132 Hours in Grand Teton National Park

After spending 6 nights in Yellowstone, we had another 6 nights booked in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with close proximity to Grand Teton National Park. This rental ended up sort of strange. We had booked a condo right near a section of the park but then the owner had inadvertently double booked it. She asked us to move to her larger place in Jackson and we agreed. It’s been a rough trip for us with AirBnB’s (more to come when we get to our post about North Cascades). Anyway, a place to sleep and shower is always nice and we enjoyed being able to walk to downtown Jackson. Here’s how our time in the park shook out:

KVD_3613.jpeg

Tuesday: We entered Grand Teton National Park around 9 am on Tuesday morning. We had plans of searching for otters in the Rockefeller National Forest area between Yellowstone and Tetons. But those plans fell flat when we realized how tough it would be to try to find them. We had been planning the heck out of our hiking for Tetons but had nothing on the radar for this day. it was too late to get a good start for a big hike and the crowds were already out. I had an idea to do the thing we always talk about doing and never do: kayak on one of the lakes. Perfect! We talked with some rangers about our hiking plans (one got changed due to high elevation snow on a tricky pass) and checked in about boat rentals. After getting ready, we returned to the boat dock just as a couple was returning their kayak. We spent an hour paddling around the perfectly blue waters of Jenny Lake, away from the hustle and bustle of the trails and with fabulous scenery. Then we drove back up to Signal Mountain lodge to eat a giant pile of nachos before driving to check in to our rental in Jackson. Grocery shopping, laundry, and using the internet rounded out the evening.

KVD_3962.jpeg

Wednesday: Up bright and early at 4 am, we headed out in search of sunrise colors. This would be a cloudless day, which makes color a bit of a bust. So we got a 6:!5 start at the trailhead up to Amphitheatre and Surprise Lakes. We tested the boundaries of our nerve on the hike out Delta Lake on the way up the maintained trail. On a different day, maybe we could do it, but we weren't prepared for the unmaintained, steep, and dangerously rocky stretch out to Delta. So we turned back and continued with our intended hike. Surprise and Amphitheatre Lakes were gorgeous. We had them each to ourselves and enjoyed our lunch at 10 am. On our way down from the lakes, we passed 184 people. We had the lakes entirely to ourselves for 30 minutes. All because we started early. When we say start early, we mean it.

After finding ice cream at Dornan’s that afternoon, we did some more work, ate dinner at the rental (toasted tortellini and bagged salad, which was surprisingly good), and then went back out to the park for sunset and wildlife viewing. We caught three moose and a nice sunset at Blacktail Pond Overlook.

KVD_4018-Edit.jpeg

Thursday: We had originally contemplated a big day/short day rotation for Tetons. But thinking through our options, we thought it might make sense to do two bigger days in a row. So this day, we actually slept in until 6 am. Unheard of late hour. The plan for this day was to take a shuttle up to Rendezvous Mountain from the Tetons Village parking area. The first shuttle was 9 am so there was no need to hustle. We were the first in line at 8:45 and easily secured a seat on the first shuttle up. (Pro Tip: the tickets are very expensive so buy online to save at least a few $$). This tram took us up 4,000 feet of elevation to the top of a ski area that borders the National Park. We were able to get much further out into the wilderness and work our way back through the park to our car. It was a little stressful finding the park but so fun to be out in the real backcountry of the Tetons range. After a long and hot hike back to the car, we rode the tram up to the top again so we could get some waffles from a snack bar up top. They were worth the price of admission for sure, even if the $6 bottle of Apple Juice wasn’t.

After waffles and showers, we were still hungry. Guacamole and tacos from Hatch in downtown Jackson Hole hit the spot. Despite having hiked nearly 15 miles, it was nice to stretch our legs (in our Chacos rather than hiking shoes) and stroll through town.

