Jackson Hole, Wyoming was on my travel bucket list thanks to the mountain views and Grand Teton National Park. But what I didn’t realize when I first started to plan a trip to Jackson Hole, was the lure of land and adventure that would eventually seduce me. There was something about the mountain air, pinkish purple hues that bounced between fields of wildflowers and grass and snow covered peaks that kept egging me on…to want more, to do more. To want to push beyond my comfort zone, so much so that the half marathon that I was in Jackson Hole to run, became an afterthought on my itinerary.
To me, active travel – ie, hiking, kayaking, SUP, skiing or snowshoeing were things I loved as a way to promote everyday wellness and appreciate the outdoors in new (and old) destinations. But I never truly considered myself an adventure traveler – until my trip to Jackson Hole (even though now that I look back on trips over the last few years – I’ve been taking on more and more adrenaline pumping, heart racing adventures at every opportunity). And even though our short five days in Jackson Hole only allowed for a brief introduction to the plethora of outdoor adventure possibilities, it was enough to fill me with a thirst for more.
There is good reason that the first thing I noticed during my trip to Jackson Hole was that ALL the locals looked fit…and strong. It was almost as if would-be residents needed to take an oath to appreciate and experience the outdoors at every possible opportunity to earn residency. The city and surrounding areas are an outdoor playground for young and old – whether you fancy water or mountain based activities. Not to say that every Jackson local is an adrenaline junkie, but even the least adventurous live and breathe the fresh air with an appreciation for its restorative properties.
All that being said, as much as skiing in Jackson Hole would be a thrill – there is nothing quite like the summer (or early fall) in this Wyoming mountain town. And, just in case you are a travel planning procrastinator, be warned. Summer is considered high season in Jackson Hole. So as much advance planning as you can do to create an epic adventure – the better. To get you started, here is an ultimate summer adventure guide in Jackson Hole.
7 reasons to visit Jackson Hole in the Summer
Temperatures that are not too hot or not too cold
I love days where I need a light sweatshirt keeps the chill away in the morning but can be shed by midday. And in the early afternoon while I was huffing and puffing my way up the trail thanks to a high elevation that I am used to? It was nice not to be sweating buckets because of extreme heat. High temperatures in Jackson Hole in range (on average) from the mid 60’s to high 70’s in June, July and August (with some days topping 80 degrees). And as much as I love soaking up the heat and sun during beach vacations, there is something about the mountains that makes it ok to be bundled up in a sweatshirt while sitting around the pool, or cuddling up to an outdoor firepit and cozy blanket in the evening.
Get wet and wild while whitewater rafting
I love the water, and I love to kayak…but somehow I had never been whitewater rafting. But volunteering to sit in the very front of our 10 person boat (we’d originally reserved an 8 person boat but the water levels were too high) – I quickly became one with my inner whitewater spirit on the Snake River. Yes, I got drenched. And yes, the water was COLD. But luckily, Mad River Boat Trips offer wetsuit rentals (or, based on the weather and river conditions – they are included in the cost as a required piece of gear). It was a bit like riding a roller coaster, with a few calms curves between the huge ups and downs. With my feet tucked in – under the inside edges of the raft to brace myself – I realized something important. As much as the paddlers in the raft need to work together as one to navigate the waters, the river is – and always will be – in control, reminding you of who is in charge at every turn. As scary as that realization could be, I found it somewhat soothing. Or magical. Or something. The reminder that we are just a very small part of the grand ecosystem.
Logistics: The whitewater season runs from mid-May to late September in Jackson Hole. Make reservations in advance. Not sure if you want to go all in for the whitewaters? Mad River Boat Trips also offers scenic float trips in addition to whitewater rafting on boats of varying sizes.
Find your bliss on a hike
Perhaps this is the most obvious adventure activity in Jackson Hole, but the area is a hiker’s dream. It would be a gross understatement to say I was sad we didn’t have more time to hike. I scoured the internet before our trip and peppered locals with questions about the best trails given our time constraints and need to go relatively easy on our legs before the half marathon.
