Before I dive into the details of our Jackson Hole: Winter Paradise trip, I must first preface with this: I (Stella) love Jackson Hole! For the past five years, Larry and I have been dreaming about, and planning to move to Grand Lake to live year round. However, at least a dozen times over the course of this trip, my mind had wandered far from that dream. My mind had begun to contemplate if perhaps Jackson Hole could be our final resting place. We would be able to enjoy all of the outdoor activities that we do in Grand Lake, and it would also place us significantly closer to my parents in Challis, Idaho. Unfortunately, it would take a winning lottery ticket for us to be able to move to Jackson Hole.
Additionally, Jackson Hole is not only a haven for outdoor adventurists, but it is also a “foodie” haven for people like us. Everywhere we ate, the food was exceptional, and there are so many options! We love the experience of trying new foods/dishes, as well as things prepared in a unique way. When writing about our travels, we do not usually discuss restaurants, but the food on this trip was far too wonderful to negate mentioning. And, the lodging establishment where we had stayed was equally wonderful. At the bottom of this post, you will find information about that.
This was our third visit to Jackson Hole. Our first trip had been during the summer, three years ago. At that time, Aspen and my parents had been with us, (Jackson Hole, Day 1; Jackson Hole, Day 2; Jackson Hole, Day 3). Our second trip was last winter when we had stayed at Turpin Meadow Ranch. I had attempted to book a stay at the ranch again this year, but nothing was available. However, it turned out to be a good thing because instead of only skiing and snowshoeing at Turpin Meadow Ranch (north of Jackson Hole in Moran, and off the beaten path), we explored other places in Jackson Hole.
Jackson Hole: Winter Paradise ~ Day 1: We had arrived in Jackson Hole Friday morning hungry because we had not eaten anything for breakfast before leaving Rock Springs. So instead of embarking on our planned snowshoe adventure right away, we went out for breakfast. By the time we had reached the parking lot for Colter Bay, inside of Grand Teton National Park, on the shores of Jackson Lake, it was already 1:00 p.m., which provided us with roughly four hours of daylight to snowshoe before the sunset.
Once we were geared up, we set out at the beginning of the Hermitage Point Trail, which loosely follows the eastern shore of Jackson Lake. Leaving Colter Bay and looking across Jackson Lake, your first sight is Mount Moran, with a captivating view at the northern end of the Teton Range. There was an abundance of snow everywhere, and we had no idea what to expect of the trail. However, shortly into our trek, we realized that we would have to do what we do best: break trail. In one particular section, running directly along the frozen bank of the lake, I plowed through hip-deep snow. Fortunately, my snowshoes had prevented me from sinking down any further than my thighs. Make no mistake…that was challenging; each step seemed as if it took an eternity.
After a few hundred feet, we moved off the lakeshore and into the trees where the trail was minimally broken. Just past the half mile point on the trail, you come upon a small sign indicating where you can either branch left to go to Swan Lake, go straight to continue up to Hermitage Point, or branch right to go to Heron Pond. We set our sight on Heron Pond, where the trail eventually plateaued in a small meadow before winding its way down to the north end of the pond. Trekking along the eastern edge of Heron Pond and rounding the southern end, we journeyed out to an unnamed point between Colter Bay and Half Moon Bay. At that point, we had snowshoed just shy of 3 miles, and the sun had begun to set. So, we reversed course and headed back to the Tahoe. The total trek was about 6 miles.
The bulk of the Hermitage Point Trail to Heron Pond meanders through forested areas, but you could certainly opt to trek directly along the shore of the lake (or directly on Jackson Lake) the whole time, if you chose to not branch off onto the other trails. There were also places where backcountry skiers just took off in their own direction, apart from any trail. Overall the trail is relatively level with a few small climbs.
Jackson Hole: Winter Paradise ~ Day 2: There are a few Nordic areas in Jackson Hole to choose from when looking to cross-country ski. We decided upon Trail Creek Nordic Center in Wilson, a small town on the outskirts. When we had arrived at Trail Creek, we quickly realized there was a race that day, so a portion of the groomed trails were closed to the general public. That was a bit of a bummer because when we had purchased the passes online, nothing was mentioned about it on the website.
Once we were informed about which trails were accessible, we took off, wanting to make the most of our day. We started out on the East Fields, and glided through the Lower Fields before jumping onto the trail system inside of Bridger-Teton National Forest. The bulk of the trails that we had skied on wound throughout the forest, and required quite a bit of uphill trekking. We had been told that all of the trails had been groomed that morning, but that was not the case.
Some trails had not been groomed at all, some trails had not been groomed in quite some time, and some of the single tracks on the trails were just too icy to ski on. So, we primarily skied off-track most of the day, which is perfectly fine. That is the reason for which we had purchased off-track Nordic skis; they provide us with more options. And we really enjoyed the off-track skiing that day because the snow in the skating lanes felt like pure silk under our skis.
After we had completed about 99% of the trails available to us, we decided to call it a day and head back to the Tahoe. The trail leading to where we had parked was in an open area toward the center of the Nordic area. We were told that the race went to 4:00 p.m., but it appeared that it had ended far before that time. I asked Larry if he wanted to loop the racing trails, but he decided that he was done for the day. It was a beautiful day, and this was a gorgeous place to Nordic ski!
Jackson Hole: Winter Paradise ~ Day 3: We had picked out a different snowshoe trek for this day, but after how much we had enjoyed the trail system around Colter Bay, we decided to head back there and trek up to Hermitage Point instead. The first portion of the trek mirrored day one. We had already broken that trail two days prior, so it was well packed down from us, and others who had been on that trail after us. Super simple.
