The summer crowds are long gone, the aspens are turning colors and there’s a familiar crispness in the air. Thin sprinklings of snow have already dusted the mountains, yet ski season is still a month or two away.
Have no fear: There is no season for thumb-twiddling in Jackson Hole. Fall brings a cornucopia of recreational opportunities to the table of any outdoor enthusiast lucky enough to spend a piece of this wonderful season beneath the Tetons.
The shoulder season of late September is actually a perfect time to visit Jackson Hole as the weather is still dry, the fall colors are changing and the national parks are still open. On our list of things to do this summer, many of them are still an option in the fall. This includes hiking in Grand Teton National Park, wildlife viewing tours (which happen all year round), renting boats for the lakes or Snake River, horseback rides, mountain biking, playing golf and chuck wagon suppers. In addition, up until early October, you can still ride the Aerial Tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village.
Our main suggestion would be to take advantage of both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks when there are less people around and more active wildlife. Scenic drives to Oxbow Bend, along Antelope Flats and on the Inner Loop Road in Grand Teton should have great fall color displays.
We should also note that the Inner Loop Road in Grand Teton National Park closes on Nov. 5.
1. Fall Colors
Though autumn’s color-changing magic show is experienced in different ways the world over, few locales offer a better view of fall foliage than Jackson Hole—the area presents a riot of color. The aspen tree, a Rocky Mountain species identifiable by its papery white bark, grows in tightly knit groves that seem to catch alight each fall. The trees go through an elaborate progression that peaks in late September, transitioning from yellow to burnt gold before turning a deep red and emptying their branches. Cottonwoods also ignite this time of year in vibrant yellows.
USA Today named Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks one of the Top 10 Spots For Great Leaf Peeping!
Jackson Hole is a year-round photographer’s paradise, but there's something about fall’s wild palate of colors that makes the area a heaven for the photo enthusiast. Numerous outfitters offer tours geared around the fall foliage. Like nearly all of Jackson’s guide services, the tours come in many varieties, from photography to biking to wildlife spotting and offer something for anyone interested in viewing nature’s annual colorful spectacle.
Recommended areas for prime leaf peeping are Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park as well as the park's Ditch Creek/Shadow Mountain area. The Snake River Canyon is where some of the most vibrant colors may be found and Munger Mountain is home to some of the most extensive aspen stands in the valley. A drive down the Moose Wilson Road will yield a bright myriad of colors as well as moose and bear sightings.
Related Article: Best Places to Photograph in Grand Teton National Park
2. Elk Bugling
Each fall, Jackson Hole visitors can enjoy a front-row seat to one of nature’s eeriest concerts. The elk mating season, or “rut,” begins each September and is marked by the otherworldly calls of male elk looking for companionship. Known as “bugling,” the male elk’s cry is half-bellow, half-squeal, and unlike anything else you’ll hear in nature’s chorus.
Elk bugle from early September through October before migrating out of the high country for the winter. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are premium spots to observe the rutting elks and catch an earful of their calls, whether from the roadside during a scenic drive or on a hike or bike ride through the woods. Local outfitters offer a variety of tours centered on this phenomenon and can provide knowledgeable guides.
3. Local Events
Every season brings a new reason to get out and mingle in Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole’s Fall Arts Festival is one of the town’s cultural crown jewels and typically begins in the first week of September. Artists—ranging from local craftsmen to international masters—celebrate the changing of the seasons by showcasing their works in the streets and galleries of Jackson Hole. The festival is an 11-day long shindig and includes more than two dozen individual events punctuated by wine, live music and good cheer.
The Jackson Hole Center for the Arts, located on 265 Cache in the heart of town, offers community-oriented programs and events year-round. Check the Center’s calendar for arts programming, dance performances and community theater.
Any discussion of Jackson’s cultural offerings would be incomplete without a mention of a local favorite: the historic Pink Garter Theatre. With a constant line- up of events from wildlife and outdoor film screenings to diverse touring musicians, the Pink Garter Theatre has something for everyone. Good news for the venue’s thirstier patrons: The Pink Garter shares space with the Rose, one of Jackson’s classiest watering holes.
Early autumn also means time for road races in Jackson Hole, from the Jackson Hole Marathon to the annual LOTOJA— a 210-mile interstate bike race from Logan, Utah, to Jackson Hole—and Old Bill's Fun Run for charities, a favorite event for locals and visitors alike.
From Jackson Hole’s signature cutthroat trout to the abundance of elk, mule deer and moose roaming the high country, Jackson Hole is a sportsman’s paradise in the truest sense of the term. All major fishing and hunting seasons occur sometime during the fall.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest offers practically unlimited opportunities for self-guided hunts and numerous local outfitters offer guided hunting trips into the mountains on foot and horseback. Keep in mind that permits are not guaranteed and that non-residents must apply by January 31st for an elk license, February 28th for a moose license, and March 15th for a deer license.
5. Fat Biking
Last but not least, enter the outdoor world’s newest craze: fat biking. Fat bikes are like normal bicycles, only sporting 3.8-inch-wide tires that look like something straight off the Big Wheel you rode as a kid. Though they may look cartoonish, don’t be fooled: Fat bikes can roll over just about any terrain, from mud to stones to snowy trails, and allow serious bikers to keep riding well into the chillier months.
Both of Jackson’s “shoulder-seasons” are characterized by muddy trails, but the fat bike torpedoes this problem. Whether you’re looking for a leg burning climb up Snow King Mountain or some mellow curves on the Cache Creek Trails, fat bikes let you ride when the weather would otherwise keep your cycle in the garage.
Fat bikes are available for rental and purchase at all of Jackson’s bike shops. Just be sure to wear your helmet.
Speaking of biking, don't forget that fall is still great road biking season on the Pathways. Temperatures will begin to drop as the season progresses, but an open fall day is a truly exciting proposition in Jackson Hole.
There's lots to do and no crowds to worry about, so get outside with a friend, family, or just enjoy the solitude of being outside while the yellow leaves float down to earth. We're all starting to buzz a little for ski season, but luckily there's plenty to do this fall to channel the energy. See you out there!