One of our favorite parts of early summer in Jackson Hole is the abundance of wildflowers. Wildflower lovers who venture just a few miles into the Teton Range can expect rich rewards: fields of yellow, white, blue and red flowers draping the backcountry. The Northern Rockies boast plenty of beautiful and iconic wildflowers, everything from arrowleaf balsamroot to Indian paintbrush to fireweed. Head out on a hike in the late spring or summer, and just about any trail you choose in Jackson Hole is choked with color.
Below, we’ve picked a few of our favorite wildflower hikes. While these trails aren’t considered technically difficult, they do wander through wild, high elevation bear habitat. Knowledge of the outdoors and proper equipment are essential. Hikers should strongly consider carrying bear spray.
1) Ski Lake Trail—The Ski Lake Trail starts halfway up Teton Pass at the Phillips Pass Trail and climbs through forests and open meadows 3 miles to Ski Lake. The views are as spectacular as the wildflowers. People sometimes swim in the lake, but early in the year, the water temperature hovers just above freezing.
2) Alaska Basin Trail—For wildflower lovers willing make the drive, the Alaska Basin Trail is a must see. The trailhead starts at the end of Teton Canyon, which is accessed from the Idaho side of Teton Pass. From there, the Alaska Basin trail wanders along the bottom of the drainage through the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. After 2.7 miles, hikers can continue forward or opt to climb the Devil’s Stairs to a bench just above the valley.
3) Old Pass Road—Old Pass Road is a pathway that runs from the Trail Creek Trailhead at the bottom of Teton Pass to the parking lot at the top of the pass. The pathway is paved, but still fairly steep and hikers should keep an eye out for cyclists entering from any number of mountain bike trails in the vicinity. A lake halfway up the path provides a good spot for lunch. The area also includes unpaved trails that are off limits to cyclists such as the History Trail.
One final note: Our friends at Hole Hiking Experience offer great options for those people who prefer a guided tour.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming is located right in the middle of one of the wildest places in the lower 48-states. Nearly every animal that existed here when European settlers first explored the west still lives here today.
What’s amazing about these animals is that they manage to thrive in a high elevation habitat with heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures.
Number 4: Pikas—These members of the rabbit family hide out in high elevation rock fields. Not only are pikas some of the cutest creatures you’ll find in the Teton Range, they’re also some of the best at enduring cold temperatures. What pikas don’t like is heat. Sustained temperatures higher than 80 degrees can be deadly.
Number 3: Pronghorn—Clocking in at speeds of more than 55 miles per hour, these turbo-charged ungulates evolved to outrun a now-extinct North American cheetah. Each year the Grand Teton National Park pronghorn herd migrates roughly 100 miles to Sublette County and back over the rugged Gros Ventre Mountains. Recently, federal and state agencies joined forces to protect the Path of the Pronghorn from manmade disturbances that hinder that migration, such as housing developments and fences.
Number 2: Teton Range Bighorn Sheep—Scientists are constantly astounded that this isolated bighorn sheep herd continues to survive on the high elevation peaks of the Teton Range. In winter, they hang out on wind-scoured slopes and eat whatever they can find. Several agencies have set aside important winter range for the sheep to protect them for disturbance by backcountry travelers.
Number 1: Wolverines—These ultra-tough members of the weasel family have been known to kill bears and chew through logs. They can travel hundreds of miles in a single push and generally favor climbing straight over whatever mountains happen to block their path. Researchers say only few wolverines live in the Teton Range, where they give birth to their young in high elevation snow dens.
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.