Jackson Hole

Where can you find adventure in the wild old west? That’s easy, white water rafting in Wyoming! You know, one of the great family vacations is discovering that the old west is still alive and kicking in places like Tucson, Dodge City and right here in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I always thought that Jackson Hole was just a ski resort. You know, a winter destination. Boy, was I wrong! This place is fantastic in the summer, too. I mean, they have rodeos and horseback riding and stage coaches. And outdoor activities like parasailing and white-water rafting. Plus, it’s the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. There is so much to do. So, if you’re ready, let’s saddle up and discover Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Jackson Hole… A gorgeous valley that’s a step back in time, where the elk play, and the buffalo roam- Jackson Hole lies in northwestern Wyoming, just east of the Grand Teton Mountain Range. It’s known as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the Snake River and several deep glacial lakes. At the southern end of the Jackson Hole Valley is the original frontier town of Jackson. It’s been over 200 years since fur trappers and mountain men traveled here in search of game. And, even before these travelers came searching west, the area was already populated with Native Americans who hunted and gathered in the resource rich valley.

Wyoming became the 44th state in 1890, and soon, the cattle ranching business was booming. Since then, times have changed… But not too much. Visiting Jackson Hole is like taking a step back in time. You can ride in a horse drawn carriage, enjoy a Dutch oven dinner chuck wagon style, and see a real rootin’-tootin’ rodeo! Definitely a breath of fresh air, welcome to Jackson, Wyoming!

Staying true to a typical old western town, much of Jackson’s action is centered on the town square. You know you’re here- just look for the arches made from elk antlers! This is great. I never get to wear my old comfy cowboy boots and, here, I fit right in. Have a look. Oh, and while you’re checking out the footwear, look at these old wooden sidewalks. I mean, most of these are authentic. The shops here all have wooden fronts. In fact, if it weren’t for the cars going by, it would look almost exactly as it’s always looked here. Oh, a little bit of trivia. Buffalo still have the right of way. Here, you can shop for elk carvings and have supper at the saloon… take some photos and enjoy the sights… and even witness a wild west show with a highly dramatic ending… A shoot out! Now that’s something I’ve only seen in the movies!

In the center of the square, you’re going to see a bronze statue. Now this is the symbol of Wyoming. Have a look. It’s a rider on a bucking bronco. And you’re going to see this everywhere. You’re going to see it on the license plates, on t-shirts, in front of bars. And, hopefully, one day, on a Wyoming quarter. Sculptor Bud Boller’s famous bronze statue, Cowboy, is the perfect centerpiece for a town like Jackson. Cowboy was completed in 1976, and that horse? It’s a famous rodeo bronco named Steamboat. See how the cowboy is ‘fanning’ with his hat? Listen to me – I got the rodeo lingo down.

While Jackson Hole, Wyoming is typically known for its ski resort, there’s plenty to do in the summer…even on the slopes! Jackson isn’t your average ‘one horse town’ you see. What do you do at a ski resort when there’s no snow? You go up the hillside and go down on the alpine slide! What goes up…must come down…and for the biggest thrill…as fast as you can! Who knew you could use a ski lift without snow What a great view you have! The alpine slide is a 25 hundred foot track that you ride a sled down in the summer time at the ski resort. You ride the Rapardy chairlift to the top of the beginners area which is about 2/3 of the way up the mountain.

When you ride the alpine slide, you’re in complete control of your speed, so you can go anywhere from 5 miles an hour to 35 miles an hour. They’ve clocked people faster than that with their radar guns, but it’s not recommended. You don’t want to bring home a speeding ticket as a souvenir! Fun for all ages! Okay, hands on the wheel – well, the lever anyway… and you’re off! Wheeeeeeeee! Don’t forget to brake and be sure to return your sled to the racks when you leave.

Ah, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Home to the bucking bronco, the beautiful Teton Mountain Range, and all things western. The old west is alive and kicking in Jackson! While you’re here, you’ll definitely want to pull on your cowboy boots and do a little souvenir shopping. You’ll find shops and restaurants around and down from Jackson’s town square! Just find those elk antler arches and you’ll know you’re here.

