When to See Wildlife in Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole

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A small herd of cow elk graze in a meadow below the Teton Mountains in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (Mike Cavaroc)
A small herd of cow elk graze in a meadow below the Teton Mountains in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Below I’ve charted out the best times of the year to see the most requested wildlife in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Below the chart, I’ve described the reasoning for those times of the year, as well as areas that those particular animals frequently are seen. Keep in mind that nature works on its own schedule, so even though a box might be marked as red (not a good time to see it) you can still see it.

Please don’t ask me for specific updates on certain animals. As you can probably imagine, it would begin to take up quite a bit of my time. If you’re interested in having me guide a tour to help you find some wildlife, I can be hired through Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris. You can get in touch with them and just specify that you’d like me to be your guide. We stay up-to-date on wildlife sightings and scour the park for the best opportunities, so if you’re striking out or want to take the guess work out, give them a call and I’d be happy to show you around.

Green signifies the best times to see animals, while red is when it’s a little harder.

  January February March April May June July August September October November December
Bald Eagles                        
Bighorn Sheep                        
Bison                        
Black Bears                        
Elk                        
Grizzly Bears                        
Marmots                        
Moose                        
Mountain Bluebirds                        
Mountain Goats                        
Otters                        
Owls                        
Pika                        
Pronghorn                        
White Pelicans                        
Wolves                        

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles can be found year-round in both Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, but sometimes spotting them can be tricky. They have been easier to spot in winter, but they’re often seen around water in the summer as well, particularly around Oxbow Bend. Many people are fixed on looking at the ground for bigger animals and as a result, often drive right by many birds, bald eagles being one of them. Keep your eyes on the trees as well!

Bighorn Sheep

Two bighorn sheep rams spar in the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (Mike Cavaroc)
Bighorn Sheep Rams Ramming

Every winter, bighorn sheep descend from cooler elevations and canyons into lower areas of the region. One such herd makes its way down to Miller Butte in the National Elk Refuge in winter. Starting in November, the cracking of rams colliding can be heard, and throughout the winter they’ll be seen anywhere from the top of the butte, to the roadside. Once warmer months come around and snow melts though, they’ll disappear into cooler areas. Please remember that on the National Elk Refuge, all areas are closed to public access except the road itself. No one is permitted to walk anywhere off the road, especially up Miller Butte.

Bison

Bison have learned to follow the elk onto the National Elk Refuge every winter where they can expect to get fed. As a result, spotting them in winter requires very good optics and even then it’s still hard to make them out. Thus, once they begin migrating out of the Refuge in the warmer months, you have the best chance to see them as they begin their migration out into other areas of the park, and vice versa.

Black Bears

Like their grizzly relatives, black bears emerge every year once snow melts. This can range anywhere from March to May, those with cubs coming out near the end of May or even early June. As a result, they’re wandering around in many places and can be found frequently off the roadsides before warmer temperatures descend into the area bringing on summer. Once fall comes back around, many black bears find berry bushes that can be seen along some roadsides bringing in an extra season of bear watching.

Elk

Just about any month of the year is a good month for elk. In winter, thousands of elk can be seen from the main highway as they migrate into the National Elk Refuge for an easier winter than up north. Spring and fall are great for elk spotting as they make their way to and from the Refuge, where they can be found all over the roads as they make their way to a location that they know they’ll enjoy for summer and then back into the Refuge come fall. Once summer comes around, the viewing is a little harder as they primarily stick to the shade to keep out of the heat. In fall though, it’s not just great viewing because of the mating rituals and the antlers on the bulls, but it’s also great listening as you hear the males bugling for dominance and a harem of females.

Grizzly Bears

Grizzly Bear #399 of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming emerges from behind a spruce tree as she searches for her cubs after being separated from them in the spring of 2012. (Mike Cavaroc)
Grizzly Bear #399

The kings of the mountains here in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park, grizzly bears are typically very high on everyone’s list and for good reason. Like black bears, the best time to find them is when they emerge from their dens and due to snow still in higher elevations, are frequently found and spotted in lower elevations as they graze on wildflowers and roots while they wait for things to clear up in mountains, occasionally nabbing an elk calf for a meal. Most grizzly bears will start heading for higher ground once the snow melts from the warm summer air, but a few might stick around lower areas through the season. These few can include Grizzly Bear #399 and her family who frequent several miles in either direction from Jackson Lake Lodge.

