“The West” has captivated people for centuries. Stretching from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, it has always been both a force to be conquered and a promise of rich opportunities. Historians estimate a population of about 3 million people lived here before explorers from other parts of the world arrived looking to covet more land. Tribes of people often lived completely oblivious of each other’s existence with cultures and languages as varied as those throughout Europe. As explorers and homesteaders expanded the United States across the continent, it was recognized very early on that so much of this exquisite land should be preserved from future development. This is how the idea of public lands was born.
Where and What is Jackson Hole?
If you travel east over Teton Pass from Idaho into Jackson, you’ll see the iconic sign that reads, “Yonder is Jackson Hole, the Last of the Old West”. Jackson Hole is located far up in the northwest corner of the U.S. state of Wyoming right along the chain of the Rocky Mountains. Jackson Hole refers to the valley that is formed between the Teton mountain range and the Gros Ventre mountain range, which is about 42 miles long and 400 square miles in size. You may hear ‘Jackson’ and ‘Jackson Hole’ interchangeably, but ‘Jackson Hole’ refers to the entire valley while simply ‘Jackson’ is the town itself.
Jackson Hole has enchanted people in the east since explorers discovered it in the early 1800s and settled later that century. Previously, native tribes such as the Blackfoot, Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Bannock tribes have been recorded traveling to the valley or using it as hunting grounds. Today it is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world for both winter skiing and summer adventures. World class ski slopes, stunning scenery, incredible wildlife populations such as wolves and grizzly bears, and proximity to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are what draw people to this area by the millions every year. As well as the famous parks, national forests and wilderness areas surround Jackson Hole making it 97% public lands and helping to keep this unique place wild.
Summer in Jackson Hole
The summer season is considered to be between late April to early November. Spring and fall see fewer visitors and less crowds, though the weather can be unpredictable. Snow is possible at these times so plans are subject to change and appropriate clothing is a must. More than 2.6 million people visit Jackson Hole each year, and the majority of those are during the summer months. April and May will see the snow melting away while bears return to the landscape and elk start to migrate back up north to their summer grounds. This is a great time for bear sightings! May and June are also the grizzly bear’s mating season so they are actively looking for mates as well as food. Chances of seeing these animals are far higher during this time than in July and August when the temperatures heat up and summer is in full swing. Bears tend to seek the cooler shade of the forest or higher elevations in these months, but animals like bison and pronghorn antelope don’t mind the heat at all.
Bison rutting season begins in July and peaks in August filling the parks with bellowing bulls and large, active herds in the open sagebrush. Visitation is high during these months so the roads do see a little more traffic. Even though crowds can build up at some of the most popular sights, there is always a way to get away from other people in the parks and find solitude to enjoy nature. Town will feel busy, but the park is always a nice reprieve. You won’t suffer through heavy traffic unless there is an amazing wildlife sighting that is holding everyone up, and sometimes that’s worth the wait! There are so many outdoor activities to try for all experience levels from beginner to expert. Try fly fishing on the famous Snake River, mountain biking on one of many trails, or cool off by taking a rafting trip. Make it a mellow day on the river with a float trip, or add some excitement and try a white water adventure! The cold river water will be a welcome relief on a hot, sunny day.
September and October see a drop in visitation and the days cool off. Aspen and cottonwood leaves begin to turn gold and the elk take center stage. After hiding away in higher elevations to stay cool, the elk return to the valley floor for their rut which is a spectacular time. Antlers that have been growing all season are fully formed and on display. Dominant bulls are a beautiful sight, and hearing them bugle (a sound reserved only for fall) is otherworldly. Moose aren’t far behind with October being their best month. Grand Teton is without a doubt the best place to find moose in the area, especially in the fall.
Things to Do in Jackson Hole
Getting to Jackson Hole is easy; there is an airport right in Grand Teton only 15 minutes from town. It’s also a great place to plan for your road trip whether it’s your destination or just a stop along the way with many campgrounds and hotels to choose from.
With so much to take in while you’re in Jackson Hole, a week is a good amount of time to dedicate to the area including Yellowstone as it is so close. With the long list of activities and sights to see, it helps to plan them out strategically. Taking a tour with Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris is a fantastic way to see the parks and learn about the wildlife, history, and geology from our knowledgeable local guides. You will learn so much and that knowledge will enrich the rest of your trip, so plan on taking a tour early in your visit!
Two days for tours is ideal to see it all. Our full day Grand Teton wildlife safari is roughly eight hours, giving you ample time to see the majority of the park and have a picnic lunch right in nature. There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore in Grand Teton; multiple lakes and rivers, mountain views, and the famous Mormon Row. If you’re tight on time, our half day wildlife safari is a four hour tour that you can take either in the morning or evening hours. You’ll catch some crepuscular wildlife movement and still get many incredible scenic views with lots of fascinating facts! The second day would be perfect for our Yellowstone National Park tour. This tour is about 10-12 hours long and takes you to Yellowstone through the south entrance. This tour aims to show you the popular sights on the lower loop of the road system which includes the famous Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and more. Our private tours are fully customizable, so if you have been here before you can skip something you’ve already seen and spend that time on something new.
Now that you’ve been introduced to what makes our parks so unique and special with our wildlife safaris, dive right into other activities like river rafting, fly fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding and endless hiking options! At the end of the day there is always a long list of excellent restaurants to choose from to wind down and get a delicious meal.
There is no shortage of adventure in Jackson Hole. No matter what your speed or outdoor experience, there is a great way for everyone to spend time in nature and connect with the wildness of this place, reminding us why we protected these lands right from the beginning!