This summer we headed out west to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a family vacation. Jackson Hole is the name of the valley which includes the town of Jackson, Teton Village, Grand Teton National Park and more. We flew into Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), the only airport in a National Park (Grand Teton) because it was there before the park was created. We stayed in Teton Village, about a 20-30 minute drive from the airport. Stunningly beautiful, as soon as you descend into the valley, you are taken aback by wide, open spaces and the sight of the jagged peaks and deep canyons of Teton Range with no foothills to obstruct your view.
For lunch, I absolutely had to go to Café Genevieve, so named for one of Jackson’s first female politicians and part of the United State’s first all-female governments where she and four other women served on the Jackson town council. They serve Southern-influenced breakfast and lunch; I loved the smoked trout salad with avocado.
Every day we were in Jackson Hole, I enjoyed coffee, pastries or a meal from Persephone, a magical, French-style café/bistro/patîsserie with multiple locations. There’s one location just off the square in Jackson, and another location we went to was in the Aspens marketplace, just 4 miles from Teton Village on the way into Jackson. Their coffee was perfection, and I dream of the beet tartine I had one morning for breakfast (must try to recreate it at home). If you’re there after 11:00 am, grab a fresh baguette for a picnic!
The hotel where we stayed was Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, which offered slopeside access to great summer hiking. I loved staying in Teton Village because everything in this little resort town was within walking distance. If we weren’t driving to a park that day, we could just get up early and start hiking. In the off-season, the slopes have a big network of hiking trails with hikes ranging from a few hours to a full day.
The Mangy Moose is a local institution saloon and restaurant that also has a small grocery store with an excellent wine and charcuterie selection. We went there several times for picnic and room provisions. There aren’t a ton of shops in the village, but located in Hotel Terra was a gorgeous boutique, Rodeo, where I found too many beautiful things.
On a few evenings, we walked the short distance to the Bridger Gondola (which is free to ride after 5:00 pm) to take us up to The Deck at Piste. The gondola is always free to ride down (especially helpful after a long hike), but they charge going up during the day. The Deck at Piste is a popular evening cocktail spot with incredible valley views. There’s an indoor restaurant (which was usually fully booked) but also lots of outdoor seating. One half of the tables on the large outdoor patio are not waited on, and you are welcome to bring up your own provisions and watch the sunset. The other half of tables are roped off and have QR codes with a limited menu and service from the restaurant. All tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
One of the more memorable activities within Teton Village was horseback riding with Teton Village Trail Rides. We took a group trail ride which was mostly uneventful. My horse, Primetime, was a dream horse for green rider, until he decided he didn’t like being held back by the slow pace of the group and kept getting backed into by the horse in front of us. To my surprise and consternation, he broke into a light gallop over some water to get the heck out since I wasn’t doing anything about it. We were punished by being taken to the front of the class and walked by his lead for the rest of the ride.
Probably the most memorable meal of our trip was, of all things, Thai food at Teton Thai. The salad rolls with peanut dipping sauce are a must, and they can customize spice levels on all of their dishes from 0-5. According to them 3 is spicy and I can attest; unless you’re a sadist, do not order any hotter than 3.
Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have seen record attendance this year, with lots of traffic in the valley, so as much as possible, we would get an early start to ensure parking and fewer crowds. One morning, we drove to Jenny Lake Trail to hike the partial lake loop, and go up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. I found this trail description especially helpful. You can also ride a ferry across the lake, or rent a canoe. We learned that you can rent bear spray from outfitter shops, and it is especially recommended for hikes when you’re around fewer people. On a hike like the Jenny Lake Trail, there were so many visitors we were unlikely to come upon a bear (though Nathan’s brother did!). Good to be prepared nevertheless and we carried it when it was just the two of us on smaller hikes. One trail we didn’t hike but would have likely enjoyed was Leigh Lake, recommended by a local we spoke to. And two more in our party hiked the lesser-known Taggart Lake.
Summer is a tough time for spotting wildlife because most animals are hiding out in the cooler mountains and riding out the dog days of summer. The best chance to spot wildlife would be on a float trip down the Snake River. We booked ours with Triangle X Ranch where the guide drove us upriver to our launch site, and manned the raft, all the while talking to us about the history and gossip of Grand Teton and pointing out wildlife along the way. Dress warmly as it’s cooler on the water first thing in the morning!
Definitely don’t miss a visit to Mormon Row, which is an early 20th century Mormon Settlement now part of the Parks Service. Some of the world’s most photographed barns are here with stunning backdrops of the Teton Range.
Yellowstone National Park
We spent a full day on a private bus tour of the lower loop of Yellowstone National Park. It was about a 2 hour drive from Teton Village, driving through Grand Teton National Park to get to Yellowstone. Having a National Park Pass was very handy for admission as they checked you in at both entrances. Yellowstone was the first National Park ever created, and is the model for the world upon which other parks are created. It is enormous spanning the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Of course, we had to see Old Faithful, and learned that there are over 10,000 hot springs, steam vents, geysers, and bubbling mud which make up Yellowstone’s extensive thermal activity. It is estimated that whenever the supervolcano that lies beneath Yellowstone erupts again, it will reach as far as Denver, Colorado and have a significant impact on the world weather systems.
Yellowstone is able to remain wild by virtue of its size. Animals like grizzlies and bison need space to roam and generally be themselves and because it is protected, they can exist as intended. Though we spent 8 hours in the park, we saw merely a fragment of its gloriousness, but having visited can now at least appreciate its sheer size. One especially beautiful stop was Artist Point, a quintessential postcard view of Yellowstone. Our guide recommended a great read Death in Yellowstone which I dove right into after our tour. It underscores the point that this park is wild, unrestrained nature both in terrain and occupants, and visitors should respect it as such.
Jackson Hole Rodeo
Definitely our first rodeo, this was such a fun experience! We were lucky to even get tickets for 11 people (thanks to Nathan’s mom’s excellent concierge skills and a lot of prayer). The Jackson Hole Rodeo sells out quickly and from July-August, it’s on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. There was a beautiful presentation of the U.S. and Wyoming flags on horseback to start the show, and then a series of events until about 10:00 pm including roping, bareback riding, barrel racing, and saddle bronc and bull riding.
National Museum of Wildlife Art & Palate Restaurant
We enjoyed lunch one afternoon on the outdoor patio of Palate, the highly rated restaurant at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Their tagline is ‘lunch with a view’ which does not disappoint. We were so glad to be able to get a reservation here! I had Cucumber Mint Gazpacho which was excellent, and highly recommend the Snap Pea Salad with almond truffle vinaigrette, crispy onions, radish, & arugula.