North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

My Jackson Hole, WY Trip Report

September 6, 2011 • By

I confess. I’ve always had a love and affinity for westerns. I grew up watching shows like Bonanza, The Big Valley, Bat Masterson, The Rifleman….you name ‘em, chances are, I saw ‘em. So, it stands to reason that someday, I would have to go exploring and see the west with my own eyes. I saw some pictures of Jackson Hole, Wyoming online one day and decided that it would be the first place on my list as I tore a swath through the wild blue yonder.

I think sometimes, we are attracted to things that we don’t get to see on a regular basis. I was intrigued with the idea of roaming areas unaffected by commerce and developers and Jackson Hole fit that bill to a “T”. Surrounded by mountains, Jackson Hole is 48 miles long and 8 to 15 miles wide, and its floor slopes from 6,779 feet above sea level in the north to about 6,069 feet at its southern end.

The Snake River, originating in the high country of Yellowstone, meanders through the valley, fed by the Gros Ventre River, Flat Creek and others. To the west, the famed Tetons soar into the sky without the preamble of foothills. The Grand Teton, the highest peak, is 13,772 feet above sea level. To the east of the valley, the Gros Ventre (Big Belly) Mountains rise more gently from the valley floor.

Its population is slightly over 8500, small town living at its best. However, a number of temporary residents swell the totals during the tourist seasons⎯in the summer months by 52,000 and by 5,000 in the winter months.  I booked a flight three months ago with American Airlines (ATL – JAC) via Onetravel.com and the fare was a reasonable $425.00 in comparison to the $921.00 fare that it would cost me if I booked it today.

After a short layover in Dallas, we arrived in Jackson Hole almost seven hours later. After admiring the mountains from the air, it was a stunning sight to see from ground level. We deplaned old school style by walking down onto the tarmac using the portable airplane steps. It was so quaint and I hadn’t done that in years. The airport was very small with a wooden ranch style facade that I think had maybe nine gates in total. We were greeted by an arch of elk antlers as we entered the doorway of the airport. Sweet!

I went straight to the Hertz rental desk (there were three rental car companies in all) and picked up my car. The clerk was kind of a jerk but I was too amped to let him get under my skin, I had places to go and people to see. I drove out of the airport, hung a right and headed straight to town which was about 17 miles away according to the map, but it didn’t seem like it was that far.

Me in silhouette walking through the arch of antlers at Jackson Hole Airport

The one thing that I learned is that the airport is located inside the Grand Tetons National Park which explained why we were surrounded by mountains and clear blue skies. The mountains still had snow caps due to the over 735 inches of snow that fell this past winter!!

There were several turnoffs that allowed you to stop, park and take pictures to your heart’s delight. We arrived almost at dusk on a Friday evening and were scheduled to take a Stage Coach ride but it was getting dark and we figured that it would be best to actually see what we would pass along our route, so we decided to try another day.

Instead, we checked into our hotel room where I was fortunate enough to be hosted by The Best Western Lodge at Jackson Hole where we stayed five glorious days enjoying the peace and comforts of home. A review of the hotel is forthcoming. It was really getting late so we decided to get dinner at a local haunt called Bubba’s. We ordered baby back ribs, BBQ chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, salad and garlic toast. The toast was so large it needed its own zip code and the meat practically fell off the rib bones. It tasted so good, it would make you slap your mama. LOL! Seriously, it was an excellent dinner which made up for our not eating lunch that day because we were famished!

The next day we got to do two things that I never thought that I would ever get the chance to do: Whitewater rafting and fly fishing. It was fantastic! Dave Hansen’s Whitewater, owned by Bud Chatham, was kind enough to host us. I have to say that I haven’t met a nicer guy than Bud. If you ever decide to add a visit to Jackson Hole to your itinerary, make it your business to sign up with this company. They were as professional as they were kind and the entire experience was one of the best of my life.   

After going back to the Snake River Park KOA, Whitewater, and Cabin Village for a hearty lunch, we were on our way to the second half of our adventure, learning to fly-fish with Will Dornan of Snake River Anglers. When it comes to fishing, I am clueless. I have always wanted to learn but never had the opportunity. Will is passionate about fishing; it is without a doubt that it’s in his blood. I had a great time learning how to cast, didn’t catch anything but I really wasn’t expecting to.

The fun was in the doing and that was enough for me.  He offers full and half day instruction and it is time well spent.   I can’t recommend these two guys highly enough, so look for an in-depth report on my amazing water adventures with these companies in the near future. We finished fishing in just enough time for Will to drop us back off at Dave Hansen’s Whitewater so that we could grab a quick dinner.

There was a Wendy’s on the way, so we just stopped and bought two of their amazing apple pecan salads with pomegranate vinaigrette salad dressing. We practically had to wolf it down so that we could make the Jackson Hole Rodeo before 8 pm. This was another new experience as I had only seen rodeos in the movies and a couple of times on TV. I have to say seeing it in person really made you invested in the cowboys who tried to beat their allotted 8 seconds in which they had to stay on the bulls or wild bucking broncos. It was so much frenzied fun and a visit to the city wouldn’t be the same without experiencing the elation and joy of the rodeo. We were really surprised to see so many youngsters who seemed almost too young to walk riding briskly on horseback. Impressive!

