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50 Things to-do in Jackson Hole & Grand Teton National Park

 

Teton Pass Sign

 

Higher clearance vehicle recommended

At some point every year, my thoughts turn to it. A hunger to see it, breathe the mountain air, gaze upon the abundant wildlife, dine at my favorite restaurants, and hike favorite trails, inevitably begins to gnaw.  

There is something to be said for the delicious stride of habit’s familiarity.

Some can’t fathom traveling to the same place twice; there is indeed a great deal to see in the world. But even among those with the most severe case of wanderlust, many have a favorite destination – a place whose familiar embrace is longed for.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming is that place for me.  The wonder and enchantment of the mountains and the valley is constant. It’s the intrigue generated by the continual motion of rotating sensory stimulus that causes me to travel there again and again — it is never the same twice.

Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole overlap (one of only two airports in the United States in a National Park).  But I’ve broken the list down by what’s technically in the Park and what isn’t. With a map and this list, you’ll see some of the best the area has to offer.

Mormon Row Barn

Explore!

view from the upper saddle

base camp

Grand Teton base camp

Grand Teton National Park

1. Walk through Jackson Lake Lodge. The wall of windows at the back facing the Teton Mountain Range frame a spectacular view. The wildlife watching at dusk from the outdoor patio at the back is fantastic. Highway 89/191 just north of Jackson Lake Dam.
2. Enjoy a meal on the patio at Signal Mountain Lodge – the PILE of memorable (based on size and taste) nachos and the tequila lime chicken quesadilla are a must. Add insult to injury and get the chocolate pecan bourbon pie to go and one of their palm-sized homemade cookies at the checkout counter.
3. Since you’re already there, drive to the top of Signal Mountain. Teton Park Road south end of Jackson Lake. And yes, you CAN drive to the top.
4. Take the boat across Jenny Lake and walk up to Inspiration Point/Hidden Falls. Teton Park Road.
5. Take a hike. There are many from which to choose and for all fitness levels. From the Taggart Lake hike of 4 miles to the all day not-for-the-faint-of-heart Amphitheatre Hike (rated very strenuous), there’s something for everyone. Taggart Trailhead – Teton Park Road just north of the Moose Entrance gate; Amphitheatre Trailhead – Teton Park Road, Lupine Meadows, north of Taggart trailhead and south of Jenny Lake.
6. Drive to Antelope Flats for wildlife viewing. Road turns East off of Highway 89/191 just north of Moose Junction. Watch for a sign.
7. See the barns on Mormon Row for a classic view of the Tetons. 13 miles north of Jackson on 89/191, go east at the Gros Ventre Road turnoff, then head north on the first road that junctions. Mormon Row is in the southern area of Antelope Flats.
8. For scenery and wildlife viewing, find Schwabacher’s Landing. It’s a photographer’s dream. Highway 89/191 north of Moose Junction.
9. The same goes for Oxbow Bend. Highway 89/191 north of Moran Entrance Station and south of Jackson Lake Junction.
10. Find the spot where the 1953 Western film, Shane, was filmed (towards Kelly).
11. See the Gros Ventre (Grow Vaunt) Slide Geological Area. On June 23, 1925, 50 million cubic yards slid off the side of Sheep Mountain damming the Gros Ventre River and creating Lower Slide Lake. Highway 89/191 just north of Jackson and south of the airport, turn East onto the Gros Ventre Road. Follow the paved road past Kelly.
12. Stand in awe at the Snake River overlook made famous by Ansel Adams. Highway 89/191 north of Schwabacher’s Landing, south of Triangle X Ranch (all marked).
13. Locate the Old Patriarch Tree (about a 15 minute walk off the road). 89/191 north of Moose Junction. If you want the GPS coordinates, you’ll have to leave a comment and ask me for those!
14. Stay at a dude ranch. Any dude ranch.
15. Take a horseback ride. Anywhere.

