One of the crown jewels of North America is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Wyoming. Centered on Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, this immense multistate region encompasses a huge temperate environment that remains largely intact. I still treasure the memories of my first visit decades ago, and every time I return, I fall in love with the place all over again.
I’m hardly alone in my feelings, and high-season overtourism has become a problem. In the summer, it’s best to arrive as early in the morning as possible to start exploring, before parking becomes difficult at top trailheads and attractions. September is perhaps the ideal month to visit, when the weather is still pleasant, and the kids are back in school. But winter, too, can be magical, with otherworldly thermal features emerging from the snow and world-class skiing nearby.
Usually I avoid visiting places in high season, but on this occasion, I suspected that the number of visitors would be fewer than normal. I booked accommodations in the scenically magnificent valley of Jackson Hole, both in the small city of Jackson itself and in Teton Village to the north, the region’s principal ski resort.
The best property in the latter has long been the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, with 158 rooms and suites. But a hideaway-size competitor opened in the summer of 2018 in a prime location at the center of the village, with doorstep access to the Aerial Tram (the town’s other lifts are a short walk away, toward the Four Seasons). Caldera House has just eight apartment-style accommodations: four two-bedroom suites and an equal number of four-bedroom suites. Rates are stratospheric, making the property more sensible for friends or families traveling together, as opposed to couples.
The fussiest chef would surely be pleased to cook in this space, appointed with high-end appliances, including a wine fridge and Nespresso machine, and Le Creuset cookware.
Curious to find out if the service matched the rates, and if the praise lavished upon the Caldera House by the travel press was warranted, I booked us a two-bedroom suite. We had trouble finding the hotel entrance at first, because a semitruck was parked in front of the door. It was delivering food to the hotel’s ground-floor restaurant, bar and café, all of which are open to the public. A cheerful young woman behind the front desk accompanied me back to our rental car, rolling along a luggage rack (valet service had been temporarily suspended due to COVID).
She led us up to our spacious wood-floored apartment, Kari Kari, decorated with touches of Americana. Past the foyer, in which a closet concealed a washer and dryer, a huge framed American flag faced the lengthy kitchen peninsula. The fussiest chef would surely be pleased to cook in this space, appointed with high-end appliances, including a wine fridge and Nespresso machine, and Le Creuset cookware. (It’s possible to arrange for a professional chef from the hotel’s restaurant to prepare meals there.) I also appreciated the complimentary welcome basket of local granola, cookies, tea and bottle of local wine. The open-plan room flowed into a stylish living area, with a convincing gas fireplace and plaid flannel curtains framing sliding glass doors. These led to a wide terrace overlooking the distant Sleeping Indian Mountain. Unfortunately, a large parking lot provided an unattractive foreground.
The roomy master bedroom also opened to the terrace. A framed vintage Cub Scout banner hung over the sumptuously comfortable bed, encouraging occupants to “Do your best.” I loved the dramatic master bath, clad in wood paneling and blood-red subway tile, with a freestanding tub and Le Labo toiletries. Both the second bedroom and second bath were smaller and simpler, making the apartment better suited to a family than two couples who plan on splitting the cost evenly.
The patio of the hotel’s Old Yellowstone Garage restaurant didn’t appeal as much as our terrace, so we elected to have a room service dinner in our apartment. I enjoyed a salad of savory blistered tomatoes with crunchy radish slices, spicy sun-dried tomato pesto and dill, accompanied by a glass of white Arneis from Piedmont, followed by oven-roasted quail with smoked mushrooms, pea shoots and goat cheese, paired with a fruity Nebbiolo. When a staff member arrived to clear our plates, we allowed her to tempt us into a dessert of peach-filled wontons with whipped cream. The ample room service breakfasts were also outstanding. It was bliss, starting the day with strong coffee, ripe fresh fruit and perfectly cooked scrambled eggs as we watched hot-air balloons rise in the distance.
We reserved the infinity hot tub for a relaxing hourlong private soak. A massage treatment room was nearby, and I heard credible reports of a fitness center. The Caldera House’s other main amenity required more ingenuity to find, however. The Members Lounge overlooking the ski slope is a privilege for members of Caldera House’s Alpine Club, but to join requires an initial payment in the low six figures, plus annual dues.
No one had mentioned that hotel guests theoretically also have access to the lounge. When I asked whether it was open, I learned that it was used chiefly in winter, and that there was no bar service in summertime. Accustomed to trespassing in the line of duty, I tried using my room key to unlock the door. It worked. Jackson Hole’s most exclusive lounge is decorated in a Western-inflected midcentury-modern style that wouldn’t have felt out of place in a Soho House, while its terrace has cushioned seating groups arrayed around fire pits, which surely must be the town’s top après-ski real estate.
