1. The Tetons and Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is 484-square miles rich in extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes, hiking trails, a multi-use pathway system, the Snake River, and, oh yes, serenity. And did we mention the majestic, awe-inspiring Teton Range that runs the length of the 87-year-old park? Getting close to those mountains alone is worth the price of admission.
The world-famous Tetons are “what mountains are supposed to look like,” Theodore Roosevelt once remarked of the spectacular range, which is actually a young one—a spry 10 million years old. The Shoshone dubbed the range of rugged rock spines “Teewinot,” or “so many pinnacles.”
In addition to the iconic mountains, Grand Teton National Park is dotted with the historic dwellings of the valley’s earliest homesteaders. Mormon Row, Menor’s Ferry and the Chapel of the Transfiguration are all intriguing historic sites.
Begin your trip to Grand Teton National Park with a stop at the Craig Thomas Discovery Center and Visitor Center, situated at the park entrance in Moose. From interpretive exhibits on local flora and fauna to a helpful team of park rangers and one of the most complete bookstores of any national park in the nation, this is the place to get your picture taken with a moose statue, pick up a guidebook, or learn about park activities.
Jenny Lake is one of, if not the, most popular spots in the park. Hiking, biking, camping and boating are just some of the activities awaiting you at Jenny Lake. Kayak and canoe rentals are available from Jenny Lake Boating for either $25 per hour or $70 per day. Part scenic-tour, part water-taxi, the Jenny Lake shuttle is like nothing else in Jackson Hole. The ferry departs from South Jenny Lake roughly every 15 minutes, and carries you across the water to the Cascade Canyon trailhead. From here, you can check out Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, or a different section of Jenny's lake shore. Round trips on the Jenny Lake shuttle cost $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $8 for children. One way tickets are $9 for all adults and $6 for children. We recommend going in the morning or late afternoon to avoid some of the crowds.
Grand Teton National Park is open year-round but seasonal road closures limit auto access to some areas during the winter.
Consider downloading the Grand Teton Smartphone app. The official app for the park includes the essential information you need to plan your trip: grandtetonpark.org/come-to-the-tetons/get-the-app/
Grand Teton National Park’s Moose entrance is 13 miles from Jackson and its Granite Canyon entrance is 1.4 miles from Teton Village. A 7-day pass is $30 for a private, non-commercial vehicle and $25 per motorcycle or snowmobile. The fee for those on foot or bicycle is $15 per person (age 16 and older). Annual passes cost $80. You can also buy an annual pass at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center at 532 Cache in Jackson.
See related story: Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
2. Aerial Tram and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
The Aerial Tram—the unofficial mascot of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort—zips passengers to the top of Rendezvous Mountain in 12 minutes flat. That’s 4,139 vertical feet! Nicknamed "Big Red," the tram can accommodate up to 100 passengers. Hop on board for superlative skiing, stunning views, or both.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort celebrated its 50th season in 2015-16. It has been named the No. 1 Ski Resort in North America by Forbes magazine five years in a row. The resort is considered the closest to a European ski experience within the U.S. The mountain boasts acres of expert terrain and out-of-bound skiing and the longest continuous vertical rise of any ski area in the country. In summer, JHMR is home to a multitude of hiking trails, an excellent and exciting mountain bike park, disc golf course, numerous kids activities (bungee trampoline, climbing wall, Kids Ranch, pop jets) and the Grand Adventure Park with ropes course, ziplines and new Drop Tower. And, of course, Aerial Tram rides.
3. Town Square
Bathed by the neon honky-tonk sign of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and bordered by four quirky elk-antler arches, the Town Square forms Jackson Hole’s retail and artistic core. From Western to contemporary, home wares to hats, jewelry to bronze sculpture—whatever your taste, you'll find an incredible selection of shops and boutiques. Town Square is also home to a vibrant and rollicking music scene at venues such as the Cowboy Bar, the Silver Dollar Showroom in the Wort Hotel, Town Square Tavern and the Pink Garter Theatre.
FUN FACT: Each arch is made up of 2,000 elk antlers!
Here's more of the lowdown on experiencing our cultural crossroads.
4. National Elk Refuge
You won’t need binoculars to view the thousands of elk wintering on this swathe of protected land set beneath the Gros Ventre mountain range. Each year, elk gather on the National Elk Refuge to feed, scramble for dominance with extraordinary antler clashes, and rear their young. In addition to elk, bison, coyotes and sometimes even wolves can be spotted on the nearly 25,000-acre intermountain valley. See it by sleigh!
In summer, the National Fish and Wildlife Service hosts occasional free wildflower walks on the refuge with botanists from the Wyoming Native Plant Society, as well as tours of the historic Miller House that sits on the edge of this protected sanctuary. A spotting scope is available for visitors to scan for and watch nearby wildlife from the tranquil setting.
5. Snow King Mountain
Snow King, known as the “Town Hill,” offers a lot for such a small area. Located just blocks from Jackson's Town Square and literally looms over Jackson for a classic Western ski town experience. The "King" boasts one of the steepest sustained pitches, top-to-bottom, of any ski area in the lower 48. It is host to many national ski teams during the early season, a popular location for local, state and regional alpine races and the favorite lunchtime ski destination for locals. It also offers night skiing under the lights until 7 p.m.
In summer, find your mountain legs with a hearty hike or take a quick chairlift ride to the summit of Snow King. The vast, windswept panorama of Jackson Hole and the Tetons provides a fantastic orientation to the valley. Summer at the "King" also offers a myriad of fun, family-friendly activities such as the bungee trampoline, Alpine Slide, new Cowboy Coaster, Treetop Adventure Course (and Flying Squirrel ropes adventure for kids) and brand new mini-golf course. There is also a free bouldering park at the base of the mountain.
6. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park owns the bragging rights to being not only the first national park in the country but also in the world. It has approximately 10,000 active thermal features, the most famous of which is the Old Faithful geyser. Bison, bear and other fascinating wildlife abound within the park boundaries. The 3,500-square mile wilderness recreation area is mostly in Wyoming but spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho, too. The park is open year-round, but in winter the roads are closed to automobiles; only snowmobiles and snow coaches are allowed. Both modes of transportation are decidedly a bucket list way to experience the park!
Of course no trip to Yellowstone is complete without seeing Old Faithful. Guaranteed to be the highlight of your day in the park, be sure to set aside a large chunk of time to explore the Old Faithful Inn, catch one of the famous geyser's on-time eruptions and explore the wondrous Upper Geyser Basin. Inside the new visitor center, you'll find posted signs predicting the next Old Faithful eruption, so grab a seat and wait for the impressive sight of the up to 8,400 gallons of scalding hot water reaching heights topping 184 feet.
Another jaw-dropping site in Yellowstone is Lower Falls, the biggest waterfall in the park. In fact, the 308-foot tall waterfall it is most likely the second most photographed spot in Yellowstone, with Old Faithful Geyser being the first. Located just to the east of Canyon Village, a one-way loop drive takes you to the brink of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and offers four views, with the last stop at the trail that leads to the top of the Falls.
Yellowstone’s south entrance is 57 miles from the town of Jackson. A 7-day pass is $30 for a private, non-commercial vehicle and $25 per motorcycle or snowmobile. The fee for those on foot or bicycle is $15 per person (age 16 and older). Annual passes cost $60.
See related story: Spotlight on Yellowstone Park