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Looking to get outside this summer but want to avoid the crowds in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks? Read on for some of the lesser-known hikes in Jackson Hole, WY.
I felt the loss when my oldest son left for college last August. I knew I would need something to look forward to. I’ve always found solace in nature, so I invited three friends to join me for a week of hiking in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We hit the well-known places in Grand Teton National Park, like Jenny Lake and Inspiration Falls. But some of our favorite hikes were off the beaten path. Many times, we had the trail to ourselves.
Our base for the week was our family cabin just outside of Jackson. This is where I learned to ski, spotted my first moose, and introduced my kids to Yellowstone. Elk and deer roam the property, which holds many memories for me. I needed to share this special place with friends while soaking in nature from the trail.
Spending some time preparing for your hiking trip will make it much safer and more comfortable.
We checked our packs every morning to make sure we had the essentials. The weather in Jackson Hole can swing from sunny and mild to snow or thunderstorms in the same afternoon.
Smart hikers will have extra clothes for inclement weather, including rain gear and a light hat. We recommend shopping for reliable rain gear before setting out. Bring extra food and a minimum of two liters of water. Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Carry a basic first aid kit, including a whistle. Here’s a checklist of what to bring on a day hike.
Always carry a map or GPS navigation system. Trail signs can be missing or inaccurate. We relied on the AllTrails app, which I had on my phone. You can read reviews from other hikers and download a map that works even without cell service. A guidebook or paper map as a backup is a good idea.
Proper footwear includes hiking boots with nonslip soles and ankle support. Make sure to break them in before your trip to avoid blisters. Hiking sticks (or trekking poles) offer extra support going up and downhill. They also support your balance walking across streams and navigating boulders. Lightweight telescoping poles can be stored in your daypack when you don’t need them.
One of my favorite parts of hiking in Jackson Hole is seeing wildlife. You’ll likely encounter deer, elk, antelope, moose, and bears. The area is home to grizzly and black bears, so you must be prepared.
Hike in groups, make noise on the trail, and carry bear spray. Bear spray can be rented in the Jackson Hole airport or purchased from numerous local outdoor stores. Learn how to use it and keep it handy, not buried in your pack.
Some of our favorite hikes started outside our front door, like this walk on a historic wagon road. The Old Pass Road was the original route over Teton Pass from Idaho to Wyoming. Built in 1913, it was replaced with a new highway in 1968. What remains is a paved multi-use trail.
The moderate incline is worth the effort. After 1.3 miles, you’ll arrive at Crater Lake, a peaceful spot with a bench to rest. We accessed Crater Lake by some side trails running parallel to the Old Pass Road. This more rugged approach yielded wild huckleberries and a bubbling creek. The bears also like berries, and we encountered them on this trail. As always, be prepared. For a longer outing, continue uphill beyond Crater Lake to the top of Teton Pass.
If you’re driving from Jackson, head west on US 22 to the small town of Wilson. Turn off onto the Old Pass Road, and you’ll find the trailhead and parking area. Aspen trees and wildflowers surround this uphill path in late summer. It’s popular with locals, who hike, bike, and cross-country ski on the Old Pass Road in winter.
This lesser-known hike at the ski resort makes for a fun hike-and-dine outing. We started late afternoon at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village. The Bridger Gondola whisked us up the mountainside just as the afternoon alpenglow started. With a boost from the gondola, this 2-mile hike starts at over 9,000 feet. This means maximum views with minimum effort.
Exit the gondola and follow the signs to Casper Ridge Loop. Don’t be put off by the steep start. In less than half a mile, you’ll walk along the ridgeline with sweeping views across the Tetons. The hillside was flush with wildflowers in early September, and we saw more deer than people on this hike.
After the hike, we shared wings, fries, and ice cream at The Deck, an outdoor dining area with magnificent views over the valley. As much as we wanted to linger, we kept an eye on the time so we didn’t miss the last gondola down the hill. For a more upscale dining experience, Piste Mountain Bistro is a mountaintop fine dining option. But I recommend the shared plates and cold drinks enjoyed al fresco at The Deck.
Some days we put two shorter hikes together, with a picnic lunch in between. This hike near Wilson is just over 4 miles long, making it a perfect half-day option. The terrain is gentle, ambling through aspen forests and popping out to amazing views of the Tetons. There’s a log-hewn bench at the top to rest and enjoy the mountain breeze.
We didn’t pass any other hikers and often stopped to admire the early fall colors in our private forest. Indian paintbrush and yellow balsam root flowers along the ridgeline added to the beauty. We stopped at the historic Hungry Jack’s General Store in Wilson after the hike for cold drinks.
One morning we were up before the sun to make a run to the airport. Since we had such an early start, we decided to drive to the north end of Grand Teton National Park to hike around Two Ocean Lake. Since it’s a bit farther from Jackson, this hike sees fewer visitors and feels quite remote.
We arrived just as the sun rose to see the mist over the lake. A chill hung in the air, and I could see my breath even though it was summer. The temperature was in the upper 30s, and I was happy I had a fleece sweater and hat.
A sign posted at the start warned us of a recent grizzly sighting. Even though we would have preferred to enjoy the early morning calm in silence, we constantly chatted. We walked counterclockwise around this mostly flat 6.3-mile loop trail to take advantage of the views. We took the optional out-and-back side trip to Grand View Point to add more mileage. It’s a steep mile of switchbacks, but we were rewarded with panoramic views of Jackson Lake and the Grand Tetons.
Still feeling chilled at the end of the hike, we stopped at Cowboy Coffee in Jackson on the way back. I warmed up quickly with a Mexican Mocha, a blend of espresso, chocolate, and a little kick of cayenne pepper. The café is on the town square, where you can explore the elk antler arch or ride a horse and carriage. Take time to browse the galleries and shops around the perimeter.
After a few days of early mornings, we were ready for a more relaxed pace. It’s a short drive from the cabin to the Snake River Trail, a gravel road popular with locals. Moose are often seen in the marsh in the mornings and evenings.
This flat, 4.5-mile out-and-back trail offers big views of the Tetons as you walk along the river. We packed a lunch and stopped down by the river for a picnic. It’s a low-key hike, perfect for rest days. The starting point is near Emily Stevens Park.
When we finished, we treated ourselves to coffee at Pearl Street Bagels in Wilson. They also have great breakfast sandwiches to take on a hike. I was content to sip my iced lavender latte at a picnic bench while my friends cooled their feet in the creek behind the café. I remember teaching my boys to fish here with their Spiderman fishing poles when they were toddlers. Where did the time go?
Hiking and spending time in nature feed my soul in ways that are hard to explain. Add some great friends to the mix, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. The options I’ve described are some of my favorite lesser-known hikes in Jackson Hole. These trails offer more solitude, ample wildlife, and stunning views. What more can you ask for?
Let Wander With Wonder be your guide if you’re headed to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or looking for adventure travel. You’re sure to find a destination that ignites your passion.
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