Jackson Hole plays host to some of the most spectacular wildlife in the lower 48 states, but nature offers no guarantees. Some of the most iconic species in the region are notoriously shy. Below, we highlight a few top secret wildlife watching tips and hot spots (including our favorite, the Snake River!) to help increase your odds of victory in the Serengeti of North America.
Tips for Jackson Hole Wildlife Watching:
1) Don’t approach the animals—Wild animals are just that: wild. Don’t be the visitor who is involved in an unfortunate incident with a bear or bison while trying to take a photo. The National Park Service recommends maintaining a distance of at least 100 yards from predators and 25 yards from everything else.
2) Dawn and dusk are best—Many of Jackson Hole’s charismatic species are most active in the early morning and early evening. For wildlife photographers, that means the perfect photo in the magic hour. For drivers, that means increased risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Slow down and pay attention!
3) Spring and fall are best—Time your visits to coincide with local wildlife migrations for a better chance of viewing elk, bison, pronghorn and many other species.
What: Bald eagles, waterfowl, moose, elk, river otters, etc.
When: Spring, Summer, Fall
Description: Take a float trip with Barker-Ewing Whitewater and let your guide show you the dozens of species that call the Snake River corridor home.
Where: Miller Butte, Elk Refuge Road, the National Elk Refuge
What: Bighorn Sheep
Description: The National Elk Refuge abounds with wildlife viewing opportunities, but one of the most rewarding involves a trip out on Elk Refuge Road to watch bighorn sheep on Miller Butte.
What: Bison, elk, everything
When: Spring for baby bison
Description: This iconic loop in the east part of Grand Teton National Park is known for lots of wildlife. In the spring watch for baby bison. They’re the bright orange/red bundles of cute at the center of the herd.
Paddling is hungry work. One of the best parts about a rafting trip with Barker-Ewing Whitewater is the appetite you build up after a day on the river. Luckily, you’re visiting Jackson Hole, a town known far and wide for its fantastic food. Jackson features numerous dining options, from buffalo steaks to pizza to Thai. Below, we’ve compiled some of our favorite restaurants in Jackson Hole for apres-paddling food and fun, as well as our favorite grocery stores and markets. If you still can’t decide, ask our guides and staff for their favorite place to eat!
Blue Collar Restaurant Group: Operates six restaurants in the Jackson area: Merry Piglets (Mexican), Sidewinders (sports bar, restaurant), Noodle Kitchen (Asian), Artisan Pizza Italian Kitchen (Italian), Liberty Burger (Burgers), and Bubba’s (barbecue). You can’t go wrong with any of them!
Creekside Market: A combination liquor and convenience store known by locals for its great deli sandwiches—across from the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center.
Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company: Aims to sustain the ranching traditions of the Great American West by selling premium buffalo and elk meat—located near Smith’s grocery store, south of Jackson.
Jackson Whole Grocer: A locally owned upscale grocery store featuring fresh, natural and organic foods, high quality baked goods and an expansive beer, wine, and liquor selection—located on South Hwy. 89.
Pizzeria Caldera: Serving thin-crust, Napolitana-style pizza hot from a stone-hearth oven—located in downtown Jackson.
Silver Dollar Bar and Grill: Located in the historic Wort Hotel and serving high quality food and drink to locals and visitors alike for decades.
Snake River Brewing: Award winning beer and delicious food at the brewery in downtown Jackson—a local favorite.
Thai Me Up: Authentic and delicious Thai food and an award winning micro brewery—located in downtown Jackson.
E.leaven: A bread-obsessed restaurant and catering company featuring made-from-scratch comfort cuisine—located in downtown Jackson.
While the craggy, high elevation peaks in the Teton Range are known for their excellent mountaineering, there are plenty of easy to moderate hikes that don’t require ice axes, carabiners and crampons.
Still, many Jackson Hole activities involve venturing out into the wilderness. Wildlife encounters and sudden weather changes can happen anywhere, anytime, and it never hurts to be prepared. Below, we list a few items that you should strongly consider throwing into your backpack for your Jackson Hole day hike.