The winning hike turned out to be a 6 mile route from Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and Cascade Canyon (with an elevation gain of just over 1,000 feet overall and a maximum elevation of just over 7,500 ft). The hike itself was lovely – and maybe challenging given my lack of training at altitude. In retrospect (and maybe because the trail was undergoing construction so there was no connecting route between Hidden Falls and Inspiration point), I wish we’d started along the trail into Cascade Canyon first. It was one of those trails that just makes you want to keep exploring, deeper and deeper into the canyon.
As it was, we only started in the direction of the canyon in the late afternoon which meant we needed to keep an eye on the clock to make it back to the dock in time for the last ferry. Beyond the time constraint, clouds and a looming storm taunted me, daring me to keep going as each curve revealed a new expanse of rocks or streams dying to be explored. As we made our way, another pair of hikers (on their way back to the ferry) told us that they’d seen a mother and baby moose further down the trail. Between that, my hope of seeing a bear (from far away of course), and the reflections of the mountains that shimmered in the streams – I only stubbornly was persuaded to turn back. We did make it back (with a slightly faster pace) – in part thanks to the last ferry being full and one more coming to pick up the rest of us in line.
Of course, after spending several days with Grand Teton Mountain in my line of sight…and hearing from several people that have made the trek to the top…guess what I want to do?
Logistics: Jenny Lake is in Grand Teton National Park. Park at South Jenny Lake area for the ferry, visitors center, restrooms and a gift shop. While you can walk around entire lake, the ferry expedites your transit time making more room for hiking into the canyon (the price of an adult round trip is $15. $8 for children). And while you might think that it isn’t necessary, consider purchasing bear spray to have with you while you explore the trails. (Our bear spray went unused, so we gave it away to an airline agent that likes to hike as we left town.)
Easy balancing and SUP
With inflatable SUP boards and wetsuits (thanks to a fear of falling into still cold waters) in tow, we returned to Grand Teton National Park to explore String Lake. String Lake is perfect for SUP because of its size, scenery and calm waters. If you are feeling strong, paddlers can portage over to Leigh Lake. In retrospect, I should probably not have spent two hours paddling the day before a half marathon, nor did I really need the wetsuit (I never fell in and with the sun beating down felt like I was in a sauna). Regardless of the sweat dripping down my back, the lake mirrored the landscape – looking more like glass than water. Given that my balance isn’t quite as strong in open water waves of the ocean, String Lake provided the perfect first SUP trip of the season.
Logistics: There are many outfitters in Jackson Hole where you can rent everything you need for SUP. We took advantage of the convenient (and uber helpful) Basecamp at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole to rent inflatable boards (and all the necessary accoutrements, including wetsuits). You will also need a permit for your board which is often included in the rental price.
Soar like an eagle while you paraglide over the mountain
As a child, I avoided things like the monkey bars, preferring to keep my feet on the playground blacktop. It wasn’t as if I was afraid, but the thought of hanging in mid-air never appealed to me. Until the day that I saw a parachute gliding off Rendezvous Mountain in Teton Village. I knew instantaneously (even if took a few hours for me to do anything about it), that I wanted to paraglide in Jackson Hole. Several months later, I still have trouble describing what if felt like to soar over the mountains – high above land. It was effortless. Serene. Inspiring. And something that everyone should try once. Tom – my pilot and instructor made the experience so easy – and eventually even gave me controls to make a few turns and help us navigate toward our landing spot.
Logistics: Reserve your paragliding flight with JHR Paragliding in Teton Village. Try to give yourself extra days, just in case the weather gods do not cooperate with your first scheduled flight. And you know the adventure pictures that often seem too expensive to purchase? These are worth it. Trust me. Even though I brought my GoPro with me, Tom’s shots (and those of the photographers on the ground) were so much better.
And for lovers of national parks and runners? Our trip to Jackson Hole was organized around the (inaugural) Grand Teton Half Marathon. The race is part of Vacation Races – in early June, the weekend prior to the Yellowstone Half Marathon (for those runners that want to run races back to back weekends). While the Grand Teton Half runs from Wilson towards Grand Teton National Park, the Jackson Hole Half Marathon (also in June) runs from Teton Village to the town of Jackson. Adding a half marathon into your adventure trip means paying attention to what and how you use your legs during the week. East coasters should also allow for extra days prior to the race to acclimate to both the Mountain Time zone and the higher elevation.
