Jackson Hole is a Summertime Outdoor Playground
By Brian E. Clark
In winter, the legendary Wyoming ski resort of Jackson Hole is an alpine playground of couloirs, steeps, cliffs and bowls, – even some blue and green runs for non-experts. It also offers plenty of breathtaking scenery spread out over 2,500 acres of inbound terrain, 133 trails and, oh yeah, a vertical drop of 4,139 feet.
But there’s also plenty to do in the summer, including mountain biking, river rafting, fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking through fields of wildflowers, rock climbing and more.
“When we tell guests who come here to ski and snowboard about what kind of cool experiences they can have here during the warm weather, they often book summer vacation trips,” said Mariah Morales, a concierge at the Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa (tetonlodge.com).
“Jackson Hole really is an outdoor lover’s paradise all year round,” said Morales, who proudly states that she was “born and raised” in the community. “And we have two incredible national parks nearby in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.”
For those who like water, she suggests rafting or fly fishing on the Snake River, which is a short distance from Teton Village.
“Novices all the way up to experts can go on a half-day fly fishing trip with a guide from four six hours,” she said. “But those sessions book way in advance, so you need to sign up early.”
It’s easier to schedule a family friendly rafting trip on the Snake and bounce through relatively bouncy class 1-3 rapids on neoprene rafts operated by a number of outfitters, she said.
“Best of all, there are even slow-moving parts of the river where you jump out and float downstream in your lifejacket,” she added.
“We can also send you off on a vintage wooden boat ride down the Snake where the guide will take you to a very private riverside camp where you can have a locally sourced meal that might be Waguyu steak or Coho salmon,” she said.
Morales also recommends going horseback riding in the nearby Bridger-Teton National Forest to experience what she calls a bit of the Wyoming “cowboy culture.” Or catch a dinner theater production of the “Annie Get Your Gun” or another musical at the Jackson Hole Playhouse (https://www.jhplayhouse.com/) which takes place in the oldest building in the town of Jackson.
She also suggests taking the Bridger Gondola in the village for a a meal at the Piste Mountain Bistro high on the slopes of Jackson Hole for a tasty on-mountain dining option.
“They have a really wonderful menu for both kids and adults,” she said. “And the views are incredible.
She said she also sends people off to the iconic Aerial Tram, which rises more than 4,000 feet to the resort’s summit in only 12 minutes. From there, riders can get stunning, 360-degree views of the Tetons, Jackson Hole Valley and surrounding mountain ranges.
The “Top of the World,” the tram’s lofty terminus, provides great access to a large number of great hiking and running trails, climbing and the occasional snowball fight. After all, it was a very big winter with nearly 600 inches of snow recorded.
“And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the delicious gourmet waffles in Corbet’s Cabin at the top of the tram,” she said.
If you’ve ever wanted to try rock climbing, she suggests the Via Feratta, which means “iron way” in Italian.
This system of metal rungs and even spiral ladders affixed to natural rock is the brainchild of Connie Kemmerer, whose family owns Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
A steel rope with stoppers every 6 to 20 feet runs alongside these routes. Instead of being belayed by a partner to prevent a fall (as would be the case in rock climbing, unless you’re free soloing), you clip yourself onto a cable with a system of two carabiners attached to a regular climbing harness.
It was around 20 years ago in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy that Kemmerer first experienced climbing Via Ferratas. There are more than 1,000 of these systems in Europe’s mountains but only a handful in the United States and Jackson Hole has one of the best ones.
The Via Ferratas date to World War I, when the Austrian and Italian armies installed bolts, iron rungs and crossbars for steps to allow soldiers to ascend and carry gear up sheer walls.
I got to join a group of climbers last summer and our guide, appropriately enough, was a Jackson Hole ski instructor. Though I’ve long had a fear of heights (and falling), I felt secure ascending Jackson Hole’s protected and aided Via Feratta system.
That’s the great thing about Via Ferattas, Kemmerer told me and others in my party as we inaugurated a new route, because they allow non-climbers to experience climbing that is safe as long as they follow the correct protocol.
Each time I reached a bumper on the cable, I simply unclipped one carabiner from below the bumper and re-clipped to the cable above. Then I did the same thing with the second carabiner and – slowly but surely – kept moving up the cliff on iron rungs that had been drilled into the rock.
“People we send up there are usually a little nervous, but they come back with big smiles and often say that the Via Feratta was one of their favorite things they did here during a summer vacation,” she said.
More precarious was the mountain biking I did the next day on single-track trails served by Tweewinot Chairlift and Sweetwater Gondola that ascend out of the village.
Fortunately, the Jackson Hole Bike Park has options for novices up to experts. I chose the more mellow routes for my downhill runs and avoided injury by crashing into any rocks, trees or dirt. For those with advanced off-road skills, there are numerous – and quite challenging – trails with jump tracks, table tops and steep corners. For more information on other trails in the region, go to Trailforks.
“The single-tracks can be pretty intense,” explained Morales, who said there are also nearly 60 miles of mostly flat trails near Jackson Hole that are ideal for regular and electric-assist bikes. Her hotel has complimentary e-bikes that guests can use for up to two hours.
She recommends riding the 13-mile route from her hotel in Teton Village to the Persephone Bakery in the town of Jackson for coffee, a scone, muffin or some other pastry before riding back. To explore the area’s pathways, visit Friends of Pathways.
Last but not least, she said families often enjoy bouncing on bungee trampolines, scrambling over ropes courses, disc golf and, for young children, amusing themselves on playground equipment.
For more information on other things to do and see in and around Jackson Hole in the summer – including, gulp, tandem paragliding – visit Jackson Hole.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.