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Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has a reputation as a fabulous ski destination, but families are discovering it works year-round for a wonderful vacation. At the foot of two national parks and featuring plenty of luxury accommodation options, Jackson Hole is one of the only places in America that offers both these sought-after assets in one location.
But the question faced by every parent when planning a vacation still stands: What do we do once we get there? Kids will only gaze in awe at beautiful scenery for so long. Fortunately, we have a long list of fun things to do in Jackson Hole regardless of what time of year you visit.
Your trip to Jackson Hole will look a little different depending on what season you visit. Here are some ideas for things to do in both warm and cold weather, as well as our top season-specific tips.
National Park hopping. After a long winter, Jackson Hole’s unique ecology springs to life as the months grow warmer. The big draw, of course, is Yellowstone. Plan ahead for day trips into the park (a 60- to 90-minute drive north of Jackson Hole), as crowds are big and especially so in the summer. Only minutes from downtown Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park is not to be missed as well. Consider booking a morning safari experience, during which it is possible to see bison, elk, moose, antelope, fox, coyote and bears.
Horseback riding. Riding is popular in this area, particularly in the summer months. We love the variety offered in Jackson Hole; there are plenty of trails to suit any riding style and skill level, and both commercial and family-owned ranches to choose from. While most are designed for kids 8 and up, younger children can do lead-arounds on ponies to whet their appetite for riding in the future. It is quite common for families to pair a few days in Jackson Hole with a longer stay at a nearby dude ranch.
Rafting. The Snake River winds its way through this area and there are multiple ways to enjoy it for families with kids of all ages. A whitewater rafting experience is thrilling for kids 6 and up, while younger kids will enjoy a scenic float trip down the river. Regardless of the level of difficulty, the views of the Tetons makes the experience breathtaking. Our trusted luxury travel partner in the region can even arrange for a cookout right on the riverbanks after rafting.
Rodeo. Attending a rodeo isn’t for everyone, but for those who crave Wild West-style entertainment, the Jackson Hole rodeo is one of the most famous in the world. It dates back more than 100 years to when cowboys roamed this land. It is only offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day, typically two or three times a week, so plan trip dates accordingly if this is a priority.
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With more time in Jackson Hole, there are so many additional outdoor pursuits to consider. ATV rides outside Grand Teton, half-day guided mountain biking tours, rock climbing and fly fishing lessons have all proven popular with active families.
After all that fresh air and exercise during the day, one evening activity stands out: private guided stargazing at night. The Jackson Hole area is one of the darkest places in the country, so it is a perfect opportunity to look for constellations and more. Our Family Travel Advisors can arrange this and many other special experiences when planning bespoke trips to the area — there’s really no limit.
Skiers flock to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in the colder months, where the jagged mountain peaks are reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. Expect steep terrain that challenges even the most skilled skiers, but also runs that can accommodate beginners. Families love that Jackson Hole is extremely snow secure, meaning conditions should be good throughout the typical ski season, unlike many other ski resorts in the U.S. where snow is becoming less predictable.
But when visitors need a break from the slopes, there are tons of other activities offered here. Dog sledding, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, snow tubing and multiple ice skating rinks are the most popular with families. A private guided snowshoe hike deep into the woods has been a highlight for Ciao Bambino clients — it’s a fun adventure but also a nice respite from skiing and snowboarding, and it’s an active way for families to immerse themselves in the stunning landscape, away from the ski resort atmosphere.
This is also an ideal time of year to see Yellowstone by booking a snow coach tour of the park. It can make for a long day, so we don’t advise it with young kids, but it is an exceptional experience for nature and wildlife lovers. Snowmobile and wolf-viewing tours in the park also are common in winter.
Our Family Travel Advisors can put together a great ski package that combines plenty of other activities in and around Jackson Hole.
If it’s raining or you just need a bit of a break from all that fresh air, Jackson Hole still offers plenty of options for getting out and about to explore.
One great choice for a full day of fun is to combine the National Museum of Wildlife Art with the National Elk Refuge nearby. Make time to eat in the cafe in the museum, as it overlooks a gorgeous meadow. The museum has a dedicated children’s gallery and a puppet show theatre.
The elk refuge is vast, and the best times to see it are spring, fall and winter, when the elk are most active. In the winter, it’s fun to take a sleigh ride through the property itself, maximizing your chance to see these magnificent creatures. This is a good day to bring your fancy camera, as the photo opportunities to capture the elk are fabulous.
When younger children simply need to get their wiggles out, be sure to have the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum on your radar. It is focused on hands-on, interactive play and learning, making it popular with local families too, and is conveniently located right in downtown Jackson Hole.
While you’re there, make time to explore Jackson Hole’s downtown. It offers a mix of classic (and a little kitschy) Western charm and modern conveniences. Be sure to get a family picture under the iconic antler arch in the town square! Downtown is quite walkable and only about 15 minutes from Teton Village, where most families stay. There is also a nice variety of fine dining and casual options for food, plus good grocery stores — handy for parents who want to stock up on snacks for car rides into Yellowstone or to satisfy hungry skiers.
Spring: If you’re considering Jackson Hole during spring break, be advised that water activities are unpredictable as the rivers are usually swollen from runoff. On the plus side, animals emerge from their winter hibernation and are quite active at this time of year, which makes for incredible viewing opportunities in the parks (plus, the summer crowds have not arrived yet!). That said, expect muddy hikes. The ski season typically runs through March and ends by early April.
Summer: There’s no way around it — summer in Jackson Hole will be crowded. But it is fantastic for experiencing the nature and wildlife that this area is famous for, as temperatures will be ideal for outdoor fun. Because animals are best observed at dusk and dawn, our travel partner can arrange private guided sunrise trips into Yellowstone before most visitors arrive at the park.
This is the time of year when it is essential to invest in private activities and guides who can help you avoid the worst of the crowds — you’ll find it is well worth the expense. Be sure to book your accommodations well in advance if you’re visiting in the summer, as luxury options sell out quickly.
Fall: Autumn can be the least predictable time of year to visit because of the weather (it is possible to get snow as early as September), but also the quietest in terms of crowds. Yellowstone is gorgeous in the fall, and the animals are quite active preparing for the colder months. For families with younger kids who have the flexibility of a trip that’s not tied to school schedules, this is a great time to come.
Winter: If your cold-weather trip to Jackson Hole revolves around skiing and winter sports, we suggest staying right in Teton Village for the easiest logistics. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in Yellowstone, know that you can only get through the park in the winter via snow coach.
While there is so much to do in Jackson Hole that families can easily spend a week here and still not do it all, it is also easy to combine a few days here with a dude ranch experience, a trek into Montana, or a South Dakota road trip through the Black Hills and Badlands.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.