As a child one of my favorite days of the year was when my family went down to the local nursery and picked out our Christmas tree. My sister and I would scour the rows of trees for the perfect one – asking our father to pick up the trees and twirl them around to ensure that there weren’t any unsightly gaps or holes. When we got home we would store the tree outside for a couple of days before bringing it into the house, tracking pine needles everywhere. Decorating the tree was another treat in itself. My sister and I would fight over who got to hang what ornament, where it was placed on the tree, etc. We had some ornaments, such as a piñata-like clown juggling jingle bells, that were shunned to the back side of the tree, whereas my bell that was given to me for my first Christmas would get prime real estate at the front of the tree. Between hanging ornaments we would gorge ourselves on eggnog and chocolates in front of the fire as Bing Cosby’s White Christmas played.
As you can imagine, when I moved halfway across the country in 2009 I had some high expectations for my first Christmas. I knew that it was going to be different without my family around, but I didn’t imagine that I would be trudging through the wilderness on the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. The Bridger Teton National Forest sells Christmas tree permits for $10 for those who want to cut down their own Christmas tree. The thought of finding your own tree and cutting it down in the wilderness is practically unheard of back in New England (unless you went to a tree farm). My husband and I thought that it would be a fun adventure, so we went down the Jackson Hole Visitor’s Center, picked up a permit, then bought a hand saw and headed towards the Gros Ventres Wilderness (the visitor’s center will provide a map of where you can cut down your tree). We stopped at one of the pull outs and started to trudge around in the snow. Finding the perfect tree was proving harder than we thought it was going to be. Unlike pine trees in New England, the ones native to Jackson aren’t very full. The sparse branches make the tree more akin to a Charlie Brown Christmas tree than the lush full trees that I had growing up.
After about a half an hour trudging around in knee deep snow and inspecting multiple trees, we finally settled on semi-full 8 foot tree. We took turns sawing the tree and then dragged it back to the car. This year we used our chainsaw, which may have been a little overkill but you know boys and their toys.. ;). Other people in the area enjoy cross country skiing or back country skiing to get their Christmas trees. It’s the perfect family outing and a great opportunity to get outside and create some memories. While it is vastly different than the memories I have of my childhood Christmas, it’s fun to create new traditions. I would highly recommend getting a permit and making an adventure of selecting your tree – much more fun than walking up and down the rows of trees at the local nursery.
When the weather takes a turn for the worst and you’re stuck trying to make the most of your vacation the climbing gym is a great place to go. The Enclosure Climbing Gym is located 10 minutes south of the town square and boasts multiple walls with a variety of difficulties from easy 5.4′s that your kids will enjoy to technical 5.11′s that will get your heart and forearms pumping. If top rope climbing isn’t your thing they have a huge bouldering area as well. Lastly, if you are looking to climb a little and then get a good workout in they have a full gym with cardio machines and weights as well. A day pass is $16 for adults, $11 for children (8 – 13) and does not include a harness or climbing shoes. Enclosure rents climbing shoes and harnesses so if you didn’t bring your own gear don’t sweat it! A climbing package is $9 per person and includes a harness, shoes and a chalk bag.
You do need to pass a belay test if you plan on belaying your partner but it only takes a few minutes. The belay devices are auto-locking so if you are new to climbing you should be able to pass the test with a few tries. The gym can handle a crowd pretty well with over 30 different top rope climbs and even more bouldering routes. The also have sport routes if you are experienced and want to practice your lead climbing.
Enclosure is a great place to go if you are looking to kill some time and get an awesome work out. I’m always sore after a session at Enclosure and it’s always fun to return and see how your skills improve over time. I would expect to spend at least two hours exploring the gym and trying to improve your climbing skills. It’s tons of fun and the perfect thing to do when the weather outside is nasty.
After the first major snow storm of the season everyone in the town of Jackson has the same thing on their mind – is it enough to ski? And if it is enough, will it have good coverage and be worth the effort? The ski resorts don’t open until Thanksgiving but the backcountry skiing season starts as soon as there is enough snow to slide on. Popular places to ski early season are Togwotee Pass, Teton Pass and Grand Targhee. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a no uphill traffic policy that keeps backcountry skiers off of their slopes. Targhee, however, has no such policy. They have a sign at the base that says that the ski resort is closed and therefore hazards are unmarked but they do not prevent you from hiking or skinning the mountain.
