During your visit to the Tetons, you might not want to make the mistake of looking like a clueless tourist in Jackson Hole. Blending in and respecting the year-round residents both human and furry or feathered—such as not getting up close and personal with wildlife—as well as helping to protect the precious and spectacular environment, is the best way to go. Below are some important tips and suggestions to enrich your visit to Jackson Hole by getting off the beaten path in some instances (without actually treading off-path/trail!), planning ahead, and in general, acting more like a local.
PRACTICE SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
What exactly is sustainable tourism? According to the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, sustainable tourism is tourism “that leads to the management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems.”
Examples of sustainable tourism include:
• Walking or biking as much as possible
• Using public transportation such as the START Bus which is free within the town of Jackson only $3 from town to Teton Village
• Using a reusable shopping bag at the grocery store and retail shops. In 2019 the town passed an ordinance against the use of plastic bags wherever and whenever possible. Bag fees are issued for paper bags if one doesn’t have a reusable bag. Using refillable water bottles and coffee mugs is also encouraged.
• Respect wildlife closures and stay on marked trails. When hikers wander off the trails, it leads to decades of ecosystem destruction. Take only photographs and leave only footprints. Geotag responsibly on social media to protect areas that don’t show excessive footprints. Literally.
FIRST ACTIVITY OF THE TRIP: TAKE A WILDLIFE TOUR
We here at Jackson Hole Traveler encourage tourists to take a wildlife tour pronto upon arriving to learn proper etiquette for approaching wildlife as well as gain invaluable information on elk, moose, bear, bison, etc., all of which will enrich visits to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
RELATED STORY: Jackson Hole Wildlife Tours: The Essentials
LEARN THE HISTORY OF THIS PLACE YOU’RE VISITING
Why is Jackson Hole called Jackson Hole? Who were the first homesteaders? How important was (is) ranching? What was the area called Town Square originally? How much of the land here is public? Here’s the answer to the last question: A whopping 97% of the 3,826,407 acres in Teton County are federally owned or state-managed, including Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge.
One of your first stops should be paying a visit to the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum. It is a treasure trove for discovering how Jackson Hole was, well, discovered. The photographs and exhibits of days of yore will delight and educate. Find out how dude ranches were the first tourist attraction. Heck, maybe even decide to stay at an honest-to-goodness ranch here, such as the historic Darwin Ranch or Triangle X. Talk about getting your cowboy on in authentic fashion!
While the majority of Jackson Hole’s focus is on tourism, it’s important to note that there are still plenty of cowboys and ranchers who make a living off of horses and cattle, not unlike the popular television series “Yellowstone.” Maybe you’ll meet a real-life Dutton family, only nicer less ruthless! No trip to the Cowboy State would be complete without some old-fashioned, Western good times. Take in the Jackson Hole Rodeo one night. Take a horseback ride. Chuckwagon dinners at Bar T Five or Spring Creek Ranch offer up solid grub and a dose of Western entertainment: What could be more perfect than eating dinner with a cowboy or two?
CHECK OUT THE NEARBY TOWNS
While Jackson offers a myriad of adventures, it can be very crowded during the summer season, resulting in long lines for restaurants, limited (or frustrating to find) parking spots both in town and in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and even discovering more popular hiking trails jam-packed with other hikers (see below for tips on avoiding the busy times and information on the trails less-traveled). Pack your patience. So on that note, we recommend taking a half-or full-day excursion to the “bedroom” communities of Jackson—Dubois, Alpine (Wyoming) and Victor and Driggs, Idaho. All are slower-paced and less expensive alternatives to Jackson.
Alpine is a relatively short jaunt from Town Square. Twenty-odd minutes of the drive is through the amazingly beautiful Snake River Canyon where you’ll see the mighty river on one side of the highway and towering hills and mountains on the other. As you drive to or from Jackson, you may want to stop off at the Lunch Counter overlook to watch whitewater rafts maneuver the infamous rapids. Alpine is situated at the convergence of the Snake and Greys rivers and the Palisades Reservoir and it’s easy to rent a raft or Stand-Up paddle board (SUP) to explore these waterways. Beer aficionados must stop at Melvin Brewing, which sits on the Palisades and offers up award-winning craft beers and snack, lunch and dinner items.
Dubois is located about an hour-and-a-half east of Grand Teton National Park and sits between the Absaroka and Wind River Mountain ranges, offering an ever more authentic taste of the Old West. Dubois out-Old West’s the Old West of Jackson. Just minutes from downtown Dubios you can marvel at petroglyphs in the Torrey or Dinwoody basins.
Victor and Driggs, Idaho, situated via Teton Pass on the other side of the Teton Range, are slower-paced and less expensive alternatives to Jackson. With a slew of eateries, several breweries, Grand Teton Distillery, golf courses, mountain biking and the popular “Music on Main” outdoor concert series in Victor offered on Thursday evenings during the summer, you will certainly delight in this side trip. The drive is approximately half an hour from Jackson.
Traveler Tip on Hiking: Because hiking in Grand Teton National Park is not to be missed, we suggest arriving at trailheads early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid a throng of hikers. In addition, for less-crowded day hiking options, venture into the Bridger-Teton National Forest where you can summit Jackson Peak via a route that includes a stop at Goodwin Lake; Ski Lake; Cache Creek; Middle Fork Ditch Creek trail; or the strenuous and beautiful Josie’s Ridge trail which leads you to the top of Snow King Mountain. For more forest trail information, click here
Patronizing Jacksonite-owned shops in and around Town Square enhances your experience. “Shop Local, Buy Local” is always the best mantra. Locally-owned shops are filled with curated collections of treasures that include everything from one-of-a-kind art to T-shirts for the kids. There are jeans and cowboy boots for all, or if you’re game, go for the locally crafted jewelry or a chic handcrafted cowboy hat. Most shops are owned by local characters or informed local outdoor experts who will help you choose something great as they share a love for Jackson Hole.
DO NOT PET BISON OR GET CLOSE TO BEARS!
This should be fairly obvious, except time and time again visitors to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park in particular feel the need to approach bison—to actually pet them or take a selfie. The bison react with a chase or a head/horn butt to the tourist’s face or back (see @touronsofyellowstone for proof). Every year, without fail, tourists are maimed, gored, or trampled by wildlife because they either don't think about the danger of getting close or assume that nothing bad will happen to them. Do NOT be that person who tries to pet the “fluffy cows.”
Stay at least 25 yards back from bison or moose. And getting less than 100 yards away from a grizzly or black bear is just as dangerous, maybe more so as you could possibly become the bear’s snack! Yes, there are bears who wander the side of the parks' roads or amble into them to cross to the other side, but either photograph them from the safety of your vehicle or from a respectful distance.
TIP YOUR SERVER
Whether you’re leaving a gratuity for a bartender or a barista, host or housekeeping, wait staff or whitewater guide, please remember that the people who are taking care of you are dedicated to making sure you enjoy your experience, your meal, your cup of java. Yes, it’s their job to serve, but not tipping or tipping less than 15% (20% is ideal) is what can cause ill will or ire toward tourists; a catch-22 situation as the majority of our locals by default depend on tourism to make a living and to try and reside here. If you think the cost of your lodging and meals are pricey, check out what landlords are asking for rent. So make somebody’s day by tipping them.
KNOW THE NAME OF THOSE MIGHTY MOUNTAINS
The jaw-dropping granite peaks that define the Jackson Hole area are often erroneously referred to as the Grand Tetons, plural. No. There is only one Grand Teton peak. The mountain range as a whole can be called simply “the Tetons” or the Teton Range.