From Spa Girl to Cowgirl in One Western Weekend: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

By on September 1, 2012

You can sense it the moment you step off the plane: Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a different kind of place. Friendly? Yes, that’s a given. But it’s more than that. Arriving at the Jackson Hole airport, you enter the terminal through an archway of elk antlers. The stylish women sport cowboy boots with their casual dresses. It’s a sophisticated, culture-rich western town with modern amenities and an active, health-conscious community of residents and visitors. You might even go so far as to say that fitness and outdoor adventure is practically a religion here. Visitors are drawn for the extreme winter sports, but summer in the Tetons brings a whole new breed of adventure along with the jaw-dropping landscape and abundant wildlife that visitors flock here to see.

Which is why this wellness-minded spa girl has decided to turn cowgirl for one western weekend. We’re in the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone area for 11 days on what I tend to refer to as one of our epic family travel adventures. In addition to our visit to Jackson, we’re also visiting Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Big Sky Mountain Resort in Big Sky, Montana. In the end, we cover almost 700 miles in our compact rental car. But we’ll get to all that later. Our weekend in Jackson Hole is jam packed with activities, some starting at sunrise and others ending at sunset.

We’ve barely landed when we embark on our first adventure: a trip to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain on the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) aerial tram. It couldn’t be easier since we are staying at the beautiful and luxurious Hotel Terra (click here for my review) in Teton Village, just steps away from the big red tram’s base area. In 12 minutes we are whisked 4,139 vertical feet to the snow-capped peak, climbing to an altitude of over 10,000 feet. It’s nearly 90 degrees at the base and the refreshing cool air at the summit is a welcome change of temperature. We hike around a bit before taking the last tram down at 6:30 pm, but not before drinking in the extraordinary vistas that only visitors to the peak are rewarded with. It’s the perfect start to our adventurous weekend.

Aroma By 1 Give 1

The entire area invites and encourages exploration, but not just yet for us. We have a very early morning ahead of us and with the time change and jet lag, we’ll need to take our shut eye seriously for tonight. This is not hard to do in the comfort of our luxe 1-bedroom suite at Hotel Terra, where even the Murphy bed is super-comfortable.

Bison in Grand Teton National Park with BrushBuck Guide Services. Credit: Michele McIntyre

This trip has a little something for everyone. For me, it’s the chance to hike and run in the most picturesque of outdoor environments, a few spa visits thrown in as a reward, and a few checks in the never-before-experienced adventure column. For my son, it’s hands down the wildlife. “We’ll pick you up at Hotel Terra at 6 a.m.”, says Amber, one of the owners of BrushBuck Guide Services. 6 a.m. on my the first morning of my epic Wyoming and Montana vacation? For the best time of day to view wildlife before the animals bed down in the heat of the day, yes.

I was excited to meet our guide, Levi, the very next morning at the promised hour. Levi picked us up in a super-clean and newish Nissan Armada for what turned out to be a private Grand Teton National Park Dawn Four Hour Tour. For almost 4 ½ hours, Levi safely and expertly drove us around the park pointing out wildlife spotted with his well-trained eye. Those specks moving alongside the mountain? They turned out to be a herd of elk. We each had a pair of binoculars provided by the guide service and Levi often set up a spotting scope for us to clearly view distant wildlife. Minutes into the excursion, we were staring in awe at a female moose feasting on willows and aquatic plants. Just a few of the other animals we spotted: mule deer, pronghorn, white pelican, red-tailed hawk and herd after herd of bison. The guide service also provides snacks and cold drinks and the tours are tailored to meet the needs of the participants. Levi had us back to Hotel Terra by 10:30 am. Positively one of the greatest highlights of our entire trip!

Bar T 5 covered wagon cookout. Credit: Michele McIntyre

After a rest and a dip in Hotel Terra’s infinity edge pool, we were off on our next adventure: For the friendliest group of ranch hands in the west, spend an evening with the cowboys and cowgirls from Bar T 5 at their Covered Wagon Cookout. This crew has organization and planning down to a T (pun intended!) and the entire production operates like a well-oiled machine. After a brief welcome and introduction, we boarded our covered wagons pulled by two huge horses for a trip down into the Cache Creek Canyon with views of the Tetons behind us.