Grand Targhee is quickly becoming one of my favorite early season ski spot. The base of the mountain sits at an elevation of 7,408 feet and boasts a 2,270 foot drop. Due to its high elevation it tends to have better coverage than Teton Pass and provides a more consistent run. On Teton Pass you may find yourself hiking or skinning up after running out of snow.
Targhee is very popular early season so if you are looking for solitude I suggest you go somewhere else. The parking lot in the morning on weekends is full of backcountry skiers, families looking to sled and dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. Once you gather all your gear, head over to the base area and start skinning or hiking up the trail to the left of the Dreamweaver high speed quad. The trail is easy to follow up the mountain and takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to skin up to the top of the Dreamweaver lift. You can also split off to the left and ski the Blackfoot lift. If you ski Blackfoot be aware that you will have a short skin or hike to get out of the area.
Targhee consists of mostly mellow runs with awkward fall lines that drop you into gullies with long cat track run outs. Fortunately, they do groom the cat tracks – not necessarily for backcountry skiers but rather to compact the snow in preparation for the opening of the mountain. One of my favorite runs is skiers left off of the top of the Dreamweaver quad – Crazy Horse to Happy Hunting Ground. I find that the runs off of Dreamweaver aren’t as tracked because they deposit you in the base area instead of the top of the Shoshone lift. The benefit of being deposited at the top of the Shoshone lift is that it makes multiple laps easier. You don’t have to hike or skin out of the base area again.
While skiing Targhee early season is a ton of fun, know that it is still a backcountry area that is not being controlled for avalanches. I strongly suggest that you have your Avalanche 1 course completed as well as all of the backcountry tools necessary for backcountry travel – beacon, shovel and probe. The resort isn’t open so ski patrol will not be coming to your rescue in case of an accident. The early season snow pack can be very unstable due to the lack of depth. There have already been two avalanches reported this season and the ski resorts haven’t even opened yet! Information on those avalanches is available here and here. Be safe and go out and have fun sliding on some snow! Winter has arrived in Jackson Hole.
From the supervolcano and geysers in Yellowstone to an abundance of natural hot springs in the area Jackson Hole is surrounded by thermal activity. While there are some natural hot springs in the area (like Huckleberry and Polecat Hot Springs), Granite Hot Springs is a man-made pool that is filled by a natural hot spring that feeds it. It is a great place to take your family, friends or partner. The water is hot – 80 degrees during the summer months and can reach 100 degrees during the winter.
The hot springs are accessed by a long dirt road and take about an hour to get to from Jackson. In order to reach the springs start by going south on US-191. Follow it to Hoback Junction, where you will enter a rotary (or round about). Take the second exit to follow US-191. Follow this road for about 11.5 until you spot Granite Creek Road on your left, just before a bridge. The dirt road is 11 miles and dead ends at the pool. There is a developed campground just before the pool which makes for a good place to camp ($15 per site). Also, the fishing on Granite Creek is quite good and there are some hiking trails in the area. There is also a scenic waterfall, Granite Creek Falls, right before the pool.
To enter the hot springs you must pay a fee – $6 for adults and $4 for children. Bring cash! Also, make sure to bring your own towel and don’t forget your bathing suit! There are changing rooms at the pool as well as an outhouse. They don’t let you bring food or drink into the pool area but there are picnic tables next to the pool that you may use. Prepare to spend some time soaking and relaxing in the pool. The scenery is beautiful and the warm water is very calming.
Their summer season is May 20th and ends October 31st. Winter season opens on December 10th and runs until the 1st Sunday in April. During the winter months the pool is only accessible by snowmobile, dog sled, snowshoe or cross country ski. To read about winter access visit our post – A Family Snowmobile Adventure. Enjoy the pools and make sure to pack a lunch! There aren’t any restaurants or shops in the area. You can buy small snacks from the cabin at the pool but nothing substantial. Also, be aware that you most likely will not have cell phone service. But who needs that anyway? You are there to relax! Now, go and have the time of your life in an oversized, natural hot tub!
