As of the 2020 census, Jackson, Montana is home to 36 residents. But the little town expands and contracts with the seasons. Tourism brings people to the Big Hole Basin for hunting, fishing, and to play in the snow. The town is named for its first postmaster, Anton H. Jackson. The post office opened in 1896. Before fur trappers and soldiers invaded the region, indigenous peoples came for the healing qualities of abundant hot springs that pepper the valley. Beef and hay have historically sustained The Big Hole Valley, aka the Land of 10,000 haystacks. Across the valley is The Big Hole National Battlefield which marks the bloody site of an early morning ambush on the sleeping camp of Nez Perce Indians in 1877.
Unwittingly, my friends and I planned our trip without realizing that it coincided with the International Skijor Race in nearby Wisdom, Montana. The only lodging available for a 50-mile radius was at the Bunkhouse Hotel in Jackson. Built in 1908, this building has been beautifully refurbished with modern plumbing and an upgraded electrical system that bristles with outlets. The tiny community post office (the original one disappeared years ago) resides in the hotel lobby, along with a small fridge and microwave. Three small, private rooms plus a communal–but very clean–bathroom and laundry facilities take up the rest of the main floor. The second floor is rented out per bed, hostel-fashion, in the summer. It can also be rented exclusively for special events, for which it is well suited, complete with a bar and a buck! The only thing lacking was enough clothing hooks, but we improvised. Behind that clever shower curtain in the bathroom is a super clean shower/tub combo. We were very comfy here in our Goldilocks Suite with five beds for three people. And right across the street was the famous Jackson Hot Springs, bar and restaurant!
Perhaps the saddest thing was that a few days before we arrived, the Skijoring races were cancelled due to lack of snow. But it’s a fun town to meander anyway. While there, you can even order a custom-made hat at Buffalo Gal Hat Company and Gift Shop.
If you’re interested in the classic historic beaver slide haystack process, Farmhand Mike’s beautiful video is perfect. I recommend watching it full screen. Many ranchers still put up their one crop of hay per season in this way. However, I believe that the winch that controls the slide here, used to run off real horse power.