Mountain Highs: Head to Jackson Hole, WY, For a Wild Weekend
Wyoming? When just saying a state's name sounds like a doubt-filled question, it might be hard to get pumped about using your PTO for a vacation there. But like Paris, Jackson Hole is always a good idea.
For one, it offers four seasons of fun, especially for those people nurtured by nature or craving an adrenaline rush. The air is fresh, as is the beer. The mountains are majestic, the wildflowers vibrant, the people welcoming, the food and shopping scene constantly improving. Hell, even the airport, the only commercial one inside a national park, has a roaring fire, reclaimed wood paneling, and a fine-art photography exhibit. And thanks to a movement to turn downtown motels past their prime into plaid-clad influencer bait at slightly more affordable price points, there has never been a better time to grab your fleece and head into the wild of the Cowboy State.
Nature calls. You should answer.
Locals live to play outside, and spending time in the great outdoors will forever be the number one reason to visit the region. Surrounded by towering peaks, the valley floor is dotted with rivers to fish and raft on, trails to traverse, and fields of flowers to admire while watching puffy white clouds drift by. There are gorgeous places to rock climb, bike, hike, run, hunt, cross-country ski, skip stones, golf, ride horses, and play ultimate Frisbee. After the sun sets on clear nights, lift your gaze up and study the brilliant stars. It is certainly easy to stay active around these parts, and gulping up that clean oxygen will do city mice wonders. Just remember the air up there is pretty thin, and sea-level dwellers should watch for signs of altitude sickness. Also always remember a raincoat or an umbrella, as quick daily showers are common even in the height of Summer.
Park yourself at Grand Teton National Park for much-needed unplugging.
With its winding streams and jutting titular peaks, Grand Teton National Park is a prime example of why the national parks are nicknamed America's best idea. While there is certainly enough to do to fill a week, especially if you're interested in backpacking to backcountry, you can experience a good portion of the park in a couple of days. There are more than 200 miles of trails through wildflower fields, past pristine lakes and waterfalls, up mountains, and across bridges. Horseback riding, mountaineering, and snowshoeing are available in various seasons. The first phase of a bike path opened in 2009 and allows people to bike into the park from Jackson, although heavy snow and the annual elk migration shut it down.
See Grand Teton National Park from the water.
A surprising number of water-based activities are offered in GTNP. You can float the Snake River, kayak on Jackson Lake, stand-up paddleboard on String Lake, or hop aboard a motorized boat for a spin around Jenny Lake. Fishing is legal with a license. Take a polar bear plunge into a creek if you dare.
So many slopes, so little time.
In Winter, skiers and snowboarders have ample opportunities to become king of the mountain and powder-puff girls as the Jackson Hole valley is home to three ski areas: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Grand Targhee Resort, and Snow King Mountain Resort. The latter is actually at the edge of town, close enough to walk.
Getting a bird's-eye view has never been easier.
The fun is not over at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort when the snow melts. Introduced this summer, the Via Ferrata, the first US Forest Service-approved one on public land, makes rock climbing more accessible to beginners, people afraid of heights, kids, and those who aren't as active. These "iron ways" assisted climbing paths were first built in Italy during WWI to help move military equipment and units through the Dolomites, and they were later restored and turned into tourist attractions by the Italian Alpine Club. Participants harness up, borrow specialty shoes (with lots of grip in the soles), clip on, and then scurry up granite rock faces and across suspension bridges using a series of iron rungs and cables. All the while, the lead guide will regale with stories about summiting the highest point on every continent and his many Everest expeditions.
And if that is still too bold for your blood, you can instead take the aerial tram, the longest continuous lift in North America, to Rendezvous Lodge. After grabbing a shockingly yummy meal at Piste Mountain Bistro (mushroom toast is a must!) or a cocktail on the open-air deck, return the 4,139 vertical feet via the Bridger Gondola or head down on foot. Tandem paragliding, mountain biking, and free outdoor concerts are also popular warm-weather offerings.
Stay at a do-tell motel.
Camping is always an option, and there is no shortage of expensive luxury resorts or rental homes, but we suggest checking into one of the aforementioned revamped economy lodges like Mountain Modern Motel for more reasonable prices and a hipper vibe. Opened in May, the 135-room property is only a few blocks from the main square and is chock-full of social-media-genic details like Buffalo plaid blankets, "you are here" map wallpaper, pendant lighting made out of flashlights, hooks made out of carabiners, and a chalkboard word search on the walls of the rooms.
Adorable for sure, but it's the more utilitarian decor that's the true draw. Custom gear walls have specially shaped cubbies and movable hooks to hold skis, hiking poles and boots, snowboards, and backpacks (which MMM also has available for rent), thus eliminating long waits at the equipment valet or having to chance leaving them on or in the car. The minifridge is empty and oversize, so storing snacks and picnic fixings overnight can also save precious minutes in the morning. There are rooms with bunks for friend getaways and families. The door also has an illustrated guide to what not to forget when you head out to explore. Plus, whatever doughnuts don't sell in the cafe in the morning are put out as complimentary afternoon snacks.
Have close encounters of the animal kind.
