Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Let’s start with a little geography. Jackson is a city, and it’s located at the south end of Jackson Hole valley in northwest Wyoming. The valley marks the southern end of spectacular Grand Teton National Park, which begins at the southern end of Yellowstone National Park—America’s first national park, covering 3,500 square miles in three states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho).
For today’s travelers, Jackson is a dreamy destination to nestle yourself in nature. By day, discover all manner of adventure and recreation. By night, stroll around the rustic-chic town square, dance to live music, and dine and drink al fresco. Just like all the celebrities, you’re sure to fall hard for this debonair cowboy enclave.
It’s about 275 miles/five hours from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Wyoming, and what a gorgeous drive. Travel north on I-15 into Idaho, and you can connect to US-30 east where you’ll enjoy part of the Bear Lake Scenic Byway. Then at Soda Springs, get onto ID-34 and US-89 (which becomes US-191) and cruise right into Jackson.
On your way toward downtown Jackson, highway 191 becomes West Broadway, lined by hotels and restaurants on both sides. Stop along the way for your welcome lunch at Sidewinders American Grill for filling gastropub fare, draft wine and beer, plus unexpected dishes like burrata with house-made chimichurri, and fresh kale and farro salad.
Proceed toward the historic town square, officially named George Washington Memorial Park, and marked by its four arches made of elk antlers (which are either cool or creepy, your call). You’ll notice right off how compact Jackson is, so park your car and let yourself wander.
If you’re planning sporty adventure time, you may want to gear up or check in at Grand Teton Fly Fishing, Teton Whitewater, and Jackson Hole Grand Expeditions, the latter offering year-round wildlife safaris and photography excursions. You could also rent a bike from a spot like Hoback Sports or Teton Mountain Bike Tours, and dive right into some gorgeous trail cycling. Or check out what outings are head for the busy local club Jackson Hole Babe Force, offering women-only group mountain adventures.
If you’re more artsy than sporty, you’ll enjoy the abundant art galleries around downtown. The Jackson Hole Center for the Arts is a hot spot for live music and other events (though it’s postponing most of its live-audience theatrical events until September 2020). Just north of town, the National Museum of Wildlife Art beguiles visitors with its unique hillside architecture and exhibits of wild-animal art from around the world.
Plan ahead with a reservation at local’s-favorite Snake River Grill, serving mountain cuisine in a white-tablecloth bedecked log cabin. When they opened it in 1993, the founders knew exactly how to translate local ingredients into sophisticated dishes that resonate with foodie types. Now you can enjoy its smoked trout chowder, venison carpaccio, buffalo short ribs, and other delights alongside an international beer and wine menu. Follow it with a delicious craft cocktail one block away at the Rose, an atmospheric lounge with diamond-tufted banquettes and locally distilled spirits.
Just off the square is a log cabin serving Jackson’s Southern-tinted, “inspired home cooking.” Look for Café Genevieve’s mint-green sign and shady dining terrace, and get your fill of brunch (served daily until 4pm), be it biscuits with Cajun gravy, chicken and waffles, or classic grilled cheese and tomato soup.
Today is a big day that will shape your Rocky Mountain daydreams for years to come: You’re going to Yellowstone! But before you leave town, stop by family-owned Persephone Bakery just east of town square to procure sandwiches and other freshly made picnic items to lunch on in the park. (There are a few stores and cafés inside Yellowstone, but wise travelers know that Persephone’s treats will be a hundred times tastier, plus they’re pleasantly portable.)
It’s about 60 miles north on US-191 from Jackson to Yellowstone’s South Entrance, and another 20 miles to West Thumb on the western shore of Yellowstone Lake. From there, you could easily spend the full day or several days exploring this magnificent, preserved wonder.
Wise visitors research the park in advance to prioritize their time, since attractions can be hours apart. Not to mention the extra time eaten up by delightful surprises like multi-colored geothermal pools, scenic overlooks, and wildlife spotting—you could see more than 60 mammal species here, like bears, wolves, bison, elk, and lynxes.
You’ll have to choose what’s most important, but the big draws include: Old Faithful, the most famous of Yellowstone’s regularly erupting geysers; the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River; Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin; and the 132-foot-tall Tower Fall waterfall. (Note: Park-access limitations are in place in 2020 at some sites, so be flexible.)
Leave time for a night out in Jackson, because the historic Million Dollar Cowboy is calling. Open since 1937, the Cowboy is easy to find—just look for the giant neon bucking bronco on the west side of the square. Head to the underground steakhouse dining room to for a base of elk chops, steelhead trout, dry-aged rib eye, or another hearty dish. Then join the fun for two-stepping and line dancing in the big barroom, hosting live bands every weekend and most weeknights.
There are plenty of posh brunch spots in Jackson, but seven miles west in the town of Wilson is family-run Nora’s Fish Creek Inn, where you can wake up to country-style mornings with biscuits and hotcakes, Mexican breakfasts, French toast, and more.
To round out your third day here, saddle up for a one- or two-hour ride on horseback atop East Gros Ventre Butte with Spring Creek Ranch’s Castagno Outfitters. You’ll take in grand views of the Teton Range, downtown Jackson, and surrounding peaks and valleys. You could also get help from Spring Creek Ranch to book river float trips, mountain-bike tours, rock climbing, balloon rides, and more unforgettable excursions.
If you’d prefer quality time in town, wander through Gaslight Alley just off the square on N. Cache Street. It’s a collection of locally owned and operated shops selling uncommon goods. Some favorites are MADE (for handmade, repurposed, and found goods), Valley Bookstore (independent for nearly 50 years), art galleries, jewelry stores, and more.
Grab a beverage at Cowboy Coffee, roasted in town, along with fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and croissants. Saunter over to Mountain Dandy on W. Pearl Street to browse provisions for home and gentlemen. Quality cowboy boots, belts, hats, and other rugged wear are ready for you at Beaver Creek Hats & Leather on E. Broadway.
Cap off your trip with a last meal at Pinky G’s, Jackson’s top pizzeria, voted the best in town for nearly a decade. You can go with a salad, calzone, build your own pizza, or go with a house pie with toppings like buffalo mozzarella, artichoke hearts, pulled pork, and fresh basil pesto.
Don’t miss a last souvenir to go from Yippy I-O Candy Co., selling homemade fudge, caramel popcorn, saltwater taffy, and huckleberry jams. At long-running Mursell’s Sweet Shop, pick up old-school candy bars, Moon Pies, and fine chocolates. Both let you savor Jackson’s sweetness all the way home.
WHERE TO STAY
Jackson town and surrounding area offers lots of lodging all year round, both big brands and indie hotels, all open for summer and winter travelers. (Always reserve in advance, though.) Spring Creek Ranch just north of town offers inn guestrooms, townhomes, and mountain villas, plus there’s a spa and outdoor pool and great seasonal packages. Downtown, the four boutique properties of the family-owned Town Square Inns come with hot tubs, kitchenettes, and free ski shuttles to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
WHEN TO GO
Jackson is a year-round destination, always inviting active travelers to bike, hike, ride horses, raft, fish, and ski its many slopes. The city’s at an elevation of 6,200 feet, though, so pack clothes for temperatures that fluctuate from hot balmy summer days to frigid nights. In winter, expect heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures. Annual rodeos, concerts, festivals, and other events take place all year, led by the Teton County Fair every July.