Jackson, Wyoming

Winter Wildlife Photography in Grand Teton National Park

Originally added by Michelle Olmstead

Winter is a great time to observe and photograph wildlife in Grand Teton National Park. The animals are easier to spot in the snow, and they are often near the road, allowing greater opportunity to get the shot than in the busy summer months.

Winter is a special time in Grand Teton National Park.  The landscape is transformed into a winter wonderland, and there is a stillness and quiet that you won't find in the busier tourist seasons.  It is also a prime time for spotting wildlife as many species move down from the surrounding mountains to congregate on the valley floor. 

In winter you can only access the park by vehicle via U.S. highway 191, which is just north of town square in Jackson, so your starting point will be from town.  Heading north, you will encounter the National Elk Refuge. Thousands of elk spend the winter here, and you can take a tour of the refuge via sleigh ride to see them up close. You can also drive the refuge road, which is just east of town.  Here you can see other species which frequent the refuge in winter including Bald and Golden Eagles, Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, and Bison.  Be advised that there is no parking along the road and just a few pullouts. 

Approximately 7 miles from town square (heading north on 191) you will come to Gros Ventre Junction.  This area is a prime spot for wildlife viewing, including moose and birds of prey who are frequently seen along the river.  After spending time in the Gros Ventre, get back on the main road and head further north into the park where you may spot coyote, fox, bison, and even wolves.  There are several packs in GTNP.  

Please make sure that you practice the principals of "Leave No Trace" when viewing and photographing wildlife. This includes keeping a proper distance from the animals, and not feeding them!  Feeding wildlife is very detrimental, as it causes them to become habituated to humans. Make sure not to do anything that will change an animal's natural behavior just to get the shot.  Especially in winter when an animal is eating and food is scarce, getting too close can cause them to abandon their food source.  It is helpful when photographing birds to use your car as a blind. They will often be spotted in trees or on power poles just off of the road, and shooting from the car can be necessary when it is not possible to get out and set up the tripod without disturbing the bird.  When I photographed the coyote fishing in the Snake River, I was far enough away that I was able to set up my tripod without disturbing the scene.  In addition, deep snow in the park will often cause wildlife to use the sides of the road to move around, which makes for easier viewing, but also creates the potential for collisions. When visiting the park in winter (and any season) it is vital to slow down, and be aware at all times.

As far as equipment goes, you will need to bring a lens with a long enough focal length for photographing wildlife. All shots here were taken with a Nikon D7200 body and a Tamron 150-600mm lens, and even on my crop body, I found myself wishing for a bit more reach. An extender would have been helpful. There are many places on the web to rent lenses with my favorite being borrowlenses.

Being prepared for winter conditions in the park is a must, as weather and temperatures can be extreme. It is not unusual for temperatures to drop to well below zero and stay there.  During a recent trip, we encountered -25 degrees Fahrenheit when we entered the park in the morning. In addition, roads are often covered in snow and ice, so a vehicle and tires that can handle those conditions are recommended.

Always remember that wildlife are unpredictable and there is never any guarantee that you will spot them, but winter makes it easier. Spending several days in the park definitely increases your chances.   

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Wildlife photography is something else in Grand Teton National Park. It's amazing, and the wildlife is pretty unique. It's really easy to pick out wildlife in the snow too. I love how few of people there are in winter too.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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