Come fall in Jackson Hole, the elk are bugling, the days are usually still warm enough for hiking, biking and fly-fishing, and the Tetons might be at their finest; the range’s base glows gold with the changing aspen trees, while snow dusts its snaggly summits. When you need a break from playing, you can check out the schedule at the Center for the Arts, which draws speakers and artists, including climber Alex Honnold and the company David Dorfman Dance. You can also grab a snack at the James Beard-recognized Persephone Bakery. Shopping includes art galleries that represent nationally renowned artists such as Jane Rosen and Donald Martiny, and boutiques such as Mountain Dandy, stocked with interesting and luxurious home goods from small-batch makers.
Spend the night at the Amangani resort, tucked into the side of a butte about 800 feet above the valley floor, or a room at the new Cloudveil, where the check-in desk is made from a 3,000-pound piece of granite to match the Tetons.
Location: In summer, there are direct daily flights to the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) from 13 cities, but in October and November, direct flights are limited; the nearest major airport is Salt Lake City Airport, about 280 miles south.
For funky, crowd-free mountain towns, try Teton Valley in Idaho
But maybe you want fewer people and free-spirited alpine funk instead of fancy shopping, dining and lodging. Teton Valley in Idaho, less than a one-hour drive west over Teton Pass from Jackson Hole, “has fewer creature comforts and choices for lodging and dining than Jackson Hole, but I love that about it,” says Sue Muncaster, founder of the nonprofit Slow Food in the Tetons and co-founder of Teton Family magazine. “It is what it is.”
A local landmark is a 10-foot-long potato made from chicken wire and stucco over a wooden skeleton. Bolted to a red flatbed truck, the giant potato is a nod to local farmers and also marks the entrance to the 1953 Spud Drive-In, which still shows movies on Fridays and Saturdays. There are only two stoplights in the entire valley, which is about 15 miles wide and twice as long, and home to about 12,000 people. In even shorter supply than stoplights are fast-food chains and big-box stores. “We don’t have either, and the community likes it that way. The pace of life is slower over here [than in Jackson Hole],” says Muncaster, who has lived in both valleys. “And the trails are much less crowded.”
Like Jackson Hole, Teton Valley is ringed by mountains — the Tetons to the east and the Big Holes to the west — laced with hundreds of miles of trails. Whether you hike, bike, horseback ride or ski on them depends on the season. You can go for a horseback ride at Linn Canyon Ranch and also try out glamping in one of three canvas-wall tents set up with electricity and furnishings. Horseshoe Canyon is one of the valley’s most popular mountain biking areas, and on a recent Friday afternoon, there were five cars at the trailhead. Grand Targhee Resort has about 70 miles of trails, including some that link to the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and Grand Teton National Park; in winter, the lift lines to ski its approximately 2,600 acres of terrain, which gets an annual average of 500 inches of snow, are short (if there are any at all).