Travel Spotlight: The Psuedo-Local's Guide to Jackson Hole
Home Sweet Wyoming
I was born and raised in Houston, went to school in Virginia, then lived in Boston and Colorado. And somehow through the whirlwind of life I’ve come to feel like Jackson Hole is more like home than any other place I’ve put roots down in. If you ask me where to eat or what to do in Houston or Boston, the list will be short and there’s a 50% chance I’ll send you to a restaurant that straight up just doesn’t exist anymore. In Jackson though - I have my favorite places to go, activities to do, new things and restaurants that I want to try. And a community that is so welcoming and strong - it makes a place that I never lived feel like home.
I started spending time out there at the age of 12, when my parents required that I go to a summer camp in Kelly, Wyoming. After two summers, although I was convinced I was destined to become a professional cowgirl, I still wasn’t sold on the mountain lifestyle. I said goodbye to Jackson and set my sights on bigger and better things - working at an ice cream shop for the next summer - what can I say, delusional teenager brain. Years later I found myself trying to figure out what to do with my college summers when another former camper mentioned returning to the ranch to work. The job application was easy, didn’t require a cover letter, so back to Wyoming I went. It wasn't long before the roots were growing, I was considering moving there and to put it simply, I fell in love with the town and all the people that came with it.
It's a Family Thing
When it comes to my family, it’s a mutual obsession with Jackson. There was a reason my parents made us go out there at such a young age. My mom, who spent her summers after college living in Wyoming, never really gave up her roots in Jackson and it seems as though she passed on those genes to her kids. Seven years ago she and my dad bought property in Jackson where they would start to spend more and more time in the hopes of retiring out there. My sister moved out there after college for what she said would be “2 years”. It’s been 6 years now and 20 chickens, a couple cows, a cat, 2 dogs, horses and a bunny later - there’s no sign of her leaving anytime soon. My brother and I live close enough that it’s a quick flight and use any and all excuses to get out there, even having over stayed our welcome a time...or five.
To me, the charm of Jackson is that for a while it was a relatively untouched town. It wasn’t the easiest to get to with its small airport and didn’t have other airports within reasonable driving distance. It has the reputation of being one of the harder ski mountains and although people come for the winter and the skiing, it’s the summer that really sinks it’s teeth in and convinces you to stay. So as a non-local/wanna be local here are my suggestions for everything to do in Jackson...
Booze & Food
To be honest, it’s hard for me to pick a few restaurants I like. There are the new favorites, the classics, etc. So here’s my top of mind snippets:
Right off the square and easily some of the best coffee in town. It has more of a rustic, local feel than other coffee spots and some good sandwiches to offer up while you are enjoying your coffee on one of the couches.
After a hike in the summer, stop by Dornan's out by the airport and grab a pizza on their deck. You'll get a great view of the Tetons, good beer, and some amazing pizza, what else does someone need post-hike?
Located in the back of a wine store right in the middle of town, Bin22 is a quaint restaurant that serves delicious small plates. Although they don’t take reservations, it is definitely worth waiting and is one of my go to spots when I visit. Going with a big party is probably difficult but trying to sneak in at the bar or find two seats at one of the community tables is definitely doable. The best part, you can walk into the wine shop, pick out your wine and enjoy it during your dinner - without any corkage fee.
I’m sure it seems weird that I am recommending a sushi restaurant in a landlocked state but you can’t go wrong here. Another small restaurant (I have a type, can you tell?), King Sushi is right off the town square. Although I try to mix up my order every time, Imperial Shrimp and the JuJu roll never leave the rotation. It’s definitely on the pricier end and is very popular - so make sure to make a reservation.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
If you’ve researched Jackson, you’ve probably seen the picture of the lit up bucking bronco above this bar. Right off the square, it’s a required stop. A classic big saloon, the bar stools are saddles, the pool tables get competitive and fueled by live country music, the dance floor won’t disappoint.
The Wort / Silver Dollar Bar
The Wort Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Jackson and the Silver Dollar Bar is located inside. A classic, historical bar - the live music will bring out the most dedicated legit swing dancers in town.Stagecoach Out in Wilson, there is nothing fancy about the Stagecoach. But it’s a classic, having been around since 1942 - it’s always a good time and they even have a shuttle that will take you back to town when you can’t get yourself back there safely. Check out Sunday Church and Disco Thursdays.