Wyoming Cutthroat

snake river overlook B&W film

Jackson Hole Area

Home Away From Home

Big Smile, Tiny Cutthroat Trout

 From the Top

16. Get pictures at the top of Teton Pass (8,341 feet), in front of the famous Teton Pass sign with the cowboy pointing towards Jackson Hole (especially fun during the winter when the snow covers most of the sign). Approximately 11 miles west of Jackson on Highway 22 and just up the mountain from Wilson.
17. Speaking of Wilson: grab a cappuccino and bagel at Pearl Street Bagels (my fav? everything bagel with sundried tomato, olive oil cream cheese + an oatmeal craisin cookie) and eat it on the picnic table just out back.  There’s also a Pearl Street Bagels in the town of Jackson but it lacks something (even though the food is just as good) compared to the Wilson location.  Also in Wilson, eat at Nora’s. Shop at Fish Creek Interiors. Get a soda pop at the General Store.
18. See the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Just north of Jackson on 89/191. Be sure to check out the gift shop.
19. Drive to the Curtis Canyon Overlook. In Jackson behind the hospital, take the Elk Refuge Road. It’s a dirt road that makes a forced turn to the north – after that change of direction, take the first road east. Wind your way into the backcountry until you see the sign and the overlook. Great place. I once photographed an eclipse from there. And big horn sheep.
20. If you know how to flyfish, then wet a line here. If not, take a lesson or a guided trip. Check out Jack Dennis or several other flyshops for their offerings.
21. Take a drive on the Moose-Wilson road. Make sure you have binoculars for the wildlife. North of the airport on 89/191, take the Moose Junction exit. Before you get to the Grand Teton National Park gate, you’ll see a sign for the road on your left.
22. Wine tasting at Dornan’s; pizza at Dornan’s; cookies at Dornan’s (inside the grocery shop). North of airport on 89/191, take the Moose Junction exit. Dornan’s has a sign just past the turnoff.
23. Raft down the Snake River (through the Canyon). Several outfitters to choose from.
24. Chicken pizza at the Brew Pub (Snake River Brewery – downtown Jackson). Any beer at the Brew Pub – micro brewed on the premises.
25. Latte & Bagels at Pearl Street Bagels (one in downtown Jackson and another location at Wilson)
26. Stay at Wyoming Inn (Red Lion Inn), or the Four Seasons, or the Snake River Lodge & Spa, or the Wort Hotel.
27. Try Pica’s restaurant near Albertsons in downtown Jackson. There’s a florist and a few other shops next to them. They have great Mexican food, terrific margaritas. The fish tacos are my favs.
28. Breakfast at Bubba’s – biscuits and gravy, pancakes – best I’ve ever had!! Great omelets.
29. Any meal or snack at The Bunnery (downtown Jackson)
30. The Blue Lion Restaurant! Have the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and the lamb shank for an entree (downtown Jackson).
31. Dinner & oyster shooters at the The Rendezvous Bistro. My husband loves the green oyster shooters, I love the red ones. Try both. (South of downtown Jackson)
32. Massage at the Rusty Parrot (downtown Jackson)
33. Take in one of the many festivals. The Fall Arts Festival is in September. Film Festival in September/October. Music Festival in July and August. 
34. Lunch at Sweetwater Restaurant, on the patio (downtown Jackson).
35. Shop at Skinny Skis and Teton Mountaineering in downtown Jackson – my two favorite shopping excursions in the world (go up the stairs in Teton Mountaineering and you’ll find their sale items).
36. Check out Cloudveil’s flagship store (they’re headquartered in Jackson). It’s on a corner in downtown Jackson, but off the square.
37. For fun, unique, home interior shopping and small colorful gifts, check out Wild Hands for really neat artsy colorful objects (downtown Jackson), Paradigm Interior Design next to Pearl Street Bagels, and Jackson Lighting.
38. Shop at The Bootlegger in downtown Jackson.
39. Take a sleigh ride on Elk Refuge in winter.
40. Order an Arnold Palmer wherever you eat (it’s a tea/lemonade mix and very Jackson).
41. Tram ride to the top of the Teton Village mountain (Rendezvous Mountain) and hike down, or NOT.
42. Enjoy lunch or simply a walk through at Teton Village’s Mangy Moose Restaurant. The Idaho trout fish and chips are memorable as is the full sized stuffed moose hitched to a sleigh hanging from the ceiling.
43. Dinner at the Bar J Chuckwagon on Highway 22 (on the way to Teton Village). You’ll get a real chuckwagon meal (fit for a king), a wagon ride, and a cowboy music show.
44. Hike to the top of Snow King (ski mountain in downtown Jackson) and if you can’t do that, take the ski lift – GREAT aerial view of Jackson.
45. Hike up High School Butte and watch the handgliders take off.
46. Find the Sleeping Indian (hint: Sheep Mountain).
47. Find the town square’s live webcam and wave to friends at home (stand on the corner near the stagecoach office and wave to the cam on top of Jackson Trading Company); sit in the town square, admire the elk horn arches (all naturally shed), and people watch.
48. Attend the Shootout every summer evening at 6:00 p.m. (downtown Jackson)
49. Find an art gallery brochure and take a self-guided tour around the galleries located on the Jackson town square.
50. Attend a rodeo.

