Winter in Jackson Hole, WY: Food and Adventure With a Cowboy Spirit

Magnificent view of the Tetons while snowmobiling in Jackson Hole

Magnificent view of the Tetons while snowmobiling in Jackson Hole

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's downtown streets lead straight to Snow King Mountain, known as "the locals's mountain"

Jackson’s downtown streets lead straight to Snow King Mountain, known as “the locals’s mountain”

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.

Four elk-antler arches frame Jackson's town square

Four elk-antler arches frame Jackson’s town square

Here’s a quick guide to eating, drinking, lodging, and finding adventure in winter in Jackson and greater Jackson Hole, Wyoming:

 

Dinner is served at Snake River Grill

Dinner is served at Snake River Grill

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.

Dehydrated tomatoes from Vertical Harvest in a Mediterranean salad and tomato bisque at Enoteca

Dehydrated tomatoes from Vertical Harvest in a Mediterranean salad and tomato bisque at Enoteca

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.
Cheddar beer soup topped with bacon and popcorn at Red Fox Saloon

Cheddar beer soup topped with bacon and popcorn at Red Fox Saloon

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…

 

Togwotee High Mountain Tours allows for open meadow runs

Togwotee High Mountain Tours allows for open meadow runs

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.

Cold temperatures bring the elk down from the mountains and into the National Elk Refuge

Cold temperatures bring the elk down from the mountains and into the National Elk Refuge

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.

One of the most photographed sites in Wyoming is the weathered Moulton Barn in Grand Teton National Park

One of the most photographed sites in Wyoming is the weathered Moulton Barn in Grand Teton National Park

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.

 

Heading over to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

Heading over to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

Nightlife

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.

Heavy competition at the tables at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

Heavy competition at the tables at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

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.

Two-stepping at The Silver Dollar Showroom at The Wort Hotel

Two-stepping at The Silver Dollar Showroom at The Wort Hotel

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.

 

SpringHill Suites Jackson Hole, opened in May 2017

SpringHill Suites Jackson Hole, opened in May 2017

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.

SpringHill guest suites with pull-out sofas easily accommodate families

SpringHill guest suites with pull-out sofas easily accommodate families

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.

Business Director Sam Bartels gives a tour of Vertical Harvest

Business Director Sam Bartels gives a tour of Vertical Harvest

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.

 

Shadows getting long during that last run at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Shadows getting long during that last run at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

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.

Above the clouds at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Above the clouds at Jackson Hole Mountain 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!

 

Leave Jackson feeling a little bit like a cowboy

Leave Jackson feeling a little bit like a cowboy

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!


For more on Jackson Hole, visit visitjacksonhole.com. For more on the SpringHill Suites Jackson Hole, visit the hotel page here.

Laura Pedrick

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About the Author

Laura Pedrick
Laura is a photojournalist who for most of her career has been assigned to cover New Jersey for The New York Times. Stories have included the Statehouse, political campaigns, and a wide range of hard news and features for all sections of the paper, including the Travel section. More recently she has focused on clients in the healthcare industry and education. She lives in Titusville, NJ, with her daughter and sometimes assistant, Lana. And oh yeah, has known Johnny Jet (dare she say it) since he was in diapers and is excited to be working for him as one of his latest contributors!

1 Comment on "Winter in Jackson Hole, WY: Food and Adventure With a Cowboy Spirit"

  1. Charming little town, friendly people, breathtaking landscapes— that’s Jackson. I went there last winter with my family. Needless to say, we had an amazing time.

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