Traveling more than half the year, I've almost started making a game of checking off as many destinations on my U.S. world tour map as possible, without much thought of visiting the same spot twice. Sure, my travels have taken me to some amazing places that I’m bound to visit again with friends and family down the road, but it’s always the exhilaration and mystery of the unknown when visiting a new spot that excites me. Somehow, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. doesn’t quite fit into that space where there’s room for only one small checkmark.
Instead, I’d prefer a frequent visitor or loyalty card to secure as many checkmarks as possible. After all, Jackson Hole was recently ranked No. 1 by SKI Magazine as the Best Overall Resort in North America for 2014.
Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the small town twice, once over the winter with my snowboard strapped on to take on the true-blue trails, and once in the fall with my New Balance hiking shoes and still-glowing Texas tan. Both visits were amazing.
Getting to Jackson
The Jackson Hole Airport is serviced seasonally by American Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Skywest Airlines and United. Depending on your travel dates, Texas residents are lucky when it comes to getting to beautiful Jackson Hole. United offers a direct flight on Saturdays from Houston (for a travel time of 3 hours and 20 minutes) and American offers direct out of Dallas (non-stop service from 12 cities total).
The airport is one of the smallest and cutest airports I’ve ever traveled through. Yes, I just described an airport as cute. It’s so cute and picturesque that flight attendants are required to make an announcement not to stop for photos outside the tarmac for safety reasons. The airport is located at the base of the Teton mountain range and is spectacularly crafted with elk horns adorning archways as you enter, making it feel more like a Western lodge. A Western lodge you’ll never want to leave until you realize you’re still just in the airport.
Where to stay in Jackson
On my most recent trip, I stayed at the town’s largest full-service, year-round resort, which recently finished a top-to-bottom, $16-million renovation, Snow King Resort. It’s true when they say the king “got a new castle,” because it surely is fit for one.
Snow King Resort offers guests comfortable Western lodging along with some of the most luxurious accommodations you’ll find on a mountain. The hotel is located just six blocks (easily walkable) from Jackson Hole’s historic town square, which is full of great dining, amazing shopping and more snapshot-worthy backdrops of the mountain views.
The hotel staff goes through extensive “Tip of the Hat” service training to make your visit feel more Western than one of those old-timey movies. The first thing you’ll notice is that the driver who picks you up at the airport greets you with a simple tip of the hat, as a way of saying that chivalry is not dead. The act of tipping one’s hat is an old-fashioned custom, acknowledging and showing respect for a lady, a passerby or a new acquaintance. Since Snow King is located in “Cowboy Country,” its hospitality is peppered with good old-fashioned cowboy values and codes, providing a relaxed atmosphere for guests while maintaining elevated service levels.
While at Snow King, be sure to indulge for an hour or two at Olga’s Day Spa, especially if you hit the mountain earlier that day. Olga Needham is the spa director and is considered the premier massage therapist in Jackson Hole.
Where to hang, drink, dance
If you’re staying at Snow King, your best bet for dining is Hayden’s Post, located on the second floor of the lodge, offering a sophisticated menu based on a Mountain West regional cuisine, serving such decadent dishes like coffee-rubbed elk with huckleberry juniper jurs and fingerling-cauliflower puree or a Dutch oven bison brisket. After trying a few hearty dishes at Hayden’s Post, I now wonder whether the best meat comes from Texas or Wyoming.
Insider’s tip if you order breakfast: be sure to order a few things you can douse in the homemade strawberry compote. The big windows and wraparound deck are also a nice way to spend your evening, as they offer s’mores by the fire on the deck.
Also check out Bin22, located in the town square, one of the many local spots by Gavin Fine and his dining group. The cozy spot has great value wines, craft beers and local spirits along with a New York City energy among the community tables, with a menu of Spanish- and Italian-style tapas. Be sure to check out happy hour each day, 4 pm - 6 pm. Adjacent to the bar and dining area sits a small grocer featuring homemade pastas, pizza dough, cheeses, salami, ice cream and more. There is a reason this is a favorite among the locals, so be sure to check it out for yourself.
You can also listen to live Bluegrass at the Silver Dollar and catch a nightcap to end a perfect day. Or swing by the Million Dollar Cowboy and two-step your way through the sprawling bar and dance floor, which is just as unique as everything else in the town.
And while you’re living like a local, be sure to check out Wyoming Whiskey, where Mark Gillespie, editor at Whisky Magazine, rated the bourbon a 95 out of a possible 100. There’s no wonder the first batch (3,000 cases) was gone within mere minutes.
If you’re still looking for more adventure after taking a run down one of Jackson Hole’s 116 named trails, try your hand (and your stomach) at paragliding with Jackson Hole Paragliding. JHPG provides tandem flights, pilot training and certification from basic to advanced, and gives you an adrenaline rush from 11,000 feet. You literally have to run your own body off one of the huge mountains — perhaps one of the scariest things to do while on vacation, so listen, up adrenaline junkies.
The Cowboy Code has quite a few elements, but before you visit Jackson Hole, here's one to remember: If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride!
Do you have a favorite spot at Jackson Hole? Let us know in the Comments section below.