Leaf Peeping

Jackson Hole, with its expansive evergreen forests, isn’t known as a top destination for fall colors. But for those who appreciate quality over quantity—aspens glowing gold above the irrigated, green pastures of a ranch with the Tetons in the distance—the valley might be one of the best places in the country to catch the season’s changing colors … if you know where to go. An added benefit of leaf-peeping here? Some spots are best visited by car, others via great hikes. You can take a scenic chairlift or boat ride to others, or even stand-up paddleboard. Here’s where we take our friends and family lucky enough to visit in the fall.


A couple of miles north of the tiny community, Kelly, which is entirely surrounded by Grand Teton National Park, Gros Ventre Road heads east off Antelope Flats Road and deep into the mountain range it is named for. The road is paved for several miles before it becomes gravel. There are some washboarded sections of road, but any passenger car can make it the sixish miles to an overlook and interpretive site for the 1925 Gros Ventre Slide, which is one of the largest recorded land movements in U.S. history. While the nearly 100 year-old scar from the slide on the lower flank of Sheep Mountain is impressive, that’s not what you’ve driven here to see. Yes, you’ll want to take time viewing the slide site, but once you’ve had your fill, turn around and drive back towards Antelope Flats and Kelly. This section of the Gros Ventre Road is lined with aspen trees that perfectly frame the snaggly Cathedral Group of the Tetons rising in the distance.


It’s understandable to think that if you hike or ride the scenic chair up Snow King Mountain, five blocks south of the Town Square, you’re doing it for the expansive views of the National Elk Refuge and the mountain ranges that surround the valley. Sure, the Tetons (to the north), the Gros Ventres (to the east and north), and the Snake River Range (to the southwest) are beautiful from “the King’s” 7,808-foot summit, which has almost 360-degree views. But in the autumn, a golden aspen grove on the western side of its summit is the prettiest thing to see. The distant mountains are merely a bonus.


One of the most beautiful autumn drives in the valley is on Fall Creek Road, a rural byway at the base of Teton Pass that heads south from Wilson. (Although most of the road is devoid of shoulders, it offers a beautiful bike ride; Fall Creek Road doesn’t get much traffic.) You can do this as a 20-ish mile out-and-back drive/ride starting and finishing in Wilson, or as a 40-mile loop beginning and ending in the Town of Jackson. Fall Creek Road, itself, is about 17 miles long, and its most intense colors can be witnessed where it passes through stands of cottonwoods of the Snake River bottoms, about eight miles south of Wilson, as well as where it winds its way around Munger Mountain, which might have the valley’s highest density of aspen trees. If you want to drive to Munger, about 11 miles south of Wilson, and then turn around, you’ll see an abundance of vibrant color. You can also take Fall Creek Road about six miles past Munger Mountain to its junction with U.S. Highway 26/89/191. This intersection is several miles south of Hoback Junction; to return to Jackson from here, it’s about 13 miles. For about half of the return to Jackson, the road parallels the Snake River and meanders through additional cottonwood forests.


If you fancy the chance of wildlife sightings along with fall colors, consider floating the Snake River from Wilson to South Park. This is a scenic stretch of river, and it does not have any whitewater. (Although debris in the river and channels can make navigation difficult for those unfamiliar with the area; several Jackson Hole outfitters offer guided trips here.) From the launch at the bridge across the Snake River near Highway 22’s junction with Highway 390 (aka Teton Village Road), the riverbanks are lined with giant cottonwood trees, and the parade of color continues all the way to South Park, where you’ll take out. In addition to admiring the cottonwood’s colors on this float, keep your eyes peeled for Bald Eagles. There are several nests along this stretch of the river.


You can hike the two-ish miles from South Jenny Lake to the lake’s western shore on a newly rebuilt trail or take a ten-minute passenger ferry between the two points. While South Jenny Lake is the most visited spot in Grand Teton National Park and has an abundance of amenities like a ranger station, convenience store, bathrooms, interpretive signs, benches and tables, and a small museum, the lake’s western shore is wild. Aside from a small pier where the ferries dock, the only amenity you’ll find on the west shore is a trail system, which features an ancient dry stone masonry technique that is almost as interesting as the surrounding forest. While both hiking and the ferry ride to the west shore show off fall color, our favorite autumn, Jenny Lake experience is to park at the small boat launch on the lake’s southern end, carry our stand-up paddleboards the 100 feet to the lake, and paddle along the western shore. Almost every time we’ve done this, in addition to witnessing changing colors, we’ve seen moose. (Fair warning: We always do this it early in the morning; even though temperatures can be in the 30s, we find the chill a worthy trade-off to have the lake to ourselves). Know that any watercraft in Grand Teton National Park must have a permit, which is available at the Moose Visitor Center.


