Grand Teton hiking
The mere sight of snow-capped peaks sets D’s heart aflutter, and the Tetons are quite spectacular as far as American mountain ranges go. There are myriad lakes and streams criss-crossing the valley beneath the peaks. On a clear morning – when the water’s surface is undisturbed by kayakers or paddle boarders – it is possible to capture the mountains’ reflection at one of the dozen turnouts along the main road that runs north from Jackson alongside the Snake River.
Of course, with two kids in tow and a World Cup under way, the chances of us leaving our cabin early enough to capture such an image were nil. Instead, we contented ourselves with the majestic views afforded during our hikes and drives through the Grand Teton National Park.
Because the Tetons and Yellowstone are contiguous, it was previously possible to purchase a weeklong pass to both. The National Park Service abolished the joint passes this summer, a few weeks ahead of our arrival in Idaho. Unfortunate as this decision may be, it did not really affect our trip. All along we had planned to buy an annual national park pass, whose cost we more than recouped in just two weeks out West. We only spent one day in Yellowstone, dedicating the rest of our brief stay on the Idaho/Wyoming border to exploring the Tetons.
Our first day, we chose a moderate hike to Bradley and Taggart lakes, which sit beneath the triumvirate of the valley’s eponymous mountains: South and Middle Tetons rising from the foothills directly across the lakeshore, with Grand Teton presiding over the landscape a bit off to the side. Moderate is, of course, a relative term. The round trip loop taking in both lakes and the optional Beaver Creek trail runs only six miles and does not feature any particularly taxing terrain. Hiking it at Munchkin’s pace under the hot noonday sun, however, added an extra layer of difficulty.
We hiked to Bradley Lake first, thinking that we’d make it our lunch spot. Munchkin walked for about a mile – with frequent pauses and motivational pep talks – before giving up in tears, forcing D to carry him the rest of the way to the lake. When it became apparent that there is no obvious resting spot with a view of the lake and mountains at Bradley we delayed lunch and hiked onward to Taggart Lake, whose shoreline offers a variety of breathtakingly scenic spots.
From Taggart Lake, it is possible to hike immediately back to the trailhead or one can extend the hike by tacking on the half-mile Beaver Creek trail. We opted for the latter and were immediately glad to have done so. Not only does the extra trail offer the best views of the lake, but it also affords some of the quietest hiking we experienced during peak tourist season in the Tetons. It is on this trail that Munchkin, whilst we were hiking completely alone, ran into a pair of moose.
The next day we started by driving up Signal Mountain – a small, forested peak that rises up on the other side of Jackson Lake from the Teton Range. The summit itself does not afford great views of the Tetons, which are shielded from view by a pine forest. However, there is a viewpoint just beneath the summit – where the trail up Signal Mountain joins the road – that offers stunning vistas of the mountains across Jackson Lake.
We capped the day with a visit to Jenny Lake, perhaps the park’s most popular destination. The lakeshore has a paved, wheelchair accessible path; there is a ferry that takes visitors across the lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point; and the trailhead parking lot is always overflowing. We were initially put off by the commotion, but were ultimately glad to have visited.
The conventional wisdom holds that one should visit Jenny Lake either early in the morning or in the late afternoon, when the crowds thin out somewhat. After lunching atop Signal Mountain, it was late enough in the afternoon that we were able to find a spot in the main parking lot but early enough that we were still able to squeeze in a decent hike. Most of the visitors crowded on the lakeshore and then took the boat across to the viewpoint.
We opted to hike to Hidden Falls instead; once we passed the boat launch and set foot on the actual trail, we found it surprisingly unpopulated. It was also here that we saw our second moose family – the one that posed obligingly for pictures an arm’s reach away from the path. As the previous day, we wound up covering somewhere between six and seven miles, though this time there was some serious elevation gain, including a long steep stretch across an exposed rock face. Munchkin surprised us by walking the entire way up to the waterfall, which crashes right off the glacier to form the Cascade Canyon creek.
As with Yellowstone, the handful of days we spent in the Tetons barely sufficed as an introduction to this beautiful park. It is solidly on our list of places we’d like to return and explore in greater depth someday.