In March of 2018, I had the opportunity to spend a week in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho with my dad and brother. After landing in the oasis that is the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) and being greeted with cozy cabin decor and free mimosas, we set off for an incredible mountain adventure. Our stay included stops on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, and I’ll be covering all the details of our vacation to help you plan your next western adventure!
PART I: Alta, Wyoming
After landing in Jackson, we made the hour-long trek to the town of Alta. Only accessible by driving through Idaho, this largely isolated community borders the Grand Targhee National Forest and is home to the Grand Targhee Resort.
SKIING/ACCOMMODATIONS: Grand Targhee Resort
Hidden between the legendary Sun Valley and Jackson Hole ski resorts, Grand Targhee is a great place to beat the crowds and crazy costs usually associated with skiing in the mountains. Though not cheap, our lift tickets cost half of what a daily pass at Jackson Hole sells for, and we had way more room to roam on the slopes. The only concern you’ll want to note with this place is that it lives up to its nickname, “Grand Foggy” – there were a few white-out moments that appeared suddenly during our sets that forced us to wait for minutes at a time until the fog cleared and we could find each other. A little scary, sure, but just remember to stick together and you should be okay!
DINING: The Royal Wolf
When looking for places to eat in the area, The Royal Wolf in nearby Driggs, Idaho dominated search results, had five-star reviews, and was also toted as a local hangout. This place definitely lived up to expectations and seemed to be where locals and visitors alike came for dinner and drinks!
Other than our visit to The Royal Wolf, we ate at the resort restaurants, which were also awesome, albeit still pricey.
PART II: Idaho Falls, Idaho (Day Trip)
As mentioned previously, any commute between Alta and Jackson requires travel through Idaho. Having never visited that state before and with a full day set aside to transition between locations, we took a day trip along the Gem State’s eastern routes and made a pit stop in one of my now-favorite towns, Idaho Falls!
Our first stop was entirely accidental, when just a short way into our Idaho road trip we approached a historical marker on the side of the road. Still high on that new-state excitement, I insisted we veer off and check it out. The Teton Dam is known for being a catastrophic failure, but is definitely a sight to see. The outlook provides an incredible vantage point to take in the entirety of the infamous structure, though beware if you bring small children that PG-13 graffiti is on display on the barricades surrounding it.
Upon arriving in Idaho Falls on a random Tuesday morning in March, I admit that I was scrambling to think of something to do to entertain all three of us and prove that my decision to venture into a random place would actually yield excitement. While I love small museums like the Museum of Idaho that we visited, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I was relieved to find out that the museum’s main exhibit was an interactive dinosaur exhibit, which was actually a fun way for us to move massive dinosaurs using remote controls and read about the species that lived in this area. The museum also had a ton of history about the town, including the many name changes it went through before becoming Idaho Falls, which I was especially intrigued by! Their gift shop had some quality souvenirs, too.
We also explored the River Walk downtown, specifically the 2.3-mile Temple Loop, named for the beautiful LDS temple along the route. This is what made me fall in love with this small city and strongly consider moving here if water skiing wasn’t such an important part of my life. Pictures do more justice to the natural beauty of the Snake River and actual Idaho Falls than words, but being there in person was breathtaking. Trees literally grow in-between channels of the falls, and it is such a unique site. This place also looks like it would be incredible to visit in the summer, with great places to fish, sit outside, or take in a variety of local events! While a few hotels have started popping up overlooking the river, the parkway remains a prominent (and public) barrier between the two.
DINING: The SnakeBite Restaurant
Finally, it was time for lunch. The food was so good in general on this trip, but this was hands-down my FAVORITE meal. The SnakeBite Restaurant is an Idaho Falls classic just a few blocks from the Snake River and has all the heartiness associated with good burgers and pasta, while also supporting local food producers by using farm-to-table meat and produce. I got a portobello sandwich (still a burger though) with fries… and, you guys, the sandwich was amazing, but we NEED to talk about the fries! The home of the potato sure knows what to do with them; these fries were covered with the perfect combination or spices and paired with Idaho fry sauce, which is one part ketchup, two parts mayo. I don’t even like mayo, but this was amazing! There was ketchup at the table and I honestly ignored it. They also had an incredible dessert menu! Just a heads-up to bring cash, as the SnakeBite does not take credit cards.
PART III: Jackson, Wyoming
Is this the part you’ve been waiting for? I see why! Jackson is one of those places that feels like a dream. Sure, that’s partially because it’s a resort town, but it’s powered by people who’d give their lives to spend another day in the mountains, and that’s a kind of passion you can’t find just anywhere.
It’s the biggest, baddest ski resort in the U. S. of A. Okay, I guess that’s just my opinion, but it’s certainly the biggest, baddest ski resort I’ve ever been to! This famous set of slopes in the Tetons truly lives up to its “resort” moniker; everything from the gondolas to the surrounding accommodations are top notch, though that’s not what this place is known for. We didn’t ski its famous backcountry or cliff spots, but did hit up as many of its black and blue routes as we could squeeze into a single day. The powder was amazing, and even though I got exhausted early on, I kept pushing on because the skiing was just that good. I even survived accidentally going down a route of moguls (scary, but it makes for a great story)!
With good powder comes not only great skiing, but also great snowmobiling! We set aside half of a day for a tour through Togwotee Pass with Togwotee Mountain Adventures; the drive in their shuttle is about an hour each way from Jackson, but we spent just the right amount of time on the trails. Most were wide and easy to navigate, though our guide also let us go off the trail in designated areas. My dad and brother loved that, but I’m not one to ride around in circles. Whichever category you best fit into, though, you’re sure to get a great experience here! I can’t seem to find our exact tour on their website anymore, but there are a few other awesome-looking excursions!
A free activity that you’ll definitely want to make time for is a drive through the National Elk Refuge. It’s a beautiful 3.5-mile scenic drive through the mountains that, sure enough, are separated by valleys of elk. Early spring is actually the perfect time to make this drive, as the elk move up to higher elevations once the weather warms up to feed on meadow plants and seek shelter in the forest!
If you don’t already know, I’m a sucker for classic American pub food and a good (veggie) burger. Cutty’s in Jackson was everything my heart (and stomach) desired! They are known for their Philly’s cheese steaks, though that was obviously not my pick. I still remember how awesome my burger was over a year later and how I loved that all the tables had maps covering the surface!
When traveling, I always try to recall whether I know anyone living in the place we’re visiting so I can not only set aside time to catch up with them, but also to see if they have any recommendations, as a local. One of my high school friends is actually an outdoor educator and ski instructor in Jackson, and suggested we meet up at Calico in Wilson! This is a more upscale place and is pricey, but is definitely a great option if you’re looking for good Italian food. I ordered pasta, but wish I had gotten the chance to go back and order pizza as well!
ACCOMMODATIONS: The Aspens
Was it a little more fancy and expensive than our budget was hoping for? Okay, yes, but living the condo life for two days made this whole trip feel even more like a dream. Our rental was so cozy and had the cutest decor! It was in a beautiful little village with incredible mountain views and frequent moose sightings! I loved hanging out there and definitely recommend a condo stay for ski vacations in general, since every place has its own personal touch and you literally get to live in a neighborhood full of snow junkies! It’s a vibe for sure.
Have you ever vacationed in this area? What was your experience? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. You can also scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for my newsletter!