The, most easily accessible and family-friendly fall colors in Jackson Hole may be found at Rendezvous Park (also known as R Park). On the Snake River near the intersection of Highways 390 and 22, R Park is a 40-acre natural playground and community gathering space with thriving wildlife habitat, ponds, meadows, and knolls. The park opened to the public in 2014 after three years of reclamation. (The area was formerly a gravel pit.) There are colorful cottonwoods and aspens along the river and around a central pond. You can drive to R Park or use the valley’s extensive pathway system to get there. The pathway that links the Town of Jackson with Wilson and Teton Village passes right through the park.


Grand Teton National Park’s best-kept secret might be the Bar BC Ranch, which was founded in 1912 as the valley’s second dude ranch, decades before the Park, as it is known today, was founded. The Bar BC welcomed dudes until the early 1940s, and today it has colorful stands of cottonwoods everyone can enjoy. The ranch and its guest cabins are tucked on a bench above the Snake River, near Moose. In 1987, when the last surviving family member of the ranch’s founders died, the Bar BC was incorporated into the park that had come to surround it. In 1990, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. For the past two summers, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, the Western Center for Historic Preservation, and Grand Teton National Park have been conducting preservation work on two of Bar BC’s most important cabins. Take a picnic lunch or dinner, wander the cottonwood-lined banks of the nearby Snake River, and enjoy the newly conserved cabins.

Transformational Travel

Vacations used to be all about relaxing. And of course some relaxing is good. But more and more experienced travelers are looking for their vacations to include unique, educational, or challenging experiences. Jackson Hole has no shortage of local-led, authentic, custom experiences that your family will be talking about long after your vacation here is over. Here are a few of our favorites.


JH Wildlife Photo Safari

“All of our safaris have great photo ops along the way, but our custom wildlife photo safaris are geared so you can learn tips and tricks from a professional photographer guide who is also an interpretative naturalist,” says Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris owner Jason Williams. You’ll get great images of Jackson Hole’s wildlife, historic structures, and the landscape, and end the safari with new photo techniques—totally customized to your group, whether you’re taking photos with your phone or a DSLR—you can use on your next vacation. A half-day photo safari is $765 for up to 4 people and a full-day photo safari is $1,275 for up to 4 people. Jacksonholewildlifesafaris.com

 


Jackson Hole Writers Conference

You don’t need to be a professional, or even have been published to go to the annual Jackson Hole Writers Conference, which is held annually in late June. (This year is the 28th conference.) “Anyone who loves writing can attend,” says Tim Sandlin, the conference’s founder, a resident faculty member, and the author of many novels including the Gro Vont trilogy. “We get everyone from beginners to multi-published authors. All you need in enthusiasm.” The three- day conference includes panel discussions, manuscript critiques, workshops, seminars, and social events. “Attendees leave the conference ready to write. They know more about the process of writing and the process of publishing. They make new friends. They take away inspiration.” $410 for the entire conference, which is June 27-29, 2019. jacksonholewritersconference.com


Teton Science Schools

Annually Teton Science Schools engages 15,000 learners from toddlers to retirees. Programs includes multi-day summer camps for elementary and high school students, single-night Front Porch Conversations, which offer attendees the opportunity to learn about a wide range of topics in an intimate environment, and private, immersive full-day tours of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) and the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF). As diverse as its programs and classes are, they have something in common: a place-based, interactive take on their subject. TSS founder Ted Major’s belief was that students learn best about natural sciences out in nature. Go to tetonscience.org website for a full schedule of programs for all ages. Private full-day tours of GTNP and the BTNF are $1,500 for up to 11 people.


