Since the turn of the century, tourism in Yellowstone National Park has skyrocketed to an all-time high of 4.2-M visitors in Y 2016. That means sprawling lines of cars at every entrance, at least in the Summer months, and it means every time someone spots a moose, antelope, bison, or herd of elk, there is a traffic jam on the park’s mostly 2-lane roads.
It’s worth taking a day to meander through Yellowstone, to be sure, but there is another equally spectacular collection of scenery and wildlife straddling the Idaho-Wyoming side of the border.
Compared to Yellowstone, its less popular Grand Teton National Park, and their traditional launching point, Jackson Hole, the western side of the Tetons is so blissfully crowd-free you might just feel like you’ve “discovered” it, as Lewis and Clark expedition member John Colter did when he arrived in the Teton Valley 211 years ago.
From the high-perched valley floor at 6,200 feet elevation, visitors can enjoy low humidity, Summer temps in the 70s and a consistent breeze while gazing up at 2 mountain ranges: the Tetons and Big Hole Mountains. In the Fall and Winter, the temperatures naturally drop, but so do the tourist numbers and the chlorophyll from the leaves, revealing a stunning portrait of fall colors. The lodging, food, and amenities options on the Idaho side are more reasonably priced, accessible, and charming too.
The valley’s 2 most amiable towns are Victor and Driggs.
Victor is named for George Victor Sherwood, a postal carrier known for delivering mail by ski or horseback over the Teton Pass to Jackson Hole, a trip that took several days through dangerous stretches of Indian territory.
Driggs is named for Don Carlos Driggs, the town’s 1st postmaster, whose namesake would grace the pages of National Geographic, which in Y 2011 named the town as one of the best outdoor recreation destinations in the US.
Stay at the Teton Springs Resort, in Victor, and the Grand Targhee Resort Back in Jackson Hole, there are 2 Topoptions: The luxurious Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole and Hotel Terra, a more grounded option that is amenity-rich.
The Grand Targhee Resort, which features more than 500 ins of annual bone-dry powder skiing and snowboarding in the Winter and 46 miles of expertly built hiking and mountain biking trails in the Summer. There are a rivers and streams to fly fish for Yellowstone cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout.
For a county of only 11,000 people, there is a surprisingly bustling array of stuff to do in the Teton Valley. In the Summer, the most fun to be had is at Music on Main, a nicely curated gathering that usually mashes up some visiting and local artists.
The Grand Targhee Resort also hosts two music festivals each year, one that features a variety of genres and another focused on bluegrass. While small town museums are often rickety and underfunded, the gleaming Teton GeoTourism Center is worth an afternoon, especially in respite from a thunderstorm.
Victor and Driggs feature a collection of outdoor gear, vintage shops, artist galleries, and a rock climbing gym in downtowns that feel much more down-to-earth than in Jackson Hole.
In the Summer, there is a drive-in movie theater, The Spud, just State Highway 33, which connects Driggs to Victor. And year-round, there are farmer and artisan markets in both towns.
Food, the star is Forage Bistro and Lounge, another farm-to-table standout. Favorites include the Drunken Brie, with local mushrooms, white wine butter sauce and local bread; and a house ground meatloaf. In Victor, best bets include barbecue and steaks at Knotty Pine, and the Big Hole BBQ.
Teton county’s nightlife epicenter is arguably the Knotty Pine, but there are other fine options. Warbirds always has a few delicious craft cocktails on the menu, like a martini made with local huckleberry vodka and a mule with local whiskey and bitters. If spirits are your bag, head to the Teton Distillery in Driggs, known for its potato-based gluten-free vodkas and whiskeys both in Victor.
Enjoy your travels