Jackson Hole takes justified pride in its identity as the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton – yet these two iconic national parks are only the beginning of the natural wonders accessible from this postcard-perfect Western town.
Encircled by peaks over 13,000ft high and vast areas of wilderness, the valley (or “hole”) surrounding Jackson is a four-season playground for adventurers, favored by skiers in winter and hikers, cyclists and nature lovers in summer. Arts and culture aren’t lacking here, either: with a full calendar of museum exhibits, art fairs, concerts, and other events, Jackson’s cultural offerings are far more plentiful than you’d expect in a town of just 10,000. Here’s how to play by day and relax by night in Jackson Hole.
Get some skiing in
Between them, Jackson’s two ski resorts complement each other with a wide spectrum of experiences, from the in-town convenience and family-oriented fun of Snow King Mountain to the plethora of runs and facilities at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the largest ski resort in Wyoming.
Founded in 1939 and relatively small in scope, Snow King has the low-key vibe characteristic of old-school, less-developed resorts. But don’t expect all bunny hills: Snow King offers almost exclusively steep, expert-level runs that tend toward the icy. It’s also the home of the alpine slide and the new Cowboy Coaster, a dizzying toboggan-like ride that skims down the equivalent of a 45-story building. The winter of 2021–22 will see the opening of a new summit gondola and back-side lift, part of $20 million worth of upgrades that will make it easier to access the resort’s runs as well as open up the sunnier south side of the mountain.
Expert skiers have plenty to lure them to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, with its more than 4000ft vertical drop from the top of Rendezvous Mountain and name-brand runs like the narrow chute known as Corbet’s Couloir. In fact, more than half JHMR’s runs are advanced, including 24 double-black runs. Three long beginner runs and 31 intermediate runs keep those still learning plenty busy.
Go snow tubing
There’s another way to zoom down the mountain in Jackson Hole: via Snow King’s King Tube, a classic family snow-tubing park with multiple runs for all levels. Like roller-coasters on ice, these exhilarating rides will leave everyone breathless and laughing and ready to go again. And there’s no need to climb back up the hill, since King Tube has a rope tow to pull you to the top. Tubing is also available when conditions allow at Grand Targhee Resort, a little over an hour to the west, where a chair lift ferries riders to the top of the runs. (To use the tubing parks, kids must be 42" or taller.) King Tube is open from early December to late March; check with Grand Targhee for news about tubing operations.
Ride a bike on the snow
Two wheels and snow banks don’t seem like the greatest combination until you see a fat bike, its extra-wide fork and five-inch tires designed to roll over compacted snow or sand without sinking or getting stuck. Perfected over the past two decades by cyclists determined to ride all year long and over all terrain, fat bikes have made snow biking one of the fastest-growing winter sports, with Jackson Hole a center of the action.
Sign up with Teton Mountain Bike Tours, an early proponent of the new sport, for a guided winter bike tour in Grand Teton National Park, or just rent a fat bike and tool around town on your own. The first ski resort in the US to incorporate snow biking, Grand Targhee has more than nine mlles of groomed Nordic track and six miles of single-track trails open to fat bikers. Teton Valley Trails & Pathways grooms a growing number of trails for fat biking and Nordic skiing, and publishes frequent updates on trail conditions.
Raft the Snake River
Many claim that Jackson Hole’s Snake River was responsible for the invention of whitewater rafting, as far back as 1811, when the first such trip was recorded. While the assertion may never be proven, what’s not in question is that rafting on the Snake River is the valley’s number-one summer activity. Choose from a host of local outfitters who lead half-day, full-day and multi-day rafting trips for all ages and abilities. The action gets pretty exciting as the river narrows between the sheer cliffs of the Snake River Canyon, where Class III rapids with names like Big Kahuna and Lunch Counter are tricky enough to thrill without terrifying. Outfitters like Barker Ewing and Jackson Hole Whitewater offer trips in eight-person small boats and classic rafts seating 12 to 14.
Relax on a float trip
As the Snake River, um, snakes through Grand Teton National Park, the meandering course provides the perfect vantage point from which to appreciate the camera-ready scenery. Lean back in comfort and watch bald eagles, hawks and osprey soaring overhead. The leisurely pace also makes for much better wildlife viewing, as you’re likely to spy shy moose, deer and elk as they forage along the riverbank; binoculars are a must, if you have them. You won’t get super wet on a float trip, but the wind can get chilly so bring a jacket or sweater for protection against cool breezes.
Celebrate the art of wildlife
Develop a fuller appreciation for the arts of wildlife photography, painting and sculpture at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, with its collection of more than 5000 pieces of “animal art” and ongoing photography and painting exhibits. The sculpture trail is always worth visiting as well. Known in particular for its collection of 19th- and 20th-century art of the American West, the museum in recent years has expanded its collection to include more modern pieces, such as Alexander Calder’s sketches of bears and deer to sculptures and carvings from Africa and New Zealand.
Listen to live music
Music echoes off the hills nearly every night during the spring, summer and early fall as Jackson’s numerous music festivals and concert series rival each other for variety and quality; concerts continue through the winter at venues such as Center for the Arts and Walk Festival Hall. Internationally renowned chamber and orchestral performances anchor the Grand Teton Music Festival, while national touring artists join the lineup at Jackson Hole Live, a summer outdoor concert series at Snow King Ball Park. In Teton Village, the popular free concert series Music Under the Tram kicks off in April. Music on Main, sponsored by the Teton Valley Foundation, brings notable singer-songwriters and rock and country bands to Victor City Park on Thursday nights from mid June to mid-August.
Enjoy an outdoor art fair
Time your visit to take advantage of the annual Outdoor Art Fair hosted by the Arts Association of Jackson Hole, which in 2022 will take place over the weekends of June 17–19 and August 5–7. A juried selection of nationally recognized artists, photographers, ceramicists, woodworkers and jewelers showcase their latest creations in conjunction with gallery exhibitions and a smorgasbord of food and drink offerings. Musical performances and family activities are part of the festivities as well.
Hike up a mountain
More than 97 percent of Teton County is made up of national parks and forests and other public, federally owned land open for exploration. Bridger-Teton National Forest is the largest national forest in the continental U.S. at 1.7 million acres, while Grand Teton National Park has eight peaks over 13,000ft. If those statistics don’t inspire you seek out some of the best hikes in Jackson Hole [[ED: LINK TO HIKING ARTICLE WHEN PUBLISHED]] the list of wildlife surely will – with bison, elk, moose, black bear, grizzlies, wolves and trumpeter swans all easily spotted.