Back at the dinner pavilion inside the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Bar T 5 band entertained guests young and old, interspersed with interactive silly fun and cowboy theatrics. No one in the audience was safe from “volunteering” for a part in the show. My husband had the once in a lifetime opportunity to ring the dinner bell – the western signal that it’s time for grub. The all-you-can-eat buffet of barbecue chicken, beef tips, salad with ranch dressing, corn on the cob, rolls, beans and blond brownies was hearty and satisfying. Expect a warm and welcoming western-themed evening of good clean family fun and a few well-timed surprises that I won’t give away.

Our next stop was a visit to the exciting and authentic Jackson Hole rodeo. Operating every Wednesday and Saturday in the summer season, the rodeo displays the skills of the competitive cowboys and cowgirls in a series of events: bareback bronc competition, bull riding and calf roping. It’s a little bit State Fair and a little bit wild west, but a whole lot of fun. Well worth a trip, especially if you’ve never been to a rodeo before.

The excitement literally never ends in Jackson and the next morning is another early start. This time, we’re headed for the Snake River on a Barker-Ewing Breakfast combo excursion. If you had to handle the details of an outing like this on your own, it would be a logistical nightmare. But the experienced guides and drivers (ours was the super-friendly Jodi) at Barker-Ewing handled each and every detail to make our trip seamless and flawless. It didn’t hurt that the weather was ideal and the sky was a cloudless almost too perfect shade of blue.

We started out at 7:30 a.m. at Barker-Ewing’s meeting place near the town of Jackson. After renting our wet suits, booties and fleece (the Snake River was a bone-chilling 50 degrees on the day of our trip) we boarded the bus and were on our way to the launch site in no time. We eased into our adventure with a scenic 8-mile float trip where we could photograph wildlife and our guide managed to keep us dry except for our feet while loading the raft. This was our opportunity to take photos because we wouldn’t be able to have our cameras later. Tristan, our very experienced guide, seemed to handle the boat effortlessly and could identify most of the wildlife and knew a little bit about the people that went down the river in a time long before us. We saw ducks, geese, pelicans and a majestic bald eagle.

Before long, Tristan was pulling over at Barker-Ewing’s private riverside campsite for a short hike up to our outstanding breakfast served beside the campfire. Fresh-cut fruit, maple sausage, eagle eggs (sorry, but I can’t give away the secret ingredients – but they were excellent!) and rice flour pancakes prepared for us by Barker-Ewings chefs as we arrived.

After our hearty wilderness breakfast and a quick paddle over to the other side of the river, we find our bus (and all of our whitewater gear) waiting for us at the launch site where the whitewater portion of the river begins. After suiting up in our wetsuits, we set out for the final leg of our adventure: 8 miles of Class II and Class III rapids, like the famous Lunch Counter and Champagne, gave us the perfect amount of thrills and was over far too quickly. We had a blast! But our trip to the wild west isn’t over yet. We leave Jackson for Grand Teton National Park (review coming soon!) with memories of the views, the wildlife and especially the adventure. And a few more “checks in the box” for some first ever adventure experiences.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was supplied with complimentary or discounted admission to the services and attractions covered in this article.


Originally posted on

Michele McIntyre

About Michele McIntyre

Michele McIntyre is a freelance writer who covers spas, travel, fitness, wellness, beauty and healthy living/eating. She is happiest when lying face up on the treatment table, writing about her spa and travel experiences or testing new products to share with her readers. She lives near Syracuse, NY with her husband and son. Michele is a regular travel contributor to LivingBetterat50+ and has written for Today’s Central New York Woman Magazine and online at Tripology, TripAtlas, and Splash Magazines Worldwide. Michele blogs about the spa and travel industry, and anything else she can think of, at When she isn't writing about or visiting spas, Michele loves traveling, hiking, skiing, camping, yoga and reading. If any of these pursuits can be combined with a visit to the spa, even better! Michele can be reached at [email protected]



    September 24, 2012 at 4:57 am

    What an adventure in Wyoming! Looks like the rapid thrills are the best and must be the sceneries.

    • Michele McIntyre

      October 27, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks! It was quite a fabulous adventure.


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From Spa Girl to Cowgirl in One Western Weekend: Jackson Hole, Wyoming