Warm/appropriate clothing—Even in summer, a sudden snow storm is not unheard of in the Jackson Hole weather repertoire. When you’re out hiking, be sure to bring extra layers such as a waterproof shell and a warm hat. Good, sturdy running or hiking shoes are a must on the region’s rugged trails. Pants are generally a good idea, especially when your route may lead you off the beaten path.
Cell phone (fully charged)—Unplugging from technology is great, until you need to call for help. Carry a fully charged cell phone in a waterproof bag, just in case you or someone you see on the trail finds serious trouble. Turn your phone off to preserve the battery. Just remember, local search and rescue teams may charge you for the cost of your rescue, especially if you don’t really need rescuing.
Headlamp—Even the best intentioned, best prepared hikers sometimes get caught on the trail after dark. A headlamp with fresh batteries makes finding your way to the trailhead, or surviving a night out in the woods, much easier and safer.
Sunscreen—Jackson Hole’s high elevation means there’s less atmosphere to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. Carry a travel-size container of sunscreen and apply it several times throughout the day.
Water—Grand Teton National Park is famous among microbiologists for the discovery of a nasty diarrhea-causing bacteria found in its lakes and creeks. People venturing into the backcountry should always carry plenty of water, and should consider carrying water-purification tablets in case they run out.
Food—Bonking in the middle of a hike can make that last three miles to the trailhead seem more like 30 miles. Each member of your group should carry enough food for the trip, and an extra nutrition bar or two just in case.
Bear Spray—Both grizzly and black bears live in the wild places around Jackson Hole, and bear encounters can happen anytime, anywhere. Researchers say bear pepper spray is much more effective than bullets at stopping a bear attack. It also works on moose, bison and just about any other kind of mammal you can think of. Plus, bear spray is non-lethal, so you’re protecting yourself and Jackson Hole’s wildlife. Warning: Bear spray is nasty stuff. Don’t leave it in a hot car and read the directions carefully.
Other gear—pocket knife, emergency whistle, matches/lighter (check fire restrictions/prevent forest fires), first aid kit, sunglasses, bug spray.
There’s no doubt that the grandeur of the southern Yellowstone region is best experienced while hiking, boating or horseback riding, and it would take a lifetime to see it all. But, for motorists on a Jackson Hole vacation, here’s a one day trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks that lets you cram in as much beauty and wildlife as possible into a single day.
First, a few caveats: This loop is closed from early November to late May, entering the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks requires an entrance fee or a pass, and summer traffic can make this route take much longer. Also, please watch out for wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk.
That said, this 254-mile, 7-hour (not including stops) loop takes you through some beautiful country in eastern Idaho and Montana, and right past some of the most popular attractions in both national parks.
First, take Highway 22 west over Teton Pass. At the state line, the name of the road changes to Highway 33 and heads into Victor, Idaho. In Victor, it’s mandatory to stop at the Victor Emporium for a huckleberry milkshake. From there, stay west on Highway 33 through Driggs and Tetonia.
Just outside of Tetonia, take a right onto Highway 32. This route takes motorists over rolling hills through mile after mile of potato fields, and offers some stunning views of the west slopes of the Teton Range.
Highway 32 intersects with Highway 47 in Ashton, Idaho. Take a left onto Highway 47 and then a right onto Highway 20 toward Island Park. At several points, this route intersects the Henry’s Fork, known to anglers as one of the best trout rivers in the lower 48 states. For those who don’t mind a side trip, Harriman State Park offers opportunities for fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking and historic tours.
From Island Park, continue on Highway 20 to the Montana state line and into West Yellowstone, Montana. People with children may want to consider a side trip to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. The center is a non-profit wildlife park for grizzly bears and gray wolves that are unable to survive in the wild. Lucky visitors may get to see Sam the grizzly bear test bear resistant trash containers.
From West Yellowstone, drive east and enter Yellowstone National Park on Highway 191. The route takes motorists along the Madison River toward Madison. Then turn right toward Old Faithful. Along these stretches of road, bison jams are common and any number of the park’s thermal features and pullouts can offer a worthwhile diversion. One of the most popular and most beautiful is Midway Geyser Basin, which hosts Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States. Bathers beware, the spring comes in at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
After Old Faithful, drive east to West Thumb and then take a right toward the park’s South Entrance. After a brief trip through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, travellers enter Grand Teton National Park on Highway 89/191/287. Again, this route offers plenty of attractions. Depending on traffic and stops, you might arrive at Jackson Lake Lodge just in time to see the sun dip behind the Tetons.
