A decade ago, a winter vacation to Jackson Hole was a ski vacation. Nowadays, skiing is just one activity of many. We’re not saying you need to do all of these in order to have an amazing time here, just that, if you do, you’ll be gifting yourself the winter vacation of a lifetime.
BY Lila Edythe
1. Get Wild with the Locals
It might be the National Elk Refuge, but the 24,700-acre refuge just north of town is home to more than 300 species of animals, including bison, osprey, wolves, sage-grouse, mountain lions, bald eagles, and bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep, which are actually related to goats, can best be seen in winter, when they migrate down to the refuge from the high alpine areas of the Gros Ventre Mountains. Your best chance to see them requires driving just a couple of miles up the Elk Refuge Road. About one-half mile past the Miller House, look for their stocky bodies and distinctive horns—both rams and ewes have horns, although it is only rams whose horns curl around their heads—on the eastern slopes of Miller Butte. The Elk Refuge encourages visitors to not stop and allow the sheep or other animals to lick vehicles; the practice could contribute to the spread of disease and the road salts can contain harmful chemicals. fws.gov/refuge/national_elk_refuge
2. Snowshoe in Grand Teton National Park
Usually, between mid-December and mid-March, Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) offers free two-hour ranger-led snowshoe hikes several times a week. These include the use of historic snowshoes, some of which date from the 1940s, and start from the Bradley-Taggart Lakes trailhead. Over the course of a mile, you’ll learn about local flora and fauna and get great Teton views. In pandemic times, GTNP isn’t sure if these hikes will happen, though. If they’re not an option this winter, (1) rent snowshoes from a local shop like Skinny Skis and explore the trails around Bradley and Taggart Lakes yourself, and (2) you’ve got a compelling reason for a return trip to the valley. nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/ranger-programs.htm
3. Hot Chocolate Taste Test
Picking a favorite ski run is hard. Deciding on a favorite hot chocolate in Jackson Hole might be harder. But we think you’re up to the task. At CocoLove (55 N. Glenwood St.; 307/733-3253), choose from Mexican Hot Chocolate with roasted chilies and spices and Swiss-style hot chocolate made with dark chocolate. Sister cafes Persephone (145 E. Broadway Ave.; 307/200-6708) and Picnic (1110 Maple Way; 307/264-2956) serve a mix of dark chocolate, sugar, and cocoa powder melted in milk and topped by a homemade vanilla or peppermint marshmallow. Pearl Street Bagels (145 W. Pearl Ave., Jackson and 1230 Ida Dr., Wilson; 307/739-1218) takes hot chocolate to the next level with its chocolate steamer—Monin dark chocolate syrup mixed with steamed milk (whole, skim, oat, coconut, almond, or soy) and topped with its homemade whipped cream.
