There is nothing more iconic in Jackson Hole during the winter than heading out onto the National Elk Refuge, the wintering grounds of the Jackson Hole Elk Herd—by sleigh.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Jackson Hole 

Elk Herd on Refuge

Hundreds of years before any settlers made it west of the Mississippi, elk had free range of country from the eastern states through to the west, grazing open prairies, mountain valleys, and foothills. As pioneers made their way west, the elk herds lost their large migration routes and were soon reduced to just the western mountains. By 1900, elk had disappeared from more than 90 percent of their original range.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, as more people settled in Jackson Hole, homesteads, cattle, fences, and farming encroached on more of the elk migration pathways and wintering areas. Severe winters, reduced elk forage, and decreased habitat contributed to the starvation deaths of thousands of elk in Jackson Hole.

While homesteaders and other locals needed to protect their domestic cattle herds and haystacks, they also saw the need to maintain healthy elk herds in the valley. As a result of the growing concern, the homesteaders and locals began feeding the elk and in 1912, the National Elk Refuge was formed. Back then, folks would just jump on a sleigh and head out.

Sleigh on Elk refuge

Over the years, sleigh rides have evolved because of their growing popularity. The Refuge had to hire more drivers and sleighs in response to the number of people that wanted to view the elk. In 1965, the refuge contracted out the first sleigh rides as a result. That season saw 2400 riders.

More than thousands of people enjoy the winter opportunity to enjoy the elk herd from horse-drawn sleighs each year. Last year’s turnout was about 34,000 riders. 

Sleigh rides operate from 9 am-4 pm daily and are approximately 45 minutes to one hour on the sleigh. But from check-in to drop-off, estimate that the whole adventure will take about 90 minutes.

horses on refuge

The sleigh rides happen whether the weather is made up of bluebird skies or dumping snow. Be prepared to be outside in the elements the entire time, and dress to be outside—no blankets are provided but you can bring your own. provided, for an hour or longer

Photo Courtesy of Visit Jackson Hole

Bull Elk on Refuge

The National Elk Refuge consists of nearly 25,000 acres devoted to elk winter range. This represents the last remaining elk winter range in Jackson Hole. The National Elk Refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is one of more than 545 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Reservations are by phone only at 307-733-0277


Adults: $35

Children (Ages 5-12):   $20

Toddlers & Infants (Age 4 & Under)  Free

*Gratuity for sleigh driver/guide not included


Private sleigh rides are available upon request.


Tickets are purchased in the parking lot of the National Elk Refuge & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center at 532 N. Cache St. in Jackson from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm during sleigh ride season. Look for the white trailer. New shuttles depart from the visitor center parking lot every 20-30 minutes.