Jackson lies at the end of the great valley, known as Jackson Hole, which runs the length of the Teton mountain range. At the centre of Jackson Hole is the Grand Teton National Park with Yellowstone National Park just further north. The town is the main gateway to both national parks.
The town is a unique blend of fashionable resort and the Old West, with designer boutiques and art galleries lining the cowboy-style boardwalks. Tourism is the most important industry in the area, spread across the valley are a sprinkling of million-dollar houses between the remaining cattle ranches, which offer guest facilities to supplement their farming income. During the summer, vacationers swarm the shopping malls and fancy restaurants, and the town square becomes the stage for a performed shoot-out every evening.
Jackson Hole is primarily a winter and summer playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking, mountaineering, biking, and kayaking in summer. In winter it becomes a premier ski destination, home to two of the state's best ski areas. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a massive vertical drop and skiing suitable for extremists, while Snow King Resort offers family-orientated skiing and snowboarding.
Jackson has a humid continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. During the summer, from June to August, temperatures in Jackson range between 73°F (23°C) and 81°F (27°C); however, on occasion, summer temperatures can reach as high as 97°C (36°C). In the winter, from December to February, average temperatures in Jackson fall to between 5°F (-15°C) and 34°F (1°C). Due to the elevation and location in a humid microclimate, Jackson gets a great deal of rain and quite a bit of snow. Springtime brings cool, bright sunny days, interspersed with rain showers. The annual precipitation in Jackson is about 17 inches (430mm). On the whole Jackson is pretty chilly, particularly in the freezing winter months. But the dryness of the air often belies the plunging mercury and it feels warmer than it really is, thus the area's popularity with winter sports enthusiasts.
Jackson is a small town which can easily be explored walking or cycling. The Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START) system operates a free shuttle bus around the town of Jackson every 30 minutes. Those planning on exploring other parts of Wyoming should consider hiring a car. There are numerous car rental companies located in Jackson. Wyoming is served by three interstate highways and the quality of roads and signage in the area is excellent. Visitors should not have much difficulty driving in Jackson.
The world's first national park, Yellowstone was established in 1872. Despite its popularity today, most of the park still remains an undeveloped wilderness of magnificent mountain scenery, waterfalls, alpine lakes, and rivers. It is renowned for its geothermal wonders and abundance of wildlife. Spilling over into Montana and Idaho, the enormous park is situated on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, a collapsed volcanic crater that was formed 600,000 years ago and holds within it the greatest geothermic area in the world. This unique environment includes features such as exploding geysers, thousands of steaming fumaroles, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools, and is where the park's most famous attraction, the Old Faithful Geyser is to be found, drawing thousands of tourists to witness its regular eruption of steaming water.
Yellowstone is also home to the largest concentration of wildlife in lower USA, including grizzly and black bears, wolves, moose, and large herds of bison and elk. The two narrow waterfalls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River cut a striking picture in the yellow-coloured rock that gives the park its name, with superb views and hiking trails for all abilities. The large alpine Yellowstone Lake fills the eastern part of the caldera and offers opportunities for boating and fishing expeditions in summer. All places of interest are accessible along the loop roads, but the intensity of visitors in summer, especially between July and August, means that one needs to hike away from the main paths to experience the true wilderness of Yellowstone National Park.
Occupying the valley of Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park's identifying feature is the sharp granite peaks of the impressive Teton Range, with the dramatic Cathedral Group known as 'Les Trois Tetons' or 'The Three Beasts' towering above the valley floor. At their centre is the Grand Teton, the 13,770-foot (4,197m) peak that defines the skyline and dominates almost every view within the park. The mountains are popular with climbers and hikers, as well as photographers who can capture a variety of different angles from the park's scenic winding road or on one of its numerous trails that forms part of a vast network of hikes starting from the valley floor.
Beneath the Teton Range lie a string of lakes and the scenic Snake River that meanders the length of the park, offering numerous opportunities to kayak, fish, and raft. The stunning scenery can be easily seen and enjoyed from a drive through the park, but taking to the mountain trails or waterways is the best way to appreciate the spectacular views and experience the beautiful backcountry. A great abundance of large wildlife roams the valley floor, including moose, elk, bison, and grizzly and black bears.
What good's a visit to Cowboy Country without a little trail riding thrown into the mix? At Mill Iron Ranch, the Wheeldon family, led by the charismatic cowboy-proprietor, Chancy, boldly claim to 'run the best huntin', fishin', ridin' and eatin' outfit in [Jackson]'; and the scores of glowing Internet reviews of the ranch, suggest that they might just be telling the truth about that.
Offering the 'number one two-hour trail ride in the USA', at the end of which, visitors can return to the farmhouse for a bit of western swing dancing, and a steak dinner 'with all the fixings', prepared by the Wheeldons themselves. Visitors to Wyoming who are keen to experience a little ranch-life, could hardly do better than making a trip out to Mill Iron Ranch. Keen riders can also sign up for longer journeys, including a four-hour mountain trail ride, or full day trips that include fishing in Willow Creek. Longer trips are available by arrangement.
The ranch also offers fun winter activities like sleigh rides, and can arrange hunting trips for big game like moose, deer, elk, and bear.
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