72 hours in Jackson Hole
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
With an expansive wilderness, neighboring national parks, and a top-notch food scene, Jackson Hole makes for a pretty ideal weekend getaway. And while visitors and temperatures are typically on the rise in the summer months, going in mid-June still provides both milder crowds and weather.
One of the (many) great things about visiting Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park is how easy it is to fly there. Leaving Chicago early in the morning, the 2.5-hour direct flight landed us in Jackson Hole around 10:30 a.m.—still plenty of time to enjoy a full day. (Fun fact: Grand Teton is the only national park that has a commercial airport inside the actual park.) If you can, I recommend flying versus driving, as you'll be rewarded with some pretty incredible aerial views...
We decided to rent a small RV for the weekend and use that as both our rental car and home base. We used Outdoorsy—a rental website much like Airbnb for RVs—to find a small, motorized unit. We opted to pay an additional fee and have the RV dropped off right at the airport, so it was there as soon as we landed.
Hotels and campgrounds in/around Jackson can fill up quickly but, luckily, Grand Teton National Park has a plethora of BLM land and free "dry camping" (aka no amenities or RV hook-ups). Here are a few noteworthy, free camping spots for both tents/cars and RVs:
Headwaters Campground (*RVs can park for free in the lodge parking lot)
After stocking up on groceries from Alberstons and making a stop at Persephone Bakery for a quick brunch, we headed to Jenny Lake for a hike. Jenny Lake is one of the more popular spots in Grand Teton National Park—it's both beautiful and offers a variety of well-maintained trails for all skill levels. There is both car and RV parking at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center or you can simply park along the side of Teton Park Road.
We opted to take the trail up to Inspiration Point, a 2.2-mile roundtrip hike to a beautiful lookout above Jenny Lake. If you want to do a longer hike, you can continue on the same path and connect with the Cascade Canyon Trail (about 10 miles roundtrip).
After Inspiration Point, we decided to drive up to Yellowstone National Park, which is only about an hour away from Grand Teton National Park. In the summer months, it usually doesn't get dark until 9 p.m. so you have plenty of daylight hours to explore.
We took Highway 191 and entered Yellowstone through the South Entrance. We continued on Highway 191 driving west, which took us to Old Faithful and some of the more famous hot springs, including Grand Prismatic Spring.
And while we only got to spend a few hours inside the park (you need a week to see everything), that didn't stop us from seeing some of Yellowstone's largest, furriest residents...
Friday night we stayed at the free RV park at Headwaters Campground—no hookups or cell service but free WiFi and clean bathrooms are available in the lodge.
Back in Jackson Hole, the entirety of our Saturday was spent doing a 15-mile roundtrip hike to a glacial lake called Surprise Lake (elevation 9,570 feet). There are a few different ways to access the lake—and we somehow ended up choosing the longest route—but we started at the Taggart Lake Trailhead, connected to Bradley Lake, and then up to Surprise Lake (marked as Teton Glacier on the map).
As we got up into higher elevation, there was snow on the ground and some of it actually covered parts of the trail, but it was relatively easy to climb over. You do gain about 3,000 feet in elevation in the last few miles but it's all worth it in the end. If you want to do this same hike, I recommend starting earlier in the day, packing a lunch, and bringing plenty of water (double what you think you might need!).
Back in town, we had dinner at the Merry Piglets Mexican Grill. We tried eating at both Hatch Taqueria and Hand Fire Pizza but both were closing by the time we got there (most places in downtown Jackson Hole close around 8:30 or 9 p.m.). However, the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar does stay open until 1 a.m.
Saturday night we stayed in the Albertsons parking lot—this is a great option if you get into a last minute pinch (like we did*) and need a free place to stay overnight. *Despite what you may read online, you cannot park an RV or car camp overnight at the Jackson Hole airport.
Seeking a bit of relaxation, we drove south from Jackson Hole to the town of Hoback, where you'll find the Astoria Hot Springs. These are maintained, gated springs, and you do need a reservation to visit. It costs $18 to get in, and from May to July you are limited to a 2.5-hour soak session. However, just across from Astoria right along the Snake River, there is a collection of natural hot springs (no reservations and no entry fee required). The river was still a little high when we were there so we weren't able to enjoy the natural springs, but later in the summer when the river is lower anyone is welcome to sit and soak. They can be a little tricky to find, but these coordinates should help get you to the right spot.
The rest of the day was spent exploring downtown Jackson Hole and visiting the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Even if you don't consider yourself an art fan, I still highly recommend checking it out. The beautiful stone museum is located on top of a steep hill, offering panoramic views of Jackson Valley, the National Elk Refuge, and Millers Butte. The on-site restaurant, Palate, is also worth a visit and features everything from elk stew to trout fish and chips to vegetarian rice bowls.
Sunday night we flew back to Chicago and wrapped our 72-hour visit to Jackson Hole!
For a full list of places to visit in Jackson Hole, check out this Google Map.