I wasn’t going to write this post but after our recent trip to Jackson Hole, I received quite a few requests to write a blog post recapping our trip and our favorite things we did/saw while we were in Wyoming. It’s sometimes difficult for me to give travel advice on a place I’ve only visited once, but Jackson Hole is a little different. Growing up, we went to Jackson Hole every summer for 2-3 weeks and camped. I think this made my 20th or 21st time? Which would mean I’ve spent somewhere around 320 days in the place, give or take, which is almost a year of my life. Crazy! Because of this, I feel like I can give you guys an honest review of not only the town of Jackson but also our favorite spots in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. For obvious reasons, all of these places hold a very special place in my heart and I’m thrilled to share them with y’all! Be prepared for information overload, as I truly want this to be informative. And please ask any questions you have in the comments; I’m more than happy to answer!
WHAT DO DO:
Cowboy Coaster/Alpine Slide/Putt Putt- Growing up, we would live for the Jackson Hole Alpine Slide every summer. To this day it’s still a blast, but there’s a new kid in town called the “Cowboy Coaster” and it’s a must-do for all dare devils! Bear and Zach rode it several times and couldn’t get enough. In fact Bear says it was the highlight of his trip. The putt putt course is also right by the slide and coaster, so it’s a trifecta of fun. Get the best bang for your buck from 6-9pm when you can buy an unlimited pass for $50 and ride/putt putt as much as you can in 3 hours.
SHOP- An obvious one, as the town of Jackson has the cutest square with it’s famous antler arches (all collected from the local elk refuge) and endless little shops with every souvenir you could ever hope to find. A few tips: the best t-shirt prices we’ve found are at “Shirt off my Back” (they have a $9.99 table with lots of great options), a few stores do “geode busting” for kids which Bear loved, Yippee I-O Candy Co. is the best candy store in Jackson (IMO!) and you’ll want to walk around the square eating a bag of their delicious caramel corn.
Whitewater Rafting- If you have the opportunity to do this, you 100% should! Most rafting companies let kids go as early as age 6 (Bear wanted to but we ran out of time), and we’ve had great experiences with both Mad River Boat Trips and Dave Hansen Whitewater. You’ll have some of the most picturesque views from the Snake River, while also having the thrilling experience of a lifetime. There are lots of rafting options around the valley; if slower paced is more your speed, you can opt for a scenic float trip that often serve tasty steak dinners.
See a play- The Jackson Hole Playhouse puts on amazing productions that are worth seeing! If you have a free evening in Jackson, I highly recommend catching a play at this charming local theatre. Most of the actors are college students studying theatre with a ton of talent.
WHERE TO EAT:
Merry Piglets- Our favorite Mexican food in the Hole. Bring your appetite and be sure and get the Bueno Nachos…they’re a mountain of cheesy goodness.
Jackson Drug- Owned by two local girl bosses whose great-grandfather first opened the place in 1919, you’ll want to order a burger with beef from right there at Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch. Sit on the original bar stools and enjoy a milkshake, made right there in Jackson Drug. My Dad first visited here in 1970 and sat on those very barstools, knowing someday he’d bring his family back. And he sure did- many an ice cream we’ve enjoyed in that very spot!
Bubba’s BBQ- If you’re hungry in a big way, this is the spot for you. Located a ways off the square, this is also your best lunch or dinner bet without a lengthy wait. Make sure you order your brisket or pulled pork sandwich on the garlic butter toast.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar Steakhouse- You may have caught this JH landmark on the show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. If you’ve ever wanted to try buffalo or elk at it’s best, this is the place. You’ll need to make a reservation for the steakhouse that’s in the basement of the building.
Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream- With flavors changing every day, you’ll want to stop at Moo’s every day of your trip to Jackson. My favorite is the Coffee Toffee Crunch, and Bear loved the Vanilla Bean. Located conveniently right off the square, the line can be long so it’s best to go at off-times. Get a single scoop on a waffle cone- it’s huge and SO good!
Smokin’ Iron- A summer-only restaurant, make sure you stop here and listen to live music on the patio. The atmosphere is beautiful and relaxing, with a mountain mix of fragrant blooms and fire pits, and I’d recommend grabbing a Sangria here before heading across the street to Hand Fire Pizza in the historic Teton Theatre.
Cowboy Coffee- Another spot located right off the square, this is your go-to if you need a quick pick-me-up. The Snickers Latte is a must-order! If you’re a Starbucks addict like me, Jackson Hole does have 2 locations (one in Albertsons and another by Lee’s Tees on the square).
I’ve been asked several times where to stay in Jackson Hole and truthfully I can’t give a current recommendation on this. If you’re camping, I highly recommend the Virginian Campground. We stayed there almost every year and loved it; it’s still very nice and would be my top choice in JH. This year, we stayed in the motel part of the Virginian and it was exactly as I knew it would be; very old and “smelled funny” according to Bear. However, it did the trick for us- just don’t want to brag on it to y’all because it’s not great! If I wanted to pay more, I would stay at Snow King Resort. It’s right by all of the attractions I mentioned above, has a great pool/hot tub, and beautiful views of the valley. We stayed here in the past and loved it.
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
WHERE TO HIKE: So many trails, so little time! Some of our favorites:
String Lake Trail- An easy, flat hike around beautiful String Lake. Great if you have small kids who want to walk but aren’t ready for difficult trails. The entire trail is 3.7 miles, but you can easily cut that down to as short as you prefer. This is also my very favorite place in the park to picnic, so bring a lunch and enjoy the views!
