The highlight of the park is a series of peaks known collectively as the Grand Tetons. The major peaks are in order; Grand Teton, Mount Owen, Middle Teton and South Teton. The peaks are popular among climbers.
You can take the shuttle boat from the Jenny Lake boat dock (near the South Jenny Lake parking lot) across to the Cascade Canyon dock, or walk around the lake. From the dock it's a half mile walk up the canyon to the falls. The path is uphill most of the way, and rocky in places, but not steep or difficult. You follow the stream through the pines with their wonderful scent to an overlook with a view of the falls, but I have to say I thought they were a little disappointing. However the walk is pleasant and well worth doing.
Part way up a wooden bridge crosses the stream and gives you a clear view of the rushing water. Be careful if you decide you'll get a better photo by bending down close to the edge of the bridge or you could like me find your sunglasses tumbling into the waters below. And if you do spot a pair of rather nice sunglasses hidden among the rocks, they're mine :)
Another more serious hazard to be aware of here is that it's bear country, so keep your eyes open and make a noise as you walk - although when we were there, there were so many other tourists around that I don't think any bear would have wanted to show himself!
Fantastic Museum which is a piece of art itself! This gorgeous stone building is set into the mountainside, it looks like an extension of the landscape. It houses over 2000 beautiful works of art all with a wildlife theme. At the time of our visit they had a special exhibit on Georgia O'Keefe.
The museum was originally in the town of Jackson, it moved to it's current location in 1994. It is across the highway from the National Elk Refuge, about 2.5 miles north of Jackson.
The little cafe in the museum serves up tasty treats with a great view. The patio picnic tables are in my opinion the best spot to eat.
More to come!
The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center is an information center, and a good place to learn about the park. The staff is friendly and helpful, and they will gladly answer your questions, and help you plan your visit to the park. If you plan to spend overnights in the backcountry, or do mountain climbing, this is one of the locations to get your permits.
This center is open year long, except Dec. 25, and includes a museum, a theater, and a shop in which you can purchase souvenirs, postcards, gifts, and books. There are also restrooms, telephones, WiFi, and a nearby post office at the center.
The museum is small, but very informative, featuring exhibits on the natural history of the area, and history.
The store, although small, is larger than many stores I find within national park visitor centers, and we purchased a number of items, including an electronic Ultra Identifier which plays a number of bird calls, and a Folkman’s River Otter puppet. We also purchased two books for our grandchild, Little Lady Bug, which was a finger puppet book with a hole in the middle for the reader to put their finger into the lady bug’s head; and a pull-the-tab book shaped like a lady bug. When you pulled the tab at the back of the lady bug pull-the-tab book, the lady bug would walk across a smooth surface, open up its body covering, and you had the cloth pages of the book. We also purchased two books for ourselves: Best Easy Day Hikes Yellowstone by Bill Schneider, and Hawks from Every Angle How to Identify Raptors in Flight by Jerry Liquori.
Your 7-day entrance permit to Grand Teton also allows you entrance to Yellowstone National Park through its South Entrance. (If you go to Yellowstone first, your pass will allow you entrance into Grand Teton.) Since these two parks boarder each other, visitors often plan to visit both parks while they are in the area. Yellowstone’s road is a figure eight, with the entire route being 142 miles in size. The lower loop of this road is 96-miles in size. If you are planning on staying in Grand Teton, say in the Colter Bay area, and want to just drive to Yellowstone for a day, do not attempt to do more than this lower 96 mile drive. Even though you will have to skip many of the sites, this lower loop will still fill an entire day. View some of the geysers and hot pools on the west; and on the east, drive the Canyon road, as well as the road that leads to my favorite canyon over look, Artist Point.
Better yet, if you go to Grand Teton first, move to Yellowstone National Park and plan a minimum of three days, which will still not give you time to explore everything, but will at least allow you to spend a day on each of the main sides. Visit the west side for geysers and hot pools; the north for Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Falls, and Lamar Valley in search of wildlife; and the East to explore the beautiful Canyon and Hayden Valley.
For detailed information on Yellowstone, visit my Yellowstone National Park, My Neighbor pages.
