Jackson Hole, WY, might be a winter paradise for skiers and boarders, but summertime provides unmatched touring, wild animal-spotting, hiking opportunities and countless ways for outdoors enthusiasts to explore the United States' American West. Check out our list of Jackson Hole must-dos -- they’ll keep visitors to this small town busy until the very first snowfall.
This northwestern Wyoming valley is nothing if not a would-be cowboy's dream come true. Custom-made boots, every conceivable style of chaps and big, shiny belt buckles that'll blind anyone who looks directly into them can be had at every corner of Jackson Hole's shopping district. Don't even think of leaving town without trying on a cowboy hat. From a dapper derby to a Civil War cavalry lid to a traditional 10-gallon style, think of each as a fashionable way to protect your head from UV rays. You’ll look like you fit right in.
The Snake River slithers through the valley just outside of Jackson Hole, providing ample opportunity to shoot the Class II and III rapids that churn perfectly for rafters of all abilities. Several outfitters provide safety equipment, wetsuits (the water can get quite cold) and expert guides to help get guests downriver safely. Splash jackets and pants are also available, and adventurers are advised to leave the cameras and binoculars at home -- you will get wet. Children as young as 6 can take part. But if the waters really start barreling through the gorge, the age cutoff becomes 8 years old for some outfitters.
Just north of Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton mountain range shoots upward from the valley floor to dizzying heights of 13,776 feet. Visitors can't miss the majestic peaks, but visiting the park, which begins about 5 miles outside of Jackson Hole on Highway 89, lets them get right up close. A picnic lunch in the shadow of the Skillet Glacier or hiking along accessible paths with varying grades are both just minutes from the town center. The Colter Bay Headwall, the Jenny Lake shore trail to Hidden Falls and Menors Ferry Historic District give visitors awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains. Many activities are also listed in the Grand Teton park's seasonal newspaper.
Wild game abounds in and around Jackson Hole, with restaurants that provide an interesting and constantly changing menu for the experimental palate. Feeling peckish early in the day? Try the biscuits and wild game gravy at the Wort Hotel's Silver Dollar Grill. Shaved and diced bison, elk and boar float atop a thick, salty gravy, obscuring 2 very large biscuits. Strong, but not at all gamey, the meats mix with accompanying flavors to create a sharp, tangy taste experience you're not likely to find at Denny's.
For lighter fare, sample chef Scott A. Rutter's award-winning pheasant soup at the Silver Dollar Bar just across the hall. The light-tasting fowl swims in a creamy concoction of corn, potatoes, bacon and seasoning. Also try The Gun Barrel Steak and Game House, which offers up everything from elk chops to buffalo ribs and a venison bratwurst.
Frontier justice and the Old West come alive nightly each summer in the Jackson Hole Shootout experience. With talent drafted from the Jackson Hole Playhouse, horse thieves, rustlers, showgirls and gunfighters light up the center of town with humorous story lines and wild gunplay. The reenactment takes place right in the middle of the town square, Monday through Saturday at 6 p.m. The nightly shoot-out is free to anyone who dares to brave outlaws, flying lead (blanks, in reality) and larger-than-life cowboy personalities.
Wet a line in any body of water around northwestern Wyoming and you're likely to come up with one of the region's famed trout. Lessons and equipment are available to guests at the Brooks Lake Lodge in the nearby town of Dubois. A crystal-clear pond is stocked with rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout ready to pounce on skillfully-tied flies, giving neophytes a perfect place to learn, practice and hone their new skills. A trail ride from this remote lodge leads to hidden lakes, bringing anglers into the shadow of the picturesque Pinnacle Buttes. Fishing licenses are available right at the lodge.
A bit of a drive from Jackson Hole, Old Faithful lures scores of visitors to its unique spot in Yellowstone National Park. The entrance to the park is 60 miles north of town, and the nation's most famous geyser is another 40 miles along breathtaking highways hugging gorges and mountain ranges. A boardwalk, starting just outside the visitor's center, encircles the greater Old Faithful area, winding around dozens of geysers, hot springs and the Fountain Paint Pot. Old Faithful does its thing every 60 to 90 minutes, so arrive early if you want a front-row seat on one of the benches that face one of the planet's best-known geysers.