Taggart Lake Trail- An easy 3 mile round-trip hike that takes you to beautiful Taggart Lake at the base of the Tetons. Bear loved playing in the Lake and you’ll pass a beautiful cascading falls along the way. The trail allows you also to connect to the Bradley Lake Trail, should you choose to keep going.
Jenny Lake Trail- A 7.1 mile trail which circles Jenny Lake. This easy trail begins at the Jenny Lake campground or can be accessed at several other trailheads; we start by the Jenny Lake Store.
Hidden Falls/Inspiration Point- This hike is a branch off of the Jenny Lake Trail but maybe my favorite one in the whole Park. Hike up half a mile to Hidden Falls, a large waterfall by a boulder field. Keep going another half mile up to Inspiration Point, where you’ll have a breathtaking view of Jenny Lake and the valley.
BEST PLACES TO SEE WILDLIFE:
Schwabacher’s Landing- A little trail takes you down to the Snake River, where you’ll have amazing photograph opportunities of the Tetons. This spot is generally uncrowded and is a good place to see beavers and moose.
Oxbow Bend- Another great place to spot moose in the park. I love the view of Mount Moran from this spot, and my brothers and I used to fish in the nearby Jackson Lake dam. You can also see otters here and swans grazing amongst the lily pads.
Jenny Lake Trail from String Lake area- If you park in the String Lake parking lot but get on the Jenny Lake Trailhead there instead, this might be your best place to see bears. We’ve hiked this trail many times and most recently this last trip, where we saw a mama bear and her 2 baby cubs. That wasn’t all though; everyone we encountered on our 3 mile hike had just seen a bear (at least 5 different groups).
Jackson Lake Lodge- This is quite the drive from Jackson (close if you’re camping in Colter Bay!) but so worth it. President Kennedy stayed here in 1963, and the lodge still has an air of aristocratic perfection while being cozy enough to curl up by the lobby fire and read a book. If you’re staying in Jackson, be sure and take the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive on your way out (bonus points if it’s in the early evening!) as this is one of the most beautiful drives in the park.
Antelope Flats Row/Mormon Row- Admire the mountain views from a real pioneer settlement. The Moulton Barn is what you see in so many GTNP post cards, and bison roam freely along the dirt road.
WHERE TO CAMP:
Colter Bay Campground is our favorite choice of camping in Grand Teton. It has beautiful campsites and you’re close to some of the most beautiful spots in the Park.
Let me first mention that Yellowstone is a HUGE National Park with 5 entrances and almost 150 miles of road to travel. It IS possible to do Yellowstone in a day, but it takes some careful planning and an early start. In order to do this, we leave Jackson Hole around 8am and get to Yellowstone around 10am. We’re usually getting back into Jackson around 9pm, if that gives you a timeframe. However this is just hitting the highlights and since we’ve been before quite a bit, we know what we most want to see. That’s what I’ll try to help you with below!
WHAT TO SEE:
Old Faithful- An obvious one that has to make the list, Old Faithful is always our favorite stop in Yellowstone. Not only for the geyser itself, but the Old Faithful Inn is so incredibly charming with it’s rich history and architectural design. You’ll want to grab a scoop of huckleberry ice cream from inside the Inn and shop around a little bit before heading out to watch Old Faithful, which erupts every 90 minutes-ish (give or take 10 minutes) for a solid 90 seconds of glory.
Brink of Lower Falls- This is a short hike but a steep one, let me warn you. It’s just about half a mile down to the brink of the falls, but it’s solid switchbacks the whole way (Bear did make it with ease so it’s doable for kids!). Once you get down, it’s all worth it. The huge waterfall you see in the pictures above? All 308 feet of it? You’ll be standing right where the river literally falls, at the top of the waterfall. Be prepared to be in complete awe.
Artist Point- For the best views of the classic Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (also pictured above), you’ll want to visit this spot. No hiking required, just hop out of the car and have your camera ready. We’ve visited almost every stop for a photo and believe me when I say this is the “money shot”.
Lamar Valley- If you want to see wildlife, this is your best chance. Bison, bears, wolves, pronghorn, elk, and bighorn sheep all call this valley home. That doesn’t mean you’ll see all of these every time, but you’re almost guaranteed a buffalo sighting and hopefully a few of the others! Not to mention the Lamar and Hayden Valleys are just so serene, you won’t want to miss them.
Grand Prismatic Spring- Chances are you’ve seen photos of that gorgeous rainbow-looking hot spring and this is it! It really is so cool, and Bear couldn’t get over the fact that we were standing on one giant volcano (“There’s really lava under us?!”). We’ve never done this, but several visitors told us the best views of Grand Prismatic are seen from hiking up the new Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail to get a birds-eye view of the spring. The trail is 1.2 miles roundtrip and doable for kids. Your stop in the park for Grand Prismatic is Midway Geyer Basin, and this area gets CRAZY busy. It’s worth the crowds, I promise!
Tower Falls- Another gorgeous waterfall that’s worth the hour-ish drive from the route I’ve basically had you on up until this point. The beauty of this very falls is what led Congress to create Yellowstone National Park, the nation and world’s first National Park back in 1872. That should tell you a lot about the beauty of Tower Falls!
WHERE TO EAT:
HERE’S a helpful list of all the eateries in the park. We usually grab lunch first thing at 11am in Canyon Village; there’s a great diner with yummy burgers (get the buffalo burger!) and shakes. Old Faithful also has 4 dining options, and we always get ice cream at the Old Faithful Inn.
I feel like as much as I’ve rambled, that I’ve still missed so much. I’ll probably be adding to this post in the next few weeks as more places come to me, so be sure and check back if you’re planning a trip to one of the beautiful spots on earth. You’re going to love it!