Jackson Hole, Wyo., is known as one of America's great ski destinations. Unlike its peers in Colorado and the other Rocky Mountain states, Jackson, the town, and Jackson Hole, the surrounding valley area, remain popular during the summer. Grand Teton National Park is a major warm-weather draw. It is nearly on par with national parks like Yosemite and nearby Yellowstone.
It may be hard to find examples of green travel amidst the summertime hordes and the snow-loving tourists during the winter. However, it is possible to take in the natural beauty of this area during the spring and fall, when the masses have left. Even during the high season, Jackson Hole has plenty of quiet, natural spots and a multitude of options for travelers who want to enjoy a low-impact vacation.
Bus service, numerous bike trails, and plenty of green sleeping options (from tent camping to high-end eco-friendly ski lodges) make a green vacation possible even for the most staunch environmentalist — who might overlook this destination as an overcrowded, mainstream tourist spot.
Jackson itself is a small town in terms of land area and the number of permanent residents (about 6,000). The town can be easily traversed on foot. Surrounding areas are crisscrossed with trails making hiking easy, though sometimes strenuous. The summertime crowds can make biking around Jackson seem daunting, but pedaling is a popular way to get around for both locals and visitors. There are plenty of bike trails (including 28 miles of paved paths) in the area that are accessible for those with access to a mountain bike. Some tour outfits offer guided bike tours, with a few options lasting for more than one day. Anyone with a bike and a decent level of fitness can consider traveling the entire area on a two-wheeler.
Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START) is the only public transit option. The organization is in the process of building a new storage and service facility that is expected to earn a Silver LEED rating. START buses rely on biodiesel and hybrid technology. Not only do buses run around Jackson (Town Shuttle), but there are also routes to the nearby national park and to popular ski resorts.
Camping is the greenest option for travelers. They will likely encounter plenty of oversized RVs at some of the major campgrounds, but there is a good range of choices for tent campers as well. Grand Teton National Park offers campsites and cabins. These get filled during the summertime (unless you book well in advance) and are only for the hardiest of campers during the winter.
There are plenty of hotels that take the standard approach to green lodging. The Trapper Inn features a widespread recycling program and uses solar power to heat its water. There are a host of smaller inns and bed-and-breakfast spots, like the Jackson Hole Alpine House, that cater to people who want to avoid the energy consumption that comes with staying in a big hotel or lodge.
Jackson Hole's Hotel Terra offers an upscale boutique hotel experience. It is one of the greenest full-service hotels in the area. The Terra offsets 100 percent of the carbon that it produces, and the hotel's design helps it use natural light. A state-of-the-art heating and cooling system raises the green quotient. The parking garage features radiant heat, and organic and/or recycled materials were used in the production of just about everything from mattresses to the building's structural beams.
One of the most visible conservation projects in the Grand Teton area is the National Elk Refuge. Run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is home to thousands of elk that migrate to the area during the winter. It is possible to visit the park, but there are few hiking opportunities. However, a sleigh ride gives visitors a close-up view of these impressive mammals.
There are, of course, plenty of trails in the national park. These are the least crowded during the spring and fall. Even during the summer, most visitors tend to stay in central areas, meaning a majority of the pathways, especially those in more remote areas, are free of traffic. The rock formations in the area draw experienced climbers during the warmer seasons. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available during the winter and create a nice alternative to the alpine skiing scene.
For visitors who want to keep their natural experiences indoors, the National Wildlife Art Museum features works from all across the diverse nature art genre. There are permanent galleries and seasonal shows, all accessible for a $12 admission fee.
Like other major ski resorts, Jackson Hole has more than its share of upscale eating and après ski venues. Couloir is a new eatery located at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. It features a hip, fine-dining experience that seems out of place in the rugged surroundings. The chef gets all the ingredients from local producers (within a 250-mile radius of the restaurant), both to ensure freshness and encourage sustainability. It might come at a price, but this is a great place to experience the balance between fine dining and the locally grown movement.
Skiing Magazine recently gave Grand Targhee Resort, in Alta, Wyo., props for being the greenest ski resort in the nation. The resort has been engaged in an ongoing effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing its business practices and encouraging guests to change their habits as well. Renewable energy and recycling are part of the resort's eco-friendly arsenal.
Jackson Hole is a mainstream destination both summer and winter. But it has so many green features that it deserves a closer look. Even the most dedicated eco-traveler will find plenty of green options.
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