Hitting the road this summer to explore our country’s untarnished natural wonders is one of the best ways to vacation as a family. You will create indelible memories and spend the type of quality time together that is increasingly hard to come by. A trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks offers just such an opportunity.
Be warned that national park lodging and even rental cars book up as much as a year in advance, so now may be a good time to plan an extensive trip next year. However, there are ways to work around those obstacles and have an amazing slice of true Americana, Jackson Hole hospitality and the Wild West.
Delta has the only direct flights from Atlanta to Jackson Hole during the summer — three weekly, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays, from June 6 through Aug. 30. Airlines offering one-connection flights include Delta, American and United.
Consider flying into Salt Lake City and driving because a rental car will be necessary anyway.
Myriad summer activities are available with Jackson Hole or Teton Village as your base:
- Whitewater and scenic float trips — Shoot Class III rapids like Lunch Counter or the Big Kahuna, or float peacefully, spotting bald eagles, osprey, moose, elk and other wildlife along the Snake River in the Teton, Snake and Gros Ventre mountain ranges.
- Kayaking and paddle boarding — Lessons, certification and tours are offered, as are overnight kayak excursions in Yellowstone.
- Guided fishing and fly-fishing — Take advantage of the scenic and active fishing options across the Yellowstone and Grand Teton areas, including the Snake and Green rivers for brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout fly-fishing.
- Horseback riding — Ranches feature a variety of trails, including hourly, sunrise breakfast, summer pack and horseback fishing trips.
- Teton County Fair — Witness pig wrestling, horse shows, livestock competitions, stock cars and the midway at the fair, now in its 60th year, July 22 to 31. Eat deep-fried everything and get a feel for local culture at the finals of the fiddle competition on closing day.
- Mountain biking — Jackson has an extensive paved bike pathway system that safely navigates you under highways and through tunnels in town and connects to Moose-Wilson and Teton Village and into Grand Teton National Park. Driving the park is not the same as seeing it from the saddle of a bike.
- Dude ranches — Another fabulous family option, these typically weeklong, all-inclusive outfits offer historic and award-winning experiences for families in breathtaking locations throughout the valley.
- Other activities — Options include golf, chuck wagon rides, the Teton Science School, the Alpine Slide at Snow King, hiking and rock climbing, shooting, parasailing, hang gliding, hot-air balloon rides, scenic charter flights, the National Museum of Wildlife Art, shopping in the Jackson stores and galleries, the 6 p.m. shootout, scenic and wildlife tours, and amusements and entertainment in Teton Village, including the Grand Teton Music Festival.
Jackson has a thriving Reform Jewish community. Check jhjewishcommunity.org for dates for the next Friday night service and pot luck in Grand Teton National Park or Swingin’ Sabbath with the Richard Brown Orchestra under a tent in the valley toward summer’s end.
Casual options abound, but standouts and local favorites include Trio, Snake River Grill, Nora’s Fish Creek Tavern, The Bunnery, Pearl Street Bagels (two locations), the Silver Dollar Bar at the Historic Wort Hotel, and the Mangy Moose at Teton Village. And don’t forget to take a picture astride a saddle at the renowned Cowboy Bar on the town square.
Of course, your trip should begin or end with the national parks. If driving from town or the airport, enter Grand Teton National Park from the south gate at Moose Junction. Stop at family-owned Dornan’s gourmet grocery or wine shop for provisions before advancing to the visitor center for your first amazing view and ranger encounter.
Allow as much time as possible to make your way through both parks, taking advantage of every opportunity to hike to Taggart Lake, and boat across Lake Jenny. Wind your way up the west side of the park, stopping at Jackson Lake Lodge for a huckleberry milkshake or a meal at the Pioneer Grill. The lodge is a must-stop destination your family will never forget. Stay there if you plan early enough.
Spend time at the two-story picture window framing the Tetons or on the deck overlooking the marshes. It’s a great opportunity to catch sight of the elusive moose.
Next, make your way into Yellowstone, again traveling up the west side of the loop. Stop at the first ranger center to get the Junior Ranger workbook for the kids so they can complete in-park activities toward earning badges.
Your adventure from here depends on the time you have. As you approach the Old Faithful turnout, you’ll become aware that the area hosts the most geysmeric activity in the world.
No kids along? First view the famous geyser from the deck of the Old Faithful Inn with an adult beverage in hand. Next, walk as much of the geyser basin as possible. Must-sees from here include the Norris Geyser Basin, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Hayden Valley on east-side loop down and out of the park offers your best opportunity for seeing huge herds and getting stuck in a buffalo jam. Relax, stay at a safe distance, and keep the camera ready.