In the process of finding a cheap alternative to staying in pricy Jackson Hole, we ended up having some of our best road trippin’ days in Afton, Wyoming. Located about two hours south of Jackson, the small town of Afton may not look like much. People coming from the south towards Yellowstone and Grand Teton likely won’t look twice as they drive by. The Elkhorn Arch claims to be the largest in the world, but aside from that, the modest town is pretty unassuming.
But, you know what they say. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Afton turned out to be one of the most surprisingly beautiful places that we encountered on our road trip. Afton has a population of less than 2,000 people, but what it lacks in people, it makes up for in adventures.
Where is Afton, Wyoming?
We pretty much stumbled into Afton by chance. We were staying in Salt Lake City and had a few different options for routes to take up to Grand Teton National Park. Two of those involved driving through Idaho, a state that I’m not particularly fond of driving through. We opted for a route that took us through Afton, and started searching for places to stay along the way. You’ll find it in the southwestern part of Wyoming, close to the borders of Utah and Idaho.
Campsites in Grand Teton National Park typically fill up early in the morning. Having to wake up at 7 AM and drive two hours seemed infinitely more appealing than leaving Salt Lake City at 4 AM and driving five hours. For that reason, Afton seemed like a perfect place to stop by. It was far enough from the national parks that it wasn’t too expensive to stay the night, but close enough that the ensuing drive wouldn’t be too grueling.
Where To Stay in Afton, Wyoming
I don’t typically go into much depth about where I stay on my travels, but honestly, where we stayed in this area was an attraction in itself. We stayed about 10 miles south of Afton in the small town called Smoot. The only non-residential building I remember seeing was the US Postal Service Office. The town of Afton is much more developed, with dozens of restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and other essentials. It’s a short drive from Smoot, so you’re never too far from civilization.
There was an Airbnb that I’d looked into a few times before finally pulling the trigger. It was too good to resist, and super cheap. Between the two of us, it’d be about $20 each per night for an entire private cabin. Sure, there was no electricity, running water, or Wi-Fi, but who needs all of that when you’ve got your own personal saloon?
The only thing that rivaled the property itself was the hospitality of our host, Karen. She really flipped the script on the Karen stereotype, as she proved to be the most helpful and welcoming host I’ve ever had. Here’s the link to the Airbnb listing.
Things To Do in Afton, Wyoming
For such a small town, Afton is pretty loaded with outdoors adventures. We only scratched the surface of Afton’s many outdoor offerings, but these were the highlights.
Intermittent Springs (or Periodic Springs)
One of the biggest attractions in Afton is Intermittent Springs. This cold water geyser is one of only five like it in the world, and it happens to be the largest! It’s only about a 20-minute drive from Afton, located in the neighboring National Forest.
The hike is .4 miles each way and relatively flat until you reach the springs themselves. The scenery is beautiful throughout, but the real mind-blowing stuff comes from the weird natural behavior of the river. Every 20 minutes or so, the water just completely stops. Wait another 20 minutes and it starts trickling back, eventually returning into a roaring river. It’s pretty mind-boggling to see. In all my travels, I’d never seen anything like it before. It’s well worth the visit, if just for the beautiful scenery and wildflowers.
Our Airbnb host told us this was “just a lake.” How blessed the locals must be to take places like this for granted. After stopping at Afton’s drive-in for a takeaway lunch, we decided to check this place out for our lunch stop. I wasn’t expecting much. After all, it was “just a lake.” What we got when we finally arrived was much, much more than just a lake. The turquoise waters were sparkling. Surrounded by wildflowers, forests, and mountains, it might be one of the most beautiful lakes that I’ve never heard of.
Bring a kayak, stand up paddleboard, or just a beach towel and go for a swim. It’s a perfect spot whether you’re looking for some adventure or a relaxing outdoor picnic.
Bridger-Teton National Forest
While Cottonwood Lake and Intermittent Springs were the highlights of our time in Afton, there is so much more to explore. The national forests are a great place to start. They are home to lakes, trails, campsites, and more. Mountain bikers, kayakers, and hikers can find plenty of activities to suit their fancy in the secluded national forests.
Like many small towns in Wyoming and the rural United States, light pollution is very low. That makes it ideal for stargazing. Our timing was perfect, as the first night we got cloudless night skies, allowing us stunning, unobscured views of the Milky Way. The next night, the Perseid Meteor Shower came to its stunning climax. Although I couldn’t keep myself awake for the peak, it was still a marvel to behold.
Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
Of course, the main attractions of Wyoming are none other than the Tetons and Yellowstone. If you do decide to visit the Tetons from Afton, be aware that it’ll be about a four-hour round trip to the park entrance and back. That’s not including all the driving that you’ll be doing within the park itself. However, after all the driving that I’ve been doing on this latest road trip, two hours each way does not seem all that bad. You’ll save a ton of money by staying in Smoot or Afton compared to Jackson, so it might be worth the extra money towards gas.
Some of the best highlights of this road trip have been the unexpected adventures. From the fantastic cabin that we stayed to the off-the-beaten-path trails, Afton proved to be the hidden gem that we needed. Between the hustle and bustle of Salt Lake City and the crowds at Wyoming’s national parks, Afton stood out even more. It was like a holiday while on holiday, and two full days of pure bliss.
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