In the end, it became clear that the exorbitant rates of Caldera House pay for spacious apartments in a prime location and exclusivity. The service, while very friendly, does not rise to the occasion. I had emailed and spoken with a “concierge” — everyone at the front desk seemed to be a concierge, as is the fashion nowadays — to make some sightseeing arrangements before we arrived. I expected these to be verbally acknowledged at check-in, or to find a paper in the room confirming them. Instead, I had to call down to the front desk and rehash the plans I wanted to make with another staff member (who was admittedly quite helpful). And when I asked if they had any insect repellent I could use before heading out on a hike, I was told, “Oh yes, someone asked for some last week, but I don’t think we had any. No, I don’t see any. I’m sorry.”
The spaciousness of our two-bedroom suite; its warm and stylish décor with a sense of place; the hotel’s exclusivity and perfect central location in Teton Village; the friendliness of the staff; the well-presented room service meals.
The service did not live up to the stratospheric rates; our view encompassed as much parking lot as mountains.
Guests, in-season and conditions permitting, have access to the expensive and exclusive Members Lounge, as well as the locker room’s ski storage and ski valet; Aria and Yellowstone are the two-bedroom suites with car-free ski-slope views.
Like the Caldera House, the Hotel Jackson provided cheerful and often helpful service, but there were stumbles. This 55-room hotel opened in the heart of the city of Jackson in 2015, a short walk from the picturesque Jackson Town Square. Arches of elk antlers stand at the square’s four corners, overlooked by the Five & Dime General Store, Cowboy Coffee and the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, among other self-consciously Western institutions. Sidewalks in the town’s center are wooden boardwalks, hammering home the “olde time” atmosphere. When we visited, masks were required to enter places of business, making it feel relatively safe to browse the touristy shops.
We drove up to the contemporary building housing the Hotel Jackson, an appealing assemblage of wood and stone cubes, where a flannel-clad valet took possession of our vehicle. Inside, a small lobby-lounge opened onto the hotel’s Lebanese restaurant, Figs, and a hall behind the front desk led to the stylish Sacajawea Library. Striking Western-themed art and art books filled the inviting space. Done in cream and earth tones, it would have been a delightful spot to relax with a cocktail in ordinary times.
The hotel had no public outdoor space aside from a rooftop hot tub and small adjacent terrace, but these, we were told, had been ordered closed by the health department. Fortunately, our Premier King With View room was an agreeable place in which to relax. It had clean-lined contemporary furnishings and a simple, earthy color scheme of taupe and ivory. A wood-plank accent wall, leather luggage racks, a blown-up vintage photo of a galloping horse, antler-spotted curtains and sepia-toned pillows emblazoned with feathers and bison gave the room a sense of place. An abstract painting resembling an aspen forest provided the lone splash of color. The firm but comfortable king bed faced a narrow gas fireplace, and two armchairs flanked the window. This afforded a partial view of Snow King Mountain’s ski runs. The tiled bath had a separate tub and shower, well-lit dual vanities and a Native American-style kilim, but it felt compact, as did the room in general.
With its central location and stylish Western-themed décor,
the Hotel Jackson is the best hotel in the city of Jackson itself.
On our first evening, we had a delicious room service dinner of mezzes from Figs. The creamy hummus topped with chicken shawarma was especially tasty. But the following morning, the room service breakfast was less impressive. The “fresh-squeezed” orange juice was bottled, and a plate of eggs, hash browns and sausages resembled similar dishes served in any random diner. I also didn’t appreciate that when I called for the house car to pick me up at a bike rental shop, I was forgotten. When I called back to find out whether the car was coming, someone at the front desk explained, “Oh, yes, the car. Sorry, we got busy. Would you like me to send it now?” Having already waited 30 minutes, I declined and walked back.
With its central location and stylish Western-themed décor, the Hotel Jackson is the best hotel in the city of Jackson itself. I was especially impressed with the housekeeping staff, who kept our accommodations immaculate. But for the duration of our stay, I couldn’t help wishing that we were at Amangani instead, which was just 15 minutes away by car. That longtime recommendation charges similar rates, making it the obviously superior choice.
The central location in Jackson; the chic contemporary Western décor; the Lebanese cuisine of Figs; the detail-oriented housekeeping staff.
Our expensive room’s small size; occasional service stumbles that went unaddressed; the compromised view; the limited outdoor space.
Three of the four suites have private furnished balconies or terraces.