The West Texas Bucket List

Your guide to the top things to do and see in West Texas.

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Davis Mountains – Far west Texas isn’t just open desert like the movies would have you believe. Explore Davis Mountains State Park’s miles of trails, camping, and informational programming… More

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McDonald Observatory – The stars at night are extra big and bright at this West Texas mountaintop observatory. Hundreds of miles from bright city lights, the McDonald Observatory offers unbeatable star gazing… More

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The Gage Hotel – This historic desert oasis in Marathon, TX was voted among the top Texas hotels by Condé Nast. Talk about old country charm!… More

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Marfa – In this tiny West Texas town, there’s a Gram-worthy photo around practically every corner that is sure to elicit jealousy from friends… More

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Alpine – Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Catch a semi-pro Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field… More

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Star Gazing at McDonald Observatory

The stars at night are extra big and bright at this West Texas mountaintop observatory. Hundreds of miles from bright city lights, the McDonald Observatory offers stargazers unbeatable views. Plan your visit around catching a Star Party where you’ll have access to outdoor telescopes at the observatory’s park and an interactive overview of the night sky. Star Parties are offered on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Dress warmly with layers because nighttime temps dip, even in the summer. Daytime activities are also offered if you’re not a night owl.

Weather conditions can quickly change near the observatory, so if the skies are overcast in the morning, things may clear up by evening. If it happens to be cloudy during your visit, you’ll be offered alternative programming indoors, or you may be able to reschedule.

Stay the night at accommodations close to the observatory. Options include Indian Lodge, or for the more adventurous, pitch a tent at Davis Mountains State Park.

Nearby things to do: 

Davis Mountains

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Alpine

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Alpine, Texas: “The Last Frontier”

Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Get a sense of place at Stylle Read’s wall mural Big Brewster outside of the Kiowa Gallery. This mural portrays notable town figures including visionaries such as Everett Townsend who spearheaded the creation of Big Bend National Park, successful rancher Herbert Kokernot who established the Alpine Cowboys baseball club in 1946, and local celebs such as Dan Blocker who became better known as Hoss Cartwright on the“Bonanza” TV series also appear in the mural. Keep an eye out for more murals scattered throughout Alpine.

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Catch a semi-pro Alpine Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field during the season that runs from May through August. With inexpensive tickets, a boisterous local crowd, the Davis Mountains as the field’s backdrop and brews from nearby Big Bend Brewing Co., you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Fun fact: the 06 symbol found throughout the park tie in to the Kokernot family’s cattle branding from back in the day. Not in town during baseball season? You can still visit the field’s exterior intricate ironwork.

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The Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University is worth a visit. The Big Bend Legacy exhibit gives visitors deep insight into the natural and human histories of the region. Other temporary rotating exhibits include Terry Cockerham’s “Big Bend and the Terlingua Project” and “Early Education and the Annual Summer Normal in Alpine.” Admission to all exhibits is free!

Nearby things to do:

McDonald Observatory

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Davis Mountains

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The Gage Hotel in West Texas

The Gage Hotel is located in the charming town of Marathon that still has a frontier feel to this day. On the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places, the Gage Hotel was built in 1926 by successful rancher Alfred Gage and later converted into a hotel.

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Guests can stay in the historic Western style hotel, pueblo style adobe brick rooms in Los Portales, or have complete privacy in casitas. Enjoy the hotel pool, gym, White Buffalo bar, and V6 health conscious foods for your coffee and smoothie needs.

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Watch people and trains passing by from the ivy covered porch in a wooden rocking chair, mediate in a courtyard, or cool off in the pool with a frozen drink from the White Buffalo bar. With so much old country charm, its no surprise that this historic desert oasis was voted among the top Texas hotels by Condé Nast Traveler.

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Located a short distance across the train tracks is the manicured Gage Gardens, covering a lush 27 acres. We recommend visiting early in the morning to enjoy cooler temps and beautiful lighting.

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Learn more about the Gage Hotel and make reservations.

