Adventures Abound After Labor Day as the Rockies Show Off Their True Colors
For most people, life just naturally slows down after Labor Day. Kids heads, if not their hearts, are headed back to school, and the typical family summer activities including travel to favorite local haunts and/or destination spots, normally comes to a screeching halt. You note I say “normally.” This year in terms of projections and predictability, especially as it relates to peoples travel habits, and the dynamics of future travel, reading tea leaves is as valid as any other measurement experts would typically use to foresee what’s ahead. The hospitality industry in general can throw away their tried-and-true methods to gauge future business levels. Planning – well, that’s off the table, for now anyway. The COVID pandemic, on a day to day basis, continues to throw a shadow of doubt and uncertainty over everyone and everything.
However, one thing is certain in this era of global apprehension. Visitors have flocked in record numbers to the Northern Rockies, with the influx of guests arriving on our particular shores in early May, with virtually no end in sight. The iconic Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has hosted an unprecedented number of travelers going through this once cowboy town and their famous neighbors, Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Parks, have surpassed their 2019 record number of park guests cruising through their gates. This was unexpected by officials on all fronts when early spring 2020 calculations were being made. Quaint Teton Valley, Idaho, on the western flank of the Grand Teton Mountains, mirrors this trend and a casual appraisal of license plates parked along Main Streets throughout the valley is testament to the country’s overwhelming desire to get out and go!
It’s no surprise why our western slice of Americana is witnessing this mass exodus from other parts of the country to our serene and magnificently beautiful region. The wide-open spaces we often take for granted appear to be enough of a draw as one only needs to travel short distances, in any direction, to find room to spread out with ample opportunities to explore and discover. So, despite the unusual lines at our grocery stores and favorite haunts that not too long ago belonged primarily to just us, it’s been great to see the joy others are now experiencing here in mountain river country. COVID fatigue is real, so glorious days spent in the mountains followed by star-studded nights, is probably the most effective remedy for the stress and strain felt by our fellow Americans for many months. Being in this environment nourishes the soul and for countless visitors to the Tetons, especially first timers, it can often be life altering.
In a typical summer season hundreds of thousands of excited tourists fly into the Jackson Hole Airport. The sense of arrival is worth the price of admission given that touch down is literally in the Grand Teton National Park. If you think having a commercial airport in a national park is an anomaly, you’re right. Jackson Hole is literally the only airport in the entire country that can claim this bragging right. Passengers lucky enough to arrive during daylight hours will be awed by the scenery as this airport is sandwiched between the imposing Gros Ventre and Grand Teton Mountain Ranges with the wild and scenic Snake River weaving through the valley floor. And if one looks close enough, you can see herds of elk dotting this landscape from your aircraft window. These majestic animals are seemingly not at all distracted by the arrival or departure of the many private and commercial planes flying in and out of this facility.
My good friends Barbara & Jim were among those that did marvel at the sights as the plane landed in this extraordinary place the week after Labor Day. To their surprise, most of the seats were full, many undoubtedly art lovers arriving for the 36th Annual Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival, held every September. One of the Rocky Mountains premier cultural events, the Fall Arts Festival is hosted by the Jackson Hole Chamber and embraced by the entire community. My pal Barbara is a professional photographer and although this iconic event was not her first priority for visiting the Tetons, she was excited at the prospects of seeing some of the world-class art exhibits and demonstrations.
But despite this event retaining its glory and mass appeal, this summer was indeed different. There’s no question that deplanements into Jackson were down significantly, following a trend that was reflected in virtually every airport domestically as well as internationally. However, COVID fears could not deter the determined American public from the freedom of moving around at will, however the method of travel. Citizens were dead set to spread their wings, despite everything. It’s in our DNA. And what better place to do this than in eastern Idaho & western Wyoming, where one could claim outdoor space and wide-open skies as their own and explore and experience nature as perhaps, they have never done before. The summer of 2020 thus saw an incredible resurgence in traveling what many may consider the old fashion way. Our innate love of the automobile flourished, and the roadways and national park thoroughfares were bursting at the seams with cars and campers from every state in the union.
Barbara & Jim relished this opportunity to get behind the wheel and travel through Grand Teton & Yellowstone parks, from early morning to dusk, for 7 straight days. Especially Jim, who has been known to spontaneously jump in his truck and drive from their hometown of Philadelphia to Moab (yes, that Moab in Utah!) They traveled each day from Bondurant, Wyoming, approximately 30 miles south of Jackson Hole; they wanted to savor the quintessential Jackson Hole log cabin experience, sans Jackson prices and crowds. This proved to be the perfect spot to decompress after a full day of exploring. But once these two were in the national parks, nothing deterred them from their task at hand; seeing as much wildlife as possible and for Barbara, photographing the park’s four legged inhabitants and the most stunning scenery in the Lower 48 (Wildlife & Teton Mountain scenic shots courtesy of Barbara).