KVD_4547.jpeg

Friday: Friday called for an easier day. We got up again for sunrise at Oxbow Bend, but it was nearly ruined by inattentive tourists who didn’t pay attention to whose shot they were walking through and standing in. (Most photographers are happy to share space, but if they were there first, please think before you just plop down somewhere). We then headed over to Taggart and Bradley lakes where we were still early enough to be alone for most of the hike. We hiked Taggart on an overcast day last year in June and it was nice to see the real views this time. Rumors of moose and bear sightings taunted us but we came up empty handed. The middle of Friday was spent doing a lot of work back at the place. Online teaching for me, freelance & photo editing for Kelly. We went back out to the park around 4 pm to explore and ended up deciding to hike the Christian Pond loop up near Jackson Lake. Our ‘short’ day for Friday turned into 9 miles.

KVD_4836.jpeg
KVD_4911.jpeg

Saturday: After hiking Cascade Canyon out to Lake Solitude a few years back, it’s been on our ‘must repeat’ list ever since. We didn’t know if the second time could be as amazing as the first but it didn’t take long to find out it could. We took the first boat shuttle across Jenny Lake at 7 am. Along with a crew of very eager hikers, I had a hard time finding my pace. I felt too fast, too slow, and all out of sorts. We were stuck in front of a family that was clearly faster than us and behind a group that was clearly slower than us. Both groups had bear bells on and I just couldn’t find my social or hiking groove. I ended up making a snarky (I didn’t mean it to be, but it was) comment to the family.

KVD_4961.jpeg

But somehow it all worked out. When we got to a clear spot in the river a mile or so in and saw our first moose, all was forgiven. The family sat with us and watched moose and baby, another moose, and then another moose and baby for quite a long time. We got to chatting and realized that we had both seen the same dead whale on the shore of Ruby beach in Olympic National Park last year, but two months apart from each other. It seemed too strange to be true but photos confirmed it was the same whale. They were definitely faster than us and went on ahead while we took photos and enjoyed the canyon at what finally felt like the right pace.

At the lake, all the hikers from our shuttle boat slowly started to trickle in. We sat with the family and enjoyed the view, talking about various adventures and even more shared connections. It was a truly sublime experience to share such a beautiful view with interesting people who value nature as much as us.

KVD_5020.jpeg

The hike back was super hot, an experience we had not had last time, but we made it. Another 15 mile day. We grabbed food from Signal Mountain Lodge, picked up a few needed groceries, and then crashed hard, asleep before dark.

KVD_4983.jpeg

Sunday: After big miles on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, a true rest day was needed. We shot sunrise again, this time along the shore of Jackson Lake. Yes, sunrise. Which meant another 4 am wake-up call. Even on rest days, it’s out of character to miss out on the best light of the day. Next we headed over to String Lake for a 3.5 miler around the lake. As we were wrapping up, we heard a big rustle in the woods and saw a mama and cubs we had heard frequented the area. They munched and grazed and dug up bugs out of fallen trees for a long time before moving on enough for us to pass. They were bears 70, 71, and 72 for us while hiking. The little cubs were so cute!

More laundry and chores around the house followed a long nap. We had missed out on ice cream the day before from being so tired so we strolled back into Jackson to find Moos. This local ice cream spot is not to be missed. So many interesting and traditional flavors, all done very well. Kelly had Huckleberry (you’ll notice his summer theme) and I had Mint Chocolate. It was particularly fitting that it was National Ice Cream Day. Just after finishing our cones, we ran into some former-locals we had met on our return shuttle from Jenny Lake the day before. They were so friendly both times and we loved getting to chat with them as they were enjoying being back in the area with family.

Sunday night we headed back into the park to do another short stroll—this time near Jenny Lake. The hike ws Moose Ponds and sure enough, near the first pond we saw a juvenile moose. The most amusing scene unfolded as a territorial beaver flapped and pounded its tail sporadically to keep the moose out of the water. The moose was continuously startled but didn’t look that scared. So funny. One last jaunt up to Blacktail Pond Overlook for a dinner of sandwiches. No moose or sunset colors this time, but we enjoyed our last few hours of quiet in the park.