Westward, HO! At Playground we’ve been hearing a lot about families who road trip out west to enjoy summer in the mountains. In fact, Melissa and her extended family are visiting Vail, Colorado, trying out summer on the slopes, and her husband Ken and his “big kids” hit Jackson Hole, Grand Tetons, Jenny Lake, and Yellowstone last summer, just like guest blogger Randi Mazzella did. Here’s Randi’s skinny on visiting Wyoming in the summer. (Our thanks to Ken Dowell for additional photos). Happy travels!
Last summer friends mentioned they were going to Jackson Hole on vacation with their family. Seemed like a bit of an odd choice. Isn’t Jackson Hole a big winter ski area? Would there be anything for a family to do in the summer? The answers are “yes” and “yes” – Jackson Hole is an ideal place for families, especially during the warmer months.
During the summer there are no direct flights to Jackson Hole (in the winter, you can fly direct from Newark.) We ended up connecting through Denver and I would highly recommend this route vs. the option of going through Chicago.
Landing in the mountains was breathtaking. So beautiful that the flight crew had to warn passengers to put away their cameras and get off the tarmac. The trip only got better from there– great accommodations, delicious food, and amazing outdoor activities for the whole family.
Ready to book your ticket? Here’s what you need to know:
What to Pack
The weather ranges from brisk in the morning (30s) to downright hot in the afternoon – mostly 80s when we were there. So pack layers so you can peel off as the day progresses. Bring clothes for hiking, biking, and water activities. And don’t forget your cowboy boots!
Where to Stay
The entire area is called Jackson Hole but there are two main locations to consider when deciding where to stay. One is the town of Jackson, which has many hotels and will leave you close to the downtown shops and restaurants. The second option is to stay in, or near, Teton Village, which is what we chose. This area is about 25 minutes from Jackson but offers good restaurants and activities. It’s also closer to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.
What to Do
Hiking and Biking in the Grand Tetons
There are tons of beautiful biking and hiking trails in the area that range from easy to strenuous. We chose to do a 3.5 mile hike around Jenny Lake, which included a beautiful view of the hidden waterfall. We parked right at the lake but more adventurous families bike the 8-mile trail (mostly flat) road that leads to it. If you want to bike ride, stop at Dornans for rentals.
There are also boat trips across the lake and kayaks available for rent.
Yellowstone National Park
The trip from our hotel through the lower loop of Yellowstone and back was 12 hours. We made a lot of stops along the way to look at wildlife, see waterfalls and geysers, and picnic. There is really no way to do this trip in less time, and it may be a good idea to spend one night in the park to fully appreciate all that Yellowstone has to offer.
Instead of hiring a private guide, our concierge suggested using a Gaper Guide, part GPS and part self-guided tour. We found it extremely helpful in navigating through the park. The Gaper Guide gave great suggestions on where to stop and fun facts but also allowed us to go at our own pace.
This excursion was my 11 year-old son’s favorite part of the trip. He just loved seeing the wildlife (bison, moose and elk) in their natural habitat. We also got to see Old Faithful erupt!
My son has been begging for us to take him white water rafting and Snake River is the perfect place for it. There are level 2 and 3 rapids—enough excitement for my son and not too scary for me. We went through The Sands and our tour guide DJ was great. The entire trip takes about four hours from arrival at the storefront to return. Fair warning: you will get wet and the Snake River is cold!
Another activity I could never see myself doing was fly-fishing, but again, my son wanted to try it so we decided to give it a go. It was so fun! And I am not just saying that because I was the only one in our party that caught a fish during the 4-½ hour excursion. Our guide met us at the hotel and drove us to a very calm part of the Snake River. After a brief casting lesson, we were ready to try our luck. Fishing for cutthroat trout. I felt like we were in the Brad Pitt movie, A River Runs Through It, it was so peaceful and picturesque.
Teton Village has a lot of fun family activities. For starters, take a 15-minute ride on the aerial tram to see great views of Snake River Valley and Grand Teton National Park. Next up, spend some time at Grand Adventure Park, where you can bike down the mountain, climb a ropes course and jump on a bungee trampoline.
Horseback Riding and Other Western Fun
Experience the Old West by going horseback riding Horseback riding on one of Jackson Hole’s many trails. Or watch a free re-enactment of a Western shootout at 6 pm every night but Sunday in the center of Jackson. On Wednesdays and Sundays, families can attend the Jackson Hole Rodeo at 8 pm.
Where to Eat
There are lots of great restaurant choices in the towns of Jackson and Teton Village. For a light breakfast in Jackson, try Cowboy Coffee Co. or Persephone Bakery for a great selection of homemade baked goods. If you prefer a sit down option, Café Genevieve or The Bunnery offer indoor and outdoor seating.
No trip to the Jackson Hole would be complete without stopping in The Mangy Moose, a restaurant/saloon/market located in Teton Village. Other good places for dinner include Trio or the more casual Pizzeria Caldera. But by far, our best dinner of the trip was at Snake River Grill, where you MUST order the tower of onion rings.
We’re a dessert-loving family and Jackson Hole did not disappoint. Check out Yippy-I-O Candy for fudge, taffy and other sweet treats. For ice cream lovers, Moo’s offers a wide variety of flavors including Wild Huckleberry (Food Network’s 2013 winner for best dessert in Wyoming.) My son’s (and my) personal favorite vacation dessert was the hot cowboy skillet cookie with vanilla ice cream, served at both The Kitchen in Jackson Hole and The Ascent Lounge located in the Four Seasons Hotel in Teton Village.
Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer and mother of three from New Jersey.