With some help from Jackson local, Don Watkins, I put together my version of the most epic Jackson Hole experiences for spring and summer so you can plan your very own Jackson Hole road trip!
Spring in Jackson Hole is a toss-up: When the weather is good, it’s awesome! However, spring can be mud season, which has the potential for being long, wet, and dreary. The town of Jackson is usually quiet, but that allows visitors a more relaxed and intimate experience.
What to do in the spring:
- Mountaineering with skis or snowboards, and high alpine climbs (the best south of the Canadian border): This is made possible by good freeze/thaw cycles that leave snow on the mountainsides.
- Biking through Grand Teton National Park: Between removal of the spring snow and official park road openings, cyclists can ride the park “car-free” – usually for a few weeks in April, when snow in the mountains contrasts with the green valley. (Visiting Yellowstone National Park as soon as roads open for the season can be extremely fun, too – snow contrasts with the unreal countryside and unusual geological features such as volcanic formations, hot springs, rock formations worn by glaciers and erosion, petrified trees, and deep gorges.)
- Cruising for wildlife: Elk and moose are beginning to move through the area, and bears are coming out of hibernation. Driving out of Jackson on Antelope Flats Road toward Kelly, Wyoming, usually results in bison and antelope sightings along with gorgeous views of the Tetons.
- Hiking: If you’re hiking this time of year, expect to run into unmelted snow. Even when the valley is clear and free of snow, hiking trails that wind through canyons in Grand Teton National Park often hold patches or long stretches of snow through mid- to late-June. Hiking Snow King Resort trails affords great views of Jackson.
- Rafting/kayaking: If you don’t mind cold water, this is the best time of year to hit the river. As the snow melts in the high peaks, the Snake River begins to run between 8,000-10,000 cubic feet per second (CFS). Available rafting companies include Barker Ewing, Jackson Hole Whitewater, and Dave Hansen.
- Surfing: The Snake River has a standing wave in the rapids called “Lunch Counter,” where surfing is possible when the water runs between 7,500-10,500 CFS. (Did I mention epic?)
Summer rounds out the outdoor character of Jackson Hole. Camp near Jackson Lake to be ready for the next day’s adventure, which could take you boating or to some of the great granite wall climbs in Grand Teton National Park. The views while hiking and biking are unparalleled, as are the opportunities for fishing and hunting. Those looking for less strenuous activities can relax in local hot springs.
What to do in the summer:
- Visit Jackson Lake: Arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in the country, Jackson Lake provides magnificent and unmatched views from the water. You can launch boats from Signal Mountain or Leeks Marina. Jackson Lake gets windy, but offers plenty of inlets and coves to find smooth water. Even if you don’t have a boat, it’s worth grabbing lunch by the lake or renting a small runabout or pontoon. Stay for the sunset. Better yet, camp and spend the weekend pursuing your favorite outdoor sports! See below.
- Climbing: There’s something for everyone, from novice to expert. Grand Teton National Park attracts climbers from all over the country. You’ll find some great granite wall climbs and lots of mixed climbing, as found on Grand Teton. If you’re not experienced or don’t know the area and want the best guides around, hit up Exum Guides.
- Hiking: Tons of trails. One of the more popular routes takes you from Lupine Meadows in Grand Teton National Park to Amphitheater Lake. This hike will put you close to the Grand and middle Tetons, making for some cool views.
- For less physically demanding hikes, you can cruise around Jenny Lake, String Lake, and Leigh Lake. Phelps Lake also has a good jumping rock into the lake.
- If you want to hike with your dog or would rather have a different perspective of the Tetons, hike to Goodwin Lake. It’s on the edge of the Gros Ventre Range just outside of Jackson and looks back at the Tetons.
- Cache Creek also provides easy-access hiking (and biking). (All of these trails are maintained by a local nonprofit organization called Friends of Pathways.)
- Biking: Just like climbing, you can keep it easy or challenging. Easy biking would be simply cruising around town or in Grand Teton National Park on all the awesome bike paths. Cross-country riding (and hiking) can be found in Cache Creek – follow this link to a list of resources from Friends of Pathways.
- For the downhill rider, Teton Pass is a good choice. There’s a mix of trails on Teton Pass, but the majority of these trails are in the “advanced rider” category.
- The Teton Freedom Riders are an incredibly talented group responsible for maintaining many of the downhill trails in the valley.
- Jackson Hole Mountain Resort also put in some cool features last summer. Watch local Jackson native Andrew Whiteford on some of the Cache Creek trails.
- Fishing/Hunting: HUGE in Jackson! In the world of fly fishing and hunting, Jackson is known as a premier destination throughout the United States. Fly fishing the Snake River, Henry’s Fork, and many others are among the local favorites.
- Camping: There is all sorts of camping to be had in Jackson Hole, whether you reach your campground by vehicle or by foot. If by car, Curtis Canyon and Shadow Mountain are arguably the best spots.
- Hot Springs – Huckleberry and Granite Hot Springs also are cool spots to visit (especially in spring and fall)
Until the first snow, you can pursue all summer activities. Fall is also one of the best times to visit Yellowstone National Park because the tourist traffic drops dramatically after Labor Day, as it does in the town of Jackson.
Weather in September is usually stellar – warm days (60 to 70 degrees) and cool nights (in the 40s). The change of seasons is apparent from October to November, and snow can fall at any time.
After Thanksgiving, snow is expected, and the annual cycle renews.
Bold adventure in Jackson Hole knows no season – it’s not just for skiing in winter, but holds something epic for every time of year. The mountains and national forests surrounding the valley continually accommodate those for whom the descent into Jackson Hole is the destination or part of the journey.