Local wildlife seems to be a popular artistic subject ‘round these parts, but if you’re not into taking home the whole animal, then go for something a little less threatening, but still native to Jackson! There’re so many great things you can buy here. How about a sweatshirt with a moose on it? Huh? Or a cap with the famous bucking bronco? You know, what you’re going to want to look for are things that are made here. For example, how about wild huckleberry syrup? Yum. Or anything to do with the animals of the region. Especially things made from elk antler. From antler arches… to antler inns…to antler knives and wine racks — you can find all kinds of things made of, or referring to, elk antler in Jackson.

And for those animal lovers out there, don’t worry, no harm is done to the elk for the antlers. The antlers used in the carvings are naturally shed by the animals once a year. Most of the antlers are collected from the national elk refuge nearby. In fact, I discovered that antler art is a big thing here, and antlers are very versatile. I mean, similar to wood from a tree, you can make an antler into almost anything! Now some of the more less expensive items you can get are like a corkscrew or some silverware. But they make chandeliers, wine racks, any kind of candle holder. Mug holders, picture frames. Any household item, you can make it out of elk.

Who knew… the old wild west was a shopper’s paradise? It’s also the place to discover some amazing designs…from art to fashion. And local designers sure know how to put a spin on “western!” If you didn’t bring along a good hat and boots, not a problem, you’ll find it here in Jackson. This is the place to find anything considered western.

It’s also the place to find adventure… Wyoming’s great outdoors is a blank canvas for thrill seekers. Even in the summer, the landscape here has all sorts of terrain offering as much action as you can handle. You can take to the mountains, the air, even the rapids! Whitewater rafting is the ultimate family adventure! You’re gonna love it!

The long, winding Snake River flows through the state of Wyoming, passing just south of Jackson Hole, as it travels downhill. In order to charm this beautiful snake, you’ll need a precision instrument. No, not a flute, but rather…an oar! Mad River Whitewater Rafting, appropriately named, I discovered, was the trip I decided to embark on- and it was more fun than I expected. Everyone gets a wetsuit and a PFD. That’s personal floatation device in whitewater-ese…and then it was on to the river.

How strenuous does rafting get? Basically, if you can sit and hang on, then you can ride the rapids! Your boat mates might push you out if you don’t help row, but that’s another story. Pretty much anybody can do this river at certain levels. It’s kind of a lower, friendly, family safe water level. Anybody can go. They’ve had from age 6 to 97, but earlier in the season when the water’s running a little higher it’s more intense, so they go minimum age 12 and people need to be a little more adept in swimming in cold water. Whitewater rafting season runs from May through September on the snake river. The later in summer you go, the warmer the water… and the easier the ride.

Depending on the month, Jackson’s Snake River flows from friendly to fierce, and you’ll want to know how to classify your rapids. The levels are by skill level. It runs from a one to a six. A class 1 rapid is described as easy and smooth, no skill required. The rapids get more difficult after that. Class 5 is for experienced rafters, and once you reach class 6 – you’re in ‘not even navigable’ territory! Or to put it simply: “no way Jose.”

Well, on this trip, we’re going to do eight miles down the Snake River Corridor Canyon tonight. The first four miles are small rapids plus one that is one and a half. We’ll stop and have dinner and then do the second half. The last four miles is three and two plus. We’ll go through one called the “Big Kahuna” which is plus three. Then California Ropes is plus two and two and a half. Okay. The “Big Kahuna” is a plus three our strongest rapid. Definitely manageable. Whew!

You’ll row along, bumping up and down over the rocks, paddle, stop, paddle, stop, then…Whitecaps! Definitely a clue to a faster ride ahead. It is whitewater rafting now, isn’t it? But not to worry- as long as you listen closely to your guide and follow directions. Guides are the generals, and they’ll let you know when to row, row, row your boat! And yes, it can be a workout!

When the waters get a little calmer, you may want to learn a little about the history of the sport . . . Rafting was once a major source of transportation, back when cars weren’t around. It was used as a means of shipping supplies, transporting people, fishing and hunting. Today, rafting is more a recreational activity, and boy, is it fun! Oops! History lesson over — tidal wave coming my way! Oh yeah, and to answer the important question……yes, you do get wet. All necessary gear is supplied in whitewater rafting but also bring water gloves & shoes, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses on a cord and have some dry clothes waiting at the pick-up point downstream.