Jackson Hole is an amazing place filled with incredible people who push you to see your potential and encourage your to test your limits. If you had told me 4 years ago when I moved to Jackson that I would climb the Grand Teton in a day or run the 20.1 mile loop from Paintbrush to Cascade Canyon I would have told you that you must have me mistaken for some crazy superhuman, which I am not. However, the longer I stayed in Jackson the more I began to believe in my abilities and the resilience of my body. I found out that it takes a lot to bring my body to its breaking point. While I don’t plan on becoming one of those ultrarunners who compete in 50 mile trail races, I did decide that I wanted to see how a “little run” in my backyard would go.
The night before the run I laid in bed thinking about it. I have never run more than 13.1 miles before. I have run 3 half marathons in the past year and a half, but going from 13.1 miles to 20.1 miles is quite the stretch. Also, I would like to note that I do not consider myself a runner. I enjoy biking, hiking, mountaineering and the occasional trail run during the summer. After my last half marathon I decided that road running wasn’t for me. I enjoyed it but it definitely wasn’t my favorite thing to do. I felt more nervous about my trail run than I did about climbing the Grand in a day. Maybe because I was planning on doing the run by myself and 20.1 miles would be the longest hike I’ve ever done in a day, let alone run.
Morning came way too soon and I was in the car headed for the String Lake parking lot. As I entered Grand Teton National Park it started to rain. Drats. I pulled up the radar on my phone (thank god for smart phones!) and saw that if I waited 20 minutes the showers would pass. There wasn’t a forecast for clear blue skies but at least I wouldn’t have to start my run in the rain.
After a brief “nap” in my car I laced up, shrugged on my small Camelback loaded with Gu, Cliff bars, a PB and banana sandwich, a cookie, water and bear spray and walked towards the trail head. This is it, I thought. There is no turning back now. I started with a slow jog around String Lake. The pitch of the trail was mellow, uphill, but a gentle incline. I ran the first 4 miles with my mind playing tricks on me. I decided against wearing headphones for fear that I wouldn’t hear wildlife until it was too late. As I ran I made a “whooo” sound every so often to alert wildlife of my presence.
At mile 4 the trail increased in pitch. All of a sudden I couldn’t just cruise along, I was panting and out of breath. I decided to fast walk the section of the trail between Holly Lake and the Paintbrush Divide. At this point I had also entered the clouds. There had been some low lying clouds that enveloped the top half of the canyon and I had hiked right into them. Being alone in a canyon in the fog was an eery feeling. You know that there are other people on the trail but there is not a person in sight. The fog was dark and thick and ominous. I just kept reminding myself that I was bound to break through the cloud eventually so I had to keep pushing on.
The fog finally broke at the foot of the Paintbrush Divide. I could see another group of 5 people ahead of me. I relaxed, realizing that I was not alone and that I was near my halfway point (elevation-wise). As I marched up the divide my mind started taunting me “Maybe you should just go down Paintbrush Canyon. What were you thinking? You can’t run another 12 miles after this.” My body was low on fuel and fighting my every step until I reached the top of the divide. After a few quick photos I sat down and tore into my sandwich. I was so hungry that in my haste I think that I may have even eaten some of the tin foil wrapper. After that I downed a protein bar without a second thought.
With my belly satisfied I was able to deal with my mind. I am accustomed to battling with my mind. Ever since I was a child it always encouraged me to give up and walk instead of toughen it out and work through physical challenges. Blame your asthma, shin splints, or sprained ankle, it told me. Since I have moved to Jackson my mental game has become much tougher. I have a better understanding of what my body can handle so I know when my mind is being irrational. I knew that my legs and body would be able to carry me the necessary 12 miles down Cascade Canyon back to my car, but my mind wanted me to take the easy way out. Without much hesitation I repacked my pack and headed down the switchbacks into Cascade Canyon at a brisk clip. I drowned out the negative voices in my head with the crunching of rock and dirt beneath my running shoes. This is why I wanted to do the run – to prove to myself that I could. To know that I am stronger than my mind.