Jackson Hole Hill Climb

51.  BONUS!  Attend the World Championship Hill Climb (snow mobiles — great fun).

 

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Hard Life

 

Yellowstone’s Chimeric End of the Road

An ad infinitum judgment of isolation is pinned to the town by the immutable saw-toothed ridges of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountain ranges. As I step outside the truck to see the town from the proper height, the eclipse from a large tree envelops me in its satiny cold field.  A puff of wind pushes strands of hair into chapstick. Clawing to locate and extract them, I step from the shadow into the light. Cars stowed on concrete porches, lower story windows boarded against a late afternoon sky alternating between aureate October lightness and winter gloom shedding snow like a strip tease, make for an ambiguous sense of place.

Lamps in upper story windows toss beacons of welcome. But the one sound – sips and sighs of intact blankets of smoke hanging above each chimney as they’re forced to separate and dissipate, arrests any notion of coziness. Make no mistake, winter here is serious and it’ll not stand for an outsider’s romanticized projection of it upon a town it’s preparing to overtake. It stamps the ground with a suffocating updraft; a demand for respect.

No faces have shown themselves and as I begin in earnest to discover one, I wonder if the 2nd coming hasn’t occurred during my drive from Cody, Wyoming leaving me the only hapless soul in town. There is but one road into Cooke City, Montana from the outside world.  The wildness of Yellowstone’s Super Caldera lies on the other side. This is the end of the road. As I glance over a shoulder to see my exit darkening, I feel simultaneously favored and cursed by the chimerical scene before me.

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Cooke City, Montana

I consider the effort to clamor into the Cooke City General Store for food (do boarded windows have adequate finger/footholds?) and try to imagine the eventuality of being eye level with 2nd story windows, elevated there by a platform of snow. Like lying on your back, head dangling from the edge of a bed while pretending the floor is the ceiling, the ceiling the floor, it’s a strangely appealing, altered perspective.

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Cooke City, Montana has done with its remote birthright what it could. First mining, then Yellowstone National Park. Originally named Shoo-Fly, the mining town was renamed in 1880 in an attempt to flatter a Northern Pacific Railroad executive into putting a stop there. Coming over BearTooth Pass at 10,974 feet on Highway 212 out of Red Lodge, Montana or Dead Indian Pass, 8,066 feet on the Chief Joseph Highway out of Cody with views of the Absaroka’s Pilot and Index Peaks (11,708 & 11,313 feet)  should have given the townspeople clues as to the outcome of their flattery – no way, no how. In 1877 this country helped hide the Nez Perce Chief Joseph and his 800 or so band of hold-outs from General Howard’s 2,000 strong Cavalry for three months. Railroads don’t go where outnumbered bands of undersupplied men on horseback can elude a United States army for months.

Cooke City has a year-round population approximating 100. Three hundred cavort on the one paved street in the summer months of July and August. Even though it’s considered Yellowstone’s Northeast entrance gateway community, Silver Gate, a few miles past Cooke City, actually claims the ranger station.

Take note, if you’ve not entered the Park through this least-traveled entrance, you’re missing a lot more than a momentary gut-check about the 2nd coming. Yellowstone’s wildness is epitomized by this small community and the drive to get here.

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Snow poles stand alert and ready.

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Yellowstone’s East Entrance, the 50 most beautiful miles in America

“It charmed me, intrigued me, seduced me so completely and in such a way that memories of it result in the kind of longing normally reserved for the best fruit pie of your life.”  This journal entry was made after my first encounter with Yellowstone in 2003. The best fruit pie of your life is a powerful memory; one that will be difficult to surpass. Or forget. If your visions of sugarplums are instead bodacious double crust fruit pies, you’ll understand. If not, pity.

Just in case the first paragraph gravely misdirected you, this post is about Yellowstone,  and sadly, not fruit pies.

I’m not the only one infatuated with Yellowstone and the surrounding area. Some famous people whose opinions really count, feel the same. President Theodore Roosevelt called the stretch of highway between Cody, Wyoming and the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park “the fifty most beautiful miles in America”.

Named the Scenic Byway of Highway 20, aka the Wapiti Valley, the road is wedged into a valley shaped by the flow of the Shoshone River. The swath of wildness is charged with history and scenery. The Buffalo Bill Dam/Reservoir and Buffalo Bill State Park were worth the drive alone.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Cody, Wyoming

Buffalo Bill Reservoir

Nothing mechanical could capture what I saw with my own eyes. I didn’t try to create art from art, but rather to simply document I’d actually been there. Sometimes point and shoot is all you need do.  Things like this burn into your memory and you may forget when it happened but you never forget that it did.

