A Picturesque Wild West Mountain Town
By Renee Huang
The grizzly bear lifted her nose, sniﬃng the wind as if she were on the trail of a delectable scent. Her massive paws— each crowned with a set of three-inch long claws—dug
through the dirt in a small clearing some 100 feet away. Oﬀ to her side, three cubs that were still ungainly on their feet frolicked as only youngsters can. The two larger cubs swatted and gnawed at each other’s muzzles. A smaller third sat and held his feet while gazing with unabashed curiosity at the unfolding scene.
And what a spectacle it must have been. A dozen vehicles parked at the side of a road leading into Grand Teton National Park. Twenty or so humans armed with high powered binoculars and tripod-mounted cameras sporting massive telephoto lenses.
The gawkers were partaking in one of Jackson Hole’s most typical activities: spotting Jackson Hole’s infamous celebrity grizzlies. There was the 15-year-old matriarch known by the number on her yellow ear tag as 399. Her 5-year-old daughter, 610, cared for her own twin cubs and a third straggler that was born to her mother and adopted by her that previous winter. These bears are such a tourist attraction that shops in town sell bumper stickers that proclaim: “I saw grizzly 610.”
We had come to Jackson Hole, Wyoming from Park City, Utah for a weekend getaway, seeking the familiar setting of a picturesque mountain town. But what we found was a wilderness Mecca of magniﬁcent grandeur, plethora of outdoor activities for all ages, and a dining scene of surprising eclectic and diverse variety.
A pleasant four-and-a-half hour drive from Park City led us through bucolic farmland and stunning mountain backdrops straight to the doorstep of the craggy Grand Teton mountains which soar nearly 14,000 feet on the outskirts of town. Jackson Hole is the southern gateway to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, so summer months are alive with outdoor adventure touring groups headed for the trails, white water rafting the Snake River, horseback riding, mountain biking and ﬂy ﬁshing.
“Summertime in the Jackson Hole area is second to none,” says Kent Elliott, destination sales manager for the town’s chamber of commerce. According to Elliott, the 60-mile long fertile valley of Jackson—which was at one time populated by numerous North American Indian tribes including Shoshoni, Crow, and Blackfoot—attracts approximately 3 million visitors in the summer alone.
Teton Village sits about 12 miles northwest of Jackson and is a hub of activity with a social gathering forum featuring a children’s playground, splash pad, bungee jumping, rock climbing, restaurants with outdoor patios and specialty boutiques. One Sunday each month the plaza hops with outdoor summer concerts. Clustered around the Village are a number of high-end lodging names including Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the Four Seasons Resort, and the state’s ﬁrst LEED-certiﬁed ecoproperty, Hotel Terra. The hotel dedicates a percentage of revenue to the local foundation supporting the Tetons and was built with modern eco-sustainable building practices incorporating recycled steel, reclaimed timbers, and other refurbished materials.
For the best sky high view of the Tetons, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s 100-passenger aerial tram is the hot ticket, transporting visitors more than 4,000 vertical feet over coniferous forests to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain at 10,450 feet. From the tram summit, enjoy the views, abundant hiking trails—including the new Cirque trail—and paragliding, as described by Anna Cole, communications manager at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, to be “the most exhilarating thing I have ever done, hands down.”
Jackson’s Historic Town Square encompasses several blocks of walkable streets that extend out from a small park with entrances framed by soaring elk antler archways.
An eclectic mix of art galleries, souvenir shops, jewelry boutiques and dining options populate town. For a typical tourist stop, sidle up to the brassy Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse found across from Town Square, with its glowing exterior and wild west kitch.
Several businesses from Park City that also have visible locations in Jackson Hole include the gallery for acclaimed nature photographer Tom Mangelson, who specializes in stunning portrayals of animals in their natural habitat, and also the Alaska Fur Gallery with its furs, leathers, accessories and apparel.
Another chic oﬀering in the Jackson Hole lodging scene is the White Buﬀalo Club. Located steps away from the Jackson Town Square attractions of shopping, dining, nightlife and seasonal festivals, the pairing of luxury and location at the White Buﬀalo is truly unique to downtown Jackson. The White Buﬀalo Club features a boutique spa, state-of-the-art 24-hour ﬁtness club oﬀering daily wellness and ﬁtness classes, ﬁne dining serving locally sourced seasonal favorites from Chef Will Gahagan, and spacious guest suites and multiple lodging conﬁgurations—perfect for group getaways, or smaller more intimate vacations.
If you choose to stay in the adjacent Miller Park Suites, you’ll be treated to Soho meets mountain style. You’ll also ﬁnd a ﬁne dining restaurant which is a true locals favorite and has a menu similar to its sister restaurant, Lespri Prime Steak Sushi Bar, in Park City. The White Buﬀalo Club oﬀers extraordinary lodging, dining and relaxation and places conveniently close to both Jackson’s nightlife and wildlife with easy access to the National Parks.
A must see for one-of-a-kind shopping is the dozen specialty boutiques and galleries in Gaslight Alley, a tiny square block that oozes style and trend-setting culture. One hipster store belonging to contemporary artist John Frechette called MADE features locally handmade, recycled novelty items—including bacon candy called “Pig Candy,” blown glass belt buckles,
and whiskey ﬂasks adorned with a silhouette of a bucking bronco—as well as unique jewelry and home décor pieces.
For a town of less than 10,000 residents, Jackson oﬀers a surprising selection of restaurants. Parkites will ﬁnd a familiar face on the dining scene—JH Fine Dining Group which owns Silver on Park City’s Main Street also owns half a dozen eateries in Jackson. The casual peanut-shells-on-the-ﬂoor BBQ hotspot Q Roadside Grill recently launched their own brew. The town locals’ favorite joint and only Raw Bar in town is Rendezvous Bistro – try the tuna tartar and the amazing elk-bison-venison meatloaf. The Kitchen, found in town, serves up the most delicious hoisin-glazed, beer marinated spare ribs, and a range of local game protein ranging from ancho braised bison nachos to wild boar carpaccio. The collection is rounded out with newly minted wine and tapas bar, Bin22, where you can pick a bottle—look ma, no corkage!—and pair it with Spanish and Italian-style small bites including signature hand-pulled mozzarella.
Yet, perhaps the most surprising and amazing scene of all in Jackson is a wilderness safari which brings visitors face-to-face with some of the area’s permanent four-legged residents. The town itself sits on the southernmost end of a 25,000-acre elk refuge that is home to 12,000 elk and 700 bison, among other hoofed, winged and pawed creatures. One pre-dawn morning, an American bald eagle, countless waterfowl, a coyote and small herd of elk were among fauna spotted with the naked eye in a two minute span of time.
Naturalist Colin Paul, who leads guided wilderness tours for Jackson Hole EcoTour Adventures, takes groups into the elk preserve and Grand Teton Park in search of moose, bison, bighorn sheep, eagles and bears. He uses iPads loaded with mating calls and other interesting facts, and a prop bucket of actual animal fur and hide, horns and antlers and claws to keep clients of all
ages entertained. Says Paul: “The diversity of wildlife in Jackson is a huge draw for most people. I come out all the time on my days oﬀ and look for wildlife.”
Rona Ferguson, a Park City transplant who manages Bin22 wine bar also agrees that for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, summer in Jackson Hole is where it’s at. “I can drive within ten minutes and be in the middle of nowhere,” she smiles. “People think of Jackson Hole as just skiing but it’s so much more. You get out here and it gets in your blood.”