Jackson is remote. Situated in the far northwest corner of the 10th largest and least populated state, and a 4.5-hour drive to the closest city (Salt Lake), it takes real effort to get there. Despite being an outdoors wonderland — the stunning, 48-mile-long valley is hemmed in by the impossibly dramatic saw-toothed spires of the Teton Range and the milder, wilder Gros Ventre Range — that geographic isolation has infused the area with a singular culture of rugged independence that you won’t experience anywhere else in ski country.
At its heart is Jackson, a real-life town at the crossroads of Old West and New West. Once a sleepy ranching town, a lot has changed in the past 25 years. The population has doubled, as nature lovers and thrill-seekers have discovered the perfect balance of outdoors access and creature comforts. But cowboy boots still clomp down the wooden sidewalks, even as celebs buy up ranches and the independently owned Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) draws skiers and snowboarders from all over the world to its legendary steeps. And skinny old ranchers still sidle up to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar on Friday and Saturday nights to do-si-do with vacationing backpackers and snow bunnies. Even as its adventure resort reputation grows outsized, Jackson is still, in many respects, an unpretentious small town. A courteous nod goes a long way here. And if you’ve got a cowboy hat to tip, all the better.
There are plenty of slope-side accommodations at JHMR, but we prefer to stay in town, where there’s more nightlife, particularly on weekends. One fresh take on luxury cabin living is at Rustic Inn Creekside Resort, where a couple dozen 400-square-foot cabins front Flat Creek, a tributary of the Snake that regularly sees otters, swans and other wildlife. Private verandas with Adirondack chairs are the perfect place to kick back after a big day outdoors — Scotch in hand — before moseying into town for a bite to eat. Opened in 1941 by homesteaders-turned-hoteliers, the Wort Hotel is the local standard-bearer of hospitality, and unapologetically claims its Silver Dollar Suite is “the finest accommodation in Jackson.” With an authentic gaming table and a miniature version of the on-promise Silver Dollar Bar, it might just be the place to host that high-stakes poker game with local celebs Harrison Ford and Dick Cheney. Where to Eat
A full one-third of Jackson’s population works in the service industry, helping tourists on and off lifts, guiding them on hikes and fishing trips, selling them paintings of bison and feeding them at a growing list of swanky, delicious restaurants that far outstrips what any town of 10,000 souls should reasonably expect to have. One of the most consistently praised eateries is Teton Thai, a tiny, family-owned joint in Teton Village that is favorably compared to big-city players like Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok. Helmed by Sam Johnson and his wife Suchada, a Thailand native, it’s the place to warm up with authentic, generously spiced Thai curries. At Q Roadhouse & Brewing Co. in Wilson, peanut shells litter the floor and award-winning beers are paired with southern-inspired dishes like blackened catfish, fried chicken and shrimp and cheddar grits. One of six places run by local restaurant pioneer Gavin Fine, it also has surprises like house-made Andouille and cauliflower salad. Nearby, follow the 20-foot-long rooftop trout to Nora’s Fish Creek Inn, a James Beard Award-winning cabin that slings the area’s best breakfast. The Indian, which is modeled after an 18th-century British officers’ club in India, is a year-old venture by the couple behind Teton Thai. With reclaimed-wood walls, faux artifacts and impeccably made artisan cocktails, it oozes a chummy atmosphere. The gluten-free curries are rich and satisfyingly filling, especially the lamb vindaloo and biryani rice. What to Do
In winter, you could hit up the historic — and terrifyingly steep — town hill of Snow King Mountain, but the modern resort at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has ample steep in-bounds terrain of its own (see legendary Corbet’s Couloir), in addition to chutes and couloirs out in its 3,000+ acres of gate-accessed backcountry. Plus, it has one of the highest vertical drops in North America at 4,139 feet. In town, Dave Hunger of Teton Mountain Bike Tours rents out fat bikes for winter riding on 200+ miles of local trails that allow them access. Come summer, the 13,770-foot spire of the Grand Teton beckons. A classic mountaineering destination, it’s technical enough that you’ll need at least a basic knowledge of multi-pitch climbing before heading up. Exum Mountain Guides, North America’s oldest guide service, can show you the ropes, guide you to the roof of the Teton Range, and make sure you come back to tell the story. The Snake River is home to the Rockies’ most robust population of native cutthroat trout. Snake River Anglers guide Boots Allen will help sniff them out, but it’s up to you to cast a fly and catch them. Venture Out
Follow the Snake River north to its source in Yellowstone National Park, where the continent’s largest concentration of megafauna — grizzlies, 2,000-pound bison, elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, pronghorn, moose, cougars and wolves among them — lumber across park roads. The bubbling hot springs and spouting geysers are downright Seussian, and definitely worth a look (but don’t touch!).