Trying to find a summer vacation that guarantees to engage, inspire and even educate you and your kids (even teenagers)? Look no further than Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
With its abundance of natural beauty, Jackson Hole offers you easy access to both the iconic Yellowstone National Park and stunning Grand Teton National Park (only a 1 hour and 1 mile drive, respectively, from the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, site of many of the best hotels). Yellowstone is so huge (2.2 million acres) that it spills over into three states (mostly Wyoming, but also Montana and Idaho). While planning your trip to Yellowstone, you should first decide whether you want to see it in depth requiring a visit of 3 days or more, or enjoy a full day in the park checking out the highlights. If going all in, you should plan on staying at one of the Yellowstone National Park Lodges, but make sure to book well in advance (more than 1 year for the busiest times of year). Another great luxury option: my friends Liz and Scott and their two young girls had an incredible experience on their Backroads deluxe camping trip in Yellowstone. If you elect to go on an extended day trip (as we did), I would highly recommend going with a geologist or experienced guide to learn all about this incredible place (both the Aman and Four Seasons offer in-house guides, as mentioned below). Our day was spent viewing geysers (yes, including Old Faithful), wildlife (we saw buffalo, elk, antelope, eagles and a moose, but unfortunately no bears) and learning about the geological processes that formed Yellowstone (did you know it is an active volcano? I didn’t!) Although I was disappointed we didn’t get to do any hiking in Yellowstone, we more than made up for it during our visits to Grand Teton National Park. Whether you are looking for a workout or something to enjoy with your family, Grand Teton National Park offers hikes for everyone. Although one of my kids had a momental melt down at one point, all of us ended up loving our hike around scenic Jenny Lake.
Activities Even The Most Annoyed Teenager Will Love
Jackson Hole has so many fun family activities to choose from, we could easily go back year after year and not get bored. We loved both of our days spent white water rafting and fly fishing on the Snake River – each lasted about 4 hours door-to-door from our hotel, leaving plenty of time to relax by the pool. My kids also enjoyed mountain biking off the ski lift, bungee jumping, and rock climbing at the base of the Jackson Hole ski resort. The lakes and rivers surrounding Jackson Hole also provide plenty of opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddle boarding. Tip: one of the best days of our trip was spent with the private fly fishing instructor at the Four Seasons. Not only did he calmly teach all of us to fly fish (making sure everyone eventually caught something), he and his assistant then set up a delicious lunch, including a nice bottle of wine 🙂
Embrace Your Inner Cowboy
When in Wyoming, you should do what the locals do – go to the Rodeo! I’ll admit I thought my friend was crazy when she suggested it to me, but I’m so glad we went. The action is fast-paced and varied with bull and bronco riding, barrel racing, even some riders as young as 5 and 6 years old performed. Don’t expect luxury, instead be ready for bleachers, hot dogs and beer (or eat first at one of the great restaurants below). Unfortunately, we witnessed one rider get seriously hurt and leave in an ambulance, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to bring small kids. If you find yourself near the Town Square of Jackson around 6 pm (maybe at Moo’s Ice Cream?), make sure to check out the Jackson Hole Shootout where local actors re-enact a Wild West shoot out between outlaws and cowboys (summer only; free; no reservations required; no “shooting” on Sunday). Yes, it is a bit cheesy (and loud), but we still had fun.
Great Restaurants (Taxidermy Optional)
From fine dining to family friendly, Jackson Hole restaurants have something for everyone. If staying in Teton Village, arguably the best restaurants are conveniently located in hotels such as Il Villaggio Osteria (delicious Italian in the Hotel Terra) and Westbank Grill (notable steakhouse in the Four Seasons Jackson Hole). More casual options are Teton Thai and Spur (famous for their nachos) also in Teton Village. For a truly unique dining experience, take the gondola up 9095″ to Couloir, a prix-fixe restaurant committed to sustainability (most ingredients come from within a 250 mile radius). If you get hungry while hiking the Grand Tetons, check out the Jenny Lake Lodge Dining Room for breakfast, brunch, or a five course dinner (reservations are a must). There are also several good options in nearby Jackson, including Rendezvous Bistro (fine dining), Nikai Sushi (asian and sushi), Snake River Grill (20 year favorite; reservations required) and Cafe Genevieve (Southern home cooking housed in a log cabin; expect to wait). And make sure you take the kids to Moo’s Ice Cream for some delicious, organic ice cream or sorbet.
Mountain Luxury At Its Best
With both an Aman and Four Seasons to choose from, luxury travelers are bound to love Jackson Hole. The Amangani – the name means “peaceful home” – provides exactly that to those guests fortunate enough to stay here. Located in a remote location about five miles north of Jackson, the Amangani offers the perfect mix of modern Western style with Aman’s world famous service. Each suite in this all-suite resort features stunning floor to ceiling mountain views and private outdoor space of either balconies or terraces. Summer activities include tours of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with their on-site naturalists, and horse back riding. The property also has a spectacular spa featuring two exercise studios, numerous treatment options, and a beautiful heated outdoor pool and hot tub. Our family of five had a fabulous stay at the Four Seasons Jackson Hole. We stayed in two mountain view rooms featuring our favorite comfy Four Seasons beds, updated baths and cozy gas fireplaces. For families, the Four Seasons’ location at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is hard to beat (where you can pick up the gondola for mountain bike riding and other fun activities as mentioned above). We found the concierge staff to be extremely helpful in planning all our offsite activities, including the Rodeo, river rafting and our many hikes in the Grand Tetons. We also would highly recommend reserving in advance the Grand Teton Wildlife Safari we went on with the Four Seasons’ in-house wildlife biologist and naturalist, Tenley Thompson, and the fly fishing experience with the resort’s Director of Fishing. The top-rated spa is not to be missed – and I should mention there is also a great fitness center, although we chose to get all our exercise in the beautiful outdoors during this trip. Make sure you leave time for lounging by the resort’s wonderful outdoor heated pool and hot tubs. This being a Four Seasons, there are also fantastic kids’ activities and entertainment rooms, although I hope you are having so much fun as a family that your kids will want to be out experiencing Jackson Hole with you instead of playing video games (although even the happiest of family vacations generally require at least some time apart). For a trendy alternative, check out Hotel Terra, a modern, eco-friendly hotel, also located near the base of the resort. A Silver LEED certified property due to its efforts to save water and improve energy efficiency, the Hotel Terra features modern rooms with updated furnishings and bathrooms, heated floors, gas fireplaces and flat-screen TVs. Guests love the rooftop spa and hot tubs, the infinity pool, and excellent fitness facility. We have had many friends stay at (and rave about) the Snake River Lodge, another family-friendly option in Teton Village. This recently updated resort has a traditional mountain lodge feel – families might want to check out the two and three bedroom residences which offer full kitchens and laundry facilities (love that). The resort has a five-story spa, fitness facilities, an indoor/outdoor pool and hot tubs.