Driving the American West: Jackson Hole & the Grand Tetons

Northwest Wyoming’s Grand Tetons draped in winter snow


Continued from
Driving the American West: Cody, Wyoming

It had been four years since my last trip to Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, an August trip that also included Yellowstone National Park and celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. We’d vowed to come back and see the area in winter someday, and well…that day had arrived.

The only thing missing was Adam. But hey — I took photos for him.

And, y’know, for you.

To the east of Grand Teton National Park, the stunning Bridger-Teton National Forest greeted me with snow. And I mean, a lot of snow. The kind of snow where you pull into a turnout to treat yourself to a lingering gander at the scenery, and you’re instead faced with an 8-foot-high wall of hard-packed flake-age.

Yes, I managed to climb atop one of these plow-made drifts, and yes, the mountain view was gorgeous. But yes, I (unnecessarily) worried that at any minute, I’d fall into an unseen crevasse — and I got right back into the car.

By the time I’d meandered down from the highest elevation, I could easily pull over to the side of the road and peer straight across a plain at furry, prancing elk and flame-orange grasses. There may have been some hand-clapping, and perhaps some giggling.

I cruised into Grand Teton National Park at golden hour, just in time to see a silvery gleam on the Snake River and several thousand elk parade across the National Elk Refuge. I’d spend most of the next day wending my way through the 20+ miles of the park that are open in winter, often alone on the road and always amazed. I tuned into an NPR music show called UnderCurrents, and visually soaked in the pristine winter snow to an inspirational soundtrack of Native American pop, Latin jazz, African blues and Southern folk.

And I wandered just about every inch of Jackson Hole. I’d really missed it here, a mix of Old West architecture, big city money, conservative politics and liberal thought, locavore cuisine and hunting trophies, low kitsch and high art. In winter, fairy lights twinkle on arches of antlers in the main square, and you have to pick your careful way along black ice on the boardwalks. Folks seem happy to see strangers, and there’s a little more time and space for conversation than in the summer high season.

But not all of Yellowstone National Park is open in winter. The west and east entrances are closed, but my friend Ann Shepphird points out that you can enter the south entrance (just north of Jackson) via snow coaches and can stay right in the middle of the park at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins — and beat the summer crowds. (In addition, the park is always open from the north entrance near Gardiner, Montana, as is the nearby Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.)

So if you want to see how a dazzling, undeveloped swath of nature copes with a clear, cold, sparkling blanket of snow and ice, head on over to northwest Wyoming (or southwest Montana).

And let me know you’re going: I just might be willing to drive.

In winter in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, you might just have to scale 7-foot snowdrifts at turnouts in order to get a decent view

A pair of elk prancing about in the Bridger-Teton National Forest

The greatest road sign of my entire trip, found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest

Silvery winter light on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park

Just outside of downtown Jackson Hole, the National Elk Refuge is one of the area’s most peaceful stretches of protected land

In winter, the National Elk Refuge is home to many thousands of wild elk

A stuffed elk stands proudly in front of Jackson Mercantile, just one ironic mile from the National Elk Refuge

Jackson Hole: Land of sparkly antlers, both moose and elk

The architecture in Jackson Hole is all Old West, all the time

Downtown Jackson Hole has boardwalks instead of sidewalks, which can ice over somethin’ fierce in winter

Jackson Hole is full of art galleries and unique works like this positively enormous bronze cowboy

In the Teton movie theater in downtown Jackson Hole, you’re likely to be seated next to a real-life cowboy or three

The uber-kitschy Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is one of the most recognizable landmarks on Jackson Town Square

I got your knotty pine for you: one small corner of Jackson Hole’s Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

Who knew? I enjoyed the deep, rich, fruity Cinder Syrah from Idaho

Adam bought my teddy bear, Rusty (on the right), for me after our 2008 stay at Jackson Hole’s Rusty Parrot Lodge, where every room features a bear; on this trip, I brought Rusty over 1,000 miles to have a reunion with his people

The Antler Motel (also called the Antler Inn) was my cozy, right-in-downtown, AAA-discounted home this time around in Jackson Hole

Snow tubing is a popular Jackson Hole alternative for folks like me who don’t (yet) know how to ski

Approximately 28 miles worth of Grand Teton National Park is open in winter, and you’ll have views like this practically to yourselves

Treat yourselves to a great breakfast about 5 miles outside of Jackson Hole, at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn in Wilson

Definitely take a drive out to to Wilson and/or the Teton Village; the scenery, especially in winter, is simply stunning



TWT Travel Binder: Wyoming
Wyoming Tourism
Grand Teton National Park
Bridger-Teton National Forest
National Elk Refuge
Antler Inn
The Rusty Parrot Lodge
King Tubes
Trio American Bistro
Cafe Genevieve
Pearl Street Bagels

Nora’s Fish Creek Inn


Continued in
Driving the American West: Boise & Southern Idaho


  1. Even summer isn’t guaranteed! Scott and I did a two-month, 13-state, 5,800-mile road trip last summer, and the majority of Yellowstone wasn’t open by the time we left. At the end of JUNE. Last summer’s weather was just ridiculous.

  2. Great post…I recently narrowed down my bucket list for places to see in the US, and Jackson Hole made the cut:)

  3. what life and fun in your post! and that alphabet game sign is classic! Seeing all those elk… were you in love?

  4. @Paula, thank you — I really was in love! This part of America is definitely a happy place for me.

  5. Love the pictures of Jackson Hole in the winter and the old movie theater. We did a road trip last year across America taking pix of vintage movie theaters that you might be interested in: http://www.changesinlongitude.com/historic-american-movie-theaters/


    Larissa and Michael

  6. Great shots! I love the Tetons. Used to take snowboarding road trips to Jackson from Montana. You could just pull over on the side of the road, hike up the pass for a bit, then ride the powder back down to your car and continue on. 🙂

  7. I spent 6 months travelling around the USA in 2004 and I absolutely loved the scenery whilst driving – especially in Utah, Montana and Colorado.

  8. Love the photos of your trip! I haven’t made it to Wyoming so it’s still on my list of states I need to see. Admittedly, I need to see more of our national parks. However, I loved this one today as today kicks off National Parks Week! 🙂

  9. Suhani says:

    Hey! I really enjoyed reading your posts as they are very interesting. I have not been to the US and I am planning to do so. The photographs you have posted have appealed to me a fair bit. As a person who loves nature and the beauty of romance, I would definitely choose my travel destinations from the recommended ones on your blog!

  10. Hi Melanie,
    I’m with you on loving the beauty of the Tetons and Jackson Hole, WY. I travel there about twice a year where I now conduct 2 three day sunrise to sunset photo shoot adventures and during each I take people of 2 of those 3 nights for a night sky / Milky Way workshop. All are in awe of the many, many great sites to take great landscape photo throughout the valley, many which are off the beaten path.
    So, I shall return again in 2014 but not before I travel to the southwest to shoot great scenes in the various parks there and then on to the Oregon coast.
    Keep up your wonderful work.


  1. […] New Road Trip: Driving the American West by Travels with Two. When Melanie set off to drive around the American West- I was more than a […]

Speak Your Mind