Wild at Night

For a night to remember, try glamping, or stick with old-fashioned camping.

By Isa Jones

Jackson Hole’s most famous under-the-radar camping area, the Observatory, is in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and offers spectacular views of the Tetons. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

THE FIRE IS crackling, the constellations are shining crystal clear, and in the distance the moon reflects off the Tetons, providing a natural nightlight. What is just another summer evening in Jackson Hole is also the stuff that dreams, and countless commercials, are made of. There are plenty of options for spending the night out under the stars, whether you want to rough it or prefer five-star treatment. After all, a tent on the ground and going to the bathroom in the wild isn’t for everyone. Meet glamping, which is short for “glamorous camping.” What is glamorous camping? Take the main element of camping—sleeping somewhere nature-y—and combine it with many of the amenities you’d have at a hotel, like power, down comforters, and carpets. Glamping is ideal for first-time camping experiences and for people who know they don’t want to give up modern-day luxuries. No matter what level of glamping you choose, make a plan to enjoy the valley’s wildest nightlife, whether in a rustic cabin or a luxury tent, at least once this summer. (Fear not: If you like your camping the old-fashioned way, we’ve got some car camping suggestions, too.)

Luxury tents at the Linn Canyon Ranch in Victor, Idaho. Courtesy photo

Linn Canyon Ranch

Linn Canyon Ranch might be on the backside of the Tetons, in Teton Valley, Idaho, but there’s just as much to ogle on that side of the range as the Jackson Hole side. This ranch proves there’s just as much to do on the mountains’ western slopes as well. For sleeping comfortably after your days of play, Linn Canyon Ranch has two lodging options: Cabins have feather beds and a breakfast nook inside, with a wraparound deck outside, while the ranch’s luxury tents have carpeted floors, queen- or king-size beds, and custom linens. As gorgeous as both of these options sound, neither is why you go to Linn Canyon Ranch. The ranch has guided half- and full-day trail rides—including a lunch ride and a sunset ride—into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, where you might see bald eagles, moose, and black bears. Other options include day hikes and overnight pack trips. The ranch’s main lodge serves gourmet dinner nightly. Dessert? Relaxing in front of a roaring outdoor fire. Cabins from $185/night, tents from $99; 1300 E. 6000 S., Victor, Idaho; 208/787-5466, linncanyonranch.com

Fireside Resort on Teton Village Road has twenty-three cabins with high ceilings, large windows, and a fireplace or fire pits. Photo by Bryan Rowe

Fireside Resort

At Fireside Resort, between the town of Jackson and Teton Village, you may feel like you’re in the woods, but you’re only a short drive from a wine shop and a gourmet grocery market. There are twenty-three individual cabins. While each varies, generally Wedge Cabins feel like a tiny home (and sleep up to four people), while Caboose Cabins are larger (sleeping up to six guests). All cabins have large windows, high ceilings, and contemporary western decor—like furniture made from reclaimed wood, fireplaces, tailored leather sofas, and clean white walls. Modern amenities include Wi-Fi, private decks, full kitchens, and flat-screen TVs. Each cabin has its own fire pit, with a bundle of wood included. A bonus: Fireside rents Jeeps, so you can go explore the great outdoors before coming home to your cozy cabin. From $219 a night, 2780 Moose Wilson Rd., Wilson, 307/733-1177, firesidejacksonhole.com

At Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park, there are rustic cabins, tent cabins, and tent sites. Pictured here, each tent cabin has a wood-burning stove and four bunks that pull down from two wooden walls. Photo by Andrew Kalat

Colter Bay Village

If you’re a traditional camper, but your tent needs drying out or you want a social scene, Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park is the place for you. Colter Bay offers the amenities of a real vacation village—a Laundromat, a small grocery store, a restaurant, visitor center, museum, boat rentals, guided fishing trips, horseback rides, rustic cabins, tent cabins, and tent sites—and the outdoor feel of the park’s tent/RV campgrounds.
And then there is Colter Bay’s view of the Tetons across Jackson Lake, which is drool-worthy. Colter Bay’s cabins, which aren’t much to look at but do have comfortable mattresses in addition to toilets, sinks, and showers, are historic. Most date from the 1920s and ’30s, but some are from the 1890s. Colter Bay’s cabins were moved to this site in the 1950s from the Teton Lodges at Moran, the old Jackson Lake Lodge Resort, and the Square G Ranch (located near Jenny Lake), among other places in the valley. They welcomed their first guests in 1957.

Each of the tent cabins has a wood-burning stove (BYOW—Bring Your Own Wood) and four bunks that pull down from the walls. These “tents” have two wooden walls and two canvas walls (the bunks are attached to the wooden walls) and are more bare-bones than the cabins; they have only a thin mattress on each bunk and do not have bathrooms. Toilets and showers are in a nearby bathhouse. The tent cabins do have a picnic table and grilling area. Colter Bay also has 335 individual campsites, each equipped with a fire ring and picnic table, as well as eleven large group campsites that can be reserved in advance (individual campsites are first-come, first-served). While Colter Bay is the most rustic “glamping” option, its social life is anything but peaceful or quiet. This isn’t the place for privacy or solitude. Expect to make new friends and maybe share drinks around the campfire. Cabins from $189, tent cabins from $70, and campsites from $26; 101 Colter Bay Village Rd., Moran, 307/543-3100, gtlc.com

The aurora spreads over a campsite at the Observatory, east of Grand Teton National Park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

Classic Camping

For the best car-camping spot in Jackson Hole, remember one word: Observatory. The Observatory is the locals’ name for a gorgeous spot on the edge of the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) and Grand Teton National Park. Since it is actually located in the BTNF, there are no permits or fees necessary for camping there. The Observatory is twenty-seven miles from Jackson’s Town Square. Follow U.S. 191 for twenty-four miles, and then, directly opposite the historic Cunningham Cabin site, turn right at Forest Road 30310. The last bit of this road is pretty steep; as soon as you hit this section, the campsites start. There are several to choose from, so if you’re the first there, take the time to check them all out. They’ve all got good views, but some good views are better than others.

As soon as you arrive, it’s obvious how this spot comes by its name. On a clear night, the stars look so close you feel you can touch them.

As soon as you arrive, it’s obvious how this spot comes by its name. On a clear night, the stars look so close you feel you can touch them. At sunset, the Tetons are purple and pink. If you camp close to a full moon, the range shines back at you all night. The view is panoramic, and stunning. There’s even a wolf den nearby, so howls may be your nighttime soundtrack. (Know that there have been no fatal attacks of people by wild wolves in the Lower 48 states going back to at least the early 1900s.) At the Observatory, you get the amenities you pay for: nothing. Bring everything you need for the night, and make sure to store your food safely away from bears. A bear coming into a camp and tearing into the food stash is a little wilder than we like our nightlife here to be. (Also, it is dangerous for both bears and humans when the bruins learn to associate humans with food. Bears that lose their fear of humans are often killed by wildlife managers.) Free, 307/739-5500, fs.usda.gov

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