Emily Buckley, editor-in-chief
Planning a trip that will entertain our entire family can sometimes be tricky when you need to find activities that are fun for a span of children and, in a best-case scenario, mom and dad, too. Jackson Hole, WY, fits the bill in every respect, and can be a great getaway on a long weekend from Cache Valley. Here are five of our family’s favorite summer activities when visiting Jackson:
1. Enjoying the scenery: You can’t avoid seeing lots of beautiful scenery and wildlife since the city of Jackson is only about four miles south of Grand Teton National Park and about 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park. Still, though, you would be missing out if you didn’t take the time to drive the 42-mile scenic loop around Grand Teton. If you decide to make a longer day of it, you can go into Yellowstone. Old Faithful is about 100 miles from Downtown Jackson and one of our family’s favorite stops in Yellowstone is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which features a breathtaking view and family-friendly hike. For more tips on visiting the parks with your family see Visit the Tetons.
2. Whitewater rafting: Jackson Hole Whitewater is one of the best rafting companies in the area. They bus visitors to and from the river from downtown Jackson. In the large commercial rafts, children as young as 5 or 6 are able to sit safely in the middle of the boat and teenagers and adults can paddle from the side. Even though the river can accommodate children, adults will be thrilled. Please note that the Snake River can be very cold. Included in the cost at Jackson Hole Whitewater, are full or partial wet suits or splash jackets.
3. Snow King Mountain: Splurge for a Big King pass that gives you unlimited access to a wide variety of activities, and this becomes a fun activity for the entire day. The views of the “Hole” at the top of Snow King Mountain are spectacular. At the top of the mountain, there is a series of tree top ropes courses appropriate for children four feet or taller (there are separate versions for younger children and teens/adults). A family could easily spend three or more hours playing through the courses. My favorite part of the mountain is the Cowboy Coaster, a roller coaster that uses only gravity to quickly zip you down the mountain in individual carts — and you control the brakes. Unlike an Alpine slide, the Cowboy Coaster is on rails, and passengers are belted in. As such, there isn’t the same risk of plowing down full speed that you might be acquainted with from an Alpine slide. (The mountain does have a separate Alpine slide, however). The mountain also features miniature golf and a bungee trampoline.
4. Hiking: Hiking trails are available for essentially any distance and with any amount of elevation climb. If you venture into one of the national parks, seek out a ranger station, and they will help you plan hikes best suited for your group. Our favorite hikes include Jenny Lake, Phelps Lake and Taggart Lake Trail.
5. Dinner and show: Every time we visit Jackson there are two must-see performances for our family. The Jackson Hole Playhouse, which was built in 1915 and is the oldest building in the city claims to be “the last and the best of the Old West.” They live up to the name as they perform a western musical every summer, complete with a live piano player and an optional (but well-worth-it) dinner before the show. The dinner is served in a saloon-themed dining room. The food is delicious and the singing servers, who are the stars of the main show, entertain you as eat you. This year’s show is The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a great family comedy with memorable music and an uplifting moral. The Jackson Hole Playhouse welcomes all ages (including lap-size children). Their talented performers also put on a live, FREE shootout dramatization every night, except Sunday, at 6 p.m. at the Jackson Town Square.
The Bar J Chuckwagon is our other favorite live entertainment in the IJackson area. Situated on a working cattle ranch, the Bar J Chuckwagon takes you back to the spirit of the Old West with a relaxed atmosphere, a delicious chuckwagon dinner and authentic cowboy entertainment. The Bar J Wranglers entertain the entire family with songs, stories, cowboy poetry, yodeling, fiddling and more. The Wranglers have been entertaining Jackson tourists for 40 years and have a great system to feed and entertain up to 900 guests a night. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and dinner is served at 7, but you’ll want to arrive early since seating assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Where to stay: We have tried several hotels in Jackson, but always come back to the perfectly quaint Parkway Inn. It is affordable and in an ideal location (just a couple blocks from Town Square and directly across the street from a fun playground). With beautiful, updated rooms, an indoor pool and fitness center, friendly staff and a breakfast included with your stay, it is just right for a family.
Where to eat: Our favorite eatery in Jackson is the The Bunnery, located just a half-block north of Town Square, you’ll find a delicious traditional American breakfast, plus sandwiches and amazing baked goods and desserts. There is usually a line out the door between 8 and 9 a.m., so come earlier or later if you have kids who have a hard time waiting (but it is worth the wait!). They are known for their trademarked O.S.M. (oats, seeds and millet) pancakes, waffles and granolas, so either order some for breakfast or purchase some on your way out the door.
Our family also always makes time to eat at Bubba’s Bar-B-Que Restaurant when we visit Jackson. It is amazing for breakfast lunch or dinner; really anything on the menu is a good bet. We especially love the eggs Benedict for breakfast and the ribs or roasted turkey later in the day.