"National wildlife refuges have a focus on habitat preservation and conservation, so we don't have some of the recreational opportunities that other federal lands offer, but we do have spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities," said Lori Iverson of the National Elk Refuge.
Tucked in the Jackson Hole area for the past 100 years, the refuge consists of over 24,000 acres. There is approximately 6,000 elk and 600 bison currently wintering on the refuge, but the area is also home to many other animals such as trumpeter swans, bald eagles, wolves and bighorn sheep. This draws people from all over the world to see and hear the wonders of wildlife.
"During the winter time our programs are wildlife van excursions and our sleigh rides allow people to have really close wildlife viewing opportunities," explains Iverson.
During the sleigh ride you can curl up in a blanket and relax for an hour while enjoying the tranquility of the wildlife in our own backyard.
"You get out on to the refuge, you are not that far from the highway and yet all of a sudden you are just conscious of the quiet and the peacefulness. You can hear the wildlife," said Iverson.
"Just the opportunity to be that close to the wildlife is extremely exciting, even for people who see wildlife on a regular basis," said Iverson.
Loading up into the sleigh with Donna and Dixie leading the way, you are amazed at how little the elk care of your passing and just how close you can get to the animals. David has been guiding tours for over eight years and says his job never gets old.
"It never does. There is always something new, always something new to see out here. Every ride is different," explains our guide David Wilkey. "The elk are always doing something different. They are 100% wild animals and so they do what they want and we just try to dictate our rides around them."
The guides are extremely knowledgeable on the refuge and of the wildlife on it. They make the experience even more enjoyable by answering your questions and leading you to the best sights to see. The bonus is that this can be an affordable day trip for the entire family.
"For what you get to do it's pretty inexpensive and there are a lot of other things in Jackson you can do while you are here so to make a day trip here, this is just a small part of a lot of other neat things you can do," said Wilkey.
And speaking of other things to do, if the sleigh ride isn't enough, there is also a free wildlife excursion van tour that is led by a naturalist onto Refuge Road that will allow you to see bighorn sheep and other animals. "To get up close and personal with nature. You can't do that at home sitting in front of the TV. You got to get out. Bundle up, get out and enjoy it," exclaims visitor Jay Alger.
For more information on the National Elk Refuge, you can go to their website at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/national_elk_refuge/ or if you would like to view more images of the Refuge then visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/collections/72157627800456603/.