Some travel destinations yield easily to the airlines’ flight route maps. Other, not so much. Pilots live to explore the latter places.
Take Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. They’re highlights of an iconic vacation that has always presented difficult logistics challenges. Let the pros take you there, and you’re likely flying to Denver or Salt Lake City. Then, surrender your carry-ons to a tiny regional aircraft for the hop to Jackson, Wyoming. Or, rent a car in Salt Lake City and enjoy the 5 hours or so driving to the start of your relaxation. Ugh.
Even for pilots, the Yellowstone area isn’t the friendliest destination. Jackson Hole airport (KJAC) sits at 6,450 elevation—sobering at any time for prop pilots and a no-go consideration even for jets in hot, summer conditions with just 6,400 feet of pavement and sharply rising terrain in nearly every direction. Add a propensity for summer thunderstorms and winter snowstorms, and Disneyland begins to seem an attractive alternative.
That would be a shame because the area boasts some of the most spectacular scenery (and flying) on Earth. And, with activities from whitewater river rafting, to high-end shopping, hiking, horseback riding, golf and skiing, there’s a great vacation here for any age or family.
Here’s the secret back door for pilots headed to the great Mountain West: Instead of trying the Jackson Hole approach, consider flying to the Yellowstone area via Driggs, Idaho’s Reed Memorial airport (KDIJ). It’s still a high-elevation airport at 6,200 feet above sea level, so check the POH before launching. But the Driggs environment is considerably easier to negotiate: You have Tetons to the East and some high hills south of the field, but access from the north and northwest is flat. Boring even. That also translates to less of Jackson’s wild weather.
From Driggs, you’re only a 45 minute ride though the Highway 22 pass from Jackson. And, hey, you just might find you like exploring—or even staying on—the west side of the Tetons.
On a family vacation, we took advantage of the opportunity to rent a log-cabin home at Teton Springs, a luxury enclave in Victor, Idaho just a few minutes south of the airport. The resort also has a lodge available and condos. Daytrips to Jackson were easy with a rafting trip down the Snake River and an afternoon spent in the charming and Cowboy-luxe downtown of Jackson. At one point, we even made a grand circle tour through Yellowstone National Park (gotta bag Ol’ Faithful and the mineral pools) and the Teton lookout points, up north to Montana and back down the western range to our base in Idaho.
Back on the Idaho side, the golf at Teton Springs is great. The kids enjoyed fishing in lakes around the property. And, the dinner and horseback trail riding adventure at Linn Canyon Ranch still gets mentioned whenever we reminisce about our favorite family times.
Another area that offer great access to Jackson is found in Alpine, Wyoming. What makes Alpine unique is that it offers one of the most beautiful airparks in the United States as it is surround by mountains and the Palasades Resevoir. If you happen to fall in love with the area on your next trip you might want to check out 46U.
Aerial tours are another common highlight, whether by plane or helicopter. If you fly yourself, you’ll be glad all over again you based your aircraft on the “easy” side.
There’s way too much to do in the area for just one trip, but give the Driggs gateway a try. We’ll warn you, though, it’s awe-inspiring enough to make you consider upgrading to a turbo, turboprop or whatever is just a few dollars more than what you currently fly.
Driggs, Idaho Reed Memorial Airport (KDIJ)
Teton Aviation Center (FBO)
253 Warbird Lane
Teton Springs Resort
10 Warm Creek Lane
Linn Canyon Ranch
1300 E 6000 S
Snake River Rafting
Multiple vendors. Check listings online.