Gateway City: Jackson

Poor, poor Wyoming. Even though it has one of the largest land areas in square miles in the United States — 97,100, to be exact — it is the least populated state in the United States, with only 509,294 residents. By that estimate, Wyoming isn’t a very nice place to live in, and definitely not a very nice place to vacation in. Well, that estimate is wrong. Dead wrong.

Wyoming is a delightful example of everything that makes a trip out West worthwhile. Big blue skies, towering mountains, and thick groves of ponderosa pine line the highways and define the horizon as you make your way through the 44th state to exciting places such as Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park.

If you’re going to Yellowstone National Park and want to take an outside-the-park day trip, one of the best places to go would be Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Situated just south of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole started out as a site for prehistoric people during the last Ice Age to hunt and settle down, as well as a place for Native Americans to stop and hunt. Jackson Hole’s history of modern people began with the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-1806), which started a great movement of people West seeking the opportunity to be successful in life. Mountain men would be the first to leave accounts of the region, and used the area to catch beaver and other animals, whose pelts were used to make hats and other clothing items. Before the 1840s, it was a very profitable industry to be part of. In fact, Jackson Hole is named for one of the partners in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, David E. Jackson.

After the decline of the fur industry, Jackson Hole and the surrounding area was largely ignored up until the 1860s, when pioneers began to homestead it, and the U.S. government funded expeditions out West to further explore the area. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, Jackson Hole began to flourish, but it wasn’t until later that it began to really take off. Its development was partly hindered by its unwelcoming climate and difficulty to mine precious metals in the valley. Poachers would kill elk for their two ivory teeth and leave the rest of the animal to rot, and horse thieves were abundant. Eventually, families and residents would turn to outfitting and guiding to support themselves.

Another way people made money was through dude ranches, especially during the early 20th century. Tourism boomed in the area, due to the spectacular scenery and plethora of things to do outside (hiking, riding, fishing, etc.).  In 1920, Jackson Hole was one of the first places in the U.S. to elect a all-woman town council.

Jackson Hole, however, was threatened by the creation of Grand Teton National Park in 1928-1929. However, Jackson Hole was partially saved by lobbying from cattlemen, who needed land for their livestock to graze on.

Today, Jackson Hole is an important gateway community for people entering Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge, and of course, Yellowstone National Park. Jackson Hole is also a perfect place to stop on a day trip, being that the drive is only 2 hours and 15 minutes, and the trip passes through Grand Teton National Park. The best place to start on your day trip would be Old Faithful. From Old Faithful, you go southeast on Grand Loop Rd to US-191/US-287/US-89, and then you take a right at US-191/US-26 W.US-89 S. Easy, no?

Once you get to Jackson Hole, you have tons of ways to spend the day in and near Jackson Hole.  For an extra twenty minutes of driving, head up to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (3395 W. Village Dr., Teton Village). To get to the Mountain Resort, go south on N. Cache Dr. toward E. Broadway Av., then right at W. Broadway Av., and finally right at WY-22. Follow WY-22 for 4 miles, and then go right at WY-390 and follow that for 6.6 miles. Turn left at Teton Village Rd., then left at W. Mccollister Dr, and then turn right at W. Village Dr. Once there, enjoy the sights, be amazed by the mountains, or spend the day skiing and/or snowboarding. Gondola rides are available to take visitors from Teton Village to the base of Headwall (it’s 9,095 ft up!). At the top of the gondola ride, there are restaurants and the opportunity to hike, paraglide, and climb. Visit their website for more information.

If you’re an experienced angler, then make the trip out to the Elk Refuge (Jackson Hole, WY, 83002) during the summer and fish for trout. A WY license is required, and patience is a must, but otherwise, just come out and enjoy yourself. Visit the national Elk Refuge’s fishing website for more information.

For people not inclined to enjoy the outdoors, then head over to the Jackson Hole Historical Society (105 Mercill Av., Jackson Hole, WY). The Historical Society houses a permanent artifact collection, a library of Western Americana, and a research center that has a photograph archive, map collection, and a collection of oral history as well as manuscripts. There is also a Jackson Hole Museum (105 N. Glenwood St.) that houses the collection of W.C. “Slim” Lawrence. The 12,000 or so objects housed in the museum include Native American pottery and weapons, as well as fur trade era tools, firearms, and other antiquities. The museum also houses exhibits that highlight the history of Jackson Hole, as well as a special summer exhibit honoring Grand Teton/Yellowstone National Park. For more information about both the Historical Society and the Museum, visit their joint website.

There are also plenty of places to eat at in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For a quick bite, there’s McDonald’s (1110 W. Broadway), or there are sit down places such as the Cadillac Grille (55 N. Cache St.), Snake River Grill (84 E. Broadway). If you’re at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village, try the Mangy Moose (3285 W. Mccollister Dr.) for lunch or dinner.

So, whether you’re staying at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, or heading back to Yellowstone National Park, be satisfied knowing that you were able to spend a day experiencing the rich history and natural of beauty of Jackson Hole and Wyoming.

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