Other Jackson Hole summer adventures:
Fishing: Go fly fishing for wild trout on the Snake River.
Cycling: Ride from Teton Village to Wilson (and then have breakfast at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn) or take a longer ride along the Teton Pass.
Go on a wildlife safari: Wildlife is everywhere in Jackson Hole. Go on a safari with an expert for your best chance at learning and spotting the sometimes elusive creatures that inhabit the area in their natural habitat.
Get in the saddle: Where better to go horseback riding than the land of cowboys? Area ranches offer a variety of ways to ride.
Best of all…after all of the adventure, Jackson Hole caters to mind and body wellness with luxury properties, resorts and a vibrant food scene. Technically these are available all year round, but they are strong contenders for making Jackson Hole one of my favorite mountain towns for adventure.
Recover in luxury
You’ve worked your body and muscles during the day. Alnd if you are anything like me, as fabulous as you feel while moving – the aches and pains that come from a day of adventure can take a toll which is why a trip to the spa (or at the very least – hot tub) is a must. We chose to stay at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole – in Teton Mountain Village – during our stay, which apart from the obvious luxury and impeccable Four Seasons service – was a smart decision for recovering in style. I would have spent every afternoon at the spa at Four Seasons Jackson Hole if I could have (my husband would probably not have appreciated this) even if we waited until the afternoon of our half marathon to go in for much needed body work. While my husband recovered with a therapeutic massage, I reserved the Peak Performance body ritual – a blend of dry brushing, active stretching, therapeutic massage and a willow bark wrap. Suffice it to say that I’ve tried to conjure the therapeutic and relaxing feel of this treatment after every single long run since. (It hasn’t worked. Clearly I need to go back.)
Logistics: You do not have to be staying at Four Seasons Jackson Hole to book a spa appointment, but trust me – you will wish you were. As for massages or the Peak Performance body ritual, ask for Robbin, her healing hands and energy deliver a level of care unlike any other (and trust me, I’ve sampled lots of others.)
Fuel up like a foodie
The good news is that as much as there is to do in Jackson Hole, there are plenty of delicious places to eat. After all, your body needs to be fueled for all of those high-octane adventures, right? My favorite spot in the town of Jackson was Lotus Cafe. Healthy and delicious, I probably could eat there for breakfast, lunch and dinner and not get bored. In Teton Village, my two favorite restaurants were The Handle Bar and il Villaggio Osteria. For a perfect mid-afternoon snack, aperitif or evening treat – the Ascent Lounge at Four Seasons Jackson Hole cannot be beat if for no other reason than the fire pits (but really, the food, drinks and service was so remarkable that we often went there before and after dinner).
Logistics: If you are heading out from Teton Mountain Village for a day of hiking or adventure in Grand Teton National Park, make arrangements with your hotel or plan for a picnic lunch ahead of time since the smaller shops and cafes do not start serving lunch until late in the morning (and there are no places to pick anything up between the village and the park entrance).
A few tips while planning your summer adventure in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Summer is considered high season, so make sure to book flights and hotels well in advance
- Idaho Falls is an another airport (we found that airline rates flying into Idaho Falls were slightly lower than Jackson Hole and chance are good you will want a rental car anyway).
- There are hotels spread out over across the area (at varying costs). Consider your activities to help you decide between a hotel in Teton Village at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort or in the town of Jackson. For us, knowing that we would be spending more time near Grand Teton National Park (and the fact that I wanted to be as close as I could to the mountains at all times – we chose to stay in Teton Village). Depending on your tastes and preferences a few other notable hotels are: Hotel Terra, and Amangiri.
- Make activity and dinner reservations in advance (you can always change them if necessary).
- If you are not used to higher altitudes, give yourself a day or two to get acclimated. (For example, we organized our whitewater rafting trip on our first full day before trying to hike).
- Buy the bear spray. Even though you might think it isn’t necessary – it is better to be safe than sorry.