Riding Destination: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Wyoming’s protected gem is a must-see retreat for any equestrian.


At 10 years old, my family drove through Wyoming as part of a cross-country move. The route took us through the flat, windy part with no speed limits. We stopped at a BLM Mustang holding facility so I could see the horses, but that was my only memory of the area. To my delight, GMC invited Horse Illustrated to visit a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to test-drive their newest Denali line and enjoy this gorgeous state.

Grand Teton
The Grand Teton is the highest peak visible, at 13,775 feet.

Touching Down in Paradise

Arriving at the tiny airport, our plane made a steep descent to meet the short runway amid scenery so beautiful I was already snapping pictures out the plane’s window. Keeping the 1930s-era airport at its original size was part of a compromise between the town, which wanted an easy way for tourists to get there, and the National Park Service, which procured the land that includes the airport as part of Grand Teton National Park in 1950.

I was greeted by a member of the team and shown to “my” GMC Sierra 1500 Denali (Denali is the luxury trim package, with leather seats and all the goodies). After a quick tutorial of every bell and whistle, I was on my own to drive it from the airport to the dude ranch in Jackson Hole where we were staying.

GMC Yukon Denali at Spring Creek Ranch
Spring Creek’s Ranch House and the GMC Yukon Denali.

Even though my GPS was programmed and the greeter had told me not to take a certain turn because of road closures, I accidentally did anyway and ended up on a deeply rutted dirt back road. This turned out to be a lot of fun, even though I had to drive about 5 mph. The truck handled the enormous rain-filled ruts easily. Any smaller car attempting this drive would have had its axels snapped in two within seconds. It was a real white-knuckler, but a good entry into the beautiful wilderness nonetheless.

When I arrived at Spring Creek Ranch, the dude ranch in Jackson Hole, I got checked in and made my way to the two-bedroom cabin at the dude ranch in Jackson Hole. It had a balcony with a gorgeous view of the mountains, a fireplace, and rustic wood accents. Heaven!

Downtown Jackson, Wyoming
The town of Jackson boasts impressive elk anter arches and a stagecoach ride.

Going to Jackson

I had time for a quick drive into the town of Jackson to grab some lunch and walk around, and was treated to a stagecoach going by and equestrian ambassadors around the town square. The wood-plank sidewalks look just like an Old West town. There are tons of artisan shops and restaurants to keep you busy, and just past the town you can see the ski slopes, which were covered in green grass during our June trip.

I immediately knew I could live in this beautiful place. Alas, there is basically no new construction allowed, which is understandable to preserve the open spaces. But this means there is no real estate for sale, unless you happen to have a few million bucks to buy a ranch or mansion. So, hotels it will be!

Dude Ranch in Jackson Hole: Floating Along

Next up was a rafting trip on the Snake River. Our guide pointed out some bald eagles that were hunting for fish as we floated along. The river was still cloudy from the spring melt, but would turn crystal-clear in July or August, when fly-fishing season hits its peak. At one point we paused to hop out of the raft, since the river was only a couple of feet deep. The water felt like ice, although it was about 50 degrees.

Rafting Trip in Jackson Hole

We continued to float down the river until we arrived at our dinner location, a tent that was set up along the river bank on a private cattle ranch. The views were incredible and the food was even better. Salmon, steak, potatoes and salads were all artfully crafted by the Genevieve Catering company. After a beautiful sunset, it was time to return to the ranch.

Early the next morning we had a wildlife safari that I was especially looking forward to. A guide from the ranch drove my Sierra out to some great lookout spots and helped us identify moose, elk and pronghorn through high-powered binoculars. We spotted some of the wild bison in the area as we neared the bend in the Snake River where the famous Ansel Adams photograph was taken.

Bald Eagle in Jackson, Wyoming
On the river float trip, scenery was awe-inspiring and included several bald eagle sightings.

Our guide was an avid mountaineer and had summited Grand Teton (aka “The Grand”)—the highest peak in the Tetons—several times.
Grant Teton is 13,775 high, and sure doesn’t look like anything I could imagine getting to the top of! Apparently the winds (up to 70 mph and higher) can knock you right off if you’re not very careful.

Dude Ranch in Jackson Hole: A Ride to Remember

The name “Jackson Hole” describes the area around the valley as first described by trappers, whereas the town proper is called Jackson. Jackson Hole is located just south of Yellowstone National Park, so I will definitely be making the trip to Yellowstone the next time I visit.

Trail riding at Spring Creek Ranch
The author and one of Spring Creek Ranch’s saintly trail mounts, Ice.

Next up was a trail ride with Spring Creek Ranch’s saintly horses. Each and every horse is deemed beginner-safe. I hopped on a pretty gray gelding named Ice, and we headed up an incline away from the barn. We arrived almost instantly at a dizzying panoramic vista overlooking the peaks and valleys around Jackson.

After a few more climbs, we settled in single-file along a ridge covered in wildflowers, overlooking the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge. This is a federally owned preserve where 1,000 bison and 7,500 elk winter each year; the land is fenced in such a way that once they jump in through the entrances they can’t get out. Here they have access to food and water until the spring thaw, when they are let out again. The refuge became necessary to keep the elk numbers from dwindling further after the town of Jackson blocked their winter migration route to natural food sources.

Trail riding above the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Riding on the ridge above the National Elk Refuge.

The day we saw it, the Elk Refuge was green and spectacular to look at, with winding little streams throughout. In May, shortly before our visit, the annual Elkfest auction of antlers took place. The antlers shed by elk in the refuge each spring are gathered by Boy Scouts and auctioned to the public, with funds split 75/25 between habitat improvement in the refuge and the Boy Scouts program.

Trailers in Tow

After returning from the ride, our last activity was a GMC towing demonstration with Eric Stanczak, chief engineer of full-size trucks. I got to drive the Sierra 3500HD Denali, which is a lot more powerful than my tow vehicle at home. I enjoyed learning how to turn, stop and check mirrors while hauling a much longer trailer than I’m used to around some steep switchbacks.

Dinner at Spring Creek Ranch
Dinner on the last night was under a tent near the horse paddocks.

We had one last meal back at the dude ranch in Jackson Hole, a dinner catered under a tent near the horse paddocks. Talking excitedly about the trip with new friends, it was hard to believe that I would soon be leaving this magical place. It’s truly a natural wonderland in which any equestrian or nature-lover feels right at home. The crystal-clean air and natural surroundings are food for the soul in the midst of the crazy-busy pressures of modern life.

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!



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