The next day we decided to devote to exploring the Grand Tetons, a national park that attracts four millions visitors annually. It’s a nature lover’s paradise that surrounds you with wildlife, pristine rivers and splendorous mountains. It was a living postcard that left you spellbound and helpless to resist its charms. We stopped at the Visitors Center to purchase a few souvenirs and to look at the vast array of historical artifacts that chronicled the history of Jackson Hole. You will have to drive several miles before reaching the entry gates, where you have will have to pay to enter the park. You may purchase a 7 day pass for $25.00, this will cover all of the occupants of your car. If you are planning a visit to Yellowstone, be sure to save that pass as you can use it for that park as well.

We were literally left speechless as we drove through the park. Our first stop was at the Jenny Lake gift shop where we were watched like hawks by the three ladies manning the store. On the other side, there was a sundry shop. We put down the souvenirs that we were going to buy and walked over to the kind gentleman to purchase snacks from him instead. We left and started walking the path that would eventually take us to the lake. It took less than 15 minutes to arrive at our destination, a clear and unaffected body of water.

There was a ferry that took you to the other side of the lake. However, the ride lasted only 10 minutes and cost $10.00, so I wouldn’t recommend it. It was much more interesting to walk around and cheaper too. We went back to the car to continue on our scenic drive. Four miles down the road, we happened upon a one lane road on the left that seemed to lead to nowhere. The road was North Jenny Lake Junction which eventually took us to an overlook that surrounded the lake and gave us an exceptional view of the Tetons.

There were many makeshift benches constructed out of natural rock boulders where you could sit and admire the view. You would even maneuver your way down to the shoreline. After a few hours, we decided to head back to town because we had an early call the next day for our Yellowstone tour. As we drove through we recalled how much the town square was a prototype of an old western settlement. There were an assortment of restaurants and shops located around the square’s perimeter. Situated dead center was the town’s lone public park which was alive with tourists passing cameras back and forth in an effort to get the best shot that they could brag about once they’ve gotten back home.

We remembered our missed appointment with the Stage Coach and decided to park the car and walk through the park back to the Stage Coach depot at the corner of Cache Street and E. Broadway. The coach was pulling off as we arrived so we went into the station to get our tickets and waited on the wooden benches outside. Finally, you could hear the plodding of the horse hooves coming our way. Moe the driver, tipped his hat as the passengers were disembarking and we were escorted up the step to the coach and were seated.

The ride ($9.00 for adults and $4.00 for kids) took all of 12 minutes where we circled a four block radius of the square before being dropped back off at the station. It was pleasant, we got to see parts of the town that we hadn’t ventured on yet, so it was a good ride. The only negative is that you must be prepared to hold your nose because the horses aren’t very polite. lol Nevertheless, you now had bragging rights for having actually ridden a genuine stagecoach! I learned from Moe that the current owners have had the business for the past 15 years, but the stage coach naturally, has exchanged hands for over 100 years. We did a little more shopping and hurried back to the hotel to order pizza and turn in for the night. 

Six A M…..no profaner words could be spoken during the course of one’s vacation. However, that was the time that we had to be ready and waiting in the lobby for our tour guide to collect us for the trip to Yellowstone National Park. Not one minute after his scheduled arrival time, our guide Mark showed up. He was friendly, affable and very handsome (which didn’t hurt after all). We hopped into the comfy van and headed to pick up the next and last passengers, Marci and Steve, a very friendly and warm couple from Boston.

The Tour company, Wildlife Expeditions was unique in that it was a division of Teton Science Schools a private year round school aimed at K-12 and graduate students as well as teachers. Mark has a graduate degree in Biology and was very knowledgeable about wildlife in general. I felt that we weren’t just shown beautiful things but the whys, wheres and hows regarding the park and the wildlife that inhabited it. It was a very interesting learning experience that was fun and enlightening. Look for an in-depth review of our tour through the world’s first National Park soon.

The next day was our last and was a frenetic one. We had to get up around 7 am to check out of the hotel. But I wasn’t going anywhere without my first cup of java. After grabbing a to-go cup, we collected our carry-ons (we are getting so good at traveling light!) and drove off to the post office so that Carisa could mail off her snow-globe since we couldn’t take it on the plane. The post office only had 4 actual parking spaces and you had to park where you could if you were out of luck.

Our very last activity was to take the Jackson Hole aerial tram ($29.00 adults) to the 4,139 foot Rendezvous Mountain. We got a little turned around, but eventually located Teton Village where our tickets were waiting for us. There weren’t many people waiting to go up with us, but keep in mind it was around 9 am, the sane ones were still asleep. I learned that the tram carried 100 passengers and it took about 10-13 minutes to get to the top of the mountain. It was a smooth going but we were warned that there would be some turbulence as we passed each of the five trolley archways that holds up the tram line. It was a glorious sight…we had a 360 degree view of the entire Teton Village.

After disembarking, we spent some time enjoying the view before heading into Corbet’s Cabin to enjoy strawberry waffles and milk for breakfast. We aren’t skiers but we couldn’t believe that people actually navigated these impossible mountains. You would have to be braver than me to attempt it, but obviously many people do since Jackson Hole is a premiere destination spot for those who love winter sports.

After an hour or so, we decided to take off to catch our flight back home. All in all, I love Jackson Hole and I am so happy that I can scratch this off my bucket list. If I could afford it, I would consider living here but someone would have to figure out a way to get rid of the snow first because I’m not really a fan. LOL! Actually, since 97% of the land is publicly owned, homes are expensive to buy and rents are high so that would probably end my quest to live here. However, Jackson Hole is ideally suited for visitors, it’s a small town, but if you are outdoorsy and love nature, you will feel at home.

During my stay in Jackson Hole, my hotel and activities were arranged by the most magnificent Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. They could not have been more generous with their time and their assistance was immeasurable. 

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