Keeping it cool in Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

By: Kristin Finan
September, 2021

It was the summer of indecision. 

Back in January, quarantined and dreaming of an adventure, I planned out a June birthday trip to Wyoming that would include all of my favorite things – shopping, eating, outdoor adventure and stops at a couple national parks.

As the trip neared, however, I was overwhelmed. The timing was suddenly complicated, the rental car rates were sky-high and half of my six kids said they didn’t even want to go. So I cancelled our reservations and decided that my vision of taking in cool breezes and mountain views would just have to wait.

A month later, though, circumstances changed again. Rental car rates leveled out, flights from Austin became affordable and my parents offered to watch our kids who didn’t want to take the trip.

Teton Valley Resort in Victor, Idaho, is ideally situated for a visit to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Kristin Finan photo

Although I wouldn’t typically recommend taking a last-minute trip to a destination such as Jackson Hole, somehow, it all worked out beautifully. While some of our kids went swimming and watched movies with their grandparents, the rest of us spent a long weekend escaping the heat while soaking in nature and exploring one of the country’s most charming towns.

If you’re planning a trip to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, whether in the near future or sometime down the line, here are some ideas.

Explore Grand Teton National Park

My family is on a quest to slowly but surely visit all of the U.S. national parks, and spending time at Grand Teton National Park was high on our list thanks to its stunning mountain vistas, sparkling lakes and heart-pumping hikes.

Home to 200 miles of trails that wind past wildflowers, old homesteads, cattle ranches, bike paths and unexpected animals (including the moose we spied frolicking in the river), to discover Grand Teton is to feel transported to an entirely foreign place.

While visiting Grand Teton National Park, don’t miss a hike around Jenny Lake. Kristin Finan photo

One of the best introductions to Grand Teton is to take a hike around Jenny Lake, which serves as a picturesque focal point of the park. We enjoyed our hour-long hike from the park entrance along the Hidden Falls trail, which offers unexpected and incredible views including a 100-foot-tall cascading waterfall. Once we reached the end of the trail, we hopped aboard the shuttle boat that offers service to and from the park entrance. It was a perfect hike for our family, but if you want to hike the entire lake, you can definitely do that, too, along the Jenny Lake Loop Trail – it’s 7.6 miles.

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Raft the Snake River

Rafting the Snake River is a family friendly summer activity in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Kristin Finan photo

Our trip to Jackson Hole was relatively last-minute, which means that by the time we got around to booking a rafting trip – a must-do when visiting this area – our options were somewhat limited. Because all of the whitewater floats were full, we snagged a spot on a scenic river tour with Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips that happened to be just the right pace for our family. Our three-hour trip, including shuttle time to and from the river, was calm and peaceful as our guide pointed out wildlife including bald eagles (we saw 18!), ospreys, river otters and beavers. The kids loved spying various animals through the lenses of their binoculars, and I loved spying properties belonging to the rich and famous (hi, Sandra Bullock’s house!). By the end of our trip, when given the OK from our guide, my kids plunged into the cool, 60-something-degree river water and declared that next time, they were ready for the thrills and chills of a whitewater tour. https://www.davehansenwhitewater.com/

Two-step at the Stagecoach Bar

The Stagecoach Bar in Wilson, Wyoming, is a must-see music venue for Jackson Hole visitors. Patrick Badgley photo

If you happen to be in Jackson Hole on a Sunday as we were, there’s a place you absolutely must go – the Stagecoach Bar. Located about 10 minutes from town in Wilson, Wyoming, the Stagecoach has been a local institution since 1942 and is particularly famous for its “Sunday Church” – the same band has played every single Sunday night here for the past 44 years. Despite attending “church” unexpectedly in workout clothes after a day of hiking, my 9-year-old daughter and I couldn’t resist joining the boots- and plaid-clad set on the dancefloor, taking spins to classics including “Under the Boardwalk” and “I Can See Clearly Now.” The bar also offers a wide food menu and an inviting, mountain-framed outdoor space where congenial locals, chatty tourists, frolicking dogs and the occasional celebrity all commingle. https://stagecoachbar.net/

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Pose beneath an antler arch 

Jackson Hole’s main square features arches made of antlers. Kristin Finan photo

The towering arches that have served as the gates to Jackson Town Square since 1960 are iconic Jackson Hole, but even more fascinating than the arches themselves is the backstory. Each winter, about 7,500 elk make their way to the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, and it’s there that the bulls shed their antlers each spring. The antlers are then collected by local Boy Scout Troops and sold by public auction in the square during the annual ElkFest festival, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the National Elk Refuge. All four of the current arches were built by the Jackson Hole Rotary Club and each includes about 2,000 antlers. Due to decomposition, they must be replaced about every 50 years. Be sure to snap a selfie in front of one; just don’t think about taking any of the antlers home – there’s a $750 fine for removing them. Don’t have time to take a photo in the square? Never fear. There’s an arch at the airport, too. https://www.jacksonholewy.com/blog/elk-arches-town-square/

Make a new friend or two while shopping in downtown Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Kristin Finan photo

If You Go

Getting there:

Multiple airlines offer service from Austin to Jackson Hole Airport.

Stay:

Located about 30 minutes from Jackson Hole in Victor, Idaho, Teton Valley Resort is a perfect home base for exploring the Jackson Hole area. We stayed in a Teton Loft Cabin, a decked-out tiny home with a small upstairs that comfortably slept our group of five. The resort also offers tipis, RV hook-ups and tent camping. Amenities include a wonderful full-service restaurant, spa, pool and pickleball courts. https://www.tetonvalleyresort.com/

Do:

The shopping in Jackson Hole can’t be beat. We loved Altitude for its fun clothes and gift options; Teton Toys for its incredible toy and game selection; and Shirt Off My Back for Jackson Hole souvenir tees and sweatshirts. Prefer window shopping? Jackson Hole is brimming with incredible public art. Find a guide at https://jhpublicart.org/.

Eat and drink:

The Bunnery Bakery and Restaurant is a casual, popular spot for eggs, pancakes and pastries. Liberty Burger is the place for thick, juicy burgers and craft beers. Yippy I-O Candy Co. is a wonderful option for sweet treats.

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