Something special happens in Jackson Hole at summer's end. Crowds thin, a chill settles into the valley, and the landscape explodes into a few short months of technicolor. Scenery that was already awe-inspiring is set alight by leaves that reflect like jewels off the winding rivers and creeks. Mornings open cool and crisp, with dustings of snow cloaking the Teton’s peaks, and warm up towards midday under the high altitude sunshine.
I grew up in the valley, and something about those precious months before the snow hit pushed us outdoors more than ever. We would discover new trails and cross rivers by horseback, head out before sunrise to listen to the elk bugling, and strap the canoe onto the car every weekend to explore the glacial lakes.
With most tourist businesses winding down for the summer season, it’s also the perfect time for visitors to eschew guided tours and planned activities and embrace their inner explorer. It’s a chance to get off the beaten path and be your own guide, dipping a toe into the millions of acres of wilderness at your feet. Ditch your itinerary this fall, forget your schedule, and experience the mountains like a local…
Get up close and personal with nature on a hike through the Laurance S Rockefeller Preserve on the Moose Wilson Road. Joining Teton Village with the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park, the small road is so popular that it can get congested during the summer months. Come October, however, it’s back to a peaceful country lane winding through some of the most stunning scenery in the entire valley.
This stretch of land is so verdant and protected that it’s a haven for wildlife: moose and deer flock to the aspen groves and willow marshes while black bears stuff themselves from the plentiful berry bushes before their winter hibernation.
My favorite hike starts at the preserve’s parking area and loops through the woodland and around Phelps Lake for 3.5 miles. Grab some early breakfast and plenty of coffee and head up to the trailhead at dawn for a chance to hear the eerie music of elk bugling. It’s a sound you’ll never forget, and a must-have experience of the autumn season.
Jackson Hole has always been bike friendly—it goes with the adventurous territory—but with over fifty miles of newly paved pathways you can now ride all the way from downtown Jackson north to Jenny Lake. This ridiculously scenic route weaves through sagebrush flats and across winding rivers as the Tetons rise to your left and the valley floor stretches out before you. It’s over twenty miles to the lake, but the terrain is smooth and flat, making it a pleasant ride for all levels of cyclists.
Stop off along the way and browse through the National Gallery of Wildlife Art just north of Jackson, or grab a spot of lunch at Dornan’s in the tiny hamlet of Moose. If your legs aren’t excited about the prospect of four+ hours of pedaling, you can rent a car rack along with the bikes and choose shorter sections. The ride from Moose to the lake is particularly lovely, and an easy two hours round-trip, with a glass of wine on Dornan’s patio waiting for you as the perfect incentive. Rent your bikes at Teton Mountain Bike Tours or Hoback Sports, both in downtown Jackson and open into October.
Head up to the waters of Grand Teton National Park to explore the landscape from a different vantage point. String Lake is my favorite of the area’s string of glacial lakes—as the smallest and shallowest, it’s smooth, calm and ideal for any level of paddling expertise. A fifty minute drive from Jackson Hole Resort, it’s easy to access and blissfully quiet in the fall months, with sandy beaches that make ideal picnic spots. The surrounding mountains and golden foliage reflect on the water’s surface in the fall to create a living watercolor, home to graceful herons and swans, and countless glimmering cutthroat trout.
Rent a canoe or kayak from Jackson’s Rendezvous River Sports, and they’ll secure it to your car for the journey (make sure you watch how to retie it for your return trip). Once you pull into the String Lake parking area, you can launch close to the car.
Jackson bike and canoe rental hours can be weather dependent. A very cold fall means some can close early for the season, so be sure to check availability ahead of time. The Moose Wilson Rd closes for the winter on October 31st, but weather or bear activity can cause daily closures. Check with the Grand Teton National Park local station beforehand, and be sure to brush up on bear safety tips and carry bear spray whenever you venture into the the backcountry.