There’s a reason the Chinese have built a resort town near Beijing that is inspired by Jackson Hole. There’s a lot to aspire to — from the expansive wilderness of the “Hole,” which refers to the huge valley ringed by mountains, to some of the best skiing in North America, and now a top-notch food scene in the town of Jackson, an increasingly spunky outpost that is more laid back than its tony cousin to the south, Aspen. Even in the winter, visitors can get the most out of the area by spending as much time as possible exploring the vast backcountry brimming with wildlife. But also take advantage of Jackson’s charming and idiosyncratic indoor establishments, which include restaurants that are bringing a sophisticated edge to the area. In fact, the burgeoning night life scene, with elite sushi, Seattle-caliber hipster restaurants, stylish bars and down-home watering holes, provides plenty to rescue a culture-seeker from cowboy kitsch.
Although Jacksonites may dismissively call Cache Creek the local dog run, this glittering mountain gorge is beautiful in any season, particularly in winter. Depending on snow conditions, the upwardly sloping trail hugs Cache Creek for miles into the highlands: The ideal place to take in the big sky, alpine peaks and wildlife, which might include moose. The Creek trailhead is a five-minute drive from downtown Jackson.
Lotus, a hippie-chic restaurant, moved into a bigger space in late 2016; the self-described wellness center serves healthy, hearty food. Go for a pad thai — a light, but flavorful, version with mung bean sprouts, or a “Bombay,” a souped-up stir fry of broccoli, red pepper and zucchini over brown rice, with spinach, mango, carrot and toasted coconut. Don’t worry, it’s not all such virtuous food: There are also truffle fries. Lunch for two, with coffee, around $40.
Start at Gaslight Alley on North Cache Street. There you’ll find Mountain Dandy, a boutique that opened in 2014, focusing primarily on American-made products with an eye toward men (think ties, socks and beautiful handmade blankets). Then pop over to Valley Book Store, a Jackson institution that’s been around for 40 years. You’ll find stunning coffee table tomes on Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, as well as a Western fiction section, and a sizable collection of children’s books. On your way out of this picturesque alley, stop into the 3,000-square-foot Brookover Gallery, whose owner and sole artist, David Brookover, specializes in landscape photographs that fuse traditional Western printing techniques with Japanese materials. A few blocks away find Altitude, a women’s store, noteworthy for its stylish cashmere sweaters and crowd-pleasing labels like J Brand and Paige.
Bin22 has a bit of everything — a high-end general store, bar and restaurant that has just the right amount of hipster vibe. Good bets are the house-pulled mozzarella ($13 appetizer and charred wild Spanish octopus with fingerling potatoes ($17). Enjoy it all with a local Wyoming beer on tap, or a full-bodied Spanish red.
It’s actually called King Sushi, but a superlative is in order for this top-of-the-line joint that is crowded all year. Opened in 2014, the owners speak daily to a purveyor who hand selects the best-quality fish. That quality and freshness come through in dishes like the sake don miso, grilled miso-marinated salmon ($18), and albacore caprese ($17). Try the fantasy roll, aptly named for its combination of lobster, tempura green onion, Wagyu beef and foie gras butter sauce ($24). If they have it, order the yuzu panna cotta, which elevates Japanese-themed desserts to the next level. Drinks and dinner for two come to around $150.
For great powder and lots of it, head to Teton Village, which has black diamonds galore. For those looking for slightly less challenging terrain, you’re in luck. Last season the mountain launched the Sweetwater Gondola, which offers access to intermediate blue trails — steep, wide and less technically challenging than the narrow and vertiginous alternatives — such as Sundog and Easy Does It. The less vertically inclined can consider a half-day Wildlife Safari (the company, Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, picks up from the Teton Village and town; half-day $145, ages 8 and up, breakfast included). The knowledgeable, eagle-eyed guides may take you, if it’s the winter season, to the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, pointing out migrating raptors, bears, bighorn sheep, elk, moose and coyotes. As one local magazine pointed out, Jackson has “among the most extensive and spectacular” wildlife migrations on the planet, much of it just out of town.
Get out of the ski town bubble and drive about 10 minutes to Wilson, where you’ll find the Stagecoach Bar, a local watering hole. Next door, and operated independently, is Streetfood, a laid back restaurant that serves international delicacies, from Korean barbecue wings ($8) to curried shrimp skewers ($10). Three substantial tacos, enough to refuel after a morning on the slopes, are just $10 and a soft-baked chocolate chip cookie is $2.
The Grand Teton Sport Recovery Massage at The Four Seasons Spainvolves a lot of assisted stretching combined with deep tissue work that’s a tonic for sore and tender muscles. Afterward, you’ll feel agile and revived to take on the next day, or maybe just the rest of the day ($180 for 50 minutes).
For a more traditional Western après, head to the Mangy Moose to listen to live, often local, music. The no-frills joint in Teton Village is known for its margaritas and local brews. If it is a retail fix rather than a cocktail fix you need, head to Rodeo in Teton Village, which sells a sophisticated selection of brands such as Moncler and Herno.
Glorietta Trattoria is a new convivial Italian restaurant with a wood-fire stove and upbeat atmosphere. Start at the bar with a Perma Grin (blanco tequila, grilled pineapple, lime juice and smoked sea salt), or if you missed a margarita at après, order their Pinnacle Margarita. Soak up the alcohol with standout dishes such as grilled wild mushrooms with sea salt and rosemary, cacio e pepe and hanger steak with horseradish cream. Dinner for two, including drinks, around $150.
Grab a fresh bagel at Pearl Street Bagels — try the spinach and feta bagel with wild Alaskan salmon cream cheese ($8.50). Then head to Persephone, a bakery and coffee shop, known for its artisanal breads and pastries. Make sure to take a kouign amann, croissant dough coated in caramelized sugar, to go ($3.75).
Stop in at Skinny Skis and rent snow shoes ($10 per pair for a half-day) or cross country skis ($15 for a half-day) and head north to Taggart Lake in Grand Teton National Park for world-class snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with views of Grand Teton peak. For a loop, budget about two hours to do roughly 3.6 miles. Or try a slightly less strenuous out-and-back (about 2 miles). Either way, you’ll be rewarded with the expansiveness of the Wyoming landscape. You’ll go into deep evergreen forests, but also have access to hilltop vistas that will make you realize, once again, why a foreign country would want to emulate this majestic place.
Hotel Jackson (120 Glenwood Street) opened in 2015, and is the latest — and probably best — boutique offering in downtown Jackson with close proximity to all the restaurants and shopping and a rooftop hot tub. The rooms are sleek and comfortable. They provide at least twice-daily shuttle to Teton Village during ski season and a house car that will take guests within a 2-mile radius. Winter rates from $299 for a superior king room.
The Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole (7680 Granite Loop Road) is a great luxe option for those looking for a kid-friendly ski-in and ski-out location on the mountain. The hotel makes getting on the mountain easy with their own ski concierge, a full service in-house rental service for all your skiing and snowboarding equipment. Other perks at the hotel include daily complimentary s’mores, live music three to four times a week, an outdoor pool and hot tub complex, and a house car that can be used on a first-come, first-served basis. Winter rates start from $374 per night for a standard room.