So many critters (marmots, squee!) call this wilderness home that you will likely cross paths with a few, but if you want to leave it less to chance, book a Jackson Hole Wildlife Safari. The guides, most of whom dabble in photography and can give helpful hints, pick you up at the hotel with breakfast and then drive around looking for moose, deer, birds, bears, and bison in their typical hangouts while talking area history, park trivia, and flora and fauna facts. They're also in constant communication with each other to share sightings. There are half- and full-day options offered in both national parks. If you are really lucky, you'll catch sight of a wolf pack. (Increased chances in cold months.) Also in cooler months, you can spot elk congregating at the national refuge between town and the park for free.
Things'll be great when you're downtown. Everything's waiting for you.
Jackson is an incredibly walkable city. Start in the main square and get the selfie with the iconic elk antler arches out of the way so you can focus on scouring the shops for the perfect souvenir. Not to be missed are Mountain Dandy, Made (which carries lots of locally made artisan wares), Lily & Co., Nest, Paper and Grace, and New West KnifeWorks (should you be in the market for a sweet hatchet). Gear up for alpine adventures at local outfitter Stio, and gawk at the pelt bikini through the window of the Alaska Fur Gallery. It's been the ra-butt of jokes for years. (Sorry, couldn't help ourselves.)
If you leave hungry, you did it wrong.
The food scene is consistently improving here, and there are far more places to eat, snack, and drink than any visitor will likely have time to check out on one trip. Definitely prioritize breakfast and trail and car nibbles from Persephone Bakery (its berry muffins are beyond), Café Genevieve (chicken and waffles), and The Bunnery (granola). Dornan's in Moose makes excellent sandwiches, which can be ordered ahead of time and picked up on the way to the parks. Pick up Local Butcher sausages if your accommodations have a grill. Lotus Café's "wellness cuisine" should satisfy even the pickiest vegans or vegetarians.
It is easy to avoid chain dining and instead support locally owned and loved businesses like Trio and Big Hole BBQ. Fine Dining Restaurant Group has cultivated a mini empire that includes restaurants like French-American Rendezvous Bistro and Italian small-plates Enoteca, wine bar Bin 22, specialty grocers like Bodega, ice cream maker Cream + Sugar, and a new craft meats retail line called Bovine + Swine.
Sip something special.
For such a small town, there are a lot of small-batch ways to get tipsy. One of the least expected is at a tasting at the Jackson Hole Winery. Grapes are sourced from California, Oregon, and Washington but blended and cellared at 6,229 feet above sea level so the cool mountain air helps preserve aromatics during the slow fermentation process. Join the owners and their energetic pooches in the tasting room, housed in a converted century-old barn, or on the patio that backs up to Spring Creek to try cleverly named reds (The Outlaw, Catch & Release), whites, and the Alpine Glow Rosé.
The craft beer craze is alive and well in the area. Every Thursday is cheeseburger pie day at the Snake River Brewing pub, and you can wash one down with a Zonker stout or Monarch pilsner. Melvin Brewing has a taproom in town serving up IPAs, a Mexican-style lager called Heyzeus (the label features a shirtless god in a bullfighting costume), and Killer Bees (an American blonde ale).
Happier with the hard stuff? Seek out Jackson Hole Still Works for vodka and gin made with water from surrounding pinnacles and in-state grains and botanicals. Just across the border in Idaho, the Grand Teton Distillery produces various vodkas and whiskeys in flavors like huckleberry, Vishnovka cherry, and spiced apple pie.
And if you need something virgin, grab ice-cold lemonades made by the Dust Cutter Beverage Co. using recipes passed down through generations.
The bar scene is colorful but shuts down early by urban dweller standards. You must slide up to the bar on seats made out of saddles at The Million Dollar Cowboy. On Tuesdays, listen to live bluegrass and cut a rug at the Silver Dollar Bar inside the historic Wort Hotel. Glorietta, a dimly lit trattoria that promises via sign that "you're a stranger here but once," brought the craft and classic cocktail revolution to town.
Cowgirl up at the rodeo.
The west is still wild at the Jackson Hole Rodeo, which fills the bleachers on the far end of town up to three times a week in season with displays of expert roping, riding, and hanging onto bulls for dear life. However, the most hilarious and heartwarming activity on the program is markedly amateur. All the youngsters in the crowd are called to the ring to try to capture the flag attached to a berserk baby animal, but mostly they end up tripping over their own feet and getting a face full of dirt. A Behind the Chutes Experience is offered for those who want to dive deeper into the cowboy life. But be forewarned: that tour promises manure and salty language. Be sure to grab a homemade hand pie before they sell out. Wrangle up boots, hats, belt buckles, and cowboy tchotchkes in the mobile horse trailer outpost of the popular downtown boutique Jackson Vintage.
Take a day trip to Yellowstone.
You'll never forget the world's first national park, because this nearly 3,500-square-mile area of bucolic splendor is full of unique natural wonders including colorful hot springs, gurgling mudpots, fumaroles, dramatic canyons and waterfalls, wandering bison herds, and exploding geysers. Eat lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge while admiring the classic parkitecture and waiting for Old Faithful to spew. You can also hike, fish, horseback ride, take a photography class, step on the Continental Divide, take a selfie under Roosevelt Arch, snowshoe, visit the museum dedicated to the guys and gals in olive green and beige, or just meditate by a peaceful lake. It is further afield than Grand Tetons but certainly still within day-trip range if you don't want to uproot your base camp in Jackson.