By Audra Labert (she/her) | CDTC Communications Manager
The town of Jackson sits nestled in the Big Hole Valley of Montana. Jackson is located close to the Continental Divide Trail and embraces a variety of tourism throughout the year while providing unique services to CDT thru-hikers and section hikers.
Rick Harwood– local hotelier, town spokesperson, and occasional thru-hiker first responder– offered insights on the town, the Bunkhouse Hotel, and the oddities of neighboring the CDT.
Big Hole Valley, Beaverhead County, about 10 miles to the Minor Lake interchange on the Continental Divide Trail along the Idaho-Montana border.
Ancestral lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Kootenai, Shoshone-Bannock, and Salish. In the Big Hole Valley where The Battle of the Big Hole was fought in the Montana Territory, August 9–10, 1877, between the United States Army and the Nez Perce tribe of Native Americans (Nimipuu) during the Nez Perce War.
Population: 36 year-round residents
Economy: Ranching, tourism
The Bunkhouse Hotel | A local destination and CDT hiker oasis.
The Bunkhouse Hotel, owned and operated by Rick Harwood, was built in 1910 and is one of Jackson’s anchor businesses. In addition to offering services to tourists and hikers, from overnight accommodations and hot showers to laundry, the Hotel also serves as the local post office.
“The Hotel does serve as a focal point, and because we’re so small, we are one of the few post offices that will accept general deliveries for CDT hikers, which has been a huge thing,” Harwood said. “Not a lot of folks will allow a package addressed to ‘Iron Skillet’ or ‘Rainbow’ or ‘Brook Trout’ to be delivered,” he adds with a laugh.
Although newly renovated on the inside, from the outside, the Bunkhouse Hotel brought back visions of the old West, with its tall front facade and open, welcoming front porch. The quaint and historic aesthetic even drew TV crews to the small community of Jackson during the summer of 2022 to shoot the hit show Yellowstone.
Jackson was once one of the many mining towns that dotted the Rockies, but the community is now primarily a tourist destination and outpost for the local ranching community. Across the street from the Bunkhouse Hotel is Jackson Hot Springs, whose claim to fame–in addition to offering relaxing soaks–is that the Lewis & Clark Expedition cooked a rabbit in the bubbling hot water during their expedition.
CDTC Survey Focuses on Trail Town Economics
Evaluating the impacts of seasonal influxes into communities adjacent to the CDT has been part of the focus of CDTC during the past year. A small business survey was conducted in the five states that encompass the CDT: Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico. The report surveyed business owners (hospitality, recreation, retail, services) to determine the values, priorities, and economics of communities adjacent to the CDT.
Established as a National Scenic Trail in 1968, the Continental Divide Trail is a U.S. Forest Service-administered trail that protects the natural, cultural, and historic resources along its length, while providing increased access to the Divide landscape, including the 20 National Forests, 25 Wilderness areas, 3 National Parks, 1 National Monument, and 13 BLM resource areas the trail connects. The CDT offers a variety of hiking, equestrian, fishing, birdwatching, skiing, and other recreational opportunities along its 3,100 miles.
As it runs from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada along the Continental Divide, the CDT traverses through and near mountain communities whose economies are increasingly bolstered by visitors and recreationists accessing nearby public lands. Outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse along the CDT.
Business owners in CDT communities have experienced a positive impact from the CDT and support enhancing and protecting the trail and the surrounding landscape.
Believe protecting, promoting, and enhancing the Continental Divide Trail is important to the well-being of businesses, jobs, and their community’s economy.
Have seen growth in businesses in their community at large due to the use of the Continental Divide Trail since 2014.
Have experienced growth in their business in particular due to the use of the Continental Divide Trail since 2014.
Check out the full report at continental divide trail.org.
The CDTC started the Gateway Community Program to work with local communities in promoting the CDT as a resource for all.
“Not everyone who uses the CDT is a thru-hiker, and part of our work with Gateway communities is to promote all of the options for interacting with the Trail, from day-hiking with the family to fishing and horseback riding,” said Liz Schmit, CDTC Community and Outreach Program Manager.
Towns and counties designated as official CDT Gateway Communities are those that CDTC recognizes as friendly to trail users and dedicated to the completion and protection of the trail.
Expecting the unexpected
Back at the Bunkhouse Hotel, Harwood sounded like a veteran Trail town guide as he shared stories about travelers.
He spoke of receiving a frantic call from a mother in Pennsylvania who was trying to have her son, a CDT thru-hiker, evacuated due to an injury. Imagining the worst, Harwood drove his side-by-side to where he expected to find the injured hiker based on the mother’s instructions.
During his exchange with the frantic mother, Harwood remembered thinking, “Okay, are we talking about the sheriff’s office, search and rescue, or are we talking about a helicopter?”
Harwood shared the surprising encounter that followed: “So I grabbed the backpack, jumped on my little side-by-side, and I went riding up the trail, about half of a mile from the Minor Lake Trailhead in the campground. Here comes this guy walking down the trail. And I said, are you Skillet? And he goes, yeah, yeah. And I go, I thought you blew out your knee! He goes, Well, it’s just a little tender. So, do you know your mom is ready to launch the National Guard? She thinks you’re dying!”
Despite the inconvenience, Harwood didn’t seem to mind, and he often goes the ‘extra mile’ to help hikers who are stuck, need a ride, or want to shuttle their gear ahead, also known as ‘slack packing’.
Although the occasional emergency does occur, according to Harwood, most folks who pass through Jackson and the Bunkhouse Hotel are looking for three things–a cold beer, a hot shower, and a cheeseburger.
Please contact CDTC Communications Manager Audra Labert with questions about Trail Town features: email@example.com.