At Wyoming’s Amangani resort, a truly superlative experience isn’t just about the creature comforts—it’s also about bringing the surrounding natural wonders in.
At Amangani, you couldn’t avoid the wilderness if you tried. Step into the lobby here, and you encounter a dramatic staircase overlooking two-story windows that offer sweeping views of the National Elk Refuge—the nation’s largest wildlife refuge—and the jagged peaks of the Tetons. Outside, there might be a wild moose foraging in the parking lot or a trio of red-tailed hawks dipping and hovering off the deck. Inside, the elevated-Western decor incorporates rough, tan stone and smooth wood in warm browns, evoking the trees and mountains of the surrounding landscape. Traces of Wyoming’s great outdoors are everywhere—but then, what else would you expect from a luxury lodge in one of the wildest places in the country?
Growing up in California, I spent a lot of time outdoors: I slept under the stars in Death Valley, huddled around a campfire in the redwoods, and ran wild in Mendocino National Forest. So I was skeptical of the idea that a resort could help me connect deeply with nature. But Aman has a knack for capturing the essence of a place in its properties, and with Jackson Hole’s famously abundant fauna, Amangani offers wildlife viewing opportunities that promised to be spectacular. And I really wanted to get close to a grizzly bear.
“Grizzlies represent the wild,” explained Jared Paul, the head interpretive specialist for wildlife at the resort. “They can’t live in developed areas, so the fact that they live here means that it’s a wild place.”
Amangani is only about a 10-minute drive from the town of Jackson (population: 10,500) and a 20-minute drive from the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. But perched on the East Gros Ventre Butte (where it coexists peacefuly with Spring Creek Ranch, another exclusive, luxury accommodation), the resort enjoys views that suggest it’s in the middle of nowhere. It sits on the edge of 585,000 acres of protected Teton Wilderness, which is bordered by Yellowstone National Park to the north and Grand Teton National Park to the west. In the winter, travelers flock here for the superlative off-piste skiing; in the summer they come to explore the national parks, fish, and raft the Snake River.
Opened in 1998, Amangani draws visitors for the same reasons. Many of its loyal regulars return year after year to hit the nearby slopes at one of the best ski resorts in the United States and to unwind by the lounge’s two fireplaces in the evenings. They also come for the resort’s expert guiding services (snow sports in the winter and hiking and animal-spotting in the summer), for the attentive and genuinely friendly staff, and for the ambience. As with the other properties in the Aman portfolio—such as the Amanjiwo in Indonesia and the Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro—Amangani strives to “frame its natural setting” but does so in a way that oozes elegance. That same mountain view that the oversize lobby windows literally frame also spreads out in front of the heated, outdoor infinity pool and hot tub and the picture windows next to the soaking tubs in each of the 40 suites.
The outdoors comes in, too, at The Grill, Amangani’s gourmet restaurant. Chef Bradley Pryor works with farms in Jackson and nearby Victor to serve sustainable, locally sourced fare such as bison carpaccio or foraged mushrooms. One evening, I heard Pryor gossiping conspiratorially with one of the in-house naturalists about when upcoming morel-foraging season would start.
But back to those grizzlies.
Wildlife experiences here run year-round, but spring, when the elk come through and bears emerge from hibernation, and fall, which is breeding season, are the best times of year to venture out. So on a chilly morning in late May, I was up at 5:30, watching a demonstration on how to use bear spray. Strange to think that, in a place where the floor of my bathroom was heated, I still needed to carry an oversized pepper spray canister to ward off wild animals.
There’s an area of Grand Teton National Park near Oxbow Bend that grizzlies frequent, and we spent about two hours there, driving back and forth with our binoculars at the ready. Jared Paul, the wildlife specialist, explained that grizzlies aren’t usually this predictable, but about 17 years ago, the park’s most famous ursine resident, Grizzly 399, started bringing her cubs to this area. The same thing happened the following year. Now one of 399’s offspring brings her own cubs down here, and an unrelated bear, 738, has taken to doing the same thing.
Wildlife enthusiasts believe these visits have little to do with the bears becoming habituated to humans—a dangerous thing for any species, and something that the park service works hard to prevent. According to Paul, they think that these mother bears have actually recognized that the presence of humans is a serious deterrent to male bears, which will kill cubs to breed with a female. It’s almost a symbiotic relationship—humans get the thrill of glimpsing these wild creatures, and females can protect their cubs.
I wish this story involved a close encounter. In my ideal scenario, a mother bear would have suddenly lumbered into the road followed by two stumbling cubs, all of them far closer to the resort’s SUV than the allowed 100-yard radius. Maybe they’d be so close we could see variations in their tawny coats. We wouldn’t be able to move without scaring them, so we’d have to sit and wait, watching them trundle off and disappear into the bushes.
But that’s not what happened. Grand Teton National Park isn’t a zoo or a wildlife sanctuary. The wild animals here don’t show up on command.
Instead, we left the corridor having failed to spot a single grizzly and headed up to Signal Mountain, a well-known 7,720-foot peak, for one last lookout. At the top of the mountain, we set up scopes and raised our binoculars to scan the valley below.
Though we’d seen elk, bison, beavers, moose, and more that day, I’d all but given up hope of seeing a grizzly. Then Paul spotted one shuffling across the fields. Even through binoculars it was an ant-sized bear, and we had to strain to see it. But still, it was a grizzly.
Upon returning, the afternoon stretched in front of me filled with nothing but the luxury of free time with which to enjoy my surroundings. I took my weary body to the spa to indulge in one of Aman’s signature treatments, which incorporate Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine practices.
Afterwards, dazed and delighted, I spent an hour watching the waves of weather that passed over the valley on the other side of the full-length windows in my room. Staff here often handed me the old chestnut, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” and it was true. I saw the sky darken in the distance, then noticed the trees just off my balcony start thrashing as the winds picked up. Sheets of rain advanced, passing overhead before, suddenly, blue skies broke through, pushing the clouds into high white piles around the Tetons, which like the Mona Lisa’s eyes, had followed me everywhere for the past few days. And there, curled up next to my in-room fireplace following a morning of wildlife tracking, I felt completely immersed in nature and utterly pampered at the same time.