Things to do nearby:

Davis Mountains

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McDonald Observatory

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Marfa

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Alpine

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The Davis Mountains in West Texas

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Far west Texas isn’t just open desert like Hollywood movies would have you believe. The Davis Mountains rise up above the open plain and exposing interesting rock formations along the canyon walls. Explore Davis Mountains State Park‘s miles of trails, camping, and informational Ranger programming. Trails range from easy stroll to challenging, offering something for every level of hiker. Remember to bring plenty of water on hikes, and keep in mind that burn bans may be in effect during your visit, so plan accordingly. For those looking for further hiking and camping, the Davis Mountains also serve as a gateway to nearby Big Bend State Park.

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Checking information boards near the entrance of any park or campsite will give valuable information, such as check-in/out procedures, information on burn bans if applicable, maps of the area, and more.

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We enjoyed a ranger programming event on our visit with a costumed Civilian Conservation Corps soldier. He discussed events of the particular time period and demonstrated what soldiers would have carried with them to set up camp. Check upcoming Ranger events before you go.

The McDonald Observatory is a short 15-20 minute drive away from Davis Mountains State Park. Plan to work this into your West Texas travels–it’s an incredible experience!

Other nearby things to do:

McDonald Observatory

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Alpine

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Check out more hiking inspo from our trip to Jackson Hole.

Top Photo Ops in Marfa, Texas

A tiny blip on the radar, Marfa is a far West Texas town turned cultural art mecca. Getting there won’t be easy though — the nearest airports are located in El Paso and Midland and are both about 3 hours away — but we promise the extra effort will be worth it! In this tiny West Texas town, there’s a Gram-worthy photo around practically every corner that is sure to elicit jealousy from friends. Here are our top photo op picks and things to do in Marfa.

The Paisano Hotel

The historic Paisano Hotel has old world charm, so its no wonder the film stars of the movie epic Giant, including Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean chose to stay here when filming nearby. The hotel courtyard offers a tranquil relaxation spot, and the bubbling fountain makes you almost forget you’re in the west Texas desert. Step inside the lobby to view photography on exhibit from the making of the film epic Giant. Bonus: Grab a super cheap and delicious breakfast burrito served up at the hotel restaurant in the am for just $5.

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Presidio County Courthouse

The charming pink building is nestled at the end of Marfa’s main street and can be seen from almost any spot in town. The view from the top of the courthouse tower is phenomenal, especially if you get up early to catch it at sunrise.

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Prada Marfa

The surreal Prada Marfa shop is a short 30 minute drive from Marfa through ranch land and desert. You’ve probably seen celebs like Rihanna pose in front of this false storefront, so why not snap a picture in front of it yourself? Plan to drive out in the evening to catch sunset for great lighting.

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El Cosmico campground

Just minutes from the heart of Marfa, El Cosmico campground offers visitors an eccentric glamping paradise. Stay overnight in colorful trailer homes, teepees or yurts. Communal spaces with hammocks and an outdoor kitchen give guests a chance to meet fellow travelers and exchange stories.

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Chinati Foundation

Renowned artist Donald Judd created larger than life installations in and around Marfa. The Chinati Foundation building in town exudes desert vibes with its dusty colored exterior. This converted building was formerly the Marfa Wool and Mohair Building in the center of town located just off the railroad tracks. Today, the building houses the installation of John Chamberlain’s 22 sculptures in painted and chromium-plated steel. Take a short trip out of town to visit more contemporary art installations that are part of the Chinati Foundation.

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Pure Joy Marfa tower

Located a few blocks off of the main street, this silo will remind you to find happiness in the little things.

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Top 5 Reasons to Ski Taos

Quick Facts

  • Located in Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico
  • Elevation: 9,206 ft – 12,481 ft
  • Some of the best terrain in North America

 

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1) Amazing terrain. With 300+ inches of annual snowfall and 1,294 acres of skiable terrain, the Taos Ski Valley slopes offer over 100 runs. Skiers enjoy light, dry powder, interesting terrain (including steep shoots, big bumps and challenging tree glades) and essentially no wait for lift lines, even during busier times.

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2) Do a ski week. Al’s Run looming over the base area may intimidate skiers, but there’s plenty of skiable terrain for all levels. Take advantage of Taos Ski Valley’s renowned ski school and sign up for lessons. You’ll enjoy tailored instruction and perfect technical skiing skills on some slopes that may have been too difficult to tackle on your own.  Overlap your visit with an Adult Snowsports Week and get 6 two-hour morning lessons in addition to “tech talk” evenings.

