When deciding to travel the Rockies, you have to decide where to start and which direction to go. And many travelers may break this trip into two separate trips – the southern Rockies (Jackson Hole, Grand Teton and Yellowstone) and the northern Rockies (Glacier, Waterton, Banff and even up to Jasper). However, we wanted to explore as much as we could so we started in the south and made our way north over two weeks.
Since we fly Southwest so often using points (by far the best points program there is if they fly near you), we flew into Salt Lake City and drove to Jackson Hole to begin our trip – as Jackson Hole is the perfect entrance to the Western U.S. with Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole and a variety of activities for everyone.
We booked our first night’s stay at the Wyoming Inn of Jackson Hole. This particular location had a few advantages as it is located directly across the street from the Barker Ewing White Water Rafting pick up and walking distance from a number of restaurants. After checking in, it is only a one block walk over to the Gun Barrel Steak and Game House where we recommend making reservations if you can and spending your first night enjoying wild game fair. Our favorites were the Mixed Game Grill which had elk steak, buffalo prime rib (amazingly good) and venison bratwurst; Parmesan Artichoke Dip and the Grand Teton Mud Pie. The restaurant is also a preview of everything you will see on your trip including mounted bears, elk and bison.
The next morning it was a quick stop at Atelier Ortega for breakfast. It is just around the corner and how can you pass up stopping by an international award-winning, Master Chocolatier for Mexican Spiced Mocha Coffee, a few pastries and a sampling of chocolates (yes, for breakfast – but you are on vacation). Afterwards, it was over to Barker Ewing to check in for white water rafting.
Barker Ewing is one of the original white water rafting companies on the Snake River. They offer several tours including relaxing floats, white water rafting or a combination of the two. If you want the most action choose the small boats for white water rafting which lasts about three hours from start to finish and provides more than enough excitement for all ages. You begin by suiting up in wet suits – and while you may want to prove you can tough the cold water, the more protection you wear (feet, arms, etc.) the more comfortable you will be so choose wisely. A bus then takes you to the drop off about thirty minutes away where you meet your guide and launch into the river.
The trip includes a few smaller rapids to begin, but eventually takes you into larger Class 3 rapids like the Big Kahuna and Lunch Counter which will vary each day based upon the water levels and amounts of rain. Our guide (Wiggins) was terrific and when you float through a few calm spots, anyone who wants can experience jumping into the cold waters of the river (typically kids as most adults know better than to jump into cold water over and over again). If you want to capture the trip, they provide helmets with Go Pro attachments or there is a company (Float-o-graphs) who take photos over the rapids which you can purchase online later. Overall, three hours, several rapids, a few jumps in the river, a few osprey and eagles flying overhead and one marmot who sat and watched us paddle by was more than enough time to experience the river.
Afterwards, there is enough time to grab a quick snack in town and then drive the Moose Wilson Road through Teton Village to Moose, Wyoming and then over to Mormon Row. Moose Wilson Road takes you through Grand Teton National Park (so you will need to pay an entrance fee) where you go through windy, thin roads and can see both the beautiful forests and mountains of the park on this scenic drive. You may also encounter a bear-jam where cars are pulled over looking at either a bear or elk or some other wild animal. And to end the drive, Mormon Row is a must-stop for photographers as it is one of the most iconic images of Wyoming there is.
From there, we made our way to check into Jenny Lake Lodge. Jenny Lake Lodge is consistently ranked as one of the top luxury resorts in any of the U.S. National Parks. It is very small and books the day it goes online a year in advance. But it is definitely worth the stay with only a few cabins at the base of the Tetons and right on beautiful Jenny Lake and String Lake. Most reservations also include breakfast and dinner at the five-star restaurant on site which includes a prix fixe meal each evening. Travel tip – if you can, try to reserve one of the original cabins around the north lawn. These original cabins have patios and views facing the mountains. We stayed in the Fireweed cabin and have to believe it may have been the best view of the Tetons.
Upon checking in, we were given an update on “bear status” including a mama and baby bear who had been coming to the Lodge area every few days. However, she seemed in good spirits and did not want to bother with people but we should be alert. This brings us to bear spray which can be purchased at the resort. While you may feel silly at first purchasing this spray, you will start to see a lot of people carrying it (including Park Rangers) which let’s you know it may be the best thing you ever buy and don’t end up using. It’s better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.
The next morning we had reservations at 7:45 for tandem paragliding at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort which meant an early morning. If you plan this activity, the first booking of the morning is best as this is when winds are at their lowest. If the winds pick up too much, they may have to reschedule so if you can reserve a spot early in the morning and leave yourself a second day as a back up, just in case the winds are too high. You will also get to drive the Moose Wilson Road again heading back towards the Teton Village in case you missed it the day before.
Upon arriving for our flight, we checked in and went over instructions and meeting our tandem guides. It was then up the ski lift to the top of the mountain. One concern we had was the idea of running and jumping off of a mountain or ledge. However, the process was much easier as you simply begin running as the ground slowly leaves your feet. Our youngest was so small the guide simply picked her up and carried her as he ran off the mountain side. Once in the air, it is both quiet and beautiful as you glide over the lakes and village below. If you have a more daring instructor, they may also ask if you want to “swing” or even flip as you descend down to the grass field at the base of the mountain. We will say this ended up being the highlight of our trip as far as activities.
Filled with adrenaline, you may want a few more fun-filled activities so it is a just quick drive over to Snow King Resort where you can ride the Cowboy Coaster a few times (an outdoor, single car, metal roller coaster) and Alpine Slide. You will then have time to head into town for lunch where we chose Local for burgers and fries and then spent a few hours strolling around the town square getting photos of the iconic antler entrances at each corner and visiting a few of the shops in the area before heading back to the lodge for another five course meal.
The last day we wanted to just relax and enjoy the resort and area. After a quick breakfast, it is only a short walk to the entrance to the Jenny Lake Trail which wraps around the back of the lake until it reaches Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. If you are not staying at the lodge, there are also ferries which will take visitors over to this area to explore. However, in the early morning the water is like glass and the views of the sun rising are above the lake are amazing.
Please note, we did encounter our first bear on this hike by the falls. We assumed it was the same one reported to us upon check-in as it was a mother and cub walking slowly about forty yards above us on the path. She did not pay any attention to the on-lookers, but every bear has their own temperament and can be startled so you can never be too careful. A bear can cover 40 yards in three seconds so it’s best to give them a quiet and wide berth. We will say were very glad to have other hikers around us on this trail as it definitely feels like “bear country”. And the hidden falls are much larger than we anticipated so well worth the visit. Finally, after a long hike, we chose to have lunch up the road at Dornan’s Pizza for a change of scenery and there is also the very popular Dornan’s Chuckwagon as well if you want some Old West dining.
Afterwards, it was back to the hotel to relax. That afternoon, the resort had “Wine and Wickets” on the lawn with croquet at sunset. If you want to enjoy the resort more or for a bit longer, be sure to check their daily activities a few weeks before arriving as they provide different activities each day during summer. It was then our last meal in the restaurant and time to get ready to leave early for Yellowstone.