The once-private Snake River Sporting Club has been revamped as a luxe resort destination and gateway to the Grand Tetons.
I wasn’t expecting to be hit with such beauty so soon after landing. Jackson Hole Airport is situated inside Grand Teton National Park, and even as my driver and I were pulling out of the parking lot, I had my phone pressed up to the window, snapping photos of the tallgrass prairie and looming indigo sky.
Against this rugged, rambling backdrop, the Snake River Sporting Club appears like an Easter egg hidden in the grass. Its turn-off on sleepy Highway 89 is marked by a flaming red suspension bridge decorated with twinkling Christmas tree lights. Night had already fallen, so there wasn’t much to see as we entered the driveway, which led from the quiet highway into an even quieter canyon. A steep butte rose in the darkness, while the Snake River gurgled 70 feet below. There wasn't a pair of headlights in sight. It was another two miles downriver before we reached any actual buildings.
For years, Snake River Sporting Club, a private residential community, existed on the periphery of the town of Jackson. The club’s prime frontage along the Snake River and access to Bridger-Teton National Forest made it a prized destination for golfers — who practically had the valley to themselves — but unless you were a member, you couldn’t stay overnight.
Then, financial struggles forced Snake River Sporting Club to shut down for five years, only to relaunch in 2013 as a new and improved version of itself. Now, non-members are welcome too, and just in time, as the amenities have quadrupled. With its equestrian center, helipad, pickleball courts, and a charming row of designer-furnished tiny homes, Snake River Sporting Club has recast itself as a full-fledged resort.
This fall, the property will unveil a new batch of high-end, contemporary lodges, built into the foothills of the Wyoming Range. Available for guests when not in use by the owners, the luxe residences will operate like vacation rentals, complete with rustic timber beams, fireplaces, and soaring glass windows that look out onto the forest. Yurts are also being constructed, and will be ready by late August.
Since those lodges were still under construction during my visit, I opted for a tiny home, every bit as charming as I’d imagined. Though only 30 feet long, it provided plenty of space, and the rustic design complemented the surroundings. At night, with the fireplace aglow, I would make a pot of tea and leave the sliding door open so the cool night air could drift inside while I dozed.
Though the club doesn’t adhere to the format of traditional luxury resorts in the area such as the Four Seasons or Amangani (both of which sit a few miles up the road), a loose structure is in place. Inside the Old West-style clubhouse, with its timber frame roof and a roaring fireplace, returning members mingle with first-time guests over leek-and-mushroom quesadillas and tequila cocktails. The place still has the feel of an exclusive retreat, though it gets triple the visitors than it did during the private club days. The restaurant has a breezy deck with views out to the fairway, and just below, an infinity pool stands directly over the rushing Snake River.
Most guests use a rental car, but since I don’t have a driver’s license, the concierge proposed using a golf cart to get around, which proved efficient (and fun). In a moment, I could zip over from my tiny house and grab lunch at the clubhouse, or cruise over to the secluded hot springs at the edge of the property. (Though currently a small, undeveloped swim hole is open to guests, a major restoration project is underway to reopen the Astoria Hot Springs, a beloved soaking spot in the Jackson community, by 2020.)
The property also has a series of newly expanded hiking trails that lead directly into Bridger-Teton National Forest. To get my nature fill, all I had to do was hop in the golf cart and find one of the trailheads (the resort provides a map). And the allure of these trails — 12 of them in all — cannot be overstated. On my second day at the resort, I headed up to a plateau that overlooked the valley (they call this part of the resort “the bench,” and in winter it’s home to herds of grazing elk). There, I picked up the Cliff Cave trail, a remote loop that veers up into the surrounding hills.
Suddenly, I’d entered the backcountry. Gone were the groomed driveways — instead, an overgrown meadow was bisected by a barely perceptible path, leading through groves of pine and Aspen trees. The walls of the valley narrowed, and soon I found myself in a fairy garden that stretched as far as the eye could see. Old moss-covered trunks protruded out of the ground, and every wildflower imaginable grew in distinct patches around me. Lupine, foxglove, Indian paintbrush, and huge white star columbine—all scattered in different corners of the forest, like color-coded neighborhoods in a pop-up plant city.
Trails like this are one of the reasons Snake River Sporting Club has succeeded the second time around. By bringing guests to the edge of a 3 million-acre national forest, and allowing them discover it for themselves, they are all the more likely to feel a connection with the land.
There’s more to come. Currently, work is underway to expand the Martin Creek trail to accommodate overnight horseback riding trips (the yurts are being constructed for this purpose). With permits already secured from the Forest Service, guests this summer will be among the first to try out the longer rides, and spend a night glamping in the woods. Presumably, s’mores will be involved. It’s not quite how Lewis and Clark would have done it, but the sense of discovery is still genuine, and even hardy explorers like an upgrade every now and then.
Note: The Snake River Sporting Club provided support for the reporting of this story.
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