers (read: they eat some 25 times each hour) and depend on a system of chirping alarms to keep the community safe from intruders. To find pikas, first listen for their shrill peeps on rocky slopes in the mountains and then look for them standing atop piles of talus, grass stalks protruding from their tiny mouths.
Listen for a yip or howl and look for small, 3-inch footprints to track down a coyote. Since the reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990’s, Jackson Hole’s coyote population has diminished somewhat as the canines share a taste for many of the same foods: rodents, deer, and carrion of all kinds. It’s still common however to spot these secretive animals trotting though open fields and howling in large choruses at night throughout the valley.
Photos Courtesy of Visit Jackson Hole
This article is from our 2020 edition of the Jackson Hole Explorer. The Official Guide for Grand Teton and Yellowstone. To read more stories like this tune into our #JHexplorer tab in the blog or visit here to get an Explorer of your own.
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