Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

We planned a three-day trip to Jackson Hole as an afterthought  a stop before and after a more extensive trip to Yellowstone National Park. As it turns out, however, Jackson Hole is a destination in its own right, with awesome activities for the kids, the most picturesque town square you can imagine, and a surprisingly excellent culinary scene. You really feel like you're getting a taste of the rugged and beautiful American West.

What to Do

The highlight of our trip was horseback riding at Spring Creek Ranch, which welcomes children as young as 5 on their one-hour trail ride. I was a bit apprehensive about my own 5-year-old climbing aboard a horse three times his height, but the horses at this stable are so well-trained and relaxed that it quickly became apparent that there was nothing to worry about. We switch-backed up the side of a scenic butte that offered majestic views of the Teton mountain range the whole way.

All the travel sites recommend going on a covered wagon ride and cookout, but I hesitated on this activity, for fear of it being too hokey. I finally decided to book an evening with Bar T Cookout, and it turned out to be an absolutely wonderful experience. Our caravan of covered wagons was pulled into Cache Creek Canyon  with a few surprise visitors on horses along the way  then deposited at a camp where we ate barbecue chicken, corn on the cob and baked beans while watching a talented band perform Western classics. There is something really special about listening to the musical stylings of a talented fiddler while breathing in the crisp mountain air and sipping hot cocoa as the sun goes down.

Another activity that was surprisingly fun and interesting for the kids was the Jackson Hole Rodeo, which puts on a show every Wednesday and Saturday evening. I wasn't sure the little ones were going to be able to keep track of what was going on, but they were actually really into the bronc riding and calf roping competitions.

Many of the activities in Jackson Hole involve being on the mountains, and my kids' favorite activity was the Cowboy Coaster at Snow King Mountain, a double-person ride that brings you more than 450 feet up the mountain, then sends you zipping down in a series of twists and turns. It's not a cheap activity, but my kids were so into it that we went three times each. We also tried the tamer but also fun Alpine Slide once, which includes a scenic chairlift ride up the mountain. Other things to do at Snow King Mountain include a ropes course, zip line, bungee trampoline and mini-golf.

Our last activity of the trip was taking the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram up Rendezvous Mountain. The views as we climbed to 10,000 feet above sea level were certainly unparalleled, but my favorite part turned out to be the gourmet waffles in the cabin at the summit.

Where to Stay

We stayed at two hotels in Jackson Hole: the Cowboy Village Resort for one night prior to our Yellowstone visit, and the Lodge at Jackson Hole, after coming out of the park.

The Cowboy Village Resort can definitely be described as rustic, but it is also clean, well priced and super cute. Our tiny log cabin had two queen-size bunk beds, which provided the kids with endless amusement. The resort is in a great location, within walking distance of town square and the rodeo.

We chose to stay at the decidedly more upscale Lodge at Jackson Hole after Yellowstone because we figured we'd need some pampering after all that hiking. It turned out to be less fancy than I'd imagined, given the price, but it was certainly still very nice. The indoor-outdoor pool is fantastic, and the self-service laundry was a life saver. The hotel offers a free shuttle that'll take you anywhere around town, including the airport.

Where to Eat

We didn't have a single bad meal in Jackson Hole. From Bubba's for casual barbecue to Calico for modern Italian (it's got a kid-friendly lawn if you're dining outdoors), everything was truly delicious. We also had lunch at Persephone twice (the sandwich bread is amazing, rivaling baguettes I've had in Paris) and at the super cute Cafe Genevieve once (pictured below), where the kids' menu pasta ended up being an incredible pappardelle in vodka sauce. We also had Q Roadhouse and MacPhail's Burgers on our list, but unfortunately never made it over.

For dessert, stop off at Moo's Gourmet Ice Cream, at the center of town. All of the ingredients are organic, and the flavors of the ice cream and sorbets range from traditional (cookies and cream was my favorite) to seriously interesting (pink guava, anyone?). We went twice!

What's Nearby

The southern border of Yellowstone National Park can be reached within an hour of driving from Jackson Hole. Keep going for another hour (give or take a few minutes for animal crossing traffic jams) and you'll find — depending on the path you take  Old Faithful, which puts on a show every 60 to 90 minutes, or the Hayden Valley, where the buffalo roam wild by the hundreds. Here is my kid-friendly itinerary for Yellowstone.

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