There are an uncountable amount of reasons why I fell in love with Jackson, Wyoming and the area of Jackson Hole collectively. The abundance of options for what to do + see, how to play, and where to get outside are endless. With Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park both just a drive away from downtown Jackson, you could spend your time solely exploring the parks and still not see enough. Choosing to roll solo or hiring a guide is a tricky decision that can honestly make or break any travel experience.
For my first trip to Jackson, and full-on submersion into a proper winter wonderland getting outdoors, admittedly I was quite overwhelmed and anxious of all the details. Where to go, what to do, and how to properly prepare to not freeze my limbs so I could enjoy every moment was a lot to take in. Knowing that I’m not alone, the Anvil Hotel has partnered with some really rad local guide service companies + to take out some of the guesswork through their #AnvilExplorer Program. I spent a week exploring the outdoors around the entire Jackson Hole area and in conclusion, would highly recommend:
#1. Booking a few days away from wherever you reside to head to Jackson
#2. Hiring a guide to show you around.
Whether you choose an organized group tour or consult with a local guide for a more intimate experience, the wealth of knowledge I was able to absorb in just a few hours was more than worth the investment of each tour. Additionally, being provided with extra gear that increased my comfort, being taught the etiquettes of this particular outdoor space, and how to properly see the animals without disturbing them for not only my safety but most importantly for the preservation and protection of the ecosystem and the wildlife that call this place home. Here are 4 guided tours that I took while I was in Jackson. If you have the opportunity to only do one thing while you set up shop in this bustling mountain town, getting out and experiencing the most of winter and all the things you’ll discover here (with a guide or on your own) would be what I highly recommend.
A couple extra pro tips for the road: 1. Hand + Toe Warmers are life. 2. Layers are key. 3. Tip your guides, generously. They work hard + deserve it.
Grand Teton National Park
Jackson Hole Eco Tours | $130 / Person
If I could pick one thing that surprised me most about my trip to Jackson – it would be snowshoeing. I honestly had no idea what it was and came into it with the attitude that I likely wouldn’t enjoy it, I can embarrassingly admit. 10 steps in, I silently proclaimed that this was my favorite thing, ever! I love hiking and trail running. Getting out of my daily life + escaping to a trail to log in a couple miles has been a go-to since the moment I discovered that trails were a thing. Winter has made me a bit lethargic and less active than I’d like to admit so discovering that snowshoeing for me was like hiking but in the show brought me all the joy. It was fun and mysterious and allowed me to be active outside without stressing about learning how to ski or snowboard. With a couple feet of snow covering the paths, trees and everything we crossed along the way – it was easy to learn the ropes with little effort.
Jackson Hole Eco Tours offers a half day snowshoeing tour in Grand Teton National Park with a guide who will gear you up, show you the ropes, and break trail for you so that you can choose to take it easy or let you lead the way if you’re ready to get your heart rate up a bit. Chelse was the best guide hands down I could have had on this day. She knew all the things about everything and not only did she share wildlife facts and info about the area – she was so stoked about it that I couldn’t help but be excited too. We shoed past a lady moose (twice) and said a hello while Chelse showed us how to measure that we were far enough away to stay out of her space. We discovered bear markings on the trees and I learned about my new favorite tree, The Aspen Pine. She even gave us backpacks to hold our personal belongings, a reusable water bottle to keep us hydrated (enviromental+), and the best local snacks to refuel us once we returned to the van.
Granite Hot Springs
Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours | $370 / Person
Bucket list, check! The only thing that could have possibly made this experience any better was to be in Alaska. Or Antartica. But, whatever, minor details. This day was wet, cold, and snowy (kinda like Alaska). But the pure pleasure of being outside in it and connecting to a cultural tradition that had been used initially for labor and as a part of creating a solution to a problem in artic areas kept me warm inside. My soul continually craves to unveil more primal traditions and discover alternative methods for doing everyday tasks. Although this trip was purely recreational, my mind couldn’t help but wonder as the sled made it’s way 10 miles up the mountain to the Granite Hot Springs.
The Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours team genuinely portrayed all hands on deck and life lived as a team. Every musher is responsible for his crew of dogs, their health + wellbeing, and to ensure the safety and excitement of each ride. Our musher, Elias, was witty and fun – making sure to keep the dogs on the path, stopped for breaks when they asked for it and encouraged us to really get to know our 4 legged guides for the day. I was frozen, slightly less than a popsicle when we arrived at the hot springs. The view here was pure magic and as hesitant as I was to strip down to my swimmy, once my icy toes hit the pool, I had no regrets. When I finally did decide to say my farewells to the warm waters that brought so much life back into my limbs, there was a hot meal + beverages waiting just across the bridge next to a toasty fire. The ride back was just long enough to enjoy the setting sun but not too long that the warmth I collected in the springs left my body. This was a magical moment I’ll truly never forget.
Yellowstone National Park
Scenic Safaris | $175 + / Person
People will talk. They will rave + tell stories of Old Faithful. Don’t listen. Or do, I mean seriously, it was cool. And if that’s what will get you to book a full day trip through Yellowstone in the dead of winter with Scenic Safaris in Jackson, WY I’m all for it. To be honest, Old Faithful was the least exciting part of the day in my personal opinion. What was the most? Layering up in 20 pounds of snow gear to keep me warm for a full days ride and romping around the park like the marshmallow man all day. Gliding down the snow packed roads in Yellowstone at 40MPH in a snowmobile caravan. Definitely, being one of a couple hundred people allowed to have this experience on this day in one of the oldest National Parks in the US when in high season the numbers are in the multiple thousands.
Perhaps it was stopping at Biscuit Basin and seeing the Sapphire Pool and a lot of geysers way cooler, perhaps less predictable, than Old Faithful, but none the less, cooler. Peeping a wild coyote warming up here may have tainted my perspective a wee bit too. Sliding down a snowy path to the bottom of a waterfall and walking on an iced over, snow-packed Shoshone Lake to wrap the day was my favorite. Okay, so I said literally every moment of this trip was my favorite, but quite literally, it was. One of the top benefits of booking with Scenic Sarafai’s and taking the full day trip through Yellowstone is that you’ll get a badass guide like Jarred from Alaska. He was the most fun + full of facts about all things Yellowstone. What made this experience stand out is that Jarred got to know our group + pushed us to get out there and have a blast while spitting more knowledge about Yellowstone, it’s wildlife and Jackson as a whole than my brain could take in.
Elk Refuge + Grand Teton National Park
Jackson Hole Eco Tours | $130 / Person
The excitement level I had pre-tour was about a 9 out of 10. I love animals. I love the wild. I love animals in the wild. Growing up in West Texas with little to no large game outside of cows and oversized armadillos, my organic encounters with wildlife have been slim. I walked up on some wild burro having dinner last spring in Red Rock Canyon National Park and it nearly blew my mind. Jackson, Wyoming is known for the abundance of wildlife freely roaming in and around the valley, national parks, and occasionally streets in town. Being inexperienced in the specifics, knowledge, or boundaries of the animals inhabiting this area, I was stoked to spend a half day with Jackson Hole Eco Tours exploring the Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park.
As my very first tour in Jackson, it was definitely the best way to begin the trip. My guide Laura set me up to really enjoy the rest of my stay by providing the basic and most beneficial knowledge that I used all week long and applied everywhere my eyes wondered and adventures took me. She knew exactly where to go to ensure that every moment of our guided trip was worthwhile. We saw Big Horn Sheep, Trumpeter Swans, Elk, and American Bison. All in their natural habitats – roaming freely uncaged and without restrictions. She shared tips and tidbits about their migration patterns, eating habits and how the eco-system is sustained. We saw some behind the scenes pictures from one of their wildlife photographers, Josh Mitten, and were able to get close up views of the animals through specialty gear that allowed sightings of the animals from a safe and undisturbed distance.