A 3-day trip to Jackson Hole during what I thought would be the low season ended up being a valuable lesson in writing off ski towns as winter-only destinations

Jackson, Wyoming, is a bustling resort town in the summer.

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Jackson, Wyoming, is a bustling resort town in the summer.
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Katie Warren/Business Insider

Jackson is a ski town of about 10,429 people in Wyoming. It’s the center of the Jackson Hole, a valley nestled between two mountain ranges that’s become a ritzy ski destination for celebrities and the ultrawealthy.

Growing up in neighboring Montana, I had always heard of Jackson as a winter town, known for its world-class skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. USA Today recently ranked Jackson Hole’s ski resort as the second best in the US. So when I planned a weekend trip there in July, I resigned myself to experiencing the area in its low season.

But when I arrived in Jackson, I was shocked at how bustling the town was on a Friday summer evening. The streets were milling with tourists sightseeing, shopping, eating, and drinking. Traffic through the center of town at times rivaled that of New York City, where I live.

“Summertime is very busy in Jackson as we are the gateway to two national parks,” Kate Sollitt, the executive director of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board, told me in an email.

Jackson, Wyoming, is a bustling resort town in the summer.

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Jackson, Wyoming, is a bustling resort town in the summer.
source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

While the tourism board doesn’t have actual visitor numbers to Jackson Hole, Sollitt said that Grand Teton National Park, which is less than a 10-minute drive from the town of Jackson, averaged about 700,000 visitors per month, or about 2.1 million people in the summer months. And Yellowstone National Park, about a 40-minute drive away, gets about 2.4 million visitors in June, July, and August.

“We don’t have great winter numbers but we estimate that winter visitation is around 200,000 for the [entire] winter, so the difference is pretty noticeable,” Sollitt said.

Jackson is the kickoff point for endless excursions to nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, as well as activities like hiking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and wildlife safaris.

I spent one afternoon at the acclaimed Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. I knew there was an aerial tram that takes guests to the top of a mountain, but apart from that, I figured the place would be a bit boring since it was wasn’t ski season.

In the summertime, visitors to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort can ride aerial trams, bounce on a bungee trampoline, ride mountain bikes, and more.

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In the summertime, visitors to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort can ride aerial trams, bounce on a bungee trampoline, ride mountain bikes, and more.
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Katie Warren/Business Insider

But far from a sleepy off-season ski area, the famous Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was milling with tourists riding the ski lifts and trams, bouncing on bungee trampolines, and traversing a ropes course at the adventure park.

One evening, I went for a drink at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a cowboy bar in the center of town that has real saddles for bar stools. I paid a $5 cover charge and my cocktail was about $10, which seemed a bit pricey for Wyoming but not at all outrageous compared with New York City prices.

Since its establishment in 1937, it’s become something of a Jackson institution. Sandra Bullock has celebrated her birthday there, and Kanye West popped in last summer with some friends after his album-listening party at a nearby ranch.

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is a Jackson institution.

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The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is a Jackson institution.
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Katie Warren/Business Insider

The bar was busy, the drinks were strong, and I even ran into two women I had met earlier that day who work at a nearby dude ranch, which I took as confirmation that it’s not just a tourist spot.

After my summer weekend in Jackson, it was clear that while the area might be famous for its skiing, it’s certainly not a destination to miss in the summertime.

Summer tourists, be warned

Jackson’s surprising popularity as a summer destination meant that finding an affordable place to stay was nearly impossible. I scoured Airbnb but found nothing at all available in the town of Jackson. To be fair, I was booking only about 10 days before I arrived. The closest thing I found was a room in someone’s house in Driggs, Idaho, more than a 45-minute drive away, for $100 per night.

Even the two-star hotels in Jackson were astonishingly pricey. A room at the Motel 6 on the outskirts of town cost more than $200 per night, and it was completely booked. I ended up at the second-cheapest option, the Super 8, for $245 per night. It had no elevator and unbearably slow WiFi.

On the other end of the spectrum, a room at the luxurious Amangani resort just outside town will run you between $975 and $2,100 a night.

So, while Jackson strikes me as a beautiful, lively place to visit, even in midsummer, it’s not exactly the kind of place you can show up to without planned accommodations. Book ahead!