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Three Perfect Days: Jackson Hole, WY

IF YOU’RE A SKIER, YOU’VE undoubtedly heard of Jackson Hole. The area’s ski superlatives—most challenging, most vertical, most expert-rated ski runs—are the stuff of legend. It’s no surprise, then, that people who move to this northwestern Wyoming valley do so mainly for the skiing. The surprise is that, for many of those who stay, winter is no longer their favorite season. “I came for winter and stayed for summer,” is the locals’ mantra from the bagel shop to the bank. When the snow melts, a completely different Jackson Hole emerges. (To clarify, Jackson Hole is the entire valley, and Jackson is the largest of the valley’s six towns.) Ski runs morph into trails surrounded by wildflowers that are perfect for hiking, biking, and running. Rivers rise to white-water level. Animals come out of hiding, and the ranches that give the area its Wild West attitude come back to life. The roads through nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks reopen. And faster than you can say, “My muscles can’t take any more,” you can find a symphony or country-music concert, a festival, a rodeo, an art show, a winetasting, great shops and restaurants, or a spa where you can rest your body. Three days is the perfect amount of time to sample Jackson Hole’s cowboy-cosmopolitan style and enthusiasm for outdoor adventure.

Author Dina Mishev Photography Kenneth Redding

DAY TWO / You’re up early today to explore the Grand Tetons, but you can maximize sleep by cutting out a commute to breakfast. Have an omelet of oysters and portobello mushrooms at the Rusty Parrot; then head for Chef’s Table, a gourmet grocery store with the best cookies, quesadillas, soups, and organic fruit in town. Though breakfast was filling, today’s hike requires you to stock up on snacks.

Now prepared, take the scenic route to the Moose entrance of Grand Teton National Park. The Gros Ventre Road through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Kelly offers vistas of the entire Teton Range and of the largest herd of free-roaming buffalo on the continent. Because the 600 buffalo wander about at will, there’s no guarantee of spotting them, but this drive is your best bet. A few miles past Kelly, turn left onto Antelope Flats Road to return to the main highway. Take it south to Moose and enter Grand Teton National Park.

Although Death Canyon isn’t the warmest name for a hiking route, after the 1.2-mile walk one way from the Death Canyon Trailhead to the Phelps Lake Overlook, you’ll agree that the name must come from the killer views. The trail itself gently winds 700 feet upward through a pine and aspen forest—where moose often hang out in thickets—before spilling out onto a ridge-top, where breaks in the trees allow for views of the lake and deeper into Death Canyon.

Even though you’ve snacked, you’re bound to want lunch by now. Retrace your route to Moose, where Dornan’s serves up pizza and pasta. Everything on the menu comes with binoculars so that, from the inside bar or upstairs deck, you can watch mountain climbers summit the 13,770-foot Grand Teton, one of America’s most desired mountaineering objectives.

Back on the highway, you’re headed deeper into Grand Teton National Park. Although Native Americans never lived year-round in Jackson Hole, the Colter Bay Indian Arts Museum displays an impressive collection of Reservation Period pieces from Central and High Plains tribes, and, through the summer, resident artists demonstrate contemporary and traditional Indian bead-weaving.

It has taken a few hours to peruse the nearly 1,000 pieces at the museum, and it’s now almost dinnertime, so drive 15 minutes back toward Moose, staying within Grand Teton National Park, to the Jackson Lake Lodge Mural Room. The food here is fancy, but you don’t have to be. Take your time eating, and check out the giant murals for which the restaurant is named. Twentieth-century master Carl Roters painted scenes from Jackson Hole’s fur-trading period, in the 1800s, across 80 feet of wall. Prefer Mother Nature’s canvases? The dining room has 80 feet of artwork, but it also has 100 feet of windows.

By the time you’re back in town, your legs will have recovered from the day’s hike. Trade in your hiking boots for dancing shoes before walking into the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Its saddle-topped bar stools have been a mainstay on Jackson’s Town Square since 1937. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and countless other performers have graced its stage. Live music happens every night during the summer, but don’t try line dancing here. Real cowboys are Western swingers.

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