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By Erika Dahlby | December 15th, 2020
With so much to see and do within a few hour’s drive of Jackson Hole, hop in the car and visit some of our favorite day-trip destinations. Whether it’s a short drive to Grand Teton National Park for a full-day snowshoe and cross-country ski or a small trek to the reaches of the valley to some of the most iconic mountain passes, Teton and Togwotee, there’s something for everyone.
Grand Teton National Park
While the drive is the shortest on the list, the opportunities for adventure are endless in Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is more accessible to a DIY ski or snowshoe adventure than its sister park to the north, but with so much ground to cover, a guide can show you the top sites and provide information on the area during a tour.
Much of the Teton Park Road (known as Inner Park Road) is closed to vehicles during the winter. The 15 miles stretch of unplowed road from the Taggart Lake Trailhead parking area to Signal Mountain Lodge is open to non-motorized use only (think cross country skiers and snowshoers). The park's main roadways, on the outer side of the park, Highway 89/191 and Highway 26/287, are plowed and open from Jackson to Flagg Ranch, just south of Yellowstone National Park, but be prepared to be driving through wintry road conditions and plan ahead for road closures due to blowing snow.
The key to getting the most out of a full day in Grand Teton is to plan a few activities. Head out on a morning ski or snowshoe under the Tetons, pack a lunch to enjoy at the base of a frozen alpine lake and end with a sunset wildlife tour. Taggart Lake Trailhead, the “end of the road” from the southern side of the park, is a popular destination for beginners and experts alike looking for a moderate to easy trail. Keep in mind if you brought your furry friend, pets are not allowed outside of parking areas in National Parks (look to National Forest access points like Cache Creek in Jackson for a dog-friendly hike).
While the park is definitely accessible for you to travel at your own pace, outfitters in the area offer a myriad of full-day tour combinations whether you’re looking to spend the whole day outside or hoping to spot wildlife from a warm van.
Yellowstone National Park
Access is very limited when trying to enter Yellowstone from the southern entrance, which is only open to permitted over-snow travel. The best way to see steaming geyser basins, a herd of buffalo trotting down an open road and frozen waterfalls is to book a guided tour with a snowmobile, snow coach or over-snow van guide.
Most tour operators offer two locations to travel to: Grand Canyon and Old Faithful. While it’s not possible to visit both in a single day during the winter, you can choose the one that best fits. Visiting Old Faithful in the winter is an iconic rite of passage, and a far different experience from that in the summer. The warm weather crowds have dissipated, and snow blankets the steaming frozen tundra. You’ll see the iconic geyser erupt, a magical sight in the winter. Along the way you’ll also see other thermal features like mud pots and fumaroles. The trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River gives you the best opportunity to see the wildlife of Yellowstone. While the destination is impressive in itself, the lower falls are more than twice the size of Niagara Falls in height alone, the views along the way are outstanding.
Because of its remoteness a trip to Yellowstone is going to require a very full day, trips usually last around 12 hours from pick up to drop off. While it usually is possible to extend your adventure into Yellowstone by staying at The Snow Lodge near Old Faithful, the lodge is closed for the 2020/21 season.
In the northeast reaches of the Jackson Hole Valley sits Togwotee Pass, one of the most scenic drives in the country. The highway crosses the Continental Divide at 9,658 feet and is home to hundreds of acres of snowmobile access in the winter. The drive to the Togwotee area takes about 45 minutes to an hour depending on road conditions. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the vastness, there are a few lodge basecamps you can visit to navigate the area.
Turpin Meadow Ranch is the mecca of nordic trails in the area. The guest ranch boasts 20 kilometers of groomed cross country ski trails and dedicated groomed single-track for fat biking. The ranch also runs guided tours and offers rentals for skis and fat tire bikes.
If you’re hoping to extend your day, the ranch also has an incredible restaurant, as well as cabins and chalets available for overnight stays. For those staying at the ranch you can partake in backcountry skiing and snowmobiling activities, too.
Just up the road sits Togwotee Mountain Lodge, the iconic roadside snowmobile haven. Overnight lodging is available, but the lodge is known for it’s starting (and rest) point for snowmobilers riding the diverse network of trails in the area. Whether you’re heading on a tour or have your own sled, the area has some of the best views of the Tetons.
The farthest lodge on the list, Brooks Lake Lodge, is only accessible with lodging accommodations this year. The resort is located at an elevation of 9,200 feet in a secluded winter wonderland within the Shoshone National Forest. You'll travel five miles past the nearest paved road by dog sled, snowmobile or track vehicle to the luxury resort and the lodge offers a myriad of winter activities from there.
Over Teton Pass
You’ll most likely hear locals talk about “the Pass” while you’re visiting, and they’re talking about Teton Pass. It’s a commuter gateway to Teton Valley, Idaho and the lifeline to the west from Jackson. The steep mountain pass is closed to trailered vehicles in the winter and requires cars to be ready for snow conditions (4-wheel drive or snow chains), plus the ability to drive a 10 percent mountain grade.
The drive over the pass itself is beautiful and you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view overlooking the valley (and that’s where the Yonder is Jackson Hole sign is, which can be buried in snow). You’ll find the parking lot usually full at the top as backcountry skiers head to either side of the mountains to ski.
But once you’ve reached the other side, about a 30 minute drive in the winter, and the state of Idaho, you’ll be welcomed into the quaint towns of Victor and Driggs in Teton Valley, Idaho. The two towns offer a selection of small markets, amazing local restaurants and are home to a lot of the working community in Jackson.
But hidden about 20 minutes west of Driggs, and back into Wyoming sits Grand Targhee Resort. The charming resort feels more like a hidden gem than a world-class ski resort and is known for its authentic feel. But don’t let its quaintness fool you, with more than 500 inches of snowfall each winter, Targhee is one of the Teton’s best kept secrets. The terrain is more intermediate than expert, and the mountain is made up of tree-lined bowls, rolling groomers, tight glades and open gullies. On bluebird days catch glimpses of the back side of the Tetons and on powder days, make sure to bring a light lens as the snow can sock in visibility.
South of Town and Into the Wild
When talking to your outfitter or renting your own snowmobile ask about the different trail options – many local snowmobile tour companies have multiple trip options ranging from a half day tour close by or a full day excursion into the wild.
Located 10 miles down a snow-covered trail, and about an hour south of Jackson, Granite Hot Springs is nestled under peaks of the Gros Ventre mountain range and towering pine trees. The 110-degree pool was built in the 30s and is the perfect place to relax and refresh in a winter wonderland. In the winter months, the hot springs are accessible only via snowmobile, dog sled, skiing or fat biking, making it a fun off-day activity. There are guided snowmobile and dog sled tours that will lead you to the springs and include a soak before heading back or you can choose to rent your own equipment and make it a DIY adventure.
If you’re looking for an even more remote adventure, head to the town of Alpine, Wyoming, about 45 minutes to an hour south of Jackson through the winding Snake River Canyon. There you’ll find the start of the Grey’s River, a local’s favorite snowmobile trail system. You’ll follow a trail along the Greys River with spectacular mountain and river vista views. If you’re looking for the “road less traveled,” this is the place.
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