“Only in Jackson Hole,” a phrase bandied about a lot, never rings more true than in May when ElkFest and Old West Days descend on downtown. Wildly western, these weekend events nod to long-standing traditions while simultaneously showcasing modern adaptions to life in the mountains.
The spring spectacle begins this Saturday, May 16 with ElkFest and its blended celebration of nature, outdoorsmanship, and ecology. The event stems from the open space bracketing downtown Jackson – the National Elk Refuge – the winter home for thousands of elk. Come spring, bull elk shed their antlers before migrating to high meadows for the summer. For 48 years running, local Boy Scouts are given exclusive access to the antler bounty on the refuge. Last year, the scouts and refuge staff collected a record 13,698 pounds of antlers, all of which was sold at auction to benefit the Jackson District Boy Scouts of America. The auction itself, staged at 10am Saturday (viewing starts at 7am, registration at 9am), draws collectors from around the world keen to use the antlers in furniture, art, jewelry and edibles. This year’s haul spans the spectrum of antler specimens from one- and two-point antlers to majestic matched pairs and teeming pallets. The fun of ElkFest continues Sunday with the 13th annual High Noon Chili Cook-Off on Town Square, a spicy fiesta pitting a dozen local chefs against each other. Spectators can partake in People’s Choice judging for $5 per tasting spoon.
Running parallel to the festivities on Town Square, the Mountain Man Rendezvous and Traders Row offers an experiential slice of history with goods crafted by hand according to frontier traditions and historic competitions featuring bow and arrow, hawk and knife.
After a week’s respite, Old West Days follows over Memorial Day. The jam-packed long weekend signals the start of summer with fixtures like the Jackson Hole Rodeo, Shootout and Stagecoach Rides all kicking into gear. Beyond summer staples, the weekend-only western revelry begins on Friday, May 22 with a chuckwagon welcome hosted by the Bar J Wranglers on the Westbank and the Jackson Hole Rotary Wine Fest, a tasting extravaganza of varietals from 100-plus wineries at Snow King Resort. Rise and shine on Saturday, May 23 to cheer on the 34th annual Old West Days Parade, a character-rich procession featuring horse-drawn floats, covered wagons, vintage vehicles, mountain men and gunslingers starting at 10am through downtown Jackson. The parade is capped by the Old West Brew Fest – a gathering of regional breweries – and the Jackson Hole Shootout Street Dance, both on Town Square. Mark Sunday with Cowboy Church, a non-denominational service led by long-time local Phillip Wilson, and honor Memorial Day with a Mountain Man Ceremony and an American Legion Memorial. Check out the full schedule of events on the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce website.
From antler sheds to downtown square dances, beer swilling to cowboy sermons, ElkFest and Old West Days channel the fun and flare of frontier life, both then and now.