Road trips from Denver: Why Jackson Hole is worth a visit — The Know

Coloradans already have Aspen, Telluride and Crested Butte. But there is one place within driving distance from Denver that stole my heart this time last summer for its combination of stunning scenery and charming food. During a weeklong visit late last June to the western Wyoming valley of Jackson Hole, I discovered a breathtaking landscape from which to enjoy old Western haunts and modern American restaurants alike.

The week started in the town of Jackson (farthest south and most well-known in the valley) and continued with surprises heading north to Grand Teton National Park, stopping along the way in Wilson and Moose (the latter located at the edge of designated parkland and boasting some spectacular views).

Multiple day hikes around the Tetons and one driving excursion through a portion of Yellowstone rounded out a trip that divided well between dining out and getting into the great outdoors. Best of all was when the two activities overlapped seamlessly, which happened quite a lot. Here’s what to eat and do, and where to sleep, for an unforgettable summer road trip to Jackson Hole.

DINE

The one place I returned to almost daily for breakfast or brunch was sweet Persephone Cafe, with a location in downtown Jackson, another in Wilson,  and a third, new offshoot called Picnic that has since opened its doors. You can’t go wrong with a full coffee bar, fresh pastries and specialties like house-made granola and quiche Lorraine before hitting the trails.

Then, Roadhouse Brewing‘s pub made for an easy lunch, with flatbreads, brats and lettuce wraps to pair with its house-brewed IPAs and Belgian ales. (This summer, try the hazy Walrus made with peaches and tangerines.) The brewpub’s second-floor deck overlooks Jackson’s town square, the famed antler arches at its entrance and the infamous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar across the way.

One lovely surprise for a light dinner was Bin22, which serves up charcuterie, cheeses and small plates to share, and allows customers to browse the attached bottle shop before or after their meals. Here, you can pick out a wine for your dinner (and another to take home), and the selection is impressive, with hundreds of bottles in a range of price points, so you can look but also buy.

A big meal out brings three spots to mind, all for slightly different dining styles. At Glorietta, an Italian trattoria attached to the trendy Anvil Hotel, there are handmade pasta plates and craft cocktails (from the proprietors of Death & Co.) to try. The Kitchen features a raw bar and pretty-plated meat and seafood cuts for a main course. And Snake River Grill is a 25-year fine-dining institution, with Wagyu bolognese, veal T-bone steaks and a signature vanilla ice cream and brownie Eskimo bar for dessert.

Once outside of picturesque Jackson, the scenery gets even better, somehow. Calico‘s wrap-around porch and sprawling lawn are the best spots to enjoy a dinner at dusk from the near-countryside. (Its family-style Italian-American plates and pizzas are great to share.)

From the picnic setup outside of Rations located at Basecamp (a gas station with next-level provisions) in the tiny town of Wilson, you can enjoy cult-followed burgers and sloshies — Wyoming’s version of boozy slushies, as simple as frozen margaritas and as fancy as a gin, honey and lemon juice Bee’s Knees.

Farther north, in Teton Village, Teton Thai‘s garden seating is a magical setting for slurpable noodles from Pad See Ew to Pad Woon Sen (plus curries, rices, salads and soups). Finally, Dornans — within Grand Teton National Park, in Moose — is a longstanding family-run resort with a slew of dining and drinking options. For food with the best views around, grab a seat at its Spur Bar and order a local draft and maybe an appetizer to share while taking in the grandeur.


DO

Between meals, you’ll find plenty of summery activities, including at two national parks. To get started on a Tetons hike, make sure to pack or buy bear spray, and pick your level of difficulty and distance for the journey. By setting off at Jenny Lake, String Lake or Leigh Lake, you’ll be able to hike around 3-8 miles (or less if you walk to your desired stopping point and turn back), with big payoffs throughout.

The terrain and altitude won’t be too difficult for many Colorado-based hikers. But the views will be jaw-dropping from the start. And if you’re hiking on a hot day, take the chance to pop into the shallower (read: slightly warmer) String Lake for an alpine swim.

On a rainy or overcast day (or just in between hikes), you might choose from some car-based or indoor activities. Photographers and history buffs should explore Mormon Row Historic District, a cluster of homesteads preserved from the 1890s and tucked back just far enough across the highway from Moose.

Yellowstone‘s south entrance is just another hour’s drive north, with Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring within 40-50 miles from there. While many other Yellowstone attractions would be too far away for a day trip, these two are easily within reach.


And if you must find gifts or souvenirs, there are ample shopping opportunities around. My favorite of the novelty stores were a few curated clothing and art boutiques. Browse Habits for the perfect pair of modern Western jeans and Mountain Dandy (or sister shop M in Wilson) for home goods and accessories. (Also find good selections of packaged souvenirs to eat and drink from restaurants like Persephone, Bin22’s bottle shop, Roadhouse Brewing and more.)

STAY

Some more outdoorsy travelers will certainly want to camp in these beautiful surroundings (as you should). But for those who are dining around town, a hotel or lodge might be more likely. If that’s the case, here are some options depending on your style and travel crew.

The Mountain Modern Motel in Jackson is one of those renovated roadside joints with topography maps on the walls and cubbies for stowing away your gear (rooms start at $474 this summer). In Teton Village, between Jackson and the national park, Continuum is another modern stay with a lofted lobby fit for co-working, plus a pool and hot tub outside (rates start at $370).

The Lodge at Jackson Hole is a family-friendly option that’s close enough to downtown Jackson (with a shuttle) and comes complete with an indoor-outdoor pool and breakfast buffet (starting at $429). The newest option in Jackson, overlooking the town square, is The Cloudveil, an Autograph Collection hotel. Its swanky rooms come with fireplaces, and the hotel has a popular new restaurant, The Bistro (rooms start at $837).

To stay within Grand Teton National Park, check out the Grand Teton Lodge Company, which operates four resorts that include a range of sleeping options, from cabin stays to campgrounds and RV parks. Rates for some bunk rooms start as low as $81, while a night at the AAA four-diamond Jenny Lake Lodge will set you back around $575.

And for the royal treatment (and a real splurge) in Jackson Hole, take a peek at Caldera House, with its 2- to 4-bedroom suites and rates starting at $3,500 a night by the end of summer. This Teton Village hotel and spa looks like wabi-sabi meets the mountains, with soaking tubs, heated tile floors, cozy living rooms and stocked kitchens.

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