Updated: Jan 16, 2019
As someone who was born and raised in Texas...it’s a bit odd to crave cold, wintery mountain days but that’s the terrain I grew up around during the summers, so I’ve always had this longing to see its other side. Having had a taste of it now after venturing to Wyoming earlier this December, in conflicting comparison, the calm silence of a Wyoming winter is like the oil to the water of spring and summer. It’s stunningly beautiful and worlds apart but still one in the same.
My intent for #TBOVacationIdeas is to share, transparently, a summary of what I plan, hear about, experience and recommend.
Always in bullet point form to make it easily digestible.
Always including “What I can’t wait to do again” and “What I’ll do different”...and likely will always have a “Note to fellow photographers”.
I want to be super honest here – I am no vacation planning or logistics wizard...which I think you’ll pick up on, ha! What I am, though, is a super energetic and passionate adventurer who has a photographer’s eye, an open mind for exploring and a consistent focus on finding the silver linings even when things go wrong. I crave fun experiences, reflective stillness and uniquely creative outlets. You can find me on Instagram as @bricrow.co who produces @trailblazeon_photography.
Always, “Be a catalyst. Live for the story. Blaze a trail. #TrailBlazeOn.”
P.S. Shop small businesses, shop TBO! Snag my 2019 calendar, "Wild Heart. Winter Soul." or a postcard pack of my Jackson Hole, Wyoming images. Perfect for a treat 'yo self moment or gift need. I cover shipping!
Check out my landscape and wildlife photo album to see more of the beautifully wild Wyoming!
Thank you sincerely for being...[ here ].
Great resources for planning the trip:
First things first, it's worth mentioning...the town of Jackson, Wyoming resides in the area that is Jackson Hole.
By far and away, my favorite source of info and recommendations was Jackson Hole Traveler. It covers where to stay, what to pack, what to do (all with links to each and specific to the different seasons of the year)
National Park Service Grand Teton National Park– Plan Your Visit
Additional “What to Pack” info...including individual recommendations: 10 Essentials to Survive a Big Winter in Jackson Hole
Get to know more about the, "Wyoming Way" and it's local residents with JH Style Magazine https://jhstylemagazine.com/
Stay up to date with MountainWeather.com info for the area (crucial!)
To really get deep into the history of the area prior to your trip (or during!), check out “A Project of the Wyoming State Historical Society.”
What I can’t wait to do again:
Snake River Overlook: Over and over and over and over. Such a stunning view!
Blacktail Ponds Overlook: This place really captivated me in a more intimate way. You have the river bed directly below you with various trees and vegetation, but most prominently even in the winter were the colors of the blacktail brush.
#TBOVacationIdea Prepare a breakfast snack, a thermos with coffee and plan to head out here for the sunrise. While I was there, early December, the sun rose at 7:45am MST so I was out by 7:30am MST.
#TBOVacationIdea If not at sunrise, bring a kite and and let ‘er rip out here! I’m certain you’ll have some good strong wind for it to soar with the Tetons right in front of you.
Here are a couple of portraits I took at Blacktail Ponds Overlook:
Dinner and drinks at Local. OMG. The old fashioned (!!!), the appetizers, the steak and sides we had. All of it was completely to die for. GAH. Now I’m thinking about it again. So much yum. Plus, I loved all the small artistic details throughout the décor and dining experience. Big thanks to my new-found friend, Mollie, for taking me there!
I was securely in a food coma when we left Local, but I was able to stay upright long enough to walk over and pop-in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for some drinks, live music and mingling. The bar will completely surprise you with how big it is. Pool tables, world-renowned saddle bar seats, full stage and dance floor with museum-like wild west décor.
#TBOVacationIdea Start with coffee and a snack at Persephone Bakery and then wander the square. You want to not only see the four beautiful Antler Arches in George Washington Park, but to shop all your American West art, gear, clothing and accessories around the Town Square. (I went at night. p.s. keep in mind, things close early 'round these parts.)