National Museum of Wildlife Art

Have you ever done yoga outside while surrounded by statues of wildlife and overlooking the National Elk Refuge? Yoga on the Trail is just one of the many experiences to be had at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which prides itself on being interesting to visitors whether they are an expert in wildlife art or know nothing about the genre. “Visitors with little or no knowledge about art find the Museum engaging,” says Dr. Adam Duncan Harris, the Museum’s Joffa Kerr Curator of Art. “I think this is in large part because the subject matter is our artworks is so approachable.” For those familiar with wildlife art Harris says, not to miss the Rungius Gallery (as a whole) and a display dedicated to the work of Bob Kuhn. “These two painters are regarded as among the best artists of their respective generations,” he says. “Both have been highly influential on younger artists in the field.” Yoga on the Trail is free, B.Y.O.M. (bring your own mat), and 10 – 11 a.m. Thursdays between July 11 and August 29. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through October; tickets $15 (adults), $13 (seniors), $6 (1 child), $2 (additional children), free (4 & under). wildlifeart.org


Wyoming Stargazing

You can’t learn about the night sky—or even see it—just anywhere. Researchers at Italy’s Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute found that two out of three Europeans and four out of five Americans cannot see the 100-billion star galaxy to which our solar system belongs from their homes. In Jackson Hole you can see the Milky Way though, along with about 5,000 stars. Wyoming Stargazing offers free public programs throughout the summer, or you can kick it up a notch and go out on a nighttime stargazing safari with one of their astronomers. “I love when people look through the telescope and see the rings of Saturn,” says Wyoming Stargazing founder Samuel Singer, PhD. “People get super psyched to see something they’ve only ever seen in photos before. There are lots of ‘Oh my Gods,’ ‘Holy sh8*%,” and other profanities,” he says. Simple stargazing isn’t enough though: “We tell stories about these objects. People are looking at fuzzy spots that are the accumulated light of billions of stars from tens of millions of light years away. That’s looking into the past. That light you’re seeing through a telescope one night in 2019 in Grand Teton National Park took tens of millions of years to get here. We’re literally seeing the universe as it existed millions of years ago. I never get tired of telling this story,” Singer says. Go to wyomingstargazing.org for a schedule of Wyoming Stargazing’s public programs. Private stargazing safaris are $500 for up to 2 people and $175/person for 3-13 people.

Off-Season is the Best Season

Yes, Jackson Hole’s trails are at an in-between stage during April and early May. They’re not yet snow-free or dry enough for hiking or biking. Also, the ski lifts at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King Mountain have closed for the season. Still, there’s plenty to do in the valley, including these favorite spring activities of ours. A bonus of the spring off-season? No crowds!

Wyoming Stargazing

Photo Courtesy of Wyoming Stargazing

“We have some of the darkest skies of anywhere in the country,” says Dr. Samuel Singer, the founder of Wyoming Stargazing, which does year-round stargazing safaris. “A few places are darker—national parks in the Southwest, which have drier air and are father from cities—but Jackson Hole still has amazingly dark night skies.” Singer says his favorite moment of every stargazing program is when he parks at the spot he will set up the telescope and the night’s stargazers exit the van. “I turn the headlights off and everyone steps outside under this big, dark sky and they’re just blown away. I think some people get dizzy when they look up. It feels like you’re in a fishbowl.”

Photo Courtesy of Wyoming Stargazing

“It’s like a wildlife tour, except we go out and see stars,” says Dr. Samuel Singer, who has a PhD in science education and founded Wyoming Stargazing in 2013. “We get people to explore the extraordinary in the ordinary. The sky is always above our heads, we normally just don’t look up, and there is so much cool stuff up there day and night, especially here, where we’re lucky to have pretty dark skies.” The reason dark skies are so hard to find today? Light pollution, a collective term that includes all forms of artificial light, but most conspicuously the perpetual sky glow that hovers over urban areas.

Book a stargazing safari at wyomingstargazing.org, $500 for up to 2 people, $175/person for groups of 3 to 13


National Museum of Wildlife Art

Photo Courtesy of National Museum of Wildlife Art

Most people passing through Jackson Hole do so without realizing the valley is home to the wildlife art equivalent of the Louvre, Hermitage, Metropolitan, and Prado. Included in the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s 5,000+ piece permanent collection is Auguste Rodin’s The Crying Lion—yes, the same Rodin famous for The Thinker. This piece was inspired by a visit Rodin took to Jardin des Plante (the Paris Zoo) in the company of Louis-Antoine Barye, founder of the European movement known as les animaliers (“the animal sculptors”) and also represented in the NMWA’s permanent collection alongside perhaps the most heralded animalier, Rembrandt Bugatti. “Yes, we’ve branched out significantly from Rungius and the Big Four,” says Dr. Adam Duncan Harris, the museum’s Joffa Kerr chief curator of art. “These are the very same artists you’ll find in the Louvre. They’ve been fun acquisitions and artworks that elevate wildlife art to a different level of appreciation and understanding.”

