With a starting point in Jackson your options are almost endless. This is the heart of the West and two of America’s most magical national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone, are on your doorstep.
A Western town with style (Days 1-2)
The approach to Jackson Hole Airport, with incredible views of the spectacular Teton Range, is a fitting start to your trip. It is then just a short drive into the town of Jackson itself.
On the one hand Jackson is an archetypal western town with wooden boardwalks, swinging saloon doors and its signature elk antler arches in the main square. On the other, it’s a chic mountain town that has become a year-round playground for the well-heeled and adventurous.
With a couple of nights spent in or near Jackson you’ll have time to time to enjoy its art galleries and great restaurants, as well as more generally to soak up the atmosphere of this characterful town. A visit to the outstanding National Museum of Wildlife Art is well worth the journey.
The evening before you leave, take a float trip down the Snake River in a vintage wooden drift boat. As the sun sets behind the Tetons, you’ll have a chance to see elk, moose and deer as they come down to the river to forage. Cast a fly to the native cutthroat trout before finishing at a rustic riverside tipi for appetizers and drinks.
Grand Teton National Park
The little neighbor with a big view (Day 3)
Get an early start to enjoy the splendors of Grand Teton National Park, in some ways more visually spectacular than its famous neighbor, Yellowstone.
The Snake River runs the valley floor, bordered by groves of willow trees, a favorite haunt of moose, and wide open sagebrush flats, home to herds of the pretty pronghorn antelope and packs of sage grouse.
The imposing Tetons are never far from sight and the short drive to the top of Signal Mountain will reward you with panoramic views of the snow-capped peaks on one side and the Oxbow Flats section of the Snake River on the other. Nestled at the foot of the mountains is the glacial Jenny Lake, a sublime spot and the starting point for a couple of beautiful hikes.
Continue north into the mighty Yellowstone and one of the park’s two historic hotels.
Yellowstone National Park
The Great American Safari (Days 4-5)
If the views in Grand Teton rank among some of the most spectacular in the world, you’ll see things in Yellowstone that seem to herald from another planet entirely. Herds of bison, black bears, grizzlies and, more controversially wolf packs, all roam this vast and incredible ecosystem. Combine this with the fact that the park is sat squarely within the rim of a giant super-volcano, complete with over ten thousand active geothermal features, and you have a place like nowhere else in the world.
From your base in one of the park’s historic lodges, it’s worth spending at least three nights and two full days to really explore Yellowstone. Spending one day with a private naturalist on a wildlife safari is highly recommended. You can choose between taking a custom built safari vehicle with a panoramic viewing hatch or going by foot with your guide; either option is a great way to escape the crowds and get a real insight into the incredible diversity of wildlife in Yellowstone. The following day you might prefer to be under your own steam (no pun intended) exploring some of the parks myriad of geysers and hot springs.
Southern ‘Big Sky’ Country (Day 6-7)
Leaving Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming for southern Montana brings a marked change in pace and landscape. Snow-fed rivers, wide open valleys dotted with small farms, and laid-back towns are a perfect contrast to the managed and largely uninhabited national parks. Paradise Valley runs north, following the Yellowstone River, and more than lives up to its title. You’ll pass through Yankee Jim Canyon, where the cantankerous pioneer of the same name frustrated early authorities by blockading the road to Yellowstone and charging a toll to the park’s early tourists. After a day on the road, find your way to the historic Chico Hot Springs where weary travelers have been recuperating since the 1860s.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, you’ll be collected by your guide for a day’s fly fishing. The Yellowstone River is one of the greatest trout streams in America and, even if you are not an avid fisherman, there is no better way to spend a day than floating a river. Big browns, rainbows and native cutthroat are all here and if you are looking for a real test, you may want to fish one of the world famous spring creeks, such as DePuy’s or Armstrong, that run through the valley. After the morning float, you’ll pull up to the bank to enjoy a glass of wine and a gourmet lunch.
Red Lodge and The Beartooth Pass
Mountain road trips (Days 8-10)
At the northern end of the Paradise Valley sits Livingstone, a more rugged and down-to-earth town than its booming neighbor Bozeman, and home to an eclectic mix of artists, actors and authors. Head to the Cowboy Connection to browse their incredible treasure trove of rare western artifacts or stop by the fly fishing mecca, Dan Bailey’s. Continue through classic ‘Big Sky’ country to Big Timber and the saloon of the Grand Hotel for a buffalo burger washed down with a Trout Lips Ale. As you head towards Red Lodge, your base for the evening, you’ll be in between two spectacular wilderness mountain ranges, the Beartooths and the Absarokas. From your base at one of the great small hotels of the Rocky Mountain West, you can take a day to explore on horseback the stunning East Rosebud Valley.
Buffalo Bill’s hometown rodeo (Days 11-12)
On your way to Cody you’ll travel two of the most breathtaking roads in the West. After the dramatic switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway, you’ll continue along the Chief Joseph Butler Highway that threads its way through the Shoshone Forest. Cody is one of our favorite towns in Montana and Wyoming. The brainchild of one of the West’s most colorful characters, Buffalo Bill Cody, it’s a little town with frontier style. The fun Cody Nite Rodeo is held throughout the summer and the extraordinary Buffalo Bill Center of the West has the best collection of its type in the world.
From Cody, it’s a stunning drive along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Highway to Yellowstone and onward to Jackson.