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3) Affordability. Reasonable flights and hotel rates make this destination a no brainer. Lift tickets start from $54 if purchased online, and accommodations are just as affordable. Stay 10 min from Ski Valley in the unique town of Taos for as little as $60 per night. Hotel rates at the base of the mountain won’t take a chunk out of your paycheck either. We loved our chalet-style room at Alpine Village Suites and soaked our sore muscles after long days of skiing in the outdoor hot tub and sauna.

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3) Nearby day trips. Easy day trips from Taos Ski Valley include Taos Pueblo, Rio Grande Gorge, and Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa to name a few. Santa Fe is only a couple hours away and on the way to Taos if you’re flying out of Albuquerque. Stop over in Sante Fe for jewelry shopping, pueblo architecture, native history, and delicious food. We stopped at the well-known restaurant Cafe Pasqual’s, nestled into a pueblo style building off the main square.

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4) Bustling art scene. The town of Taos has a rich art history with notable artists having settled in the area, drawn to the region’s “drama of vast spaces.” Pop into an art gallery and marvel at the local artists’ talents.

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5) Come for the slopes, stay for the memories. When planning our ski trip to Taos, there were plenty of articles boasting about the fantastic skiing. What we weren’t prepared for was the local culture of hospitality experienced throughout our visit. Everyone we interacted with, from ski shop employees and ski patrol to fellow skiers, was incredibly friendly. We even made some new friends sitting out by the fire pit at the base. We’ll definitely be back soon, Taos!

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10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Yellowstone

We’ve visited Yellowstone dozens of times and have spent enough time in this park to consider ourselves professional Yellowstone tourists. We’ve compiled a list of the top reasons why you should plan your trip to Yellowstone!

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Southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park

Only place in the world where can you see so many thermal features

Yellowstone contains half the world’s geothermal features and over 300 geysers. Grand Prismatic Spring pumps out over 4,000 gallons of water every minute, making it the  largest hot springs in North America. Old Faithful is the most famous of the Yellowstone geysers thanks to its “faithful” timing; this geyser erupts regularly every 60-110 minute. Three of my personal favorite thermal features are Black Pool, Morning Glory Pool, and Castle Geyser. Our favorite geyser basins are West Thumb Basin and the Old Faithful area.

Vagabond tip: Download the National Park Service’s geyser app for up to date eruption predictions to time your routes around geysers accordingly. This was invaluable during our last visit to the park!

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Morning Glory Pool at Old Faithful
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Grand Prismatic Spring

To see native animals in their natural habitats

Lots of open space which is also the perfect environment for other wildlife including elk, deer, moose, pronghorn, wolves, and more. The Yellowstone bison herd is the oldest and largest public bison herd in the U.S. Bison roam freely througout the park, and you may see at least a couple from the side of the road. Visitors seek out Lamar and Hayden Valley in particular for these areas’ large number of animal sightings. Wolves were only recently reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995 after being absent from the park for seven decades and are a big attraction.

Vagabond tip: Always be alert driving through the park, as you never know what animals you may sight from your vehicle. And never approach wildlife, even if they look peaceful–they can be unpredictable and may charge without warning.

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Elk in front of Mammoth Hotel

Camp under the stars

Have you ever seen the Milky Way with your own naked eyes? Grab a sleeping bag, pitch a tent, and star gaze in Yellowstone. The park offers several campsites, or if you’re an adventurous sort, take your gear backpacking to get away from the crowds. We camped out along a scenic river in between tall pine trees, but it was the view of the stars at night that took our breath away.

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Camping in Yellowstone
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Milky Way (Unsplash)

Visit the only supervolcano on land in the world

There are only 30 active super volcanoes in the world, and the Yellowstone Caldera is the only one in North America, and is also the only one located on land. Did you know that the entire area of the park is located on top of this gigantic volcano that stretches about 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km)? So cool!

