By Erika Dahlby | November 16th, 2020
While alpine skiing and snowboarding are the main draws for visitors who flock to Jackson Hole in the winter, there are a multitude of other fun winter activities. Whether you’re hoping to keep the adrenaline flowing on a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone, watch thousands of elk from a horse-drawn sleigh, or relax in a mineral hot spring, here are some of our favorite ways to spend a day off-piste and give our ski legs a break.
Arts and Culture
The art galleries and museums of Jackson are the perfect remedy for an off-day if you’re looking for something relaxing and educational to add to your trip. Jackson Hole is home to over two dozen art galleries, each specializing in its own niche. You’ll find classic Western motifs, modern Warhols, and intricate sculptures as you wander through the area’s galleries. Perched above the National Elk Refuge sits the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the area’s premier art museum home to more than 5,000 artworks representing wild animals from around the world, some of which date back to the pre-Christian era. Exhibits at the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum capture the spirit and culture of the early days of Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. If you brought the family along, be sure to stop by the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum. It’s an interactive playground that allows kids to explore, discover, and create. Dog Sledding
Leading your own dog-sled team through a winding snow-covered forest is the experience of a lifetime. Learn how to “mush” with trained Alaskan sled dogs or relax in the sled while gliding through the valley. Several guided tours and vendors are available, all of which cover some of the most beautiful terrain in the valley — like the Gros Ventre Range, Granite Hot Springs, and the Continental Divide. Each outfitter offers a different kind of experience: from full-day excursions to mineral hot springs to a quick, accessible ride at the base of Teton Village, there are plenty of options to fit your liking.
Looking for something new to try? Fat tire biking is one of the latest activities to gain traction in Jackson Hole. Fat bikes are off-road bicycles outfitted with oversized tires designed for terrain like snow-packed trails. Jackson is a mountain biker’s paradise in the summer, and the winter variation is no different. Many of the area’s trail systems, like the popular Cache Creek drainage just on the outskirts of town, are home to some of the best fat biking around. “It’s a great way to get outside in the winter,” says Hal Wheeler, owner of The Hub Bicycles. Biking is prime on groomed snow-packed trails and, as Wheeler says, is best when the skiing is bad, making it the perfect rest day activity. “There are no lift lines at the trailhead,” he says.
After a long week of skiing, there’s nothing more refreshing than a soak in steaming hot mineral waters. The greater Jackson Hole valley is surrounded by thermal waters, but there are a few developed spots where you can enjoy nature’s hot tub. Located 10 miles down a snow-covered trail, Granite Hot Springs is nestled under the 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, skis, or fat bike, making it a fun off-day activity. Find out more about the new Astoria Hot Springs and undeveloped pools here.
Strap on your skates and enjoy one of the many ice skating rinks in the valley. Once the temperatures drop, the middle of the Town Square transforms into a skating winter wonderland. Surrounded by the iconic antler arches and lit by the neon glow of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, you can rent a pair of skates from the Stage Stop and (ice) dance the night away. The Teton Village Rink on the Commons is easily located at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and is the perfect spot to switch things up a bit. If you have your own skates and you’re hoping to find a pickup game of hockey or broomball, stop at any of the outdoor rinks maintained by Teton County Parks and Rec.
National Park Tours
Once the summer crowds have dissipated from Yellowstone National Park and the winter weather closes the interior roads of Grand Teton National Park, you’ll find a truly magical experience in our backyard national parks. Access is very limited when entering 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, or frozen waterfalls is to book a guided tour with a snowmobile, snow coach or over-snow van guide. Grand Teton is more accessible for a DIY adventure, but with so much ground to cover, a guide can show you the top sites and provide information on the area during a cross-country ski or snowshoe tour.
While “ski” is in the name, Nordic skiing is a completely different experience from alpine skiing. It’s one of Jackson Hole’s best-kept secrets. With over 200 miles of groomed trails and countless untracked landscapes, cross-country skiing, as it’s more commonly known, is another amazing complement to your winter trip. Accessible to all ability levels, it’s the perfect way to get outside, explore nature, and enjoy the snow in solitude. Whether you’re looking for a beginner ski along a tranquil snow-covered meadow or an aggressive workout on a groomed track, the opportunities are endless. “There’s so much wilderness you can explore,” says Nancy Leon, editor of JH Nordic, the online hub for winter trail information and everything Nordic in the valley. Sleigh Rides
Experience a horse-drawn sleigh ride among thousands of elk at the National Elk Refuge, one of the most scenic and safe ways to experience wildlife in Jackson Hole. Sleigh rides through the refuge are one of the most popular winter activities in the valley, allowing you a unique wildlife viewing experience and an incredible opportunity for photography. Available from mid-December through early April through contractor Double H Bar, a knowledgeable guide will lead you within 20 to 30 feet of the elk through an area not open to the general public. “It’s totally quiet and a beautiful environment and scenery,” says sleigh operator co-owner Jeff Warburton. “It’s unique and closer than you’re ever going to get to the elk.”
Snow Tubing and Sledding
Looking for the same downhill thrill of skiing without the work? There are a variety of snow tubing hills, alpine slides, and sledding hills in the area. Hop in an inflated inner tube and cruise down a variety of groomed, snowy chutes or strap into the alpine roller coaster and fly down a track of loops and curves at Snow King Mountain, located right in town. For wee ones, you’ll find the ice castle in the Commons at Teton Village, where kids can climb, play on, or sled down the adjacent small hill. If your kids (or you) are looking for a bigger thrill, head to Rendezvous Park to climb up the 25-foot Grand Knoll and zip down the snowy hill. Wildlife Tours
Jackson Hole is one of the best wildlife watching locations in the world, and that’s not an exaggeration. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is the only area left in the lower 48 where every species that should be there still is. And winter is one of the best times to see the local fauna. Though bears are hibernating and the pronghorn have migrated south, it’s the time to catch a group of 10 to 12 moose in Grand Teton National Park, bighorn sheep clashing heads along Miller Butte, or a pack of wolves looking over the thousands of elk on the National Elk Refuge. But the key to finding the animals is to have knowledgeable and experienced guides who know when and where to look. On a guided wildlife tour, you’ll be driven through the valley, taken to not just the hot spots but to the places guides know you might see something special.