Marmots

Marmots emerge in warmer months once the snow has subsided and will begin fattening up all over again for another winter. They’re typically found scurrying around boulder fields up in the Teton canyons and alpine scenery, but sometimes even make old logs and trees their homes that they find at lower elevations. They’re mostly mountain dwellers, but have been seen away from the mountains occasionally.

Moose

Moose love the snow. As a result, they’re very easy to find in the winter, lingering right off the roads throughout much of the season. As lovers of the cold, they begin moving higher up and out of sight once warmer weather moves in. With the cooler weather of fall coming back however, they’ll be out and about strutting their stuff for mating season beneath fantastic fall color displays. As a result, I personally enjoy fall best for finding moose.

Mountain Bluebirds

Spotting mountain bluebirds in Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole for the first time in the year is a sure sign that spring has arrived. They arrive in large numbers in March or April, depending on weather, and are frequently seen in open areas, such as Antelope Flats. With a neon blue set of feathers, the males are very hard to miss and are a delight to see for anyone, even for those not interested in seeing birds.

Mountain Goats

Though technically not found in Grand Teton National Park or Jackson Hole, mountain goats do descend from higher elevations typically in March and April and are seen near Alpine, Wyoming as they try to escape thicker snowfall up above on their normal territory. Without a good bit of hiking, those are the only mountain goats in the area that are easy to find.

Otters

An otter stands on ice on Flat Creek in the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, Wyoming. (Mike Cavaroc)
Otter on Icy Creek

We were very fortunate to have a small group of otters come and visit us right outside of town this past winter. Whether or not they decide to come back is another question. If they do, though, the winter months are the best times to find them in the openings in the frozen creeks. Otherwise, you can always take a pair of binoculars up to Oxbow Bend most times of the year to search for them swimming in any parts of the water there.

Owls

Both great gray owls and great-horned owls frequent the area here. Finding them though is another trick. They stay hidden in the trees unless they’re out for a meal. Coming out mostly around sunrise or sunset, they’re camouflaged well in the trees throughout most of the day. I’ve had the most luck with them in the spring, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only time you can catch them. Like most animals, however, they’re taking advantage of the freshly melted snow as well.

Pika

Mostly, you’ll only see pika up in the higher elevations of the mountains. They enjoy the cold weather and the boulder fields that make up both the alpine environments, as well as the ones that have fallen into canyons. As a result, you have to wait till the snow melts from those areas to see them, which means most people only see them while hiking the Tetons in the summer. You’ll know if they’re in the area though because you’ll hear their distinct call.

Pronghorn

A pronghorn buck stands in a snow-covered Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (Mike Cavaroc)
Pronghorn in snow.

Though pronghorn spend their summer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, they head south for the winter toward the Pinedale area. Their migration in and out of the valley is the best time to spot them as they explore their preferred territory coming in, and are in a hurry to get out before the snow gets too thick. Spring and fall are the best seasons to catch them because once the heat of winter sets in, they’re lying down throughout the day for the most part.

White Pelicans

White pelicans migrate in from the California area, and most of the ones here are still immature. This is evident from the lump you’ll see on their beaks. They’ll frequent the Oxbow Bend area throughout the spring, summer, and fall, but once the temperature begins dropping, they head back out to warmer climates.

Wolves

Wolves can be hard to find in Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole. They really like their privacy, but every now and then they allow a glimpse of them. Winter is typically the best time here to see them as they regain their hunting dominance from grizzly bears. It’s also much easier to spot them when you see black and gray animals running across a white landscape. They’ll typically follow the elk into the National Elk Refuge, but have also been seen farther north as well. You may also get lucky in the spring as some pack members break off from one pack in search of a new one.

Coyotes, Foxes, and Trumpeter Swans

I didn’t include coyotes, foxes, or trumpeter swans in the list because they’re fairly active throughout the year. Weather doesn’t seem to affect them so while coyotes and foxes are a hit or miss sighting regardless of season, trumpeter swans can be found at many watering holes and riparian areas as long as it’s not frozen completely over.

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Posted on June 6, 2012.
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