But once we had reached the sign where the trail branches to Hermitage Point, we looked at the condition of the trail ahead of us, and then back at one another. It was obvious that, again, we would have to do what we do best: break trail. And this time, it would be for about three miles, one way, to reach Hermitage Point. We each took a deep breath, grounded our resolve, and took off up the trail. There were a few downed trees that we had to step over, and many trees that we had to crawl under. The trail meanders through a densely forested area, so the sun is completely blocked by the trees for the majority of the trek.
Note: Colter Bay is known to have a large Grizzly Bear population. Those of you who follow our posts know what kind of imagination I have with regards to wildlife. On this trek, I constantly heard very loud snapping sounds in the trees (likely from the weight of the snow upon the branches). But try convincing my mind of that! The trees along each side of the trail were so dense that we could barely see between them. So, if an animal were to run toward us from either side of the trail, we would not have been able to see anything until the animal had either landed on us or directly onto the trail. Larry kept pointing out areas alongside of the trail that could have been bear dens, which also did not help to ease my anxiety. Although bears are deep in hibernation right now, strange things happen all the time…
Finally, we had reached a large open meadow at the top of the trail that overlooked Jackson Lake. Based upon the mileage, we believed that we had reached Hermitage Point. However, later that night Larry looked closely at the map, which indicated that we were about a half mile from the actual point. The snow was so deep that I figured the sign was just buried. Oh well. After Larry had snapped a few pictures, we realized that we could not dwell, as we had a 4.4 mile trek back out. The sun had begun to set and was heading below the ridgeline, and we could already feel the drop in temperature.
The trek back out was simpler, in a way, since we had begun the process of packing down the snow on the trail. But we were also tired from the trek to Hermitage Point. Breaking trail is utterly exhausting! On the trek out, Larry kept telling me to slow my pace, but at that point, I had two strong motivational factors that compelled my short legs to move as fast as possible: it was going to get dark, and it was going to get cold very quickly.
About a half hour before we had reached the Tahoe, the sun had already fallen completely behind the ridgeline. Tiny ice crystals had formed on the tips of my eyelashes, and the lower portion of my body was completely numb. I could not stop to rest for even a minute; I had to keep moving, otherwise I would not be able to move at all. By the time we were seated in the Tahoe, the temperature was in the single digits, and quickly dropped to zero within a mere few minutes. I will not go into detail about how my back, knees and pretty much everything else on my body felt at that point.
The total trek was 8.8 miles. If we had reached the exact spot out on Hermitage Point, it would have given us 9.6 miles. But we had seen amazing views and had a great time on the trek, so we were not at all disappointed that we did not reach the exact spot. And, we were happy that we had headed back when we did.
Jackson Hole: Winter Paradise ~ Trip Summary: This trip was a blast! Great outdoors fun in the snow combined with amazing food and lodging. We cannot wait to return at the end of February for a longer tip, where we plan to snowshoe on more challenging trails, ski at a different Nordic center, embark on an all-day snowmobile trip, and eat more amazing food. I keep thinking about getting back there, and possibly never leaving…
SOME OF THE Gear Used:
LODGING: If you are planning a trip to Jackson Hole, I highly recommend The Lexington (I wrote a review on Booking.com). We loved it so much that we booked it again for the end of February. (Please note, they do not allow pups).
RESTAURANTS: Every place we ate was fantastic. We highly recommend all of the restaurants. Please see below for details:
a) Stillwest Brewery & Grill: American fare but with an eclectic flair.
-I ordered the Trout sandwich, which had an amazingly crunchy cornmeal breading. And the accompanying aioli had the perfect balance of acid, sweet and salt (hard to find). For my side dish, I chose the smashed red potatoes with it, which were perfectly smooth and creamy.
-Larry ordered their special of the day, which was a Nashville hot chicken breast, atop of their homemade skillet mac and cheese. That was the most delicious piece of chicken that we have ever had. The flavor of their Nashville hot was unique, and took the chicken to a whole new level. And the sauce on the macaroni and cheese was velvety smooth, with the perfect balance of flavors between the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Larry also imbibed in a pint of their About Time IPA, he highly recommends you do as well.
b) Gather: American fare but with an eclectic flair.
-I ordered the Truffle Pasta with a piece of salmon (unfortunately not wild-caught). The portion of salmon was extremely small, but it was flavorful and cooked perfectly. It was placed atop of homemade fettuccine noodles. The flavor of this dish resembled that of a “stroganoff,” although it had parmesan cheese.
-Larry ordered the Fried Chicken entrée. This was a breast and leg (combined) placed atop of cavatappi noodles in a feather light three-cheese sauce with heirloom tomatoes, and a house-made hot sauce.
c) The Kitchen: Asian-fusion.
-We started out with the Luxury Shrimp, which is their version of the well-known tempura “bang-bang” shrimp. Delicious!
-I ordered the Vegan Meatless Meatloaf. The meatloaf was ultra moist with a sweet glaze. It was placed atop a bed of fingering potatoes, wild mushrooms and vegetables. A delicate soy-based gravy was drizzled over the entrée’.
-Larry ordered the Bangin’ Vegan Buckwheat Soba: this was one of the tastiest Asian dishes we have ever had. The tofu was cooked perfectly with a sweet glaze. The soba noodles and accompanying vegetables were basted in a soy and sake sauce. When combining the sweet glazed tofu with the salty soba noodles, it is hard to explain the amazing things that the taste buds experience.
If you enjoyed reading about our Jackson Hole: Winter Paradise adventure leave a comment below or feel free to contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org