4. Stay in a Log Cabin
In 2012, the founder of an outdoor gear company partnered with a husband and wife, both of whom were former winter Olympians, to resurrect and revamp the historic Turpin Meadow Ranch. At the base of Togwotee Pass in the northernmost reaches of Jackson Hole, the ranch’s lodge and eight main cabins date from 1932. When the group bought the property, it had been neglected for several years. Winterizing the buildings—all of the cabins were lifted and put onto foundations and heating and gas-lit fireplaces were installed—and adding a modern bathroom to each one took nearly two years. The work and investment were worth it. Today the cabins are havens of hygge, with bright interiors and wool Pendleton blankets on the beds, and there are miles of groomed trails for Nordic skiing, fat biking, and snowmobiling right out the front door. 307/543-9147; turpinmeadowranch.com
5. Soak in Hot Springs
Fed by natural hot springs, the five pools at the newly reopened Astoria Hot Springs are rich with magnesium, free sulfur, calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, and alkalinity, making a soak here the perfect way to recover from a long day of play. On the banks of the Snake River, Astoria was popular with locals and visitors from 1961 until it closed in 1998. This new-and-improved iteration of Astoria took more than six years of planning and eighteen months of construction, and eventually the pools will be just one part of a 100-acre park and riparian area. Fair warning: Due to Covid-19, access to the pools might be limited to locals and requires advance reservations. Check current restrictions before going. 25 Johnny Counts Rd.; astoriahotspringspark.org
6. Indulge in a Decadent Dessert
Is it just us or is it human nature to crave ooey, gooey desserts when the temperatures outside are anything but ooey and gooey? The chocolate souffle at Snake River Grill requires thinking ahead—order it when you order your entrées—but there’s really not much to think about. Just get it. There’s a reason it’s been on the menu for more than twenty years. 84 E. Broadway Ave.; snakerivergrill.com
7. Hit the Slopes
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR, Teton Village; jacksonhole.com) has evolved from appealing mostly to extreme skiers with its steep runs and deep powder into a family-friendly resort that balances wild and mild. It’s still home to the Hobacks—quad-busting, 2,000-vertical-foot powder slopes—but now more lifts than not service intermediate-friendly areas. (And there are now half a dozen spas in the base area to help you recover if you get wilder than you want.) On the western side of the Tetons, Grand Targhee Resort (Alta; grandtarghee.com) has a throwback feel and often gets more snow than the eastern side of the range. It’s also home to the only cat-skiing operation in the state. And then there’s Snow King Mountain (Jackson; snowkingmountain.com), which, when it opened in 1939, was Wyoming’s first ski resort. Nowadays, it’s overshadowed by JHMR and the ’Ghee, but, in downtown Jackson and home to the Jackson Hole Ski & Snowboard Club, whose athletes train there most afternoons, it’s a favorite with locals. (If you hear someone talking about the “Town Hill,” they’re talking about the King.) It also has the area’s only night skiing.
8. Build a Snowman
Building a snowman might be the classic winter activity, and Jackson has plenty of snowy public parks that would happily host your creation. (BYO snowman eyes, nose, and mouth.) Top park picks include Phil Baux Park at the base of Snow King, Mike Yokel Park in East Jackson, Owen Bircher Park in Wilson (all tetonparksandrec.org), and R Park (jhlandtrust.org/r-park/) near the intersection of Highway 22 and Teton Village Road. One warning: Our snow, because it has such a low moisture content and is more fluffy than sticky, sometimes requires advanced snowman-making skills. Waiting for a wetter storm—or opting to make snow angels if your snowman isn’t sticking—is totally acceptable.
9. Be In a Snow Globe
We’ve often heard visitors who have the good fortune to discover the Cache Creek area about a mile east of downtown Jackson say, “Anywhere else, this place would be a national park.” Or something like that. But this is Jackson Hole, already home to two national parks, so Cache Creek Canyon is part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest (with some areas further protected as the Gros Ventre Wilderness). While “only” national forest, Cache Creek Canyon is still a wonderfully magical place. The creek burbles along the bottom of the canyon with ice forming along its edges. Because high canyon walls keep much of the area in the shade, snow crystals often float in the air. Trees wear delicate coats of hoarfrost. In winter, you can explore this via foot, cross-country skis, fat bike, snowshoes, or snowmobile. Teton County Parks & Recreation grooms three miles of a former mining road a couple of times a week for classic and skate skiing. (The first two miles of this trail get enough traffic that you can hike and run without snowshoes, too.) If that’s not enough activity options for you, the nonprofit group Friends of Pathways grooms twelve miles of singletrack trails for fat biking. tetoncountywy.gov/1353/Grooming-Report
Skate in the Center of Town
Glide around our Town Square’s iconic elk antler arches beneath trees wrapped in white lights and in the glow of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar’s vintage neon signs. The community-supported JH Winter Wonderland isn’t just an outdoor ice skating rink, but perhaps the cutest, coziest outdoor skating rink ever. gtsa.us/rink-on-the-town-square JH