You would assume that my husband and I, being the locals in this group, would have naturally assumed the role of official tour guides for our out-of-town friends. Not so fast. Barb & Jim were far from newcomers to the Tetons and we soon realized, they knew every nook in and around the Teton Range. With Jim at the wheel, we were seeing Grand Teton National Park in an entirely different light and from a unique lens. They also showed great patience given the crowds still filling these treasured national parks. Never remotely deterred by the inevitable traffic jams caused by animal spotting, these two road warriors had apparently driven every gravel & paved road in and around Teton Park in particular, often finding themselves in the front yard of a friendly rancher.
As it turned out, Schwabacher Landing, a put in area for boats along the Snake River just north of Teton National Park Moose Junction, was a productive perch for pro photographer Barbara. Here on the banks of the mighty Snake, wildlife outnumbered tourists, primarily in the early morning hours and right at dusk with the Tetons looming in all their glory. You can’t ask for a more gorgeous spot in this entire Yellowstone-Teton region. It also explains why blushing brides from virtually every state in the union have said “I Do” in this unparalleled setting. It’s just one of many locations in Teton Park guaranteed to inspire but there are many, including Taggart and Bradley Lakes.
Barb & Jim were all in on a hike to these alpine lakes, a chance to sneak a lovely glimpse into the park’s interior. This trek is manageable, even for flatlanders but it always helps to have a few days visitation under your belt to adjust to the higher altitude. The Grand Tetons shadow you at every twist & turn and lunch at either of these glacially formed lakes is a fitting reward for one’s efforts. Light refreshments late day on the lovely Mangy Moose outdoor patio at Teton Village capped off a most scrumptious outing.
Barbara & Jim departed for home just as a whiff of Autumn was filling the air, but it is amazing how quickly things turned; this dynamic season literally arrived overnight or so it seems. Doesn’t it always? However, the arrival of cooler temps and bright hues of yellow & gold gracing our Aspens, signal other changes in store for the outdoor enthusiast. Fall days on the west side of the Tetons are filled with golf, hiking, biking and of course fishing. With far fewer anglers in sight, even the fish on the South Fork are less wary and more likely to gulp your fly. Floating this world-renowned river after the masses have thinned not only affords the likelihood of more browns & cutthroats in your net, but overall encourages a more relaxing experience, enabling one to truly absorb the sights & sounds of eastern Idaho’s most famous fishery. Momma moose and her young stick their heads out of the willows less cautiously as you fish the banks and the Bald Eagles crisscross the river seemingly more relaxed, watching you as you watch them. Taking a trip with one of our seasoned WorldCast guides practically guarantees a successful and memorable day on the river, whether it is on the South Fork or one of the region’s many regional jewels.
Guests continue to flock to Teton Springs Lodge & Spa during the Fall season and it’s no wonder. The gorgeous one and two-bedroom suites give everyone in the group plenty of space to spread out and the well-equipped kitchens are perfect for whipping up mom or dad’s favorite recipes (and there’s plenty of take-out options in nearby Victor). Another option for those looking for more privacy are the stunning 3, 4 & 5- bedroom luxury log homes. A round of golf this time of year on the resort’s Headwaters course is almost a Zen like experience. With its lush soft fairways, coupled with a 360-degree view of the Teton & Big Hole Mountains, and few golfers in sight, well; there are few courses that can compare to these links – anywhere, anytime. The Bronze Buffalo Sporting Club is a private facility, but Lodge & cabin guests are welcome to book tee times.
There’s hiking and biking galore to round out the myriad of activities best suited for sunny crisp fall days. The trails are plentiful and parking lots now filled primarily with Idaho and Wyoming plates. If I had to recommend one perfect jaunt for this time of year, it would be a trek to Palisades Lake in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in neighboring Swan Valley. It’s a quick trip to this trailhead but first indulge in a famous square ice cream cone at the Rainy Creek Country Store. Then simply hang a left onto Swan Valley Highway and you’re almost there. You’ll follow the creek on this hike as the cliff banks rise dramatically above the valley floor. Fallen leaves that resemble wildflowers cover the trail in spots turning this into a most magical stroll in the mountains.
Sounds like now is the time to visit Yellowstone-Teton territory. After all, Fall won’t last forever!