This is the final stretch. Here you can opt to bear right onto the Teton Park Road, or go left to 26/89/191 and then head south toward Jackson. If it’s getting close to dinnertime, either route takes you close to Dornan’s, where weary travelers can enjoy beer and pizza while enjoying yet another amazing view of the Tetons.
After you’ve gone on your whitewater rafting trip, check out some more of the area on a bike ride! Whether you prefer twisting single track littered roots and rocks or mile after mile of silky smooth pavement, Jackson Hole in the summer offers plenty of great bike rides. Below we’ve picked three rides for beginner to advanced cyclists. Click here and here for maps and visit Hoback Sports for rentals and more details.
For roadies and beginners, perhaps one the most scenic sections of pathway in Jackson Hole is a four-mile stretch from Jackson Hole/Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center to Moose, Wyoming (also called the North Pathway and the Park Boundary to Moose Pathway). The pathway runs roughly parallel to 26/89/191 and takes cyclists past the National Elk Refuge, the Jackson National Fish Hatchery, over the Gros Ventre River and into Grand Teton National Park. From Moose, people can turn around or keep going to Antelope Flats Road or remain on the pathway system to Jenny Lake.
For those who love the dirt but not the danger, the Cache Creek Trail offers several miles of two track to the Wilderness Boundary just past its intersection with the Game Creek Trail. People itching to explore a little single track can opt for the Putt Putt Trail, a moderately difficult trail that parallels the Cache Creek Trail. The Putt Putt Trail offers inexperienced riders plenty of opportunities to bail out, if necessary.
Mountain bikers who feel stout of heart and lung can try Ferrins Trail, a steep trail loaded with switchbacks that winds its way up to a saddle at the top of Snow King. From there, riders can opt to turn around or take the West Fork of Game Creek Trail to the Game Creek Trail back to the Cache Creek Trail and/or Putt Putt. This route offers more advanced riders a relatively lengthy, difficult ride into the mountains. Proper equipment, plenty of water and good maps are essential.
Another great option is a guided Jackson Hole tour. Our friends at Teton Mountain Bike Tours offer half-day, full-day and multi-day trips into some of Jackson Hole’s most beautiful places.
Due to its remote location and rugged terrain, Jackson Hole is widely considered one of the last places Europeans explored and settled in the lower 48 states. But despite its relatively recent discovery, the area is steeped in fascinating history.
The Shoshoni, Crow, Blackfeet, Bannock, and Gros Ventre American Indian tribes all left evidence of their passage in the form of fire pits and tools at archeological sites scattered across the valley. John Colter—a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition—first entered Jackson Hole in the early 1800s to scout for a fur trading company.
Below, we’ve listed three must-see attractions in Grand Teton National Park for history buffs looking for Jackson Hole summer activities. Visit the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum in downtown Jackson for more information.
Menor’s Ferry—Homesteader Bill Menor built Menor’s Ferry near Moose, Wyoming in the late 1800s to access his 148-acre property on the west bank of the Snake River. The site, which includes cabins and a store, was purchased and restored by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1929. The site played a part in a number of pivotal events in Jackson Hole’s history including the first ascent of the Grand Teton and the founding of Grand Teton National Park. It was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Park Service employees restored the ferry in 2009.
The Murie Ranch—Located just south of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, the Murie Ranch is considered the cradle of the modern day conservation movement. Olaus and Mardy Murie, and Adolph and Louise Murie purchased the STS dude ranch in 1945.
From the Murie Ranch, the family played host to preeminent wildlife biologists and advocates. The family argued passionately in favor of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and Mardy Murie was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the effort in 1998.
Today, the ranch is home to the non-profit Murie Center, and ranger-led tours of the site are available from the visitor center.
Mormon Row—Tucked away on the north side of Blacktail Butte, Mormon Row was first settled by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1890s. The community eventually grew to include 27 homesteads, and was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Today, several of the original buildings still stand in an expanse of pasture land that is the summer home of Grand Teton National Park’s bison herd.
