Deep down, most everyone has a profound fascination with Wyoming. You know it’s true. Whether you’ve witnessed its wild western majesty firsthand, or you’ve just seen photos of the Grand Tetons reflecting off of the mirrored lakes below, there’s just something about this state that stirs something inside most of us. So, whether you’ve been there or you’ve been dying to go, let this be your guide to experiencing two of its most adventurous towns.
Jackson Hole—or simply Jackson, depending on who you ask—is a high-elevation paradise that’s a bonafide hub for essentially every outdoor activity imaginable. This iconic Wyoming community—nestled in an expansive valley and surrounded by mountains on all sides—boasts incredible wildlife (including a plethora of migratory bird species and thousands of elk), famous ski slopes, hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, world-class mountaineering, and infinite opportunities for adventure.
You’ll see the towering Tetons long before you actually enter Grand Teton National Park. They rise steeply and sharply 7,000-feet from the flat valley below like something out of a mythical fairytale. This set of regal mountains is arguably one of the world’s most impressive ranges, punctuating the area’s threaded forests and wetlands with its jagged, sawtooth-like pinnacles.
Once inside the park, the options are essentially endless with roughly 200 miles of trails to choose from. One of the classic Teton trails is the route from Paintbrush to Cascade Canyon, offering views of the “Cathedral Group”—Teewinot Mountain, Grand Teton, and Mt. Owen. Starting at the Jenny Lake Trailhead, this 18-mile journey carves up through the beautiful Paintbrush Canyon before reaching 10,700-foot Paintbrush Divide and then tumbling down the backside of the divide through Cascade Canyon to complete an epic loop.
For a strenuous hike that offers awe inspiring panoramas, check out Static Peak Divide. Starting at the Death Canyon Trailhead, this 19-mile hike crosses switchbacks, gains a total of 5,000-feet in elevation, journeys through vibrant flora, and passes over canyon walls with overlooks of Jackson Hole and the Gros Ventre Range.
An equally lovely, less strenuous option is the hike to Taggart Lake. One of the Teton’s easier treks, Taggart Lake is absolutely beautiful, but oftentimes packed with tourists. To experience this pathway in solitude, it’s important to wake up early. It’s worth it, we promise.
Pristine waterways and healthy fish populations—two ingredients that every angler craves, and two ingredients that Jackson Hole has no shortage of. With some of the country’s greatest trout populations, the Snake River and its tributaries are known as truly world-class fishing destinations. From the upper segments of the Gros Ventre River, through the braided Teton section of the Snake River, to the South Fork and Salt Rivers, fishermen are able to catch copious amounts of trout.
For some of the best fishing services in Wyoming, check out JH Trout Fly Fishing, with Neil Chamberlin. The only guide for JH Trout, and one of the only guides in the Grand Teton National Park, Chamberlin ensures that you have an unforgettable fishing experience. Depending on experience level and expectations, most fishing tours are located half an hour to an hour and a half away from Jackson. There are short-day and full-day options, ranging between six and ten hours.
Climbing in the Tetons is a matchless experience, and climbing the Grand Teton itself is one of the most iconic experiences every climber should have. If you’re looking for an experienced guide service, look no further than Exum Mountain Guides. These guys are the best in the business, and they’ve been around for the longest time, too.
Before attempting to climb, all participants must complete a course, learning about the sport and how it relates to the actual Tetons. The Classic Grand Teton two-day course is Exum’s signature program, with thousands of its participants having reached the Teton summit since the company’s founding in 1931. Most of those who enroll in this exploration have never climbed prior to their first day of instruction, but by the end of the second day are comfortable enough to take on the challenge.
For more experienced climbers, there are two-day excursions to the summit, normally including high camps and complex rock, as well as snow and ice approaches. These classic fifth-class climbing routes are an alpinist’s dream.
If you decide to climb the Tetons on your own, a climbing permit is not required; but for those hoping to camp or bivouac overnight, a backcountry camping permit is needed. Keep in mind that independently climbing this peak comes with inherent risks, and it’s always wise to check with local climbing shops for the most up-to-date climbing information. Be sure to check the weather, as well as prepare for high altitude’s unpredictable impacts.
Food, Beer, and Lodging
Lotus Café is undeniably one of the best organic cafes you’ll ever visit. Its well-rounded menu ranges from coffee and smoothies, to Indian appetizers, pizzas, breakfast platters, and acai bowls.
For incredible and authentic Mexican cuisine, be sure to check out Pica’s Mexican Taqueria, which serves prize-winning margaritas, shrimp fajitas, hanger steaks, and bean dips.
