JACKSON, Wyo. — I once slept through an electrical storm on the Grand Teton. Towering above the valley dubbed Jackson Hole in Wyoming, we were preparing to climb the Grand. Camped at the saddle just below its summit ridge, on the Fourth of July nonetheless, my earplugs drowned out the bolts of lightning and accompanying thunder that slapped off the granite summit. In the morning, a sheet of ice cloaked our route, making the climb to the top dicey. But we made it up — and down.
Jackson is a grand place. With rows of artisans’ galleries and switchback trails, herds of elk and rivers flush with fish, it’s a place that consumes visitors. There are few one-time vistors to this vortex. If you drop in for a week, as most first-timers do, here’s a list of must-dos that will, in all likelihood, keep you coming back for more.
WHEN IN ROME This is horse country, and when you’re here, you should take the opportunity to gallop your way above the valley. Ride your way up Storm King Mountain, which hovers over the town and offers splitting views up the valley floor, flanked on one side by the majestic Tetons and by the plateau to the east. Located within walking distance of the town square, Jackson Hole Trail Rides can arrange this tour. For a more remote experience: www.springcreekranch.com
CLIMB A MOUNTAIN Even those with limited experience can ascend the Grand Teton, a technical but manageable objective that can be conquered with proper guiding. The altitude is a factor, but with a bit of planning and training (the Grand does require strong fitness), this peak is attainable for even novice mountaineers. Guide services stock high camps with supplies and gear so your backpack will stay light. If you go with one of these outfitters, your meals will be prepared for you, and semipermanent tent structures will ensure a restful night before your summit bid. www.exum
Few rivers in North America embody the art of fly fishing better than the idyllic Snake River. And although it’s a strong fishery, the human pressure on our finned friends is great there, so for a more promising fishing experience, head 20 minutes out of town to the Gros Ventre (pronounced gro-vaunt). One of the Snake’s primary tributaries, the Gros Ventre gifted me, a marginal angler, a dozen native cutthroat trout in an hour last time I fished its pools. If you elect to opt out of a DIY experience, Jackson Hole Anglers can guide you and optimize your chances of a day thick with fish. www.jacksonholean
RIDE A WAVE What the Snake lacks in subtlety it makes up for with its underbelly of class IV and V rapids. One of the most famous white-water rafting and kayaking destinations in North America, many of the country’s premiere whitewater guides have cut their teeth on this serpent. If you’re experienced, you can rent a boat and go at it; if not, consider hiring Dave Hansen Whitewater. Hansen himself named the aforementioned waves and has been guiding since 1967. www.davehansenwhitewater.com
WANDER AMONG THE HOOFED Just outside of town is the National Elk Refuge, where an estimated 11,000 elk come and go seasonally. Self-guided tours are an option and can be enjoyed from the multiuse pathway that flanks the reserve. Hike or bike along this path, or, if you’re the sporting type, set up an elk hunt for the fall. This activity is sanctioned to help control the size of the herd and is a critical part of wildlife management. If you prefer scaly creatures, try visiting the nearby fish hatchery, where cutthroat trout teem in anticipation of their release into local rivers. www.fws.gov/refuge/National_Elk_Refuge
KICK IT IN TOWN The town of Jackson is akin to Colorado’s Aspen when it comes to opulence and class. Galleries and bars surround the town square, its entrance guarded by giant arches made of elk antlers gathered from the nearby refuge. Although Jackson is teeming with celebs, it hasn’t lost touch with its Western roots. For a taste of the Wild West, drop into the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where leather saddles serve as bar stools and inexpensive beer flows freely.