Overview

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is the name of the mountain valley extending almost 50 mi/80 km along the east side of the Teton Range from the town of Jackson to near the southern border of Yellowstone National Park and including several towns: Jackson, Kelly, Moose, Moran and Teton Village.

The Jackson Hole resort area hosts several hundred thousand tourists a year. Visitors go to enjoy the endless miles/kilometers of forest and ranch land to the east and south, the scenery, the many recreation options, and the wildlife. Jackson Hole has also become one of the destinations for celebrity and politician sightings, in Wyoming and out.

Jackson Hole retains much of its historic cowboy heritage despite the development boom, and visitors have a wealth of options, from exhilarating white-water rafting trips, pristine hiking trails, impeccable service and gourmet cuisine to manicured golf greens, black-diamond ski runs and honky-tonk bars.

Unless you visit in the off-season, lodging in the area will be expensive, but a little research (or opting to camp) can make the trip more affordable. It also will leave you with more money to spend on shopping and activities: In between skiing, fishing, hiking and just taking in the view of the Teton mountain range, many people spend a couple of days wandering through the area's wealth of galleries, as well as chain and specialty shops in downtown Jackson and in outlying areas.

As a resort area, Jackson Hole has widely varying numbers of tourists throughout the year, and many businesses alter their hours accordingly, either shortening hours or closing for stretches during less-busy times. It's also not unusual for restaurants and bars to close for private parties. Unless specifically noted, all hours listed in this guide are for summer, which is the busiest season when most businesses are open. However, it is always a good idea to call ahead to confirm opening hours before making plans.

Geography

The town of Jackson is the southern anchor of Jackson Hole, south of Grand Teton National Park and just east of the Idaho border. It sits in a valley surrounded by the Hoback Range and Snow King Mountain to the south, the Gros Ventre Mountains to the east and the spectacular peaks of the Teton Range to the north and west. The Snake River runs to the west between Jackson and Teton Village. The town center is flat, making walking an excellent option, and areas on the edges of town creep up the mountainsides and buttes.

To the west are the small town of Wilson and the road leading to Teton Village, home of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and a spectacular array of dramatic vacation homes.

History

Jackson Hole and the Tetons were created by geological forces over the course of 10 million years. The valley was home to elk herds and several groups of Native Americans—Shoshoni, Crow, Blackfeet, Bannock and Gros Ventre (pronounced grow vaunt)—before American and European fur trappers discovered it in the early 1800s.

Originally called Jackson's Hole, the area was named for early mountain man David Jackson. (The word hole was a common term used at the time to describe a valley surrounded by mountains.)

Trappers and mountain men had the valley to themselves until the Homestead Act of 1862 brought a few more settlers. Most were not prepared for the brutal winters, and lack of access to railroads or decent roads, for that matter. They quickly sold out, enabling hardier souls to create large cattle ranches that were marginally successful. By 1880, Jackson Hole had 23 residents: 20 men, two women and one child. By the 1900s, as word of the beauty of the mountains spread back east, visitors started to appear, and ranchers and cowboys became guides and outfitters to help tourists safely experience the valley.

Ranchers continued to raise cattle and work the land, but the tourists kept arriving—bringing a welcome influx of money into the struggling local economy. By the 1920s, Jackson was a thriving frontier town, and dude ranches were common. As Grand Teton National Park was established to the north, controversy over land use grew. Local ranchers wanted the freedom to control the land and the area's development. At the same time, there was a national push (backed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., who was quietly buying up land) to preserve the area for its beauty and importance to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Tourism has continued to grow, and it is now the region's primary industry.

Sightseeing

There are a few museums and attractions in Jackson Hole, but most people go there to see the natural sights—dramatic mountaintop vistas and expansive valley views. Tourists often clog the streets in town, but outside of Jackson, somehow there is enough wilderness for everyone.

Explore the history of Jackson Hole at the museum or on a walking tour. Spend a sunny hour people-watching in Town Square Park, tour downtown riding shotgun on a stagecoach or eat a chuck-wagon dinner after riding in covered wagons up Cache Creek just outside of town.

During the summer, spend at least one day driving through Grand Teton National Park and hiking a trail, whether on your own or on a guided tour. In the winter, a visit to Granite Hot Springs eases the chills.

Nightlife

For those who aren't already exhausted from a day of skiing, hiking or shopping, there's plenty to do in Jackson Hole after dark, too.

A visit to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is not to be missed. Don't let the row of motorcycles out front deter you—this is one honky-tonk bar where the company is friendly and the music is lively. It may also look familiar—Clint Eastwood saddled up there for Any Which Way You Can.

Dining

Most towns the size of Jackson are lucky to have a handful of diners and one or two "dress-up" restaurants, but thanks to the tourists and vacation-home owners, there are more than 70 choices in Jackson, Wilson and Teton Village, with dozens more within an easy drive. The dining selection runs the gamut, from fast and casual to starched and swanky.

Whether prepared traditionally or with a contemporary twist, regional specialties such as thick steaks, wild game and local trout are good bets.

If you don't mind waiting in line, you can stroll the streets of downtown, perusing the posted menus before making a choice—otherwise you may want to plan ahead and make reservations. Wait times vary dramatically, but early diners can beat the skiers who leave the slopes at 4 pm or the hikers who stay out until dusk.

In the spring and fall off-seasons, many of Jackson Hole's restaurants are closed, so call ahead if there's a particular place you'd like to try. Also in the off-season, many restaurants, including some of Jackson Hole's high-end dining establishments, offer specials such as two-for-one entrees. Check listings of specials in local newspapers and the dining publication Dishing, which can be picked up for free in shops around town.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$25; $$$ = US$26-$40; and $$$$ = more than US$40.

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