What I’d do different:
Although I enjoyed my stay at Snow King Mountain Resort (the staff and the facilities were nice!) I'm not sure I'll be back, at least in the winter. The $37 per day resort fee is not something I was a fan of. It would've made more sense if I was a skier or snowboarder, but I wasn’t there for that (this time). Friends who I met over lunch and drinks at the Mangy Moose (in Teton Village, go check them out!) really loved and recommended their stay at the Elk Country Inn (plus, they said there was a kitchenette area that included a microwave in their cabin!)
Rent a car BEFORE arriving. I didn’t out of uncertainty. I thought, “Should this Texas girl be driving the roads during a Wyoming winter when she’s only seen light snow before?” The answer ended up being, YES! No problem! All of the main roads are plowed and clear of any treacherous ice/snow.
Packed snow is a whole lot easier to drive on than ice is, haha, which is mainly what we get in Texas.
You should probably be more focused on not injuring/hitting wildlife.
I still chose not to drive Teton Pass or any mountain pass for that matter, I stayed relatively close to Jackson (which is probably smart for any driver not used to driving in such conditions and there is SO much relatively close).
Pretty much all of the rental car options were All-Wheel Drive so that helps, and if you’re wondering...no, they don’t put snow chains on rental car tires.
A good thing to remember, don’t ever slam on your breaks. They'll lock up and you’ll only be sliding without having traction. Tap your breaks in succession for better traction to stop – and don’t be breaking hard and trying to turn at the same time! Slow down, break tap, then glide into the turn. I’ve really digressed here but felt that was important info to mention, ha!
FOOD: I didn’t make it to ANY of these (yet!) but they were on my list so they’re worth mentioning in case you can go!
The Deck at Piste (there’s a gondola ride after 5pm at JH Mountain Resort)
The Granary at Spring Creek (“with unmatched views of the Tetons, The Granary at Spring Creek Ranch is romantic in its own right.")
Corbett’s cabin – Take the aerial tram and “get the waffles”
Fly Jackson Hole . Would love to see the sights from above and be eye-level with those gorgeous Teton peaks
I didn’t get a chance to do the snow tubing or the Summer Cowboy Coaster at Snow King Mountain Resort. Will be sure to make time for it next trip!
Bring and/or buy binoculars!! The wildlife viewing is not to be missed. You’re likely to see them up close even driving around, BUT I sure wished I had binoculars when #399, a famous-to-the-park bear, and her cubs made an appearance...I was kicking myself for not being able to see them more closely. (for fellow photogs, I’d say it’s absolutely worth renting a telephoto lens for this trip. I was wishing I had more than my 70-135mm with me.)
I wish I hadn't missed out on one of these tours:
Wildlife Safari http://www.jhecotouradventures.com/
The Hole Hiking Experience https://www.holehike.com/
Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours https://jhsleddog.com/
Or, want to snowshoe on your own? My friends used rented snowshoe’s from Teton Mountaineering for $15 and hiked Jenny Lake! I believe you can also rent them from park headquarters!
++ so many things I just didn't have time to explore that have me anxious for my next adventure.
A note to fellow photographers / 10 Tips for Winter Photography (this is a mash-up of photography reminders and recommendations I've collected):
Bring (2) one gallon plastic bags with you, to put in your camera bag. Due to the cold, and if your camera is out for an extended amount of time, it’s likely to produce condensation as it starts to warm when you’re back indoors. Pro photogs recommended to put your camera in the bag so the condensation collects on the bag rather than on your camera.
Research the sunrise and sunset times! I’ve been recommended an app called Sun Surveyor, but I haven’t mastered it yet. I was there for both landscape and portrait photography. Although my research showed the sun would set at 5:30pm (in early December)...with the mountains, the sweet spot for portraits was between 4-5. Past 5pm MST and you’re going to want to use higher ISO and/or fill lights.
Prepare your batteries!! a) Bring some extra casing/padding/protection for your camera batteries. The cold drains them much quicker than you’d expect. b) ESPECIALLY your
phone. It’s crucial to not only keep it warm, beyond just ‘in-the-coat-pocket-warm'. Your phone will last half the time it normally does in this winter weather so be sure to bring, and protect from the cold, an external charger and cords.
Rent that telephoto or zoom lens you've been dying to try out. I just had a decent experience with BorrowLenses (by 'decent' I mean, the camera was clearly used but loved well. The shipping and return process went smoothly.) but will also be trying LensRental soon!
