Our Wildest Neighbors: Tips for Spotting Wildlife in Jackson, Wyoming
Since the earliest days of Jackson Hole, one of the most fascinating and special parts of the valley is the diverse wildlife that dwells in the wilderness around town. Just like in the “old days,” it’s entirely possible to see a moose meander through the Town Square, or catch a glimpse of bison grazing below the Tetons. But if viewing Jackson Hole’s wildlife is at the top of your family-friendly vacation “to do” list, there are some great ways to increase your chances, including a river trip with us!.
If You Want to See Wildlife, Timing Counts
Especially in the warmth of summertime, many animal species prefer to avoid moving around during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, you’re much more likely to see wildlife during the morning and evening hours. It just so happens that these are the best times of day to take photographs of animals, too! So, don’t be in a rush to get to dinner, and give yourself some time to take the scenic route back to town. You just might be rewarded with a spotting of a true Jackson Hole native like a coyote, wolf or moose.
How to Spot Animals from The Snake River
The Snake River (and its tributaries) are the source of a great deal of life in Jackson Hole, and many species depend on the waterway daily. The channels and pools are home to Snake River Fine-Spotted Cutthroat Trout – a native fish that’s exclusively found in this part of the country. And – of course – there are all the animals who count on trout for dinner! The dense, old-growth cottonwoods that flank the Snake River are the perfect place to spot bald eagles; it’s one of the highest population densities of eagles outside of Alaska. The National Bird likes to perch on the branches above the river, lending them the perfect perspective to swoop in and snag a trout.
Osprey – fish hawks – are frequently seen in the same areas as bald eagles. Keep a sharp eye on these agile birds, and you might see an incredible performance. When they spot a fish in the water below, they’ll hover for a moment before diving right in – osprey make quite a splash! Other creatures that thrive in the riparian ecosystem around the river include majestic great blue herons, trumpeter swans, beavers, and even families of playful otters.
Floating on the river is an excellent way to see Jackson Hole’s wildest residents. Both scenic and whitewater trips cover miles of river, and explore spaces that simply aren’t accessible by foot or vehicle. Often, the quiet approach of the boat is subtle enough that wildlife isn’t frightened off by your arrival, giving you plenty of time to watch, and get that perfect photo.
The banks of the river offer cool shade and lush greens for moose, elk, bison, and deer, and it’s common to see them amble down for a drink. Other visitors to the riverbank include red fox, badgers, coyotes, ravens, red-tailed hawks, and pronghorn antelope. It really is the valley’s premiere watering hole; if you’re supremely fortunate, you might even get to glimpse a black or grizzly bear!
If you’re on a Dave Hansen whitewater or scenic river trip with your family, the kids will have the opportunity to fill out a wildlife sighting Bingo card included in their Jr. Ranger activity booklet, which makes them eligible for a Jr. Ranger patch at the end of the float trip!
Wildlife Viewing Skills: Patience & Quiet
All of the animals you see throughout the Jackson Hole valley are very much wild, and can be easily spooked by loud sounds or sudden movements. Though it might be tempting to get up close and personal with a lumbering bison, it’s best to give them – and all of their wild neighbors – plenty of space. In addition to not crowding animals, try and avoid making too much noise (like slamming doors, honking car horns, shouting).
When you spot an animal, it’s fascinating to stop and observe it for a while. Find a safe location to pause and enjoy – you might get the chance to see some interesting behavior! Imagine watching a coyote pounce on its prey, or a bear cub scamper up a tree – priceless experiences in the wild.
Jackson Hole is home to some incredible and unique species, and spending time with them can be an unforgettable – even magical – part of your trip. Be sure to have that camera ready – you never know what you’ll see!