Looking for a cozy place to call home for a few days? Consider the Jackson Hole Hideout as a bed and breakfast option. These comfy cabin-type rooms make for a perfect getaway. And with breakfast options such as a baked blueberry ricotta dish, assorted frittatas, and baked granola French toast, it’s practically a no-brainer. The Teton Village Hostel is also a good option if you’re traveling on a tight budget.
While Jackson Hole is popular for obvious reasons, the nearby town of Pinedale offers equally beautiful hiking, fishing, and climbing—without massive touristy crowds. Just an hour and a half drive from Jackson Hole, Pinedale is home to numerous backpacking hot spots, climbing destinations, hiking trails, and more.
(Note: It’s worth mentioning that a trip to Pinedale may be best after buck season is over. Until mid-August, the mosquitoes can be gnarly and early snowpack can quickly put a damper on any outdoorsy plans.)
Many local companies provide shuttle transportation to some of Pinedale’s favorite trailheads, and there are diverse opportunities for guided expeditions (including by horseback or llama); however, hiking alone is made easy with straightforward markings and instructions on some of Wyoming’s most notable trails.
To hike the western slopes of the Wind River Range, you can start at any of the ten trailheads spread out along the hundred-mile long range. These different trails range in distance and difficulty. Some of the most popular trailheads that lead directly into the Wind River Mountain range are located at New Fork Lakes, Green River Lakes, Elkhart Park, and Big Sandy. (All roads, excluding Elkhart Park, are unpaved, so having a vehicle with high suspension is a good idea.)
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) traverses along the Bridger-Teton National Forest, winding from South Pass to Union Pass, as part of the same system that extends from Canada to Mexico. This trail is remote and fairly challenging, but offers breathtaking views of Wyoming’s rugged wilderness.
The Wyoming Range—which is located in the western part of Wyoming and runs north and south for approximately 80 miles—is an excellent place to find solitude and to experience Wyoming’s beauty without the crowds typically found in the Tetons and Wind River Range. Relatively undiscovered by out-of-towners, this is a prime trekking destination for experienced hikers seeking peace in the woods. (It’s a bit poorly marked and indistinct at times, so a compass and map are recommended.) Among these backcountry trails is the Wyoming Range National Recreation Trail, a 75-mile pathway that follows the crest of the Wyoming Range, passing the lovely Middle Piney Lake and Wahelo Falls. This trail can also be used by mountain bikers and horseback riders, as well as by four-wheelers and other motorized vehicles on certain segments.
Wyoming’s Wind River Range is a place that must be seen to be believed. This dreamy gem is an outdoor enthusiast’s fantasy, where glacier-topped granite cliffs tower over jeweled lakes, wildflower-topped meadows, and swerving backcountry trails.
Of the numerous sections of the Winds, Cirque of the Towers is the most iconic and perhaps most easily accessible. Considered a mother ship of alpine climbing, this trip is an absolute must. Whether you want to take part in a class II walk-up or a 5.11b route, the views from the top cannot be beaten.
In general, climbing Cirque of the Towers is best between the months of August and early October, when snow isn’t as much of a concern. Some years a heavy winter snowpack can keep trails completely covered, even into summer months. July and August normally reap an abundance of wildflowers, but it must the said: the bugs can be awful! Additionally, thunderstorms are fairly common in summer months, and there is always a possibility of snow. Regardless of timing, you must be prepared for capricious weather conditions and high altitude. Similarly to Jackson Hole, we recommend planning your trip with Exum Mountain Guides.
Other noteworthy climbs in the Wind River Range include Deep Lake; Gannett Peak, the highest mountain in Wyoming; and Titcomb Basin, which normally takes about a week to complete.
Food, Beer, and Lodging
Located at the base of the Wind River Mountains, Wind River Brewing Company boasts a diverse assortment of flavorful, handcrafted brews. The award-winning beers, concocted with quality ingredients and pure glacier water, are just part of what makes this stop unique. The food is also excellent. The restaurant’s chef creates pub favorites, as well as fine steaks and interesting appetizers like beer-battered cheese fries and Mesquite Chicken Quesadilla Rolls.
For an affordable, amazing bed and breakfast experience, book a room with the Rivera Lodge Bed and Breakfast. This B&B is an incredibly warm and welcoming getaway, tucked in the mountains. Since 2007, its been owned and operated by Emi Domoto-Reilly and her dog, Bird. Emi dishes out delicious daily breakfasts to the cabin-style rooms that dot the site’s creek. Sunday morning pancake breakfasts are a highlight for weekend vacationers, and the rustic cabins are nearly impossible to part ways with at the close of your trip. Nearby are opportunities for mountain biking, backpacking, fishing, and countless other outdoor adventures, only amplifying the supreme location.
Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.
Featured image provided by Billy Gast