December months generally reinforce the cold that moves in from November, solidifying winter in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park, both literally and metaphorically. Many animals are now ending fall migrations, and making last minute preparations for the season.
Bald eagles are relatively easy to find this time of year thanks to elk hunts occurring in both nearby national forests, as well as Grand Teton National Park. The extra food leftover from hunters lures them away from the rivers and creeks into more interior lands where they wouldn’t normally search for food. Look for them on Antelope Flats taking advantage of anything hunters in the area will leave behind.
Beavers and Otters
Both beavers and otters are still active throughout the winter, despite much of their habitat being frozen over. Though sightings can still be rare, look for activity around the Oxbow Bend area and other similar terrain in the northern parts of the park.
Black and Grizzly Bears
Both grizzly and black bears have, for the most part, gone into hibernation. With winter in full swing, their food is scarce and in the snow is too cumbersome for travel or hunting, forcing them to go conserve energy until food becomes a bit more readily available as the snow melts.
Don’t get too discouraged yet, though! Many grizzlies in the area have learned that they can follow hunters to also take advantage of elk remains that are left behind. This does, sadly, lead to many conflicts, but it also keeps them moving around before heading in for a late hibernation. Though it’s a long shot, they can sometimes be seen anywhere from Antelope Flats to Pilgrim Creek.
By now, most bighorn sheep have migrated down into the National Elk Refuge, and will spend lots of time on the east side of Miller Butte. A dirt road that leads into the National Elk Refuge passes right by this location, and bighorn sheep can frequently be found along the roadsides grazing on what grasses they can find, thanks to typically heavy winds minimizing snow accumulation. Early in December, the rams are also winding down from mating season, but can still be seen occasionally cracking heads together.
The majestic bison are frequently making their way toward the northern end of the National Elk Refuge during the month of December. Though they’re hard to see from public vantage points once in the refuge, they’ll frequently cross through Antelope Flats near the town of Kelly to finish their migration.
Coyotes and Foxes
Coyotes and foxes will both be hunting extensively in large open flats for rodents beneath the snow. They can frequently be spotted throughout Antelope Flats, as well as the National Elk Refuge. Keep a watchful eye and you might get to see them pounce into the snow head-first for their prey!
Throughout the month of December, most of the elk will complete their migration into the National Elk Refuge. Once the entire Jackson Hole Elk Herd has migrated into the refuge, roughly 8,000 can be viewed easily from Highway 89 as it passes along the refuge north of the town of Jackson. If they’re not already there, they can frequently be seen in Antelope Flats working their way toward the Gros Ventre River, the northern boundary of the National Elk Refuge.
Thanks to the elk hunts taking place in their usual habitat along the Gros Ventre River, many moose vacate the area to feed on bitter brush and other creeks that run through Antelope Flats. They can typically be found anywhere around the base of Blacktail Butte, as well as the flats spread out eastward toward the Gros Ventre Mountain foothills. The males will still have their antlers during December, so it’s a perfect time to see them with some snow on the ground!
Mule deer are frequently spread out across the valley. Believe it or not, they’re frequently spotted in the town of Jackson, so keep a sharp eye around your lodging or hotel. Farther into the park, they too enjoy the vegetation along the Gros Ventre River, and much of the landscape just north along the southern perimeter of Antelope Flats. Look for the large ears popping up in the sagebrush.
Most of the pronghorn will have headed out of the valley by November, due to their inability to effectively travel through snow. If any of the herds got stuck in the valley though, they’ll most likely be on the National Elk Refuge, mingling with the bighorn sheep.
Winter is typically prime wolf viewing season! Though their migration habits and territories are often disrupted due to hunting, forcing them to find new packs and territories frequently, they are still spotted from time to time throughout the winter. Because of this, encounters are generally considered both fleeting and lucky. These sightings can occur virtually anywhere along the roads throughout Grand Teton National Park.
Hire a Personal Guide and Instructor
Want to maximize your chances of seeing these animals? Book a Master Class with me and I’ll take you around Grand Teton National Park and show you all the secrets I know to help you come away with some fantastic photography of the area, as well as personally teaching you how and why the animals behave the way they do, so that you can learn how to take full advantage of your time in the here!