The Heron Pond and Swan Lake Hike is an easy, mostly level three mile loop trail that only has a 40 foot elevation climb. The trail leads to two lovely ponds, where you may see birds and other wildlife. There are several junctions along this loop trail, so look at the signs carefully, and if you have a trail map, it could be handy. This is a pleasant hike through the forest. Heron Pond is mostly covered with water lilies, and you may see pelicans, Canada geese, ducks, or other waterfowl on or near the pond. Moose, especially in the evening, may come to the area to munch on the willows. Swan Lake, also covered with lily pads, gets its name from the 1980s when two trumpeter swans lived on the lake. Unfortunately these swans never produced any chicks, even though they diligently defended their territory, chasing away any other swans that visited the area. Today the name is only a reminder, as no other swans have taken up residency on the lake. Look for beavers, who love dining on pond lilies, and therefore often frequent the area.
Warning! Do Not take the optional trail to the Jackson Lake Overlook, as it is a waste of time--there is no overlook view of the lake on this side trail, and if you are hiking the trail in a counter clockwise direction (i.e. you took the right leg to Heron Pond first) it can cause confusion picking up the loop as you descend. If you are hiking this loop trail in a counter clockwise direction and do take the Overlook side trail (again, I don’t recommend this), look carefully when you descend or you may find yourself on the wrong trail, up in sage brush country heading for Jackson lake, instead of on the loop in the woods heading for Swan Lake. We made this error, and as we were correcting ourselves and back tracking we saw another couple coming our way. Later we saw them coming back our way, and they had made the same error we did!
My other photos show one other view of Heron Pond, and three pictures of Swan Lake, including a beaver dam.
The Colter Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum is open from early May to around October 11. The visitor center has a book store, information desk, auditorium, public telephones, and restrooms. This is one of the locations in the park where you can obtain backcountry permits, get information about hiking trails, and help with planning your trip. The friendly staff will be glad to answer your questions. From June through September there are a number of interpretive programs, museum tours, and craft demonstrations.
For its size, the small Indian Arts Museum has an impressive display of American Indian artifacts donated by the Rockefeller family. The art of North American Indians varied from tribe to tribe, and though often beautiful, was almost always created for a specific purpose. The items created, and methods of creating their objects, depended on what materials were available in their environment, as well as their social customs. My photo shows a grizzly bear claw necklace. This necklace proved that the owner had great hunting skill and bravery.
Photos 2 and 3 show views of display areas inside the museum, while my last photo shows the exterior of the center.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy a Jackson Lake boat cruise. There are a variety of choices for your outing. As you board the boat at the Jackson Lake Marina, be prepared to enjoy the beauty of the lake, and a historical narration, including folklore of the area. The Scenic Lake Cruises last about one and one half hours, and when we were last there, departed four time a day. Or you may enjoy a narrated breakfast cruise, which last three hours, departing at 7:30 in the morning. When I checked the menu for this cruise, eggs, trout, sausage, ham, pancakes, pastries, potatoes, and fruit were all listed. The most popular cruise, is their 3 hour dinner cruise, which is run three days a week, and leaves at 5:30 P.M. This outing includes the narrated cruise, plus a stop at Elk Island, where dinner is served. This is a western meal, and includes a salad bar, baked beans, corn on the cob, and a fruit cobbler for dessert. There is time on the island to allow you to explore the island, or sit by the campfire before returning to the marina. I would recommend making reservations ahead of time.
Even if you are not staying in Colter Bay Village, take a side trip to the Colter Bay Marina, which will offer you a stunning view of Grand Teton across Jackson Lake. You will find a wide range of activities available around the marina. Enjoy the view, and stop in at the marina store, where you will find Grand Teton themed t-shirts, hats, hiking needs, and fishing licenses. You may also rent a variety of boats from the marina store, or you may wish to take a Jackson Lake Cruise, guided fishing trip, or a hike along one of the nearby trails.
The Lupine Meadows Trailhead area offers a number of hiking opportunities. This is one of the access points to the Valley Trail, and hiking 1.7 miles brings you to Amphitheater and Surprise Lakes Trailhead, or you could choose to hike to Garnet Canyon, or Bradley Lake. If you continued along the Valley Trail, you would discover that the trail connects to the Taggart Lake Trail, although both the Taggart Lake and Bradley Lake trails are more quickly accessed from the Taggart Lake Trailhead.
The Amphitheater and Surprise Lakes Hike is one of the more popular hikes in the park, so expect to see a lot of people on the trail. Rated strenuous by the park, it has an elevation climb of 2,958 feet. As you walk along the Valley Trail, you will pass through the forest, with some nice view through the trees of the Teton Mountains. The Amphitheater Trail will turn off on the right side of the Valley Trail, about one half mile from the Lupine Meadow’s parking lot. The Amphitheater Trail climbs up a ridge, where you will come to a junction for the Garnet Canyon Trail, if that is the hike you chose for the day. If, however, you stay on the Amphitheater Trail, a series of switchbacks will take you up to the lakes. The entire Amphitheater and Surprise Lakes hike about 9.6 miles in length in and out.
