2020 has been a whirlwind of a year for the entire world, but certainly not for the reasons we all thought as we rang in the last year of the decade just 8 short months ago. The last couple of months have certainly been tough emotionally as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the never ending stream of negativity from the media. At points, it actually is a bit frightening how desensitized we have become to the next crisis happening in the world, almost as it if we were expecting it.
I also have a warped sense of time at this point as I'm sure many of you also feel. On one hand, this year has felt incredible long and isolating, and on the other I simply cannot believe how we are already here in August. Even though many of us would love to push the fast forward button on the next 5 months and start fresh, let's promise each other that we will try to make the most of our time. If there's anything that COVID taught me, it's to value my time and my relationships and to look at the world with kinder eyes.
I hope you guys are all hanging in there, staying safe and healthy, and making the most of your time at home with your families. Whether you're staying focused on work, using this time to pick up a new hobby, or daydreaming about your next vacation, know that you're not alone! I know I am looking forward to the day where we may be able to travel freely again for work and leisure. Though I don't think travel will ever look the same after this, only time will tell.
With all that being said, I was able to take a socially distanced roadtrip starting in Jackson, WY and ending in Los Angeles, California. Blake and I took a week off each so we could visit a couple of national parks in between, including Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Zion. Though our visits were not under "normal" circumstances, we now have a new normal with COVID. Masks, hand sanitizer and "six feet apart" are still think out west at this point and we made sure to comply with all the park rules and guidelines.
We started the first leg of our trip in Jackson, Wyoming, a state that I have never visited before and knew almost nothing about. Only have a weekend to spend there like we did? Here's my top recommendations on things to do and places to eat!
Things to Do
Hike in Grand Teton National Park
Located just a short 20 minute drive from Jackson is Grand Teton National Park, one of the most beautiful and picturesque places we've had a chance to explore. There are over 100 incredible hikes you can do here, so with only 2 days, we had to choose how to spend out time wisely. While planning for this west coast trip, I relied heavily on All Trails to provide guidance on which hikes we should definitely do. I wish we had a full day to tackle the classic, 9.7 mile Cascade Canyon Trail, but unfortunately had to choose half day options instead to fit our itinerary around other activities. Luckily, you can't go wrong with any of them!
Jenny Lake Trail
Length: 7.7 miles
Time: ~3.5 hours
- This hike is a loop - perfect for enjoying different scenery!
- Start the hike later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds as this is quite a popular trail and attracts many families - There are quite a few outlets to the lake toward the end of the trail (or beginning if you start it backwards like us). Bring a swim suit if you want to enjoy the cool water on a hot day and build in some extra hiking time to enjoy chilling by the water.
- There is a paid shuttle service at the base of Mount Teewinot that takes you across Jenny Lake. Many people will take this to cut down their hiking time, especially to the Cascade Canyon Trailhead (which save 2 miles each way)
Length: 4.1 miles
Time: ~2 hours
-Make sure you have bear spray with you! This is a general tip for all hikes here in Wyoming and Montana, although I add it here because we *almost* had an encounter and were not prepared. We finished a bit more than half of the Taggart Loop before we ran into a couple coming toward us who warned us of a grizzly and two cubs ahead. We were definitely not prepared at all with gear and mace, so we decided the smart thing to do was to turn around. Although we were not able to complete it, the hike was still beautiful for the first half and the waterfall you encounter within the first 10 minutes is breathtaking.
Go whitewater rafting on the Snake River
When I plan trips now, I always make it a goal of mine to experience something new that I have never done before. This year, I was able to cross off parasailing in Turks and Caicos and this time around, whitewater rafting! Rafting trips on the Snake River are extremely popular excursions from Jackson. The river spans over 1,000 miles and crosses 4 states (Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington)!
There are a few major tour companies offering whitewater and scenic float trips in Jackson, but make sure to book in advance online as they often sell out due to popularity. I booked the 8-mile whitewater raft adventure on the standard raft with Dave Hansen Whitewater and scenic river trips.
Our meeting spot was in the town center of Jackson, where we met up to complete some paperwork, rented our water shoes and hopped onto a bus for 30 minutes south to start the adventure at the river. Due to COVID, they limited the group sizes, so we had a final group of 9 (including our guide). The entire experience lasted around 3.5 hours in total including round trip transportation, with about 1.5 hours in the water. What an incredibly fun and unique experience for beginners and groups of all ages!