Whitewater rafting on the Snake River – there isn’t anything quite like it! And while we’ve made it through round one, we still have to wrestle with the rapids they call the “Big Kahuna.” A full morning of paddling and getting your moves honed definitely works up an appetite! We’re going to fuel up, and then do it again! Hmmmm… Is that barbecue I smell coming from up on the hillside? It’s a little bit of a hike up the cliff they call a “hill” but once you reach that clearing in the woods, you’re glad you came. Get in line, there’s plenty for everyone. So…what’s for lunch?

They have steak, trout, garlic bread, corn on the cob, potato salad, pasta salad, and greens. Wow! A feast! Be sure to try it all — especially that freshly caught river trout. What comes into the wilderness must be taken out- no getting away from kp duty. Okay, so now that you’ve refueled, you’re ready to hit the rapids for round two with the “Big Kahuna.”. Climb aboard and ready the ship, mates. This raft is heading for the white caps. It’s so beautiful out here, surrounded by the rugged wild west, breathing in the fresh mountain air, feeling the ripple of the river . Wait a minute… These ripples are becoming rapids… dig in and row that boat, Go! Go! Harder! Go right! Then a big splash of water has everyone dripping, but laughing from the exhilaration! Wow! Rafters triumph! My quest for adventure is totally reinspired! What a great ride!

Ah, but, you know what they say about all good things… We’ve reached the end of a wonderful day. Time to load up the rafts and say farewell to the Snake… for now. Because there’s another adventure calling to us this evening.

No visit to Jackson is complete without seeing what the symbol of Wyoming stands for. It stands for rodeo and seeing those bucking broncos in action! Now this is the Wild West! We’ve got buckin’ broncos, barrel racing, bull riding, and a whole lot more. This is a night you’ll never forget and it’s exciting. The rodeo is a very popular summer event here in Jackson Hole, and it’s easy to see why.. It takes some serious skill and you never know what’s gonna happen !

Contestants compete for prestige and cash prizes. In rodeo competition, it’s all about time. How long can he stay on that wild bucking bronco? And how quick can the rider get the horse ‘round those barrels? Timing’s everything in these events. In the old days, cowhands would round up their cattle and drive them across the plains to large marketing centers. In celebration of the round up, competitions were held in roping, wrestling, and riding. Thus, the rodeo was born! Much of the style and skill the cowhands developed was learned from the Spanish vaqueros they came across in their cattle drives.

Today, the Jackson rodeo remains totally authentic – these are real cowboys and cowgirls… Wearing cowboy hats, chaps and spurs… Wielding long lassos… And wrestling steers. Even the kids get in on the action! During half time, kids are invited into the ring for a little calf chasing in the corral! What a hoot! A Wild West rodeo is a window into the past… And a night of fun for the whole family… Unforgettable! You’ll need tickets for the rodeo, and the best seats sell out fast. Get them in advance from your hotel concierge or online.

One visit to Jackson Hole, and you’ll understand the phrase ‘the west is the best!’ Wyoming is a great place for a vacation – the landscape is breathtaking –the adventures you can have here are incredible! But I’m not alone – plenty of folks agree, Jackson is a fabulous destination! As I said earlier, I had no idea how busy it was here in the summertime. I mean, this is not a “let’s show up to Jackson Hole and find a room” kind of town. You’ve got to plan ahead and definitely make reservations. I mean, you won’t believe all the “no vacancy” signs.

A great place for a family vacation…with a healthy bit of history thrown in, I’d say Jackson Hole is the action capital of the west! And one of the best parts: from here, you’re only a lasso throw from Yellowstone National Park! So, on the Laura McKenzie scale of one to ten I’d give Jackson Hole a 7 for hotels, 7 for food, 6 for shopping, 6 getting around, and a 10 for sports and activities. Would I come back? You bet, next year for a class 4 whitewater rafting adventure! Jackson Hole and Yellowstone are truly ideal for the family vacation summer or winter, everyone will find something to enjoy.