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Walking along the Old Faithful boardwalk trail

Experience a part of history

Signed into law by Congress in 1872, Yellowstone was the first national park in U.S. history. Yellowstone’s history begins much earlier than that though, with Native American tribes in the area for centuries who were followed by pioneers traveling west. Many iconic greats in American history have left a footprint on the park since it was established. President Roosevelt laid down the first cornerstone of the Roosevelt arch located at the northern entrance in Gardiner, which is inscribed with a quote from the legislation which created Yellowstone.

Vagabond tip: It’s fun to stroll some of the tourist shops along the Gardiner main street with an ice cream cone of some of the best we’ve ever had!

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At the Roosevelt Arch located in Gardiner, Montana. “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Take a hike

Explore the back country of some of America’s most beautiful land. We recommend breaking up full days of driving with at least one hike to stretch and go exploring off the park’s paved roads. Some interesting hikes are Uncle Tom’s Trail, which is short but steep and descends 500 feet toward the base of the Lower Falls, and Mystic Falls, which is a moderate 2.5 mile hike and gives you an overlook of Biscuit Basin.

Vagabond tip: Safety first! Always carry bear spray and make noise throughout hike. Park rangers also suggest that hikers travel in groups of three or more. (P.S. Check out our favorite NPS Rangers, Christina Warburg’s Instagram account @christinaadelephoto for some of the most beautiful photos of U.S. national parks and interesting anecdotes.

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Hiking (Unsplash)

Artistic inspiration

Inspiring landscape and wildlife sure to spark wonderment at all of the sheer natural beauty. Even the drives are stunning with roads skirting cliffs with canyons and rivers coursing below, waterfalls at bridge outlooks, and always scanning for a glimpse of wildlife. The park attracts artists from all over the world seeking inspiration. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the most iconic views of the yellow stone of the canyon is aptly named Artist Point.

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Artist Point

Old Faithful Inn

Experience one of the most interesting American architectural feats for yourself. Old Faithful is constructed of lodge pole pine and looks like a giant wooden cabin. It was built in a unique style in its conception and inspired an entirely new architecture genre, National Park Service rustic. No two windows are alike, with the architect intending the building to reflect the non-parallel symmetry of nature. Another interesting feature of the Inn is the Crows Nest. Grab a spot on the outdoor deck facing Old Faithful geyser for the geyser’s nearly hourly entertainment. In the evenings, grab a drink and settle in for live music in evenings.

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Old Faithful Inn by night

Soak in a natural hot tub

Ditch the spa for a dip in one of Mother Nature’s hot tubs. Most of the park’s thermal areas are way too hot to touch, but a few places are safe for a dip. We were thrilled to visit Boiling River just north of Mammoth Hot Springs, where hot springs enter Gardner River to create an enthralling experience. Imagine one side of your body icy cold from the mountain river, and the other half steeping in steaming water from hot springs. Winter visitors can also visit Boiling River, since the northern entrance from Gardiner into the park is open through the park’s colder months.

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Hot springs converging with Gardiner River at Boiling River
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Taking a dip in Boiling River

Great trout fishing

Trout Fishermen claim Yellowstone to have some of the best fishing in the U.S. Test your skills and fling a cast into Yellowstone Lake or Madison River for either fly or lure fishing. Yellowstone waters are home to sizable native cutthroat, brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout.

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Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Waldemarpaetz, Wikicommons)

Make lasting memories

Reconnect with yourself, friends, and family in nature. Yellowstone is the perfect place to make lasting, timeless memories. Stephanie’s family has been visiting Yellowstone for decades, and we’re already planning our next trip to Yellowstone together!

*All pictures are our own unless stated otherwise.

Top 5 Spots for Foodies in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Vacation Vagabonds loves food and wine just as much as we love hiking and adventure! We’ve uncovered the top five date night spots in Jackson Hole for the foodie inclined.

Most unique cuisine: Bin 22

We promise you won’t be disappointed at Bin 22, a wine bar and tapas restaurant located off the Town Square. The restaurant has a buzzing interior and charming patio with heaters–vital if you’re visiting from Texas, like us! What makes this spot really unique is that you can pick out a bottle from the specialty grocery store front with no corking fee. This tapas spot is perfect for late night dining and sharing plates to sample a variety of menu items. Our voted most interesting dish is the grilled Spanish octopus served with fingerling potatoes and fennel in a lemon-basil vinaigrette. Stephanie had to be talked into this one by our waiter, and regrets nothing! The cheese plate also blew us away, which is saying something. Brandon takes cheeses very seriously with family ties hailing from Wisconsin/Michigan.