Explore Jackson Town Square
Also known as George Washington Memorial Park, Jackson Town Square is a must-visit in central Jackson, WY. This little town center is extremely quaint and lined with plenty of rustic looking shops and restaurants to relax and shop in between hitting the slopes in the winter or outdoor summer adventures. The most recognizable feature in this park are the 4 large arches on all four corners, which are constructed from over 2,000 elk antlers collected from the neighboring National Elk Refuge. Great for those photo ops!
Rent an ATV/side by side and explore the National Elk Refuge
For those that love exploring without hiking miles on end, consider a renting a bike, ATV or side by side car for a half day or full day. These option give you the freedom to check out other areas in Jackson that you otherwise would not experience just on foot. One experience I regret we missed out on was checking out the National Elk Refuge nearby. Unfortunately, all of the side by side rentals were sold out for the next couple of days since we did not book one ahead of time.
*Image courtesy of Google
Places to Eat
Being stuck in quarantine the last few months meant getting creative with cooking at home from Costco ingredients and getting takeout repeatedly from our same old favorites. Though I didn't budget much for food on this trip since our focus was on enjoying the parks staying at nicer hotels, we did have some splurge meals in Jackson, which turned out to be some of the best food we had on our entire trip. Here are some of my top recommendations.
From the massive log beams and the wooden floors and ceilings to the taxidermy-lined walls, Gun Barrel Steak and Game House has to be one of the coolest, cozy, cabin restaurants I have ever been to. We were so excited to try the meat in this part of the country, so we decided to go for both the ribeye and the elk chop. This was my first time trying elk, so I was surprised that it wasn't very gamey and tasted pretty similar to beef! Both were delicious, perfectly seasoned and grilled to perfection.
Located in downtown Jackson, Bin 22 is a wine bar and specialty grocer selling gourmet items(perfect for picnic goodies). To enter the restaurant, you first walk through the wine shop, which is lined with hundreds of bottles of wine and refrigerators stocked full of artisinal and local beers and brews.
The restaurant serves a variety of Italian & Spanish small plates, perfect for sharing in small groups. The best part? You can pick out a bottle of wine or a beer straight from the connecting shop and enjoy it for lunch or dinner without any corkage fee!
Must try dishes:
-Mozzarella - wild mushroom with parmesan, cipollini butter, chives, and balsamic
-Roasted cauliflower with chermoula sauce, shaved parmesan, cilantro, and pepitas
-Octopus served with roasted potatoes, artichoke hearts, piquillo peppers, and herb butter
One of Jackson's most popular restaurants for breakfast and brunch is Persephone; Every time we passed it in town, there was always a line out the door! Even though we didn't have a chance to enjoy the food there, I found Persephone's sister restaurant, Picnic, which is just a short 5 minute drive away from Jackson Town Square and hidden within a small strip of other shops and restaurants.
This place is AMAZING! From the incredible selection of unique pastries to the made-to-order lattes and delicious brunch items, this spot is truly a hidden gem. Be sure to stop by for a bite to eat before hiking or skiing or to pick up something sweet for later!
For breakfast, we ordered the breakfast burrito and the breakfast burrito and the Jackson hippie sandwich. Oh, and I made sure to get pack a huckleberry danish for our hike later that day. Check out the rest of their menu!
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
Jackson is certainly not the town I picture when I think of crazy nightlife, although I can see if being a very popular destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties with its endless outdoor activities and impressive food scene. While we were extremely jetlagged and tired, we still wanted to check out the late night scene since we happened to be in Jackson over the weekend. Million Dollar Cowboy club is located along the western border of Jackson Town Square and is one of the most popular picks around town for a night out
With its saddle bar stools, silver dollar lined bar top, and decor of memorabilia collection, MDCC certainly has a lot of rustic charm. COVID did change things a bit as there was no dancing or live entertainment, though people still seemed to enjoy themselves plenty.
And that's all for now folks! I'm so happy that my first taste of Wyoming was spent enjoying the the mountains at Grand Teton, trying elk for the first time and going on the most incredible whitewater rafting adventure. I cannot wait to come back and hit the (baby) slopes one of these upcoming winters!
Next Up: Yellowstone, Montana :)