For nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts, there are a few places that come close to Jackson Hole, a low-lying valley that’s flanked by the Teton and the Gros Ventre mountain ranges. Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks sit nearby, making the charming mountain town a playground for outdoor recreation -- summer beckons travelers who wish to hike, bike, and mountain climb, while winter lures adventurous types looking to ski and snowmobile.
It’s also the type of place where you’ll find yourself repeatedly awestruck by the vast landscape -- audibly gasping every time the Tetons come into view -- as well as where you’ll likely stumble upon a moose or elk during a typical day of sightseeing. And even though swanky ski resorts have brought with them a slight air of polish -- elegant spas, modern hotels, and buzzy restaurants, included -- the community retains its nostalgic Wild West image for the most part.
While the destination is no doubt magical year-round, there’s something particularly alluring about a visit in the winter, when the jagged peaks are topped with fresh powder, the sagebrush sparkles in the sun, and the pristine lakes seemingly meander forever. With that in mind, we put together a list of top to-dos in Jackson Hole when the temps drop.
Take a Wildlife Tour
An awe-inspiring amusement park for elk, moose, bison, and bighorn sheep, Jackson Hole is a haven for spotting wildlife. Head to the preserved National Elk Refuge for a glimpse of the majestic creatures (Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park also offer ample animal-viewing opportunities). For the best chance of going home with stellar wildlife photos, book a half- or full-day guided tour with Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, one of the area’s top wildlife safari outfitters. Groups will have the opportunity to take in the pristine Wyoming landscape from the comfort of a heated van while stopping frequently for photo ops and spotting the magnificent animals along the way. (Guides also have spotting scopes for easier observing.)
Explore Downtown Jackson Hole
Though Jackson Hole largely serves as a jumping off point to major attractions like Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone, there’s plenty to do smack dab in its downtown area, too. The Town Square, lined with Wild West-looking buildings, is home to a collection cool boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, dive bars, rustic lodging options, and elk-antler arches. Stroll the wood-plank sidewalks, or head to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, located a few miles north of the town center, for more than 5,000 masterpieces from artists like Picasso and John J. Audubon. In the evening, don’t miss a visit to the famed Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a cozy watering hole that’s decked out in plenty of cowboy flare (picture taxidermied mounts and authentic saddle barstools).
Wyoming boasts some of the country’s most beautiful winter terrain, and a snowmobile tour is one of the best ways to explore it all. Register with an outfitter, like Scenic Safaris, for a guided half- or full-day tour in Yellowstone National Park or Togwotee Pass. (Scenic Safaries provides all gear, including body suits, helmets, gloves, shoes, and face masks.) Riders who embark on Togwotee Pass -- ranked the best snowmobile terrain in the U.S. -- will zoom past timbered valleys, snow-covered meadows, and other stunning natural settings that may otherwise be inaccessible in the cold-weather months.
Enjoy a Dog Sled Tour
Hop into a sled and get whisked across the winter landscape by a team of huskies. Jackson Hole Iditarod offers Sled Dog Tours offers customizable full- and half-day trips. And in addition to the thrilling ride, mushers drop knowledge on local wildlife and point out deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and bald eagles along the journey.
Hit the Slopes
Although there are plenty of wintertime activities to enjoy in this corner of Wyoming, skiing is the main draw for travelers -- and understandably so. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, a popular spot to hit the slopes in Teton Village, serves as a small town itself, with several hotels, restaurants, shops, an adventure park, and 2,500 skiable acres to choose from. Strap on your boots and shred some powder, and come warmer months, take a hike, go mountain biking, brave paragliding, or enjoy a tram or gondola ride with unparalleled panoramic views.
Snow King is another well-liked option, thanks to its 400 acres of terrain (110 of which can be used for night skiing). It opened in 1939, making it Wyoming’s first ski area. Note: Only half of the area caters to beginners and intermediates, so for easier, family-friendly runs, opt for Grand Targhee in Alta, a small town about 38 miles northwest of Jackson. Ski lessons are offered here, as are more than 2,500 acres of skiable terrain.
Traipse Around Grand Teton National Park
Swapping skyscrapers for crystal-clear lakes and snow-capped peaks, Jackson Hole’s stunning skyline showcases Grand Teton National Park in all its glory. Located a short drive from Jackson’s downtown area, the 310,000-acre park is an adventure-lover’s dream, with hiking, mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, fishing, paragliding galore. Those who aren’t so much the outdoorsy type can still soak in the park’s vast beauty with a drive along the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, which shows off pretty views of Jackson Lake and Yellowstone National Park. Plus, those who have a car may also want to make a photo pit stop at the iconic T. A. Moulton Barn, which sits west of Mormon Row, within Grand Teton National Park.
Unwind in the Hot Springs
After a physically demanding day of snowmobiling, hiking, or skiing, sink into the steamy Granite Hot Springs to soak your muscles -- temps range from 93 and 112 degrees, depending on the season. Tucked among the Gros Ventre mountains, the thermal pool lies 7,000 feet above sea level, displaying gorgeous views of Bridger-Teton National Forest. But this little gem of a spot is no secret -- in the summer, it’s teeming with families and in the winter, dog sled and snowmobile tour groups fill the area. Tip: Keep in mind that during the cold-weather months, access to the springs is limited to dog sleds, skis, snow shoes, and snowmobiles.
Refuel at One of the Many Restaurants in Town
Whether snowmobiling or skiing is on the itinerary, all that activity will certainly help you work up an appetite. When that happens, head to Snake River Grill in the Town Square. Book a table near the stone fireplace and start with appetizers like the sweet onion rings, steak tartare pizza, and bacon-wrapped dates, before moving on to the main attractions: pan-seared Australian snapper, crispy pork shank with a cider glaze, and black angus beef tenderloin, to name a few. Gather, just a block from the Town Square, is another top spot to refuel. Share starters like Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinaigrette, pork buns, and Korean ribs; large plates, like the elk bolognese and fried chicken with buttermilk chive pancakes, are equally enticing. Local Restaurant & Bar, an inviting space with tasty burgers and truffle fries, is also great spot to grab a quick bite between activities.
Imbibe With the Locals
Much like the aforementioned Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where you can saddle up at the bar or play a round of pool, the Virginian Saloon is another hit with the locals. Pop into the dive bar for some brews, and work up the courage to grab the mic and belt some karaoke songs. Snake River Brewery, Wyoming’s oldest brewery, is also popular place to pop open a cold one.
Should you decide to make the town of Jackson Hole your home base (and you should, as it’s a gateway to plenty of activities), then book a stay at SpringHill Suites by Marriott Jackson Hole. The recently opened property, which lies a short walk from the lively downtown area and a 15-minute drive from Grand Teton National Park, ticks all the boxes for a pleasant stay -- affordable, conveniently located, and equipped with top-notch amenities (we especially liked the outdoor heated pool and hot tub during our chilly winter visit). On top of that, it hosts shindigs, like the Art of Local event, which features local artists, snacks and drinks, and tunes. But it’s the spacious suites that truly steal the show. Outfitted with West Elm sofa beds and ottomans, black-and-white photography depicting Jackson Hole landscapes, comfy beds, work desks, and ample closet space for storing winter equipment, the accommodations are a prime place to retire in after an adventure-packed day.
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