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Getting to know the Grand Tetons

Posted by on September 16, 2015

If you recall, we visited the Grand Tetons for a mere 24 hours last year and left awe inspired and determined to come back for a longer stay. This year, we stayed for 3+ days and left feeling like we really got to know the park.

That’s the glory of the Grand Teton National Park — it is small enough to feel intimate and quickly familiar — especially when visited after the larger nearby parks of Yellowstone and Glacier that could each easily take weeks to really get to know.

Here are some of the areas of the park that we explored more deeply this year.

Sunrise on the Teton Range

As with last year, we just haaaad to get up early one morning and view the Tetons at sunrise. It’s positively breathtaking. Grand Teton (at 13,776 feet) is in the center of the pic below and is my favorite due to its shape and position among the jagged teeth of the mountains.

sunrise 2

This is really just to serve as a reminder of what the park looks like — it consists of a 42-mile loop road that lies to the east of the Teton range (foreground in the below pic) — with the Tetons being the main focus of the entire loop. Mmmmmmmm.

Sunrise panorama

The Lodges

Last year we didn’t stop in any of the 3 main lodges in the park, so this year we decided to take a peek at each of them. (In case we want to return, of course!)

As it turns out, they were not quite what I would have expected of mountain lodges (read: huge wood-laden lobbies with stone fireplaces that instantly inspire coziness).  That said, they all blended into the landscape of the park really well, which was a huge plus in our opinion.

Jackson Lodge is the biggest of the three. The main focus of the lobby is the mountain and lake vista through the massive windows. This lodge had a bit of a contemporary look to it. Beautiful, but not cozy.

Lodge-Jackson Lake

Signal Mountain Lodge had no lobby to speak of in the front entrance — only a restaurant and gift shop. That seemed odd to us so we didn’t venture much further.

Lodge-Signal Mtn

Jenny Lake Lodge, the smallest of the three, was my favorite and was definitely the most intimate with that cozy feel.

Jenny Lake Lodge-ext

Not only did the lobby house the expected wood beams and stone fireplace but it also sported the obligatory moosehead over the mantle. Very important (poor moose!)

Jenny Lake Lodge-int

In addition to the lodges, there are a variety of campgrounds and RV parks (also well nestled among trees) where people can stay, if they want to overnight in the park.

Nearby Jackson Hole is another option — if you like people. For whatever reason, while we were there the town was packed, so we steered clear. Except for dinner at Snake River Brewery followed by an excursion to the Million Dollar Cowboy bar to celebrate Jeff’s birthday. Definitely a place with character! (Think: bar stools made of saddles, honky tonk vibe, live music, taxidermy abounding.)

Million Dollar Outside

The Lakes

Ok – now back to the Tetons. In addition to the lodges, we made a point to see as many of the lakes as we could. Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake are the ones that are most easily viewed from the loop road, so of course we visited each of those. But this year we also made sure to hike a bit to see some of the other beautiful lakes in the area (there are many!)

Jackson Lake is the largest in the park. The below view is from Signal Mountain Lodge Marina, where we stopped to have a picnic one day. The highest peak in this picture is Mount Moran (height: 12,605 ft).

Jackson Lake

Jenny Lake is smaller, and likely the most popular lake in the park. The picture below is from the Jenny Lake Overlook on the loop road. It looks across the lake into Cascade Canyon (more on this area later).

Jenny Lake Overlook

Alongside Jenny Lake were String and Leigh Lakes that involved a short hike to get to each. String Lake was particularly idyllic and it made me yearn for our kayaks. What a gorgeous spot.

String Lake

Some of the fall colors were just beginning to appear, and the turquoise of the water really made me want to hang out and enjoy this area for awhile.

String Lake 2

A bit further up the trail was Leigh Lake, another gorgeous mountain lake.

Leigh Lake

Not long after we arrived, we saw something in the water. Hoping it was wildlife, we took a closer look and realized it was a woman swimming while towing her dry bag. When she arrived on shore we asked her if she was ok. She was fine — just going out for a refreshing swim. Having just finished an Ironman triathlon, she missed the water and wanted to get back to it.

They grow them strong here…

Lucky for us, friends we were traveling with did a huge hike (read: 2500+ elevation gain!) to Delta Lake (9,016 feet!) and shared these gorgeous photos with us (next 2 photos courtesy of L. Davis).

Delta Lake 1

The hike was more strenuous than they anticipated and included “scrambling” over the below boulders.

Our ranger from the Hidden Falls hike had explained that scrambling was more than hiking but less than rock climbing. Kudos to Lori and Jay for their successful scramble! Yikes!

Scramble to Delta Lake 1

They are MUCH more adventurous (and fit!) than we are, so it was lovely to see the results of their many hikes over our 2-week vacation!

Hidden Falls

Since my plantar fasciitis of the past 2 years has finally gone (yippee!!), we decide to go on a couple more (easy) hikes to see the area.

One of the most popular day hikes in the Grand Tetons involves taking a shuttle boat across Jenny Lake before hiking up to Hidden Falls (0.5 mile in and out hike). We did this as part of a very informative ranger-led hike. During the course of this trip (in both Glacier and the Tetons) it struck me how many young female park rangers there are — many of whom are geologists by training.

The ranger leading the Hidden Falls hike was particularly enthusiastic about the geology of the area, explaining how this is a wonderful place to study because the Tetons are the youngest range in the US (~10 million years old) compared with the older nearby Rocky Mountains (at least 40 million years old). Oh me.

