There’s no denying it: Jackson Hole is a ski town, best known for its great powder, gorgeous peaks, and challenging mountain courses. But that doesn’t mean it’s a complete ghost town come springtime.
“Spring or the off-season is Jackson Hole’s biggest secret,” says Emily Beardsley, marketing manager of Hotel Terra. “It’s a prime time to view an abundance of wildlife, enjoy the national parks and the town without winter or summer crowds.”
Whether you’re on a budget or have cash to burn, Jackson Hole offers visitors a surprising host of activities in the off-season. Here are five reasons to consider the Cowboy State for a trip this season:
1. Fine Dining (For a Cause)
Traveling on a dime? Many restaurants in the area offer buy-one-get-one-free specials to visitors in the off season, like a two-for-one special at Café Genevieve (starting April 8), but several of Jackson Hole’s edgiest eateries are helping to fundraise for the community, too. One promotion lets diners purchase one entrée and score a second for $2 (100% of funds from the second dish go to nonprofit groups in the area, like CLIMB Wyoming and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance). Must-try restaurants with spring specials happen to be some of the hottest seats in town, including The Kitchen, Rendezvous Bistro, Q Roadhouse & Brewing Co. and Il Villaggio Osteria, along with Bin22, a wine-focused tapas bar and specialty grocer.
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2. Freewheeling Park Access
Want to see Yellowstone National Park like no one else? Consider biking through the park in the off-season: Though the first day of spring bicycling is never set in stone (it depends on road conditions determined by park staff), snow removal allows for unique access on two wheels, usually beginning in late March or early April. Whether you rent a bike in town, take a guided tour (Teton Mountain Bike Tours leads a spring bike trip), or bring your own set of wheels, bicyclists will enjoy majestic views and beat the crowds, riding on near-empty roads from the east entrance to the end of Sylvan Pass.
3. Alfresco Activities
“Spring is a great time to fish in the rivers and streams nearby due to the runoff from the mountains,” says Chris Mickey, media and public relations manager of the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “This also brings lots of water for rafting and kayaking, and some brave souls even try their hand at surfing the Snake River.” Whether you’re new to fishing or an experienced angler, JD High Country Outfitters is staffed by low-key but expert guides for fly fishing, and rafting and kayaking companies abound (try Mad River Boat Trips or Rendezvous River Sports). Don’t miss a chance to scope out the stars: Stargazing events (every clear Wednesday night at 7 pm beginning in March) by Wyoming Stargazing offer the use of three Dobsonian Telescopes to show visitors planets, stars, and galaxies, free of charge.
4. Reduced Room Rates
Many hotels in the off-season offer unbeatable deals, like Spring Creek Ranch’s Spring Fling: From April 1-May 12, rates are $170 per night (price includes dinner and breakfast for two at the award-winning Granary Restaurant). From May 9–September 30, Hotel Terra offers 20% off of rooms and a daily breakfast credit, while Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa gives guests a 15% discount off of rooms along with a $50 credit at Spur Restaurant & Bar.
5. Chances to Wild Out
Getting wild is easy in Wyoming: With hundreds of square miles of prime, untouched land, the area surrounding Jackson Hole is a sanctuary for elk, bald eagles, wolves and bison, among other creatures. Avid photographers and nature lovers should book a guided wildlife tour to get up close and personal with area wildlife, like on a half-day safari with Scenic Safaris ($125 per adult, $95 for children 12 and under). You’ll wake up early, grab binoculars and explore areas in Grand Teton National Park like Antelope Flats and Mormon Row, where moose, coyotes, antelopes and even bears are often spotted. Visitors in May shouldn’t miss Elkfest (May 17-18, 2014), a weekend built around the Jackson Hole Boy Scout Elk Antler Auction (proceeds benefit long-term elk conservation projects). There’s a chili cook-off and free concerts—not to mention plenty of local character on display.
Alexis Korman is a freelance wine, food, and travel writer based in New Orleans, and Contributing Food Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. She’s also co-founder of an artisanal kombucha project, Big Easy ’Bucha, launching soon. Follow her adventures eating and drinking around the world on Twitter @lexisips.