The ski resorts are closed, yet it’s still too chilly and snowy to get on the water or go hiking. Though spring in Jackson Hole is mud season and your favorite trail is still the consistency of a melted Hershey’s bar, the beautiful outdoors still beckons. What are the ways you can get out below the Tetons and dust off the last remnants of winter or christen the first of summer?
When Exactly is Spring in Jackson Hole?
Spring, to us, is basically that period between skiing and whitewater rafting. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort typically closes its skiing around the first week of April and Grand Targhee Resort a week or two after that. Locals will still be seen hiking for their turns in the backcountry, but for the most part here in Jackson Hole our thoughts and our garages are turning over into summer mode. Yes, the trails are still muddy or even snowy and reliable warm weather won't arrive until June, but every spring day until then is a day to make the most of.
Although the unpredictable spring weather may not permit all activities each day, Jacksonites hoping to spend time outdoors are dusting off the fly rods, tuning up the bikes, breaking out the binoculars and cameras and preparing to seize any kind of day spring gives us.
Here's a list of our favorite things to do in the spring.
1. Visiting the National Parks
Spring can be a fantastic time to visit Grand Teton or Yellowstone national parks if you know what to expect. On the downside, most of the hiking trails are covered in snow or mud, so the accessibility is limited. However, there are several huge positives in being here before the crowds and having the parks more to yourself. Well, yourself and many four-legged friends.
First, it's a very uncrowded time to be in the national parks before the summer drive-through visitors arrive to clog the roads. And secondly, there is no better season to see wildlife then to be here during springtime when they emerge from winter with extra energy and hunger to eat and roam. Yellowstone's bison are particularly active in the spring and seeing them on the move is a rare treat.
Grand Teton National Park
The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through April 30 and from May 1st on it opens at 8 a.m. Stop in to see the stunning visitor center building and discuss the latest openings and options with a ranger. Park roads open May 1st, depending on weather conditions. Check for the latest updates before you go.
Yellowstone National Park
Most Yellowstone roads are closed to auto traffic from early November to mid-April. The southern entrance will open as the roads do. Check their roads website in late April for specifics.
2. Wildlife Watching
Each damp dawning of spring beckons movement among Jackson Hole's wildlife population that is a treasure to watch unfold, and, yes, in certain situations a sight to deliberately avoid.
Bears, for one, are probably the only thing to avoid up close, but it's really not much concern since with most of the hiking trails still closed, we can't get up into their zones easily anyhow. Plus, we always carry bear spray... right? Ravenous and bleary-eyed from a winter of hibernation, the bears take the awakening of springtime to move down from the mountains into warmer temperatures of the valley forests where they can find their first breakfast of the year. Do keep your eyes out for spotting them at a distance!
Slightly more fun for us humans to be a part of, spring is when bison become more active after a winter of hunkering down, large herds of elk and moose begin to march northward from the National Elk Refuge up into the hills and eagles prowl the skies for signs of rodent or fish life below.
Spring also means that it’s time for the ungulates (deer, elk, and moose) to begin calving. Though the sight of a cow moose nuzzling her calf is about as heartwarming as it gets, remain a safe distance from the local wildlife and please remember to drive slowly on our roads. As the National Park Service says, “Give wildlife a brake.” See our article on Wildlife Spotting.
3. Fly Fishing
Spring is a fantastic time for fishing in the waters of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but more than any other time of year it's important to fish the right way at the right moment.
In March and April, as the days get warmer, but before the snow melts, river fishing is prime. Dress warm and head to your favorite riffle of the Snake River or other local waterways for the first hatches of the year and the hungry trout waiting for them. Conditions change dramatically at this time of year so speak with local fishing guides about current conditions and what that means for the fishing options. It's mostly fishing from shore or wading this time of year, but when the weather is right, the guides will even begin the first drift boat fishing of the year.
In May and June, depending on the year's snowfall, runoff from all that melting alpine snow swells the rivers, making them violent, murky and un-fishable for a period. This is usually a rest period for anglers before the intense summer season that follows once the rivers clear up, but good fishing can be had in the alpine lakes during these runoff months as they stay clear and largely unaffected.
4. Road Biking
Though the area’s incredible collection of mountain bike trails will be too muddy to ride in April or May, Jackson’s road cycling options offer a fantastic way to warm up the legs, or more importantly, cover ground out and among the scenery.
If you're a dedicated road biker you are probably itching for those first ridable days of the season, but especially for those who only bike a little we stress that you won't find many more beautiful places to do so. In particular we recommend renting road bikes and using them as a way to travel in search of views or wildlife along the roads of the national parks.
Check out our article about the Jackson Hole Pathways bike path network for all you need to know about road biking and rentals. Ask the rental shops to attach a bike rack to your car so you can drive them up to the national park roads before getting on.
Until May 1st, most park roads remain closed to vehicular traffic, including the Inner Loop Road in Grand Teton National Park, so call to see if they are melted or plowed and you can take the opportunity to bike or otherwise enjoy the empty main roads, too. Once the cars show up you'll want to stick to the great bike paths.
Reach the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center at: 307-739-3399.
5. Spring Skiing and Snowboarding
Can’t quite let go of the season? Not a problem: the Tetons offer some of the best spring skiing this side of Alaska. Heli-skiing, split board and Alpine touring guide services take powder-hungry clients into the mountains through May. Cross-country skiers can also take their gear to Grand Teton National Park for fast crust skating or expeditions in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Treks up Snow King Mountain for a quick ski down are also still a possibility well into the spring. You'll even find committed locals bringing their ski gear back up Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Aerial Tram when it re-opens for the summer in late May. From the top of Rendezvous Peak, avalanche-aware locals hike to Cody Peak—a popular backcountry destination in the winter that holds skiable snow into the early summer months.
There’s nothing quite like skiing in your favorite pair of shorts.
6. Local Events
Good news for springtime revelers—Jackson pops off with live music and community events 12 months out of the year!
Of course, considering Jackson Hole’s reputation as the “Last of the Old West,” it’s only natural that Old West Days, an annual celebration of the area’s Western heritage, is a huge event. Occurring every Memorial Day weekend, the celebration includes traditional festival offerings like live music, food and games, as well as themed events such as the Mountain Man Rendezvous, the Old West Days Parade and the ever-popular Jackson Hole Shootout. The Jackson Hole Rodeo also opens on May 26th. Yee-haw!
The annual world-famous Elkfest kicks off May 19th with the Jackson Hole Boy Scout's Elk Antler Auction, and includes the High Noon Chili Cook-Off on May 20th.
Rain or shine, Jackson Hole abounds with places to shake your case of spring fever and enjoy the life blossoming in every corner of the spectacular landscape. Keep up with us here at jacksonholetraveler.com or follow our Facebook and Instagram feeds for up-to-the-minute “spring forward” tips and happenings.
Find other springtime happenings in our round-up of April and May events.
See You Out There!
Since we just let you in on our favorite springtime Jackson Hole activities, chances are we'll be seeing you out there! Hopefully you'll see why locals secretly love the off seasons.
FUN (& YUMMY) FACT: During April into early May, many restaurants in Town Square, Teton Village and others locations around Jackson Hole offer two-for-one dining specials!