You’ve just traveled hundreds of miles to the nation’s premier outdoor recreation hot spot, and now sky has gone dark and sheets of water pour down your hotel room window.
Summertime in Jackson Hole usually means lots of sunshine, but when it does rain, there’s still plenty to do. Below, we’ve gathered six fun rainy day activities in Jackson Hole to keep you and your family entertained through worst weather the Tetons can manage. The rain never lasts long during summers here, though, so be sure to book a family rafting trip for your vacation, too!
Jackson Hole Children’s Museum — For the kiddos in your crew, the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum offers hands-on opportunities to explore science, art, and play. Ongoing exhibits include the Wild Wind Machine, the Magnet Wall, and Creativity Studio. Check the website for ongoing programs.
Swimming — Water lovers will enjoy a full length lap pool, a hot tub, a water slide, and a splash pool complete with waterfalls at the Teton County Parks & Recreation Department Recreation Center. Land lovers can shoot hoops or take an exercise class in the rec center gym. Be sure to check the pool schedule before you pack the car.
The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center — Located at Moose Junction, this ultramodern visitor center boasts 22,000 square feet of interpretive exhibits on the history, geology and wildlife of Grand Teton National Park. Look for ranger-led hikes to the historic Murie Ranch.
Hole Bowl — Set ‘em up and knock ‘em down. Jackson Hole’s only public bowling ally, Hole Bowl is set to open in 2016 with 10 lanes, a dining room, a children’s play area, foosball and pool tables.
Jackson Hole Cinemas — Jackson Hole Cinemas operates three theater locations in the Jackson Hole area. Offerings include everything from the latest Hollywood blockbusters to film festivals.
National Museum of Wildlife Art — The National Museum of Wildlife Art hosts the Nation’s premier collection of wildlife paintings and sculptures. Visitors enjoy more than 5,000 pieces of art from more than 550 artists dating from 2500 B.C. to present. The museum also features a restaurant and kids play area.
Dating back to the first European explorers to climb the Grand Teton, Jackson Hole has a long and distinguished reputation as an outdoor sports Mecca. Now, with its world class rafting, skiing, mountain biking and climbing, there’s little doubt that Jackson Hole is North America’s premier destination location for adrenaline junkies and casual adventurers alike.
After you’ve shot the Lunch Counter and the Big Kahuna rapids on a rafting trip with Barker-Ewing Whitewater, be sure to check out some of our other favorite summer activities in Jackson Hole:
1. Climbing — With Exum Mountain Guides, mountain climbers benefit from the oldest and most experienced guide service in the United States. Their expert staff has trained and guided people on trips up the Grand Teton for more than 80 years. Exum offers climbing adventures for people from ages 8 to 80 for everything from a fun day bouldering with the family to epic alpine adventures.
2. Horseback riding — Owned and operated by Dustin and Laura Child, Horse Creek Ranch offers horseback riding, trail riding, pack trips, backcountry fishing and big game wilderness hunting for a true western adventure. For a shorter trip, contact Teton Village Trail Rides.
3. Cycling — In the last 10 years, the Bridger-Teton National Forest has spearheaded a concerted trail-building effort on Teton Pass and the Greater Snow King area. Couple that with a pathway system that will soon reach from Teton Village, through Jackson, south to Hoback Junction and north to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, and Jackson Hole into one of the nation’s premier cycling destinations. Contact Teton Mountain Bike Tours for great cycling trips.
Hoback Sports also has bike rentals and maps.
4. Tram ride/Paragliding — Jackson Hole Mountain Resort operates its iconic aerial tram in the summertime too. Take a trip to the top of Rendezvous Mountain for a spectacular view of the Tetons. The more adventurous can sign up for a paraglide ride down 4,000 vertical feet to the valley floor.
5. Fly Fishing — If your rafting trip with Barker-Ewing Whitewater leaves you thirsting for more, consider a combination rafting-fly fishing package with Jackson Hole Fly Fishing School. Other fly fishing pros include the guides at Mangis Fishing Guide Service for trips on the Snake, Salt, Green or New Fork rivers. Beginners are welcome and trout are guaranteed!