Ask the mountain guides their suggestions on where to go, hike the headwall, take the tram, get a waffle, peer over Corbet’s Couloir (if you dare) - and at the end of the day head to the Mangy Moose or the Spur for a spicy margarita (try the double trouble at The Spur).
National Elk Refuge
The Elk Refuge, which was created in 1912, borders the town of Jackson as well as the National Park. When you have (or need) a day off from skiing, take a sleigh ride out there - they’ll provide you with blankets to stay warm and you’ll be able to get up close to the herds of elk.
Other Winter Activities
It's easy to get stuck in the skiing every day mentality. But if you have days off, it's worth exploring other areas/activities. Some trails (such as Bradley/Taggart) in the park are open to snowshoers and the park road is groomed for cross country skiers all winter long. There are also trails along the Snake River in Wilson and the Astoria hot springs further down the Snake are finally open again to the public.
Jackson and the surrounding areas are filled with amazing hikes. Whether it’s in the park or not, there’s a hike for any time limit you have. Some of my favorites include:
Snow King is the ski mountain in town, and during the summer it’s the locals favorite for a quick workout after work or during the day. You get a great view of the town from the top and it will only take you about an hour or so (2 miles long).
Located in the park, there are two ways to access Phelps lake. Through the Rockefeller center (flatter hike, a bit shorter and although there is a designated parking lot, it’s pretty crowded) or through Death Canyon (longer hike, more elevation). If you want to cool off, there’s a good jumping rock on the north eastern side of the lake.
Right in the park, although it’s a crowded hike, you can go to the lower lake only or continue on to the upper lake. It’s a fairly mellow hike but gets you into the park and views of the Tetons.
5 years ago this lake was a well kept secret. You would find it with word-of-mouth directions like “after the third switchback, there’s a little trail that goes off to the side”. Although it is still a relatively unmarked, unmaintained trail - thanks to aggressive Instagramming, it’s become one of the more popular hikes. At the end of this 9 mile hike (which will require you to scramble over a large boulder field) you’ll reach an alpine lake that sits at the base of the Grand.
Although it’s not in the park, Ski Lake is an easy, popular 4 mile hike that is located up on the pass between Idaho and Wyoming. Dogs are allowed but don't forget your bug spray.
As much as I love hiking, I am always trying to get on the water when I’m in Jackson. Whether it’s to fish or paddle board, it’s always a priority. Some of my favorite places to paddle board are:
Don’t get intimidated by the crowds. When you put your paddle board into the water, head towards the right. At the end of String Lake you’ll see a portage that takes you over to Leigh Lake. It’s a quick walk and will help you get away from the crowds.
Rent a boat from the marina, pack some food and beers and cruise around Jackson Lake for a few hours. Or, head to the "beach" area and put in your paddle board for a quieter cruise around the lake.
If you’re looking for a more adventurous paddle board sesh, there are certain sections of the Snake that are doable. I’d recommend South Park to Astoria, it’s pretty chill (don’t forget your life jacket though).
Fishing / Floating
It’s a full day activity but if you are into fishing definitely go through one of the local guide shops (Snake River Angler and West Bank Anglers would be my recommendations). Although I love fishing the Snake because of the views, follow the guides recommendation - the Teton is awesome as well.
Curtis Canyon Picnic
One of my favorite non-activity activities (if that's a thing) is to pack a picnic/some beers and wine and have a happy hour up in Curtis Canyon. Curtis Canyon is located above the Elk Refuge and provides views of the Tetons and the Refuge. Although it's a popular place for car camping, it's easy for you to find a spot to watch the sunset and have a picnic before heading back down to town.
Like I mentioned earlier, the list could go on and on. The hikes and activities are endless and the spots I love to stop and grab a bite to eat is always growing. Regardless, what I love about Jackson is how strong the community is and that it's maintained it's charm over the years. So when you visit, don't cause a traffic jam when a moose is on the side of the road (that guy behind you that you're blocking is probably on his way to work), try not to go crazy on social media and give away all the secrets (I didn't) and just enjoy everything my home away from home has to offer.