Vagabond Tip: Make reservations or plan to arrive before/after the dinner rush during peak season. Bin 22 can get really busy!

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Drinks with a view: Amangani Resort

Go for brunch, a late afternoon aperitif or late night drinks and apps. The view from the Amangani Resort cannot be beat (talk about inspiring major vacation envy among all your friends)! Cozy up by the fireplace and watch the sun set over the Tetons and valley below. Vinos would be pleased with the options offered, and the cocktail menu is exceptional. Brandon’s 22 Boulevard cocktail (Wyoming Whiskey, boulard calvados, and honey sage tea) was unparalelled! We were also impressed by the Amangani Grill’s take on hush puppies with crab. Definitely worth the ten minute drive outside of town.

Vagabond Tip: Make a day of the Amangani Resort area! Trail rides are available through the adjacent ranch in the summers, and the resort offers a full service spa and other services. The reflective pool is also incredibly tempting!

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Intimate setting: Nanni’s Ristorante

Nanni’s Ristorante is Italian cooking done right. We couldn’t help but fall for this charming wooden cabin with a easygoing vibe, and their handmade pasta dishes speak for themselves. Dim lighting and homemade style cooking are sure to inspire great conversation and lasting memories. Stephanie raved about the mushroom and parsley gnocchi, and Brandon ordered the carbonara with pancetta and egg yolk. We always make a point of dining at Nanni’s and continue to return to year after year.

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Western home cooking: Cafe Genevieve

Cafe Genevieve offers a menu inspired by Southern-style cooking with Western flair. An intimate restaurant in a historic wooden cabin, Cafe Genevieve is popular with locals and tourists alike. Savory dishes are on the dinner menu here, with options like Idaho trout (pictured below, left), shrimp and grits, and seared buffalo tenderloin. Cafe Genevieve is also open for brunch and lunch, so you have lots of flexibility in your schedule to fit in a provincial meal here.

Vagabond Tip: Cafe Genevieve’s novelty menu item is “pig candy” or candied bacon (pictured below, right), and Brandon swears it tastes almost exactly like you would expect.

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What other spots should be on here? We want to hear about your favorites! Leave a comment or question for us.

Spending some time in Jackson Hole? Check out our top things to do in Jackson Hole!

Hiking Bradley-Taggart Lake Loop

Distance: 5.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 585 ft

Difficulty: moderate

The Bradley-Taggart Lake loop is a phenomenal moderate half-day hike with stunning views of the Tetons throughout. The loop visits two of the six glacially-formed lakes that lie at the base of the Teton Range. We started from Taggart Lake Trailhead that took us along a bubbling mountain creek and dense aspen groves with some leaves just starting to transform the trail into autumn. The trail leveled out with terrain changing from forest to clearings.

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The glass surface of Bradley Lake mirroring the mountains looming over the distant shore was mesmerizing. Low wind conditions and sunny skies made for the perfect photo op! By this point, we had befriended a couple from Ohio visiting the national parks for the first time. They kept us company for practically the rest of the hike and shared lots of laughs. Props to JJ for this shot of us!

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We continued uphill to reach the second glacial lake: Taggart. After a couple miles of incline we reached the overlook which sits a couple hundred feet above the lake. Sadly, our new friends decided to return to the trailhead, while we opted to continue a little farther to find the perfect picnic spot. The extra distance was well worth it! We were rewarded with a boulder nestled on the shore overlooking the deep blue and green water. Feeling content from our tranquil perch, we lounged soaking in the views for the better part of two hours.

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We retraced our steps back towards Bradley Lake since the bridge connecting the loop was out. Nearing the end of our hike, we found a clearing with a panorama that tugged on Stephanie’s need to bust out some yoga moves from a boulder.

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Also, Brandon was challenged to a Macarena dance off. And won.

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