Like most everyone else, we stayed home through the spring and early summer of 2020, cancelling previously-scheduled trips due to COVID-19. But by August, we felt we had to go somewhere, so we hopped in the motorhome with our two kitties and headed to Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). Because we have been here a few times, it was easy for us to figure out where to go to avoid crowds and stay safe and healthy.
Our last two trips to GTNP in years past were in early October, when many facilities are closed, and where we had limited chances to hike and bike because of rain, snow, and cold weather. So, here in August, with the sun shining and the temperature reaching 90 degrees, we had the opportunity to hike, bike, paddle, and visit areas we had never been to before. Here are some highlights…
We got up at 5:00 a.m. to leave the Park City (Utah) area and head to Gros Ventre (pronounced “Grow Vaunt”) Campground (in southern GTNP), which doesn’t take reservations. How happy we were to arrive at 11:30 a.m. in the middle of August and not only get a campsite, but also get one with electricity, which we needed because of the heat later in the week. This campground is right on the Gros Ventre River and is a hotbed of moose mating activity in the fall. Right now things are kind of quiet, though we saw a mother and baby moose wander by our campsite one morning.
Day 1: GTNP has WONDERFUL biking trails, and we finally were able to take advantage of them. Biking from the Visitor Center at Moose to South Jenny Lake at the base of the Teton Range was a challenging uphill climb on the way north, but we soared downhill on the way back! The Jenny Lake area was full of people, so we did not linger, but our quick peek at this beautiful glacial lake ensured that we would be back!
That evening we headed east of the park via Gros Ventre Road to a national forest site called Lower Slide Lake. This lake was formed in 1925 when a huge piece of a mountain slope slid down into the Gros Ventre River and created a natural dam. The water in the river backed up, and the lake was born. Two years later, after heavy rainfall, the natural dam ruptured, and so much water flooded down the river that the town of Kelly (near our campground) was wiped out and several people killed. The lake is still intact, and we enjoyed this evening journey back in time (though the road was awful!).
Day 2: Our plan was to do lots of hiking, starting with one of the most popular hikes in the park, the hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point on the back side of Jenny Lake. How to avoid the crowds? Get up early. Our alarm clock rang at 5:30 a.m. (yes, this IS vacation), and we hit the road at 6:30, arriving at the Jenny Lake parking lot about 7:00 a.m. The boat shuttle to the other side of the lake began at 7:00, and we were in the third group (not the only early birds). Fortunately, they had strict mask-wearing policies, and closed off every other seat on the boat. The 10-minute boat ride across the lake saves you two miles of hiking around the lake (each way), so we could save our energy for the climb. Hidden Falls is one of the few accessible waterfalls in the park, so it’s very popular and was a great first stop on the hike.
Next we encountered the steepest part of the hike as we climbed to Inspiration Point, which overlooks Jenny Lake and also gives great views of the mountains.
Many people turn back after viewing Inspiration Point, but we had been encouraged to hike up part of Cascade Canyon for stunning scenery and possible wildlife encounters. We were not disappointed on either count. Here’s one of our views on the hike. And here’s an example of our wildlife encounters—one of the three bull moose we saw fattening up before moving down to Gros Ventre for the rut in the fall.
By the time we headed back down the trail, there were a lot of people heading up, but most were wearing masks, and we kept ours on the whole time (except for a few picture opportunities).
What could have been better than spotting three moose on our hike? Well, how about a mama American black bear and her cub, just hanging out near the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. Mama was scarfing down huckleberries to fatten up before her hibernation during Wyoming’s long winters. Though most American black bears are in fact black, she was a treat for us to see with her blond and light brown fur. Baby bear did not cooperate for photos ☹.
That evening we headed out on our bikes to ride to Mormon Row, site of some old homesteading and farm cabins, including the famous Moulton Barn.
It was fun (and challenging) to ride this gravel road on bikes!
And on the way back, we spotted a dozen male pronghorn and a couple of females.
Day 3: Our next morning was early again, as we headed down the Moose-Wilson Road (which has been wonderfully smoothed and paved!!!) to the Lawrance S. Rockefeller Preserve, where we snagged one of the 40 parking spaces about 8:30 a.m. We headed up the Lake Creek Trail to Phelps Lake, and made our way partway around the lake to Huckleberry Point. This is another glacial lake, very serene and much less crowded than Jenny Lake.
On the way back we hiked the Woodland Trail, just to make a loop, and saw the line of 15 cars waiting for a parking space back at the preserve. Late that afternoon, we packed our picnic dinner and drove east out the U.S. 26 a little way past Togwotee Pass. We discovered a number of gems on this drive.
From the national forest Falls Campground (Brooks Lake Creek Falls), there are gorgeous views of mountainous rock formations called Pinnacle Buttes and Breccia Peak. These volcanic rocks were formed by broken fragments of minerals being cemented together long ago.
Heading west back toward Grand Teton, we stopped for our picnic dinner at the Wind River Lake picnic site, right between Togwotee Pass and the Continental Divide. Poorly marked until you’re right on top of it, but well worth turning around to go back (which we did), this little lake provides a delightful view of Breccia Cliffs, perfectly reflected in the lake’s calm waters. After our picnic, we made the 20-minute walk around Wind River Lake, noticing that the wildflowers were in full bloom, as if spring had just arrived here (which was probably true, since we were at almost 10,000 feet in elevation).
We stopped again at a rest area near Togwotee Mountain Lodge to catch glimpses of the Teton Range. This would have been better closer to sunset, but we didn’t want to be driving back in the dark, and it was still a glorious view. Our obligatory stop at Oxbow Bend was not quite as stunning as in the fall, but always serene. We ended our day at Elkhorn Flats, where we watched the sun set over the Teton Range, especially Mt. Moran, and heard/watched some sandhill cranes dance around.
Day 4: For our last full day in the Tetons, we did a quick stop at Blacktail Ponds Overlook to enjoy some morning views of these photogenic mountains. Then back to Oxbow Bend, for shots of Mt. Moran perfectly reflected in the Snake River.
Our big event this day was hiking to Grand View Point, just north of Jackson Lake Lodge. There’s an unmarked road to a good-sized parking lot, and the trail has pretty good signage. It’s steep but short, with a fair amount of shade if you go in the morning. From the first point, you have great views of the Teton Range and Jackson Lake. From the second point, which is Grand View (elevation 7,823 feet), you can see Two Ocean Lake and Emma Matilda Lake, and the panorama is really quite stunning.
We also saw some colorful butterflies and interesting bugs, though no bears here!
Knowing the afternoon was going to be over 90 degrees, we headed to the Signal Mountain Marina, rented a double kayak, and paddled around for an hour. Jackson Lake was like glass, so it was a delightful paddle over to the island in the middle, enjoying more views of the mountains along the way.
And Hank had to stop in at the general store (masks and limited occupancy mandatory) for his Snake River Pale Ale and Old Faithful Ale. What a great way to end our summertime adventure in Grand Teton National Park. The next morning we headed up the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway through a huge burn area as we headed to our next campground in West Yellowstone. Next post will be from Yellowstone!