Nature lovers, ski addicts, and outdoor enthusiasts gravitate toward the scenic beauty and low-key, Wild West vibe of Jackson Hole. One of the most coveted destinations in the U.S. for its epic mountain trails and hamlets (go ski and heli-skiing in winter and hiking and white water rafting in summer) this historic town exudes timeless charm and a cowboy-inflected, folksy style. Home to three ski resorts and a portal to two of the world’s grandest national parks, Jackson Hole is for adventurers and those seeking to immerse themselves in nostalgic Americana. Just don’t go looking for the “hole,” that’s what yesteryear’s trappers called Jackson’s vastly deep valleys, edged with snaggletooth-topped mountains, under an endless Wyoming sky. Here are some of our favorite things to do in this mountain gem.
Where to Stay
Architect Ed Tuttle, the creative dynamo behind many Aman hotel designs, created Amangani to meld into the hilltop where it lords over superlative nature and panoramic vistas. Just 20 minutes out of town, you’ll feel worlds away at this redwood and sandstone retreat, which is contemporary in shape, but ancient in gravitas and soulfulness. With just 44 suites, it rewards guests with solitude and grounding, while also luring them out to play with VIP activity options like guided wildlife tours and winter mountain services all planned by a ski concierge. R&R is the name of the game here — relax by the hillside lap pool and lose yourself at the wellness spa enclave, over sybaritic, multi-stepped treatments designed to outset all that physical activity.
Explore the Square
Channel your inner cowboy at Jackson Hole’s Town Square which features wooden sidewalks that lead to authentic Western shops and galleries, which sit side-by-side with James Beard noted eateries, snack stores, bars, nostalgic souvenir shops, mountain fashion outlets, and a funky boutique hotel or two. Snap yourself beneath the ever Instagrammable shed elk antler arches on the Square (no animals were hurt to build them). Explore the town (and its hinterlands), where the snow mounds in winter and the landscape radiates bottle green in summer — when moose, bears, and other wildlife come out to play.
Grand Teton National Park, just minutes from Jackson Hole, brims with mountains, icy lakes, rocky slopes, and fish-profuse rivers. Backcountry adrenaline junkies can explore it year-round by snowmobile, paraglider, bike, or foot. For a less strenuous experience, steer your car along the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway to glimpse Jackson Lake and its other storied neighbor, Yellowstone National Park. Just an hour down the road, Yellowstone — which incidentally celebrates its 150th birthday this year — spreads for nearly 3,500-square miles, amid volcanic terrain. Marvel at its gushing geysers, such as Old Faithful, which mottle the expanses, along with leafy forests, harrowing canyons, and snaking rivers. Keep your eyes peeled for Grizzly Bears at both parks (I saw cubs on my last visit), as well as wolves, moose, elk, antelope, and bison.
Soak up your environment after a long day of adventuring at Granite Hot Springs, a remote enclave, wedged into the Gros Ventre Mountain Range, 40 minutes south of Jackson Hole. Here you can immerse yourself in the healing waters of the hot springs — temps reach 93 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and 112 degrees Fahrenheit in winter — while enjoying epic views of the vistas, surrounding pine, and fir trees. In winter, arrive via snowmobile, dog sled tours, or atop cross country skis, and come summer cars easily navigate the bumpy remote road that leads to this natural hydrotherapy nirvana.
Expect to see a moose or two on the loose — in addition to elk and other wildlife roam freely around the valley, on the streets, meadows, and mountains. In winter, head to The National Elk Refuge to be treated to the glorious sight of the largest migrating elk herd in North America from a horse-drawn sleigh. In the summer, join a safari with a well-trained guide and explore the terrain in search of moose, deer, coyotes, bears, and wolves. Expert guides and trackers take guests out into the parks and other wilderness areas in luxury cars or vans to search for animals. At key spots, guests will stand atop cliffs or beside rivers, binoculars aloft, to scan for animals. Guides often set up scopes, aimed at far away expanses. Patience inevitably leads to a sighting (or ten) of everything from bear cubs to bison.
Let it Snow
Given its location in Wyoming’s far western corner, Jackson Hole gets loads of snow, which explains why it’s considered one of the best ski resorts in the U.S., if not the world. Shred in powder at any of three ski resorts. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, composed of 4,139 heart-pumping vertical feet, is the area’s most famous and challenging. For a family-friendly (and beginner-friendly) option, try Snow King Mountain, locally referred to as “Town Hill,” or drive 75 minutes to Grand Targhee Resort, ever buried in deep power, to engage in fun activities like snowcat skiing. All areas transform into hiking and biking wonderlands once the snow melts.
Jackson Hole’s surrounding expanse is just begging to be explored. Raft the rapids of the mercurial Snake River, undulating through canyons. Burst across the snowbanks in a snowmobile or snowshoes. Dog sled through pine-filled forests. Clip clop on horseback like bygone trappers, or float over the landscape from the clouds in a hot air balloon or strapped to a paraglide. Meanwhile, hikers and bikers will be in heaven with around 100 nearby trails, offering varying levels of difficulty, and multi-day trips led by experienced guides.
A famed bolthole for anglers, the Jackson Hole area has plenty of cast-worthy locations, from lakes to creeks to rivers, inside and outside the parks. Book a fly fishing expedition, complete with an expert guide to reel in Rainbow trout, Yellowstone cutthroat, and Brown Trout while immersing yourself in the spoils of nature.
The culinary scene in Jackson Hole is thriving. Our top pick is the James Beard-nominated Persephone Bakery & Cafe, which tempts with buttery pastries, turmeric lattes, and dishes like spicy Shakshuka and rib-sticking coq au vin stew. Be sure to also ascend the mountain via the Bridger Gondola for lunch in winter or dinner in summer to nosh at Piste Mountain Bistro to get your fill of house-made game chili crock and chorizo mac and cheese.