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!
“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.”
“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
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
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!”
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
“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.”
“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/