A Wildlife Safari in Jackson Hole
Go into the heart of the American wilderness with an in-house biologist, and discover more outdoor activities with Four Seasons.
It’s a bright, clear morning. Our group is piled into an SUV and Tenley Thompson, a wildlife biologist and naturalist at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole, is leading us to the next lookout point of our wildlife safari. The four-hour expedition takes us through Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge. Our mission is to see the “Big Five”: elk, bison, moose, pronghorn antelope and mule deer.
As she navigates the SUV, Thompson explains that she got her taste for the wild as a teenager growing up in Jackson Hole, where her family lived part time. “As soon as I received my driver’s licence,” she says, “I drove straight to the mountains.” It was there that she spotted her first wolf and first grizzly bear; she’s been tracking animals ever since. Today, the 32-year-old has carved a career out of her mountain excursions, taking Resort guests on safaris to spy the Big Five as well as coyotes, mountain lions, river otters, owls, bald eagles, and—if they’re lucky—grizzlies and wolves.
Thompson approached Four Seasons five years ago about the possibility of offering luxury wildlife safaris. By that time, she had several years’ experience as a guide in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park and worked as a wolf tracker. The resort liked her proposal, and soon she was taking visitors to the far reaches of Wyoming to spot animals in the wild, something few city dwellers like me ever experience.
“Some people come from places where humans are the biggest, baddest things out there, and live in an environment where humans are in charge,” she says. “Then they walk into an environment where they’re the least important.”
This is certainly the case in western Wyoming, an area of the U.S. known for its vast stretches of wilderness. Even though downtown Jackson is just a five-minute drive from the Elk Refuge, it feels like miles. And once you’re outside the city limits, you’re in the wild.
But that doesn’t mean the safari is all bushwhacking. In reality, it’s anything but, as most of the territory covered is on protected land and vehicles must stay on the roadways. In true Four Seasons fashion, every aspect of the adventure is luxurious, from travelling in a luxe Mercedes-Benz SUV equipped with Swarovski spotting scopes to dining on the gourmet cuisine that accompanies the tours.
Thompson’s safaris are part of the Resort’s Wild West Academy, a programme that allows adventurers of all ages to explore Jackson Hole’s vast terrain, whether you’re looking to live out childhood dreams during a full-day “how to be a cowboy” lesson or crave peace and quiet in the great outdoors on an expert-led fly fishing excursion. The safaris vary according to season, and Thompson will adjust them to the whims of each guest. The tours have proved so successful that Thompson now has a team of eight guides, most of whom also have experience working as park rangers. She also knows how to measure her own accomplishment: “When I succeed is at the end of the day when someone leaves also passionate about animals.”