One example of her enthusiasm was towards this “recent” rockfall — accumulated over the last tens of thousands of years.

rock fall near Hidden Falls

The ranger information was the best part of the hike, so once we got to Hidden Falls (below) we took our obligatory photos and moved on. There were too many people and too much bright light for Jeff to take any stunning photos, so off we went.

Hidden Falls

On the way back down from the falls we passed Cascade Creek, which on an overcast day would have made a beautiful subject for some photography.

Cascade Creek

Inspiration Point

After Hidden Falls, we then decided to hike to nearby Inspiration Point — a hike that would take us closer to Cascade Canyon (mentioned above). This hike was 0.9 miles uphill (gained ~450 ft in elevation), with the starting elevation (6,783 ft) being higher than our East Coast bodies are used to. Hence there was a bit of huffing and puffing along the way. Good times! The views and fresh air were definitely worth it.

The path was well maintained and easy to follow, and periodically we would get hints of the glory to come…

Inspiration Point trail 2

The early yellow fall color also made this hike beautiful.

Inspiration Point trail 3

In addition to the view forward, the views to the sides were equally appealing, with the steep cliffs leading us into the canyon.

Inspiration Point trail 4

Eventually, we reached a fork where we could continue left 0.3 miles to Inspiration Point, or go right into Cascade Canyon. We chose the former, but in hindsight should have chosen the latter. I mistakenly assumed that Inspiration Point overlooked the Canyon, when in fact, it overlooked Jenny Lake.

The view from Inspiration Point was beautiful, mind you, but not what we thought it would be! [On our next visit, we just may need to hike back into Cascade Canyon so we can see it properly!]

Inspiration point view

But lucky for us, Lori and Jay did hike deep into the canyon. Here is one of the stunning views they saw…(photo courtesy of L. Davis).

Cascade Canyon1

Signal Mountain Summit

That was all of the hiking that we did on this trip — the remainder of what we saw was either by car or by boat. We drove to the top of Signal Mountain summit (from the loop road) to get a view of both the valley and the Tetons from higher ground.

The valley, with the Snake River snaking its way through….

Signal Mtn 1

And the view back towards the Tetons from Signal Mountain…Grand Teton to the left, Mount Moran to the right.

Signal Mtn 2

Snake River Overlook

One of the overlooks that we didn’t get to see last year (because it was closed for construction) was the famed Snake River Overlook, where Ansel Adam took his iconic photo.

You can’t get that same image now, because the trees have grown and blocked some of the view. Regardless, it was still beautiful. It was also very cool to think we have photographed where Ansel himself once photographed…

Snake River Overlook

Snake River float trip

As with last year, we also viewed the Snake River from a boat, on a 2.5-hour float trip down 10 miles of the river. We stuck with Barker-Ewing since we had such success with them last year.

Float trip

Our guide this year wasn’t quite as informative as last year, but I did love the message on his hat. So true!

Float trip hat

We will spare you pictures of the whole float trip (the pix and stories are better from last year — read that post here), but I thought I’d include one more, just because the view from the water is different and certainly peaceful. We were the first boat on the water this year, too, (8am) so it was nice to really feel like we had the whole river to ourselves.

[This float trip was also part of a birthday celebration for one of the other friends traveling with us, so it had a celebratory feel to it. Happy Birthday, Barb!]

float 2

Oxbow Bend

Another iconic area in the Tetons is Oxbow Bend, best known for its early morning and early evening wildlife activity. For that reason, we went there every evening from ~5:45 to 7:30pm with the hope of seeing wildlife. Zoom lenses and binoculars in hand, we all peered anxiously in the direction of the bend, willing something to happen.

I won’t give it all away (more on that in a later wildlife post) but I will say that we had success one day out of 3. Which meant for 2 days, we saw a whole lotta nothing. Except for these always present images…

Oxbow bend in the early evening…I love the color of the light…

Oxbow Bend

And the sunset over the Tetons…

Oxbow bend - sunset


The Night Sky in the Tetons

Knowing Jeff, surely you didn’t think photographing the sunrise and sunset would be enough did you???? Of course not — the enthusiastic lad went out 2 nights from 10pm to ~2am filming the night sky. He came back with truly gorgeous photos…(while all I did was sleep, oh me).

How’s this for stunning? Have you ever felt smaller than viewing the whole Milky Way above 13,000+ foot mountains that look like ant hills against the vast sky? Wow…

Tetons Night Sky

Or better still, watching the stars trail across the sky over the course of an hour. Breathtaking.

Tetons Star Trail

To gain more foreground interest, Jeff then took pix of the iconic barn on Mormon Row. It’s famous for its roof line that mimics the shape of the peak of Grand Teton.

Mormon Row Night Sky

As with last year, we hope you’ve enjoyed this pictoral tour through the Grand Tetons. We truly felt like we got a feel for the park this year, which was great. That said, I also feel like I could come back year after year and discover new trails, hikes, and tours to do, if so desired. This park is also very cyclist-friendly, so that may be another way we see it in the coming years.

Over and out from Wyoming!

5 Responses to Getting to know the Grand Tetons

  1. Zeke

    Awesome photo’s thats for sure!!

  2. Linda Koloda

    Must be hard to leave all that gorgeous scenery!

    • Jen

      Indeed! But there’s this tiny thing called work that I have to get back to… 🙁

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