Microfiber cloths! You’ll need these for condensation, snow and just general use. I’ve really loved and recommend these: Carson Stuff-It Microfiber Cleaning Cloth.
Neutral Density or Neutral Gradient filters to keep the detail of the sky and snow tops as well as appropriate exposure for the foreground.
Lots of beautiful art and photography galleries to see in the town of Jackson, and the Town Square in particular. Plus, a great excuse to be warm indoors and gain some photography inspiration.
Depending on the time of year you go, you want to consider hunting seasons. Check on that here. If you're going to be perched up or hiking in wooded areas you want to wear bright colors anddddd maybe bring a music outlet to fend off any too-close-for-comfort wildlife encounters.
When in doubt...visit the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center which is easily accessible (and hard to miss) on the way from the airport into Jackson.
Here is my iPhone note list and ramblings about places I had read about, heard about and/or went to:
Oxbow Bend (folks said it was still winter accessible in early December, but I didn’t get that far north of Jackson to check it out). Cattleman’s Bridge Road (“Heading east from Jackson lake junction, just before you reach the actual Oxbow Bend, you’ll see a gravel road off to your right. Take it”) http://enjoyyourparks.com/GrandTetonParkOxbowBend.html
National Elk Refuge – You'll be in, and drive by, this if you’re traveling from the airport to the town of Jackson. https://www.seejh.com/webcams/jacksonhole/jackson/elk-refuge However, I also enjoyed this road through the refuge:
Jenny Lake – Lake view, not driving accessible during winter. I took the park road entrance to Jenny Lake and drove until the road closes (for winter) in which you’ll have to then cross-country ski or snow shoe to see the actual lake. I believe it’s a 6 mile trail. In summer, there is a loop road accessible. https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/jenny.htm
Schwabacher’s Landing – They close the road near the river bottom December 15th. https://hike734.com/trip/schwabachers-landing/
Mormon Row and Moulton Barn – Open during winter. Be watchful, wear bright colors if you’re out walking in the open fields, there is open hunting in this area November/December. https://www.nps.gov/grte/learn/historyculture/mormon.htm
Snake River Overlook – Big fan! Winter accessible. Detailed above! http://www.jhphotoguide.com/snake_river_overlook.html
Grand Teton National Park Outer Loop – A recommended drive, supposedly winter accessible. https://www.planetware.com/wyoming/top-rated-hiking-trails-in-grand-teton-national-park-us-wy-96.htm
Moose-Wilson Road (closes in December) https://www.jacksonholewy.com/blog/moose-wilson-road-a-scenic-drive-in-jackson-hole/
Chapel of Sacred Hearts (winter accessible) https://www.scenicusa.net/093013.html
String Lake Loop https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/wyoming/string-lake-trail--2
Willow Flats Outlook https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7000594/willow-flats-trail
Jackson Lake Lodge https://www.gtlc.com/lodges/jackson-lake-lodge
Teton Crest Trail https://www.cleverhiker.com/blog/teton-crest-trail-backpacking-guide
Death Canyon Trailhead http://www.tetonhikingtrails.com/death-canyon-patrol-cabin.htm
Jedediah Smith Wilderness https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/ctnf/specialplaces
Fox Creek Pass https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7000416/fox-creek-pass
Kelly & Slide Lake https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lower-Slide-Lake/106042906094105
Antelope Flats Road https://bentwoodinn.com/blog/antelope-flats
Cache Creek Trailhead https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/wyoming/cache-creek-to-game-creek-loop-trail
Granite Hot Springs https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/btnf/recarea/?recid=71639
Two Ocean Pass https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/wyoming/two-ocean-pass
Pilgrim Creek Trailhead https://jhnordic.com/trails/Pilgrim%20Creek/
Outdoor ice skating either on the Town Square or at Village Commons of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (winter)
Concerts while you're there? https://www.jacksonholewy.com/events/category/music-and-entertainment/
Want to see my images from exploring Jackson Hole, Wyoming? Hop over to my Landscape & Wildlife Collection.
Cheers everyone, I hope you blaze your own trail! What's been your experience in this area? Have a recommendation for something I need to try or check out next time? Get in touch.
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