Best Winter Getaway: Jackson Hole and Yellowstone

Wyoming - H 2015

Wyoming - H 2015

A winter safari in the wilderness provides a nuanced view of the breathtaking landscape, luxurious accommodations and fine dining.

When trappers and mountain men approached the valley just west of the Grand Tetons, descending the steep ravines gave them the feeling of dropping into a hole. With only one mailbox in town, it was decided there ought to be a name for this hole, so in 1893 they named it after David Jackson, the first white man to spend a whole winter in the valley, and that’s how Jackson Hole was born.

Today, you don’t have to be a fur trapper or a mountain man, or even a skier to enjoy this epic landscape with its exotic wildlife and breathtaking natural wonders. A mecca for tourists and geyser gazers in the summer, they come from around the world for a glimpse of Old Faithful in nearby Yellowstone Park. But in the winter, with the crowds all gone and everything blanketed in white, Jackson Hole holds a more nuanced, subtle beauty.

Perched atop a 700-foot rise above the valley floor on a 1000-acre wildlife sanctuary sits Spring Creek Ranch with lodging ranging from inn rooms, (including wood-burning fireplaces and views of the Grand Tetons beginning at $215), to townhomes with as many as three bedrooms, (beginning at $610), and luxury villas (beginning at $1820).

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If you brought your snowboard, you’re in luck because the ski resort has more snow than any mountain in the west this winter. And if the slopes are not your thing there are countless activities ranging from dogsledding, snowmobiles and shopping in town at Fighting Bear Antiques or Crazy Horse Jewelry. If shopping makes you thirsty, then stroll on over to the Mangy Moose Restaurant and Saloon. If you’re lucky, you might bump into famous locals like Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart. If you’re not, you might bump into Vice President Dick Cheney.

Better still, get out of town. Track down Spring Creek’s resident naturalist, the charming and beyond clever Phoebe Stoner, for a nature tour of the area including the nearby elk refuge where thousands graze the open plain. We saw bighorn sheep, a bald eagle, a moose and two coyotes in a single morning. And if you’re hankering for more adventure, a winter safari to Yellowstone is an unforgettable journey. The forest is mystical this time of year, the lake a world of ice patterns and stark horizons, thermal vents caked in orange and saffron, an ethereal steam rising from the pines.

Instead of the summertime throng of tourists around Old Faithful, you’ll find a herd of bison, which are not as docile as they seem (ditto the moose). These are big animals and are quite territorial, so keep a sensible distance.

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And if you do happen to get trampled by a moose, you can recuperate in the Spring Creek Adventure Spa offering a varied menu including hot stone massage, in room couples-only massage, wraps, facials, acupuncture, waxing and mudpack. And to wind down from your winding down stop by The Granary Restaurant, a short walk from all lodging at the ranch. Kick back with an Alpenglow Martini, a house special with a dash of Titos Handmade Vodka, Chambord, Cointreau and a splash of their own sour mix. For dinner, sample Chef Jeffrey Crosland’s filet mignon over sweet yams, applewood smoked bacon and a red wine demi glace. Or go green with the Vegetable Parmentier with delicious steamed yams, sautéed garlic, shallots, peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach, and portobello topped with a cauliflower mousse.  

With freezing temperatures, snow covered mountains and untracked forest, Wyoming in the winter may sound like a destination for the outdoorsy type. But it beats Wyoming in the summer with its traffic jams and tourists. And if you don’t care for all the effort that often goes into enjoying the great outdoors, then let the spa, the bartender and the breathtaking view be your great indoors.