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Flying into Jackson Hole

Enjoy a Western adventure

Landing in a hole is usually not such a good idea but putting your wheels down at Jackson Hole Airport is just the start of a good Western adventure.
Photography by Chris Rose
Photography by Chris Rose

To be accurate, it’s not really a hole, that was a term used by mountain men for a mountain valley. This hole—named for David Jackson (1788-1837), an early fur trapper and trader—lies nestled beneath the majestic Teton Range in northwest Wyoming.

Here you can experience the West as many people remember it. This was a rugged land of tough pioneers, fur trappers, traders, and ranchers. Until the mid-twentieth century the valley was cut off from the world each winter by deep snows.

Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)

Jackson Hole Airport is seven miles north of the town of Jackson. The locals are quick to tell visitors, “It’s not ‘Jackson Hole,’ just ‘Jackson,’” However, the airport is Jackson Hole Airport and it’s the only commercial airport (with scheduled flights) located inside a national park, Grand Teton National Park. The airport site was selected in the 1930s and commercial flights started in 1941, before much of the valley was designated a National Monument in 1943 and merged into Grand Teton National Park in 1950. Today, because of the surrounding parkland and its wild residents, strict noise abatement procedures are enforced.

In the early days, the airport terminal was a small log cabin, but a new, modern terminal built of local wood and stone, and decorated with wildlife art opened in 2014. It offers passengers amenities, including a restaurant and bar, gift and book shops, car rental, and bus/taxi services. This is one of the rare airports with a kiosk for travelers to rent bear-repellant spray.

WY go?

Jackson offers visitors a chance to experience the Old West. You can stay at a dude ranch—think the movie City Slickers—or attend the Jackson Hole Rodeo, Elk Antler Auction, and Old West Days in October this year. Jackson is an excellent base to visit two spectacular national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone. The town and nearby Teton Village offer world-class winter sports among the majestic Tetons.

For GA pilots

If you’re flying yourself, JAC has one runway, 1/19, that is 6,300 feet by 150 feet of asphalt at an elevation of 6,451 feet, so check the density altitude. If approaching from the south, you’ll see Jackson just off your right wing tip and Teton Village at the base of the Tetons to the left. The Snake River will parallel your flight path on the west side and the National Elk Refuge is the green patch on the northeast corner of Jackson. You’ll cross into Grand Teton National Park just before landing.

If landing from the north you’ll overfly the large and beautiful Jackson Lake, 15 miles northeast of the airport, and fly along a string of smaller, scenic lakes strung along the base of the Grand Tetons to the west. Three miles from the runway you’ll pass over the town of Moose, and the famous Chapel of the Transfiguration, which you’ll see on postcards everywhere. Pilots should be alert for wildlife and be skilled in mountain flying techniques. Jackson Hole Aviation is the only FBO on the airport and can provide almost anything—Jet A and 100LL, oxygen, water, catering, lavatory service, deicing, and maintenance. Hangar and tiedown space is available, but limited, and reservations are necessary. The staff can assist pilots with hotels and car rentals.

Dennis K. Johnson

Dennis K. Johnson is an aviation writer and pilot living in New York City.

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