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The East entrance‘s ranger station was built in 1934 but visitors staying in Cody, Wyoming had been entering the Park for years prior (Yellowstone was designated a National Park in 1872).

Cody was established in 1896 by wild west showman, William F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill” along with a group of investors from Buffalo, New York and Sheridan, Wyoming. They realized the potential for tourism since Yellowstone was only 50 miles west. Burlington Northern Railroad reinforced (and rewarded) the tourism dream when they completed a line into Cody in 1901.

Instead of the railroad, I drove. The round trip of 100 miles to Yellowstone from Cody and back took 7 hours. That should tell you that either I drive really, really slow, or there was a lot to see. Given that I’ve had a speeding ticket in almost every state I’ve driven, the latter is the best guess.

These guys did their part to make sure no one was in a hurry.

east entrance bison

American Bison

For more information on Yellowstone, check out these links:

Yellowstone’s Original Entrance

Official Yellowstone National Park Site

Lodges of East Yellowstone

Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway

** The East entrance closes from early November to sometime in April because of snow. Be sure to do your homework before heading there in the winter.

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Yellowstone National Park’s Original Entrance

Yellowstone’s original entrance in Gardiner, Montana, and the only one open year-round, is framed by the Roosevelt Arch.  While all the literature points out this entrance is the only one open all year, few state why. The annual snowfall in Gardiner approximates 30 inches, while the rest of the Park averages 150 to 400 inches, depending on elevation. And once entering the Park from Gardiner you’ll be met with closed roads during the winter over much of the Park.  So schedule a Snowcoach tour and do your homework if you’re planning to see Yellowstone during the winter (a highly recommended journey).

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Dedicated in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, who was already on vacation in the park when asked to lay the cornerstone, the arch is 50 feet high and made of locally quarried basalt -- plentiful since Yellowstone sits atop one of the earth's largest volcanic hot spots.

The arch was erected as the formal entrance to the Park in 1903 since most visitors arrived via the Northern Pacific Railroad’s nearby stop in Cinnabar, Montana. Stagecoaches made the remaining short trek to Gardiner. I cannot imagine arriving there by railroad. I cannot imagine arriving there by any means of transportation of the day.  The ground boils beneath you while the mountains always coddle snow on top. Were it not for modern climate control’s tempering of these extremes, conditions would be brutal most anytime of the year.

While the arch may be Gardiner’s claim to fame and really the only thing of note to see there, it’s worth a stroll to see some of the older parts of town. The Flying Pig Camp Store has internet access and bear pepper spray, an important combination you’ll see frequently in these parts. There’s plenty of lodging, restaurants, and outfitters so it’s a well stocked and not overrun base with which to explore Yellowstone.  Gardiner is 53 miles south of Livingston. Bozeman is 26 miles west of Livingston on Highway 90, providing the only airport in the area serviced by major airlines (most seasonal). Billings’ Logan International Airport (BIL) is 117 miles east of Livingston on Highway 90 and offers a much broader array of scheduled flights on major airlines.

Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 miles south of Gardiner is the Park’s headquarters and an eye opening welcome to the ancient, wild world of Yellowstone. From mid-April to early June, bison new-borns dot the ground. Bison is the correct scientific term for the North American species, but “buffalo” has become an accepted synonym.  In the seventeenth century, French explorers in North America referred to the new species they encountered as “les boeufs”, meaning oxen or beeves. The English arriving later, changed the pronunciation to “la buff”. The name grew distorted as “buffle”, “buffler”, “buffillo”, and, eventually, “buffalo”.

Yellowstone has the largest free-roaming bison herd in the world, estimated at 3,500 head.

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Female bison's gestation period approximates 9.5 months. Twins are extremely rare. At the turn of the 20th century the bison herd had been slaughtered from a high of 120 million to less than 30. Today they approximate 500,000. Bison are a ruminant similar to cattle, in that they chew their cud. They can weigh up to 2,200 pounds and run at speeds up to 40 mph. Talk about mass in motion!

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Mammoth Hot Springs - all about extremes. Heat, water, limestone, and rock fracture combine to create terraces of travertine. The travertine is deposited as white rock, but microorganisms and living bacteria create beautiful shades of oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, and browns. The terraces are constantly changing.

No discussion of Mammoth Hot Springs/Gardiner would be complete without a reference to the Elk that migrate in early fall when the weather cools off and they re-emerge from the coolness of higher elevations.   If you stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, your day will begin and end with the eerie, wild sounds of male Elk bugling for the rut and a change of seasons. It’s a sound I recommend everyone hear once; it’s unforgettable.

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Wapiti; not a petting zoo.

Yellowstone Map

Yellowstone Map

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The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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