Downhill was a breeze, aside from a few missteps that sent me jolting forward arms flailing and feet struggling to catch up. I never said that I was a graceful runner. I arrived at Lake Solitude and it was perfect and peaceful. It was the only time that I had been by myself at that lake and it was really nice. I wanted to keep my momentum going so I started running down the canyon. While the weather was still overcast I welcomed the coolness. There were few people on the trail in the North Fork so I got into a good rhythm and the miles were passing by effortlessly.
Then I reached the junction. Cascade Canyon itself is relatively flat and sees a ton of foot traffic. Most people visit Inspiration Point and then continue up the canyon in hopes of spotting wildlife. I spent the next 4 miles dodging people as well as some wildlife (deer). Every time I passed a group of hikers I got re-energized. By the time I reached Jenny Lake at mile 18 I thought that I was going going to have to walk. Instead I looked at my watch and saw I had been on trail for 4 hours and 35 minutes. I wanted to finish strong and at 5 hours. I dug deep and just put one foot in front of the other. Hikers on the Jenny Lake trail were extremely supportive (for the most part). Stepping out of the way and shouting words of encouragement – “You go girl!”
At 5 hours and 4 minutes from when I started my run I crossed my imaginary finish line. I didn’t even have the energy to realize what I had just accomplished. I walked around the parking lot drinking water and thinking about my run. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be! I didn’t really know what to expect but I was prepared for a mental breakdown. It’s the little victories in life, the challenges you set for yourself that matter the most to me. If someone had told me to go run that loop in 5 hours I most likely would have had a breakdown on the trail, stressing that I wasn’t going to make it in time. Instead I went into the run knowing that I would have to walk some of it and that was okay.
I encourage you to go outside and set a goal for yourself – something that may make you uncomfortable and nervous but you know deep down it’s attainable. You learn a lot about yourself when you get out of your comfort zone and you realize that you are stronger than you think.
As summer comes to an end it’s time to get one more float down the Snake River in! This activity is very popular with the locals on a hot summer’s day. The Snake River is cool and refreshing and the water is deep enough that there aren’t many rapids so the float is more relaxing than scary.
Ideally, you need at least two cars to float the Snake – one to be dropped at the take out and one that you drive to the start of the float. The most popular stretch of the Snake to float is to put in at the South Park boat launch, south of town and take out at the Astoria boat launch, just south of Hoback junction. If you are in town for a short while there are places where you can rent tubes – the KOA in Hoback or Jackson Hole Whitewater both can rent them for $5 – $7. If you plan on floating the Snake River more than once and you want to purchase your own tube you can buy an inner tube at the Sinclair gas station or Big O Tires for $17, both are located by Kmart and Albertsons. If you are looking for a commercial tube with handles and built in coolers you can buy them at Kmart, Albertson’s grocery store or Smith’s grocery store.
Once you load up your car with the tubes, friends and frosty beverages I suggest that you drop your tubes and passengers at the South Park boat launch. Then go drop a car while your friends inflate the tubes (if they aren’t already inflated). I have marked the put in as “A” and the take out location as “B” on this map.
The float is very straightforward, you put in at South Park and then float for about an hour and a half, depending on the speed of the river. Early spring when the water is faster the trip is shorter. Since the Snake is a pretty wide river to float I recommend that you tie your tubes together to make a flotilla. You don’t have to, but if you want to talk to your friends I suggest creating a giant raft otherwise the river can separate you.
After about an hour of floating you will go under a large bridge (you will go under a few other bridges but this one is the largest by far). This means that you have reached Hoback Junction and will be taking out in another 3 miles. You won’t go under any other bridges for the remainder of the float. Just before the next bridge you see is the take out at Astoria on the right hand side of the river.
I ask that you be courteous while you are on the river – please do not litter the Snake. We have a leave no trace mentality here in Jackson. There are trash cans at Astoria where you can dispose of your garbage. Also, try not to get too intoxicated. While the river is relatively mellow there are some fast, precarious spots. It’s not a lazy river and tubes do flip on occasion. In addition, the Snake River runs through a canyon, meaning it loses the sun in the early afternoon. If you don’t want to end up shivering for half the float I suggest that you plan to be on the river no later than 3PM. Lastly, have fun! Oh and use lots of sunscreen!! Between being on the water and at an elevation of 6,200 the sun can be quite strong on the river.