A nearly year-round destination—with invigorating skiing in the winters and wildlife and other nature adventures in the summer—Jackson Hole is tucked into Wyoming’s national park system and surrounded by thousands of acres of protected land. Only 3 percent of it is in private hands; the rest is public, where elk, moose and buffalo roam at the of feet of majestic, jagged mountains from which waterfalls thunder down. The area has cast its spell over Harrison Ford, the Rockefellers and the Olympic skier Tommy Moe, among other boldface names who make their homes here, blending into the laid-back scene and drawing inspiration from the natural spectacle. As one full-time resident puts it: “People don’t change this place; it changes people.”
Although Jackson Hole now rivals Aspen and Park City in the number and quality of its hotel and restaurant offerings, it has resisted becoming another glitzy resort pitting residents against tourists. Both groups mingle, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere (formal here means a clean pair of jeans) and democratic ethos. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, upon being informed that there was a 45-minute wait at a local barbecue place, reportedly told the hostess they never wait, to which she replied, “You do here.”
Ultimately, though, the place’s charm is rooted in the haunting, expansive landscapes, which remain largely untouched. The wildlife is incredible—the first thing I saw when gazing out the window of my room at the Amangani was a bald eagle gliding by—and a seemingly innate eco-consciousness permeates everyday life. Not surprisingly, the newest hotel in Teton Village, Hotel Terra, is LEED-certified—meaning that the construction materials are sustainably harvested or recycled, in addition to other green features—and it provides fair-trade in-room coffee, as well as all-natural bath amenities.
Jackson Hole is busiest in the summer, when nature lovers arrive to explore the nearby Yellowstone National Park (a one-and-a-half-hour drive) and Grand Teton national parks. Fishing enthusiasts come between July and September (the best fly-fishing is generally in the late summer and early fall). Skiing starts around Thanksgiving and usually continues through early April. Avoid April and early May, the much-loathed mud season, when the snow banks melt. The best times to take in the spectacular landscapes with smaller crowds are late May through June and September through October.
The Weather Channel may be the county’s most-watched station, but especially during the winter, reports can be unreliable. Conditions can change quickly from one extreme to another. During a recent trip, some days that began with blinding snowstorms culminated in blue skies, and vice versa. Locals shrug and say, “It’s the Rockies.”
Jackson and Teton Village are about a 30-minute drive apart, and taxis or hotel-arranged transfers are expensive, so unless you’re a serious skier based in the village, you’ll want to rent a car. Having your own wheels is particularly useful for exploring the region’s many highlights, whether the National Elk Refuge, the National Museum of Wildlife Art or Grand Teton National Park. During the winter, be sure to get a four-wheel drive.
A word of warning for those venturing off-piste: the terrain is challenging, so it’s best to explore the backcountry with a guide. The Mountain Sports School has lots of options, including private guides and group outings, for visitors eager to go off the beaten track.
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