Jackson Hole’s Quiet Season.
Springtime unfolds slowly and quietly in the Tetons. Few tourists are in the valley during April and early May. The locals get to an almost private showing of the rebirth of a valley wide ecosystem.
When does Spring come to the Tetons? The answer is primarily based on where you are in the valley. In the Town of Jackson, we start feeling hints of Spring in late March and early April.
Areas next to the base of the mountains continue to hold tight to Winter for an additional few weeks. By May 1st, when The Park Service opens the Teton Park Road from Taggart Lake to Signal Mountain Lodge, there can be snow as high as the top of my Nissan truck at the String Lake parking area. The lake can still be frozen solid. Elevation and proximity to the base of the Teton Range are key factors.
I am writing this post near the end of February. I’ll likely still have to use our snow blower several more times after making this post! The ski resort at Teton Village has recorded over 100 inches in past week or so alone. Snowfall totals for the year are well over 300 inches. How can that much snow can ever melt? I wonder that each year, but it does! Even when we think Winter is over, a new storm can blow through and blanket the valley again. The fresh snow usually melts quickly, however.
Some people call April “mud season”, but it can still offer a lot of opportunities to see animals in their migration and the valley floor beginning to awaken to a backdrop of snow covered mountains. There are few tourists in the valley in April, so if you are willing to be out in the morning cold, you can get photos with no tourists or photographers in the way. On many days, you will be the only one there.
A week or two can make a lot of difference once the sun starts hitting the valley floor.
It is equally difficult to pinpoint when Spring ends and Summer begins at this altitude. Each year is different, but elevation is probably still the key factor. I think of Spring as the time when things are beginning to turn green and I think of summer as the time when almost everything is fully green. Technically, Spring begins on March 23rd of 2014 and ends on June 21.
If you are planning a Spring trip to Jackson Hole, you’ll likely find varying degrees of the season from the first week or so of April until the first week in June. The dates below might help with decisions and timing. Each year is different, of course!
Dates of Interest:
Mother’s Day is usually around the 10th of May. Some of the commercial facilities like Signal Mountain Lodge target that weekend to open. They feature a Mother’s Day Brunch.
Memorial Day Weekend is usually around the 25th of May. It is a good time to be in Jackson to experience the Old West Days Parade, Mountain Man Rendezvous and all of the various activities. This is the unofficial beginning of the summer for most local businesses, however visitors are primarily from the region.
- Craig Thomas Visitors Center at Moose opens April 7
- Colter Bay Visitor Center opens May 10
- Flagg Ranch Information Station opens June 2
- Jenny Lake Visitor Center opens May 16
- Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center opens May 31
- Jenny Lake Ranger Station opens June 6
Yellowstone: Opens May 9 for the South Entrance to Lake; West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass); Tower to Tower Fall.
Antelope Flats Road to Mormon Row opened on April 12th last year. The Park Service didn’t open it until the entire road was bone dry. The date is never announced and can vary considerably from year to year.
The Teton Park Road (Inner Park Loop Road) opens May 1 to vehicles. Hikers, roller bladers, and bikers normally get to use the road in April.
Early Spring / Late Winter Events:
- Snow King Hill Climb: March 20-23, 2014. The Hill Climb event has grown tremendously over the years we’ve lived here. Soon afterwards, Snow King closes for the season.
- Pole Pedal Paddle: March 29, 2014. This event occurs near the end of the ski season at the Jackson Hole Ski Resort.
- Many More!
Spring (and Summer) Activities & Events
Jackson Hole Spring Activities & Events: This Feature Post contains additional Activities, Links and Events.
Spring Wildlife Notes:
The list below in intended on giving you a few general guidelines and dates.
Elk typically begin leaving the National Elk Refuge around the first of April, but some can leave much sooner.
Bison can move off the refuge starting in late March and early April. The areas along the Gros Ventre are usually good for elk and bison. They sometimes graze out to the sage flats north of Antelope Flats Road overnight and then move back to the river bottom during the day. They can repeat this behavior until they finally make the break from the area and move farther north.
Bears: The first Grizzly Bears can appear around the middle of April and more appear in the first week or so of May. Sows with cubs show up quite a bit later. With all the Grizzlies in the area now, Black Bears seem to be harder to find until they show up for berries in the fall.
The first of the migrating songbirds appear in early-May and into the first week or two in June. When I see my first Bullock’s Oriole of the year, I know it is “game-on” for the Spring birding season. Red-tailed hawks replace Rough-legged Hawks in many areas. Kestrels and Osprey also return.
Moose are typically in the river bottoms and not always too visible to the average tourist. Nubs of velvet start growing in April.
Bighorn Rams usually leave the National Elk Refuge before the Ewes. By late April and early May, very few remain at Miller Butte. By the end Winter and early Spring, their coats will have bleached considerably. Bighorn Sheep can sometimes be seen on the rock faces above Slide Lake and out the Gros Ventre Road near Red Hills Ranch. I’ve never seen them, but a herd of Bighorns are supposed to live on the steep mountains north of Mt. Moran inside Grand Teton National Park.
Pronghorns can show up in mid-April. They have their fawns in mid-June.
Wildflowers: A few start blooming in late April, but I don’t think of them as Spring arrivals. Arrow Leaf Balsom Root plants start blooming in mid to late May. By June 1st, they are common valley wide. For the most part, I think of Wildflowers as a summer item.
Fishing: Late March and usually all of April can be a great time for fly fishing in this valley. Access can sometimes be limited by closures or snow. Eventually, Winter snows swell the rivers with opaque, muddy water until after runoff. The shot above was taken on April 6th at the Pacific Creek boat launch at Moran Junction.
Summer Begins: By the end of the first week in June, grass will have turned green. The deciduous trees will be green again. Tourist start showing up in large numbers and most businesses will have opened with high expectations of a busy summer. By the time the official beginning of Summer hits on June 22nd, it will have seemed like summer has been here a couple of weeks already.
Weather: Spring weather can be all over the place. It can snow 6″ one night and be mostly melted by the next. Nights can still get below freezing, and daytime temps are usually quite pleasant. We’ve had snow on the 4th of July here, so don’t count on the calendar for this aspect of Jackson Hole. Be prepared for some bitter cold and wet periods—then peel off layers as the day warms.
The Wrap Up: If you visit the valley at the end of March, expect a fair amount of residual snow in most areas. Many access roads will still be closed. April begins the Spring thaw and resulting mud season—but it also signals the migration for many of the large mammals wintering in the south part of the valley. Many of the locals leave JH in April for their Spring Break. Hints of green start appearing in early May, along with the opening of some of the important roadways. By Memorial Day weekend, many of the migrating birds will have returned. Most of the large mammals will have moved north and into the river bottoms, shedding last year’s fur and beginning to replace it with a new coat. If you want to get a jump on the large populations of tourists, the week before Memorial Day and the week afterwards is a good time to visit the area. Most roads are open and most shops and services are back in full service. Valley wide, the locals retire their winter gear. They tune their bikes and get their boats ready for the lakes for another summer in paradise.
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