Every year around September, my husband, Tom, who was raised in the East, starts yearning for a taste of “real” autumn. For my part, I’d been longing to see the glories of some of the national parks that neither of us had ever visited. So when we made plans for our annual fall trip, we set our sights on Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, with Jackson Hole, Wyoming, serving as a surprisingly economical base.
Of course, Jackson Hole-with its Four Seasons Resort, $42 elk steaks, and three-acre lots selling for $1.5 million-is not typically regarded as a budget destination. But the views of the Tetons and the wildlife (including bison, antelope, and moose) cost nothing, and national park admission is one of the best travel values around. Real estate prices around Jackson Hole may be climbing as dramatically as the Tetons, but the sights, smells, and sounds of the mythic American West-cattle being driven to a new pasture, the cool scent of lodgepole pine, and the bugling of elk-are there for the taking.
Amy R. Ramos
Cascade Canyon Trail
Within minutes of unlocking the door to our one-bedroom rental condo in The Aspens on the evening we arrived in Jackson, I caught a glimpse of a fox-white tip blazing at the end of its bushy black tail-running past the sliding glass doors that opened onto the tiny patio of our downstairs unit. Figuring that was a good omen for wildlife sightings to come, we headed into Jackson Hole, eight miles away, to explore and grab some dinner.
“Hole” is mountain-man talk for a high valley completely surrounded by mountains, which is how the town got its nickname (officially, it’s just plain Jackson). The walkable downtown is dominated by art galleries, T-shirt shops, and Western-themed stores, along with the hotels, restaurants, and retail stores that abound in any resort town. The town square is a popular gathering spot, with the arch of elk antlers at each corner providing an irresistible photo op. Although the summer crowds had gone home, there were still enough people around to make the town feel lively, and we had to wait briefly in the bar of the Cadillac Grille before our table was ready.
Amy R. Ramos
Bull moose near Oxbow Bend in Snake River.
Snow King Resort, on the southern edge of town, is a favored skiing destination in the wintertime. But in the last week of September, when we were in Jackson, Snow King and the other mountains ringing the main part of town were parched and brown after the dry, hot summer (daytime temps during our visit reached the 70s and 80s, dropping to the 20s and 30s at night). And ironically, considering Jackson is the seat of Teton County, the Grand Tetons aren’t visible from the center of town. I was glad we’d chosen to stay on the western edge of town; the drive along Highway 22 and Moose-Wilson Road took us past grazing cattle and horses, across the Snake River, and right toward the iconic jagged peaks of the Tetons.
On our first full day in Jackson, we drove to the nearest entrance of Grand Teton National Park ($25 per vehicle buys a pass valid for a week at both Grand Teton and Yellowstone) and set out for the Cascade Canyon Trail, which we reached via a short boat ride across Jenny Lake. After a couple of hours of easy hiking with glorious views of bald eagles, a waterfall, ancient moraines, and the still-snowcapped Tetons, we headed back across the lake, where a ranger at the visitors’ center informed Tom that Gros Ventre Junction (locals pronounce it grow VONT ) was a good wildlife viewing spot.