There are many places to choose from when you plan a trip to the United States. Whether it is the white beaches of Florida, or the flowers of Central Park in New York City, or the glitz and glamour of Hollywood in California, there are certainly enough to see and do from sea to shining sea. Far from Bourbon Street in New Orleans, is the wild side to the United States. Places like Montana and Wyoming offer extraordinary rustic experiences for tourists and residents (complete with daily shootouts). One such place is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And if you have never been to Jackson Hole, then you are truly missing out.
Work trips have brought me to Jackson Hole on two different occasions. Every time I leave, I always make it a goal to come back. The town is literally at the doorstep to the Grand Teton National Park. In fact, the regional airport here is within the boundaries of the National Park itself. A really quick history lesson about Jackson Hole - the very first people to settle in the region were Native Americans. The town became incorporated in 1914. Since then, the tourism industry has exploded as visitors from around the world come to explore the Grand Tetons, ski the local resorts, and raft the Snake River. The section of the Snake River that runs near Jackson Hole is notorious for its Lunch Counter and Big Kahuna rapids. I’ve rafted these rapids and I can say they are not for the faint of heart. You will get wet and you will scream and you will have a great time.
There are two seasons in Jackson Hole: summer and winter. In the heart of the town is the famous Town Square that features local eateries and shops. More on the Town Square in just a second. Just outside of town is the National Elk Refuge. According to its website, the National Elk Refuge, “provides, preserves, restores, and manages winter habitat for the nationally significant Jackson Elk Herd, as well as habitat for endangered species, birds, fish, and other big game animals.” A walking and biking trail runs parallel to the National Elk Refuge and you usually will see some wildlife from this trail. While driving to the airport, I spotted several bison and a herd of elk inside the National Elk Refuge. So be sure to bring your camera or some binoculars. I should mention you can book a tour through the refuge. I would strongly recommend booking a tour well in advance.
Jackson Hole is well known for its biking trails. The valley has more than 56 miles of paved bike trails that link the town of Jackson to Teton Village and Grand Teton National Park. There are also more than 100 miles of mountain biking trails. Don’t have a bike? No problem. There are several shops in town that rent bikes to visitors. After a bike ride in the shadows of the Grand Tetons, you can enjoy a number of après bike activities in town.
The pace in Jackson Hole is slow. There is really no rush to be anywhere. This is the perfect place to turn off your phone and unwind. You can take a stroll through the historic Town Square and shop. The Town Square has been the backdrop to a number of Hollywood western movies. The square’s distinctive arches (all made from elk antlers) is arguably the town’s main attraction. The Square itself is surrounded by dozens of galleries, bars, restaurants, factory outlets, and gift shops. The shops are set up as if you are walking along a boardwalk. During the summer months, you can hitch a ride through town in a stagecoach. I mentioned shootouts earlier. Daily shootout reenactments bring Town Square to a standstill as everyone stops to watch. It is an incredible and unique experience you won’t likely find in Times Square in New York City.
Aside from shopping, you can also walk along the bike path and watch wildlife pass you by. Or you can drive to a river or creek and try your hand at fly fishing. Local bands will often perform free shows at local restaurants or bars. There are regular performances at the historic Jackson Hole Theater. Phones are not required for any of the abovementioned activities so leave your phone behind. You don’t want to miss a single sight. This is a small town; if you blink, you will certainly miss a piece of the town that many of the locals here cherish.
I mentioned earlier there are two seasons: summer and winter. With that said, the population of the town tends to swell with tourists during these two seasons. If you want a great deal on flights and less tourist traffic, then I would recommend coming out during the off-season. If you have your heart set on hitting the slopes at a local ski resort, then book one of the International Vacation Home Exchange properties in Jackson Hole during the winter season. In fact, one of the vacation home exchanges is near the base to Snow King Mountain Resort. If you want to find your heart and soul in the Grand Tetons during summer, then now is a good time to start planning your trip. Jackson Hole was once a secret. The secret is now out as more and more people are adding the town to his or her travel bucket list.
About 55 miles north of Jackson Hole, is the south gate to Yellowstone National Park. You can certainly take a day trip through the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone, depending on the time of year. The road leading to Yellowstone National Park tends to close during the winter months so if you want to trek into Yellowstone during your trip, you may want to come out in the summer or fall.
American Airlines, Delta, and United all have flights into Jackson Hole. However, not all airlines provide daily flights into the town, so be sure to plan accordingly. And as always, safe travels!
Thank you to guest travel writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla