When to Visit Jackson Hole: The Definitive Guide
Jackson Hole’s an incredible place. My family roots are there, and I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life obsessed with the place. During a long stretch in which I devoted far more free time to exploring Grand Teton National Park than to dating, my worried parents joked with a sigh that I was married to Jackson.
While I’ve since moved a few hours away, I still visit as often as I can. Part of the magic (for me, at least) of Jackson Hole is that it offers a completely different set of experiences and activities depending on the time you visit. Choosing when to visit Jackson Hole is as important as choosing what to do when you get there.
If you’re planning a trip to Jackson, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each season and schedule your trip accordingly. Here’s what to expect on a month-by-month (or at least season-by-season) basis.
If you’ve got questions I don’t answer, feel free to leave comments at the end of the article.
December, January, and February
These months offer pretty similar experiences, so I’m grouping them all together. If you’re into winter scenery and winter sports, Jackson rivals almost anywhere; however, you should know that your access to Grand Teton National Park will be mostly limited to the main park road. You can call the park office at 307-739-3300 for more details.
Besides skiing, Jackson does a great job of embracing the winter. The town square gets flooded to create an ice skating rink, beautiful Christmas lights are set up, and you can take a sleigh ride through the elk herds outside of town.
You’re unlikely to see certain kinds of animals as they’ll be hibernating, but in addition to the thousands of elk on the Elk Refuge right outside of town, you might see animals like deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and even wolves.
More than anything, the main draw of Jackson for me is the winter scenery. If you find beauty in snowy winters, this is a time to consider visiting.
Crowd level: low (except where there’s skiing)
General weather conditions: snowy, freezing, and beautiful
A good time to visit if: you’re into skiing or want to see Grand Teton National Park in its winter glory.
A bad time to visit if: you don’t like the cold.
There’s still good skiing to be had most years in March, but it’s starting to slow down. The main event in Jackson during March is the World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb, which is typically the third week. The Hill Climb is an event in which snowmobile riders compete to race up ski slopes, and draws snowmobile enthusiasts from all over the world.
If you’re there for the outdoors, March isn’t the prettiest time of year. The Tetons are always a sight to behold, but the transition between winter and spring often turns the valley slushy and muddy. Hikes will still be snowed in and most of the park will still be closed. However, March can be a great time to visit the town of Jackson itself because of the lack of crowds.
Main activities: Jackson Hole Hill Climb, spring skiing
Crowd level: very low except for the week of the Hill Climb
General weather conditions: Cold and muddy
A good time to visit if: you’re more interested in the town of Jackson itself than exploring Grand Teton National Park.
A bad time to visit if: you’re there primarily for the outdoors.
April is the slowest time of the year in Jackson, and the area is definitely still in transition. The normally jam-packed town is almost empty because it’s between skiing and the summer, and many businesses close for several weeks during this time to do spring cleaning and cut down on staffing costs during the lull.
While I’m not mincing words about the mud and slush that you’ll find there in April, there are benefits to visiting at this time. The town is virtually empty of tourists, as is Grand Teton National Park.
My favorite thing to do in April is bike the Teton Park Road, which is closed to vehicles but open to bikes during this time. It’s also a good time to see wildlife as many animals like bears are emerging from hibernation and haven’t yet started moving to higher elevation to escape the summer heat.
Main activities: Biking the Teton Park road, hiking, wildlife spotting
Crowd level: nonexistent
General weather conditions: wet and muddy
A good time to visit if: you want to have the town and the national park to yourself
A bad time to visit if: this trip is the only chance you’ll get to see Grand Teton National Parks. (You owe it to yourself to see the park at its best.)
May is one of my recommended times to visit Jackson due to its lack of crowds and ease of seeing animals. This is the sweet spot, when traffic into town hasn’t yet hit apocalyptic refugee caravan status, but you can already do almost any activity you’d want to do later in the summer.
It’s also a far better time to see animals in Grand Teton National Park than later on in the summer, as the heat and crowds push most animals up into the mountains by mid-June.
Main activities: Hiking, wildlife spotting
Crowd level: low to moderate
General weather conditions: relatively cool
A good time to visit if: you want to see animals, want to experience the national park without too many people, and still want to be able to do most of the activities that are available in the summer
A bad time to visit if: you want to take advantage of the water sports in Jackson, like rafting, paddle-boarding, or swimming in the lakes.
June, July, and August
Summers in Jackson Hole are prime time to visit—if you’re willing to put up with crowds.
On one hand, crowds are ever-present and traffic often gets back up outside of town during the afternoons. On the other hand, it’s easy to see what draws people there–summertime in Jackson is a mecca of outdoor, cultural, and travel experiences unmatched by almost anywhere.
Grand Teton National Park is filled with hiking, swimming, fishing, rafting, and scenic drives. The nearby Hoback river offers incredible whitewater rafting, and every week there are concerts, art festivals, and other cultural events. Summertime is most people’s preferred time to visit, and for good reason.
Main activities: hiking, swimming, whitewater rafting, occasional wildlife spotting, camping, cultural activities, and almost anything in Grand Teton National Park
Crowd level: moderate in June, busy in July, and apocalyptic in August
General weather conditions: fairly rainy in June, warm and sunny otherwise
A good time to visit if: you want to have the widest array of available activities, especially water activities or activities high in the mountains.
A bad time to visit if: you hate crowds.
September and October
While there’s a strong case to be made for May, fall is my favorite time of year to visit Jackson Hole. There’s still a decent number of people, but it’s nothing like the teeming masses you’ll find in July.
Some of the benefits of visiting in fall:
- Less busy
- Many hotels are a little cheaper
- Businesses are still open, but less busy
- You’ll typically see more animals
- This kind of scenery
- Grand Teton National Park is still fully accessible
Main activities: Almost anything from the summer, minus the water activities and some of the cultural activities; jaw-dropping fall photography
Crowd level: moderate
General weather conditions: cool and dry
A good time to visit if: you’re there primarily for the outdoors and the wildlife
A bad time to visit if: you want to take advantage of water sports in Jackson
November is another transition time, similar to March but less wet. Jackson Hole is always pretty, but the fall leaves are gone and the snow typically has yet to stick on the ground. The crowds are also gone, but businesses are still open. If you’re willing to compromise a little bit on the scenery to escape the crowds, November can be an ideal time to go. It’s also ideal if you’re mostly planning to enjoy activities in the town of Jackson itself, as there are far fewer people but most of the seasonal businesses are open still.
Crowd level: low
General weather conditions: cold and dry (if there’s snow, there won’t be much)
A good time to visit if: you want to see the area without a lot of people
A bad time to visit if: the beauty of the landscape is a main draw for you
I’ve tried to give a lot of information here so you can make an informed decision based on your own preferences. That said, however, here’s my ranking of the best times to visit:
Overall, I recommend visiting in early May or late September unless water sports are a non-negotiable part of your trip.
Honestly, though, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t find a chance to see Jackson Hole at all three times of year when it’s prettiest: in the peak of winter around the end of January, when it’s greenest around mid-June, and when fall leaves are at their best around late September. Don’t just take my word; do your research and talk to other travelers to gauge the best time to travel.
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