Wyoming is breathtaking from the moment you get your first glimpse of the higher Tetons peeking through the clouds. Descending into Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), I could see a dusting of snow in the valley, but the mountains were thickly covered, a promise of great skiing and snowmobiling ahead during my four-day visit from New Jersey.
Jackson Hole is a valley (6,237 feet above sea level) created by the Teton Range to the west and the Gros Ventre Range to the east. The 310,000-acre Grand Teton National Park encompasses most of the valley and is just ten miles south of Yellowstone National Park.
The Old Western town that is Jackson sits at the valley’s southernmost end and borders the 24,700-acre National Elk Refuge. Simply put, it’s a nature enthusiast’s paradise. Jackson’s centerpiece is its four-elk-antler-arched town square, which is surrounded by restaurants, art galleries, retail shops, and small businesses.
Here’s a quick guide to eating, drinking, lodging, and finding adventure in winter in Jackson and greater Jackson Hole, Wyoming:
Where to eat
Of the dozens of top-notch restaurants near the town square, my top pick was the upscale local favorite Snake River Grill. Featured items included a branding iron of sweet onion rings, pan-fried veal sweatbread, wagyu zabuton steak, and beer-braised lamb crepinettes. The decor is rustic-refined, but jeans and boots are perfectly acceptable. Entrees are $21 to $59.
Two other choice spots:
- Gather, a contemporary rustic place with a friendly atmosphere. Dinner highlights included elk bolognese ($24) featuring tomatoes from Vertical Harvest (see below…) and small-plate offerings of bone marrow house sausages, pork buns with kimchi, and blue cheese risotto with currant jam ($15 average).
- Local, an American steakhouse with locally ranched meats. For lunch we sat at a table that overlooked the town square and enjoyed the steak burger ($17), a custom blend patty made of ribeye, New York strip and filet mignon.
But sometimes it’s not the fancy place where you have your most memorable meal. After several hours of racing around on snowmobiles in frigid temperatures in the Teton National Forest, I felt I’d never tasted anything more satisfying than the cheddar beer soup served in a caste-iron skillet at the Red Fox Saloon, a middle-of-nowhere spot we pulled our snowmobiles up to for lunch…
Snowmobiling and the outdoors
If you do just one thing on your visit here, book a half-day guided snowmobile tour with Scenic Safaris. They’ll outfit you in a snowsuit, boots, helmet, and gloves and then trailer your snowmobile 30 miles north of Jackson, deep into the National Park where expert guides will take you racing across vast open spaces and trails that lead through cathedral-like forests, with heavy snow-covered pines. The views are breathtaking, the experience exhilarating. A half-day runs $250-$295.
A more low-key adventure (but no less inspiring) is a Grand Teton wildlife tour, which I experienced in the form of a half-day guided Photography Safari ($145) visiting sites made famous by photographer Ansel Adams. Among them: Snake River Overlook, views of the Tetons, and some of the familiar landmarks of the American West.
Because your guide knows all the spots most visited by wildlife, there’s a good chance you’ll get pretty close to free-ranging elk, bison and pronghorns. An advantage of visiting during the offseason is that fewer people and their cars will mess up your clear shots.
You haven’t truly experienced Jackson Hole’s cowboy heart until visiting a few of its famous nightspots. I checked out three: The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, The Virginian Saloon, and The Silver Dollar Showroom at The Wort Hotel.
The first, that iconic bar with the neon bronco rider on the roof, is a must. Who cares that it’s a tourist trap and that the food’s bleh? The saddle barstools, the on-display cowboy memorabilia, the live music and rowdy crowds—it’s a memory-maker.
The Virginian Saloon has its own Old West atmosphere but felt more local to me. Highlights include the greasy bar food, pool room and karaoke nights. The Silver Dollar Showroom has just enough of an outlaw feel while remaining more suited to the older set. Great live music and even better dancing.
Where to stay
Hosting me on this visit was Marriott’s SpringHill Suites Jackson Hole (from $146/night), Jackson’s newest downtown hotel that opened last May. The 121-suite property is fifteen minutes from the airport and walking distance from the base of Snow King—known as “the locals’s mountain”—and the town’s central square. The lobby feels bright and contemporary yet warm. It has a lively, simple bar in the corner, creative seating throughout, and local art on the walls. There’s a spacious fitness center with a view, a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, and an impressive free breakfast buffet in the lobby.
When I entered my suite I couldn’t ignore the magenta glow that poured in through the front window. The source was a curious three-story glass building across the street. At first I thought the tenants were cultivating pot, but later discovered that the building is the world’s first vertical greenhouse growing salad greens and tomatoes.
The urban garden—called Vertical Harvest—occupies a lot that’s just a tenth of an acre, but it’s able to produce five acres’s worth of agriculture using this stacked model. Pesticide-free, using hydroponic technology (they even have their own pollinating bees!), it provides fresh produce year-round to Jackson Hole’s restaurants and grocery stores. And if that weren’t cool enough, Vertical Harvest also provides jobs to adults with developmental disabilities. Weekly tours are available.
Skiing and snowboarding
There are three ski mountains in the Jackson Hole area: Snow King, “the locals’s mountain,” Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and on the western side of the Tetons—about an hour and fifteen minutes from Jackson—Targhee Resort.
I skied JHMR ($136 for weekend all-day adult lift ticket) and to be honest, was a bit apprehensive due to its reputation of having challenging terrain. But when you have pristine packed snow and zero ice (the norm out here), the steeper slopes are more manageable than what we Easterners are used to. It also helped to have expert instructor Kathleen with me the whole time for technical and moral support!
If you take advantage of all that Jackson Hole has to offer, I swear you’ll return with a bit of that cowboy spirit in you.
On when to go:
If you’re lucky or smart enough to book during the offseason (April/May and October/November), not only will you save cash via great deals (two-for-one dining specials, store sales, bargain lodging rates), but you’ll also appreciate the quiet streets, easier reservations and absence of lines!
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