Looking for an escape after 7 days dedicated to Outdoor Retailer’s massive August trade show, we set our compass North to discover Grand Teton National Park. Typically we avoid travel during peak tourist season (which it most definitely was), but we ventured out nonetheless.
Where to stay?
Traveling in peak season near Teton or Yellowstone is expensive. Even the most basic accommodations in Jackson were $250+ a night. If you’re on a shoestring budget, consider camping in one of the many public campgrounds in the area, which unlike other parks, did not seem to fill up. If you’re the type of person who wants to play in the mountains but not necessarily sleep in them, then Teton Village is the place to be. The village offers immediate access to the mountains by trail or by tram, bike rentals, boat rentals, and is the starting place for countless guided adventures. Even paragliding from the 10,400 ft Rendezous Mountain.
Here’s what we did:
Arriving in Jackson at Dinner time, we went straight to the park to scope out a place to watch and photograph sunset. We settled in at the iconic Snake River Overlook where Ansel Adams once photographed this landscape 75 years ago. The sun sets behind the Tetons here, producing rays of light that filter between both sides of the Grand’s deep glacier-carved canyons.
After sunset, grab dinner at the local brew pub, Snake River Brewing, where they make a killer burger or cup of chili out of Montana Bison.
On our second day, we rose early to beat the crowds at the Jenny Lake… But not early enough. A ferry ($15 round trip for an adult) crosses the lake, taking hikers to the trailhead leading to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, then Cascade Canyon. I highly recommend being on the first boat at 7 AM. The likeliness of seeing Teton’s abundant wildlife is much higher in the morning along the shores of Jenny Lake. Thankfully most of the tourist turned back at Inspiration Point. Inspiration point is beautiful, but true reward is the solitude found in Cascade Canyon. Cascade Canyon’s 3.3 miles of moderate trail display towering walls on both sides, an ice cold stream, and (for us) at least 4 moose sightings.If you have the time, continue on to Paintbrush Canyon and Solitude Lake.
We made a lunch out of Epic Bars, who were our booth neighbors at the OR show last week. They sent us well prepared.
After a day spent hiking the canyons, we fiercely craved coffee. Thankfully Jackson has an unbelievable cafe and bakery called Persephone Bakery that serves up intelligentsia coffee, afternoon cocktails, and fantastic confections. This became our favorite watering hole during our short trip.
Our third and last day in Jackson began with a 4:30 AM wakeup call to watch the sunrise. A 30 minute drive from our accommodations brought us to Hendricks Pond Overlook off of HWY 191 north of the airport (not on most maps). Be here a half hour before sunrise to catch first light and to watch nature wake up. The likelihood of seeing moose, bear, and other wildlife here is very high. We stayed here and enjoyed the solitude for about an hour and a half before we saw another soul.
After another pastry breakfast from Persephone, we bought tickets to take the Mountain Tram from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain (the tickets are cheaper online by the way). After a 12 minute ride to the top, you’re greeted with 360 degree views, including seeing the Grand to the North. Be prepared to feel the effects of less oxygen at 10,400 feet as you enjoy the high elevation trail system at the top. There is little tree cover, so bring sunscreen and chapstick to protect yourself from the sun and wind exposure. More adventurous hikers can scramble to a neighboring peak with some basic class 4 climbing. After a short attempt and a minor injury, we decided to cut our losses and take a more well-trafficked trail. The Cirque trail descends 1400 feet to another Mountain Gondola that greets your tired legs with a restaurant and patio. A great place to grab food and a drink before the scenic ride down the mountain.
Having to be back on the road for Salt Lake City by mid-afternoon, this was a perfect half-day commitment.
Because our trip was so short, we have vowed to come back and hit up a few more Landmarks in this park suggested by locals. Such as:
Lake of the Crags. A relatively short unmarked trail from the Jenny Lake ferry stop that quickly ascends 3400 feet to a pristine alpine lake fed by glacial melt and surrounded by steep canyon walls. Only the locals know about this one. We had to coax it out of our server at Hatch Tacos.
Float the Snake. But not whitewater rafting - paddleboard the series of connected lakes and waterways at the base of the Grand, maybe even taking it all the way back to Jackson.
Ascend the Grand. No it’s not too ambitious. Athleticism aside, no advanced climbing skills are needed to make an ascent of the Grand. A good mountain guide can get you to the summit using routes no harder than a 5.4 and it can be done in two days. The precarious exposure at times may not be for the faint at heart.
Live Bluegrass at the Wort Hotel. It happens every Tuesday night and the here-say is that you don’t want to miss it. Too bad we had to leave town early.
Remember to pack out what you pack in, and be kind to fellow travelers! Happy Trails!