Wildlifeart.org, open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays through April; May – October, open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily, $15 (adults), $13 (seniors), $6 (first child), ($2) additional children


Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures

Photo Courtesy of Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures

While many local human residents leave for part of the off-season, it’s a totally different story with the valley’s wildlife. “Much of the wildlife is concentrated in the low valleys where there is little-to-no-snow and spring green-up is beginning,” says Taylor Phillips, a wildlife biologist and founder of Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures, which does 4- to 12-hour wildlife tours in and around Jackson Hole. “Spring is amazing in the Jackson Hole Valley. With copious amounts of snow in the high country and bluebirds signing in the valley its a great time to explore Grand Teton National Park for Wildlife.” Specifically in April, “The spectacle is strutting sage grouse,” Phillips says. And also, “If one is lucky then the first bison calves can be seen!”

Photo Courtesy of Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures

During the spring off-season, bighorn sheep haven’t yet migrated out of the valley into the mountains.  Taylor Phillips, a wildlife biologist and founder of Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures loves taking clients to the Elk Refuge to see sheep. “The back side of Miller Butte is a great place to go for raptors and bighorn sheep,” he says. “They haven’t made their spring migration to Sheep Mountain [aka Sleeping Indian] yet.”

jhecotouradventures.com, 307/690-9533, 4-hour tours in Grand Teton National Park from $140/person, 8-hour tours from $240/person


Jay Goodrich Photo Adventure

Photo Courtesy of Jay Goodrich

“Even in the mud season, there is so much to photograph here,” says Jay Goodrich, a Jackson-based professional photographer who offers half- and full-day photo tours and whose own work appears in Outside, The Washington Post, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, Mountain Magazine, and Powder. “It’s a matter of honing your eye. There is always something compelling to shoot, you just need to find it.” Goodrich wants to teach you how to find it on a custom photo tour. “I’ll help people go beyond just holding up a camera and taking a photo of a pretty scene. I look at every photo as a design opportunity—think about lines and shape and contrast, and the differences between highlights and shadows.” If this sounds intimidating, “Some people who comes on tours only have their iPhones, so you don’t need to have much experience or expensive equipment,” Goodrich says. “Whatever you’re using to take photos, I’ll help you discover settings that will allow you to take much better photos.”

Photo Courtesy of Jay Goodrich

“The valley might be muddy and brown, but the peaks all around the valley never look that way,” says photographer Jay Goodrich. “They’ll have snow up on them that usually lasts through mud season. This is the time of year I skip the wide, vast image and instead zoom in and look for dynamic things happening up high.” Goodrich also says he likes to photograph animals in the spring. “They’re starting to migrate, so tight, detail oriented shots of bison or elk are great.” Because each of Goodrich’s half- and full-day photo tours is custom, if clients are interesting in photographing wildlife, he goes to different spots than when clients want to focus on landscapes. “I’ve had clients tell me, ‘I want to find a fox,’ while others say, ‘I want to get interesting shots of the Tetons.’ I like helping people do both.”

Book a photo safari at Jaygoodrich.com or 970/376-8883, From $450/3 people


Biking in Grand Teton National Park

Until May 1, Grand Teton National Park’s Inner Park Loop Rd. is open only to non-motorized travel. This traditional was started in 1977, by then-GTNP deputy superintendent Jack Neckels. At that time, after that park’s road crew cleared the snow from the 11-mile stretch of road between the Bradley-Taggart Lakes Trailhead and Signal Mountain Lodge that is closed to cars all winter, the road surface had to dry for several weeks before cars could drive on it (without damaging it). Neckels—who went on to become the park’s superintendent—decided that someone should be able to enjoy the road during this “drying out” time and a tradition was born.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the road was redone, and even rerouted a bit. When this was finished in 1992, some park workers suggested the road no longer needed to be plowed so early, as the material it was made of it no longer had to dry out. Neckels, superintendent by then, said no to that idea. Biking the Inner Park Loop Rd. had become a rite of spring and would remain. nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/bike.htm

Clearing Grand Teton National Park’s Inner Park Loop Rd. this year took longer than in years past. Last spring, it was cleared in 2 days. This year, plowing 16 hours a day (broken into 2 shifts), 2 drivers took about 6 days. At times, they were clearing the epic winter’s worth of snow at speeds as slow as one-tenth of a mile per hour. Cyclists, runners, walkers, roller-skaters, skateboarders—any type of non-motorized activity is allowed on the road. Dogs are also allowed, on leashes no longer than 6-feet. buckrail.com/teton-park-road-open-to-non-montorized-use/


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