We only hiked a short distance along the Valley Trail leading from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, as we were short on time the day we explored the area, but we found it to be a very scenic area.
The Glacier View Turnout is the area along hwy 191, where you can stop to read about the glaciers in Grand Teton, as well as get another view of the Grand Teton Mountain Range. Water and ice have carved canyons and sculpted the skyline you will view from the turnout. A glacier 3,000 feet thick once filled the Teton Hole Valley, and the mountain range. Only Teton Peak, the highest in the range would have jutted through this large mass of ice. Read the signs for additional information on how the valley and mountains were formed.
Stopping at the Snake River Overlook will give you a high view of the Snake River Valley, and the mountains beyond. From this view point you can clearly see how the river twists through the valley. The Snake River begins in the Teton Wilderness near Yellowstone National Park, and flows south into Jackson Lake. From the lake it continues through the Jackson Hole Valley, then turns into the state of Idaho, where it eventually flows into the Columbia River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean.
The Cunningham Cabin is one of the best examples of a homestead cabin in the Jackson Hole area. From the parking area, you will walk an easy one half mile trail. The cabin is the main feature. There are also suppose to be a number of foundations and post hole remains in the area, and although we looked for these, we were unable to find most of them. Maybe you will have better luck than we did. Cunningham arrived in Jackson Hole in 1885, where he spent a number of years trapping. When his wife, Margaret, staked a claim under the Homestead Act, they received 160 acres. The act required that homesteaders live on the land for five years. There were other requirements, including that a cabin at least 12 feet by 12 feet be built on the land. The cabin you will view, was their first home on their land. The logs were chinked with a dirt mortar, and sapling poles were used to construct a roof, upon which earth was piled. Floors were also made of dirt, that was wetted with water, compacted, and swept. This homestead became the Bar Flying U Ranch, and J. Pierce Cunningham became one of the valley’s prominent and respected citizens. In the west, however, 160 acres does not supply enough rich grass land to raise cattle, plus the ranchers had to feed their cattle during the long, hard winters, making raising cattle expensive. For this reason, it was important that cattle ranches be large enough to grow hay to feed livestock for six months of the year. For this reason, Cunningham eventually purchased 380 more acres.
After the cattle market prices fell in the 1920’s agricultural depression, and Yellowstone had become a National Park, J. Pierce Cunningham and another rancher wrote a petition that proposed federal, state, or a private group buy out ranch properties in the area in order to set aside the land as a recreational area for the education and enjoyment of people all over the country. John D. Rockefeller founded the Snake River Land Company, and began to buy out the ranchers. After the Grand Teton National Park was created, Rockefeller donated the land to the federal government to expand the park.
As you hike this easy, short, self-guided trail, you will have grand views of the Teton Range, including Grand Teton, Signal Mountain, and Mount Moran. The Lunch Tree Hill Trail also has a historical significance. Lunch tree Hill received its name as it was a picnic stop used by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., on his travels during a 1926 Yellowstone vacation. The mountain vistas he saw from the hill inspired him with their beauty. Later, however, he was disturbed by the increasing number of commercial enterprises in the area, such as Jenny Lake’s dance hall, billboards, and gas stations that partially blocked the view of the mountains. Rockefeller worked with Horace Albright, who was the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park at that time, to protect the Tetons. Three years after his lunch stop on this hill, Congress created Grand Teton National Park, to forever protect the beauty of the area. Through his Snake River Land Company, Rockefeller bought out struggling ranches in the area, later donating the land to the federal government for the purpose of expanding Grand Teton National Park.
If you do not have a lot of time, but would like to do a hike, this is a good choice, as it only takes about 30 minutes to walk this trail.
My other photos show additional views along the trail, including a view of the Gros Ventre Mountain Range from the top of the hill.
Oxbow Bend Turnout, is not only a beautiful area, but it is a good example of a riparian habitat. Plants thrive in the shallow water and sediment along this oxbow, which is fed by the Snake River. This is one of Grand Teton’s richest habitats, providing food, water, shelter, and nesting sites for a large variety of wildlife, including mammals, raptors, and water birds. I thought this was one of the prettiest areas in the park. Using our binoculars and spotting scope, we enjoyed watching two white pelicans, a seagull, a few mergansers, and a lot of cormorants on or near a spit of land in the river.