This place will certainly go down as one of our all time favorite parks. The scenery is just breathtaking and there are so many things to do. Still, it does not feel overwhelming or crowded like Glacier did, even though there were lots of people.
We headed out early Sunday and drove about sixty miles north, following the Snake River, until we got to Gros Ventre (which means “big belly” I am told) Campground. Our anxious fingers were crossed, hoping that because it was a Sunday and we were there early, we’d get a site. And guess what. We did. No problem. Richard asked specifically for a site with lots of solar and they put us at the end of A loop, in site 73. It was perfect. There was a view of the Tetons in the background and enough solar to keep the battery charged, even after a full day of rainy skies. We were pretty giddy.
We had the whole day to explore and had reserved three nights. We first went to the Visitor Center in Moose to get the lay of the land. We then drove up the park road to the northernmost park, just to check it out, stopping for lunch on our way at the Jackson Lake Lodge. Lizard Creek is a smaller campground and we came away deciding we preferred our spot because of the great solar and view. Lizard Creek would be very nice also though, close to Jackson Lake, and with more of a woodsy feel.
Every inch you drive in the Tetons is stunning. The Grand Tetons were apparently named by a couple of “lonely, isolated men” and it translates to “big breasts.” So there you go.
That afternoon, we took a short hike up to Taggart Lake. The trail followed an idyllic creek and wound its way through beautiful alpine forests, dotted with wild flowers everywhere. The trail was easy and spectacular. The park apparently needs to put up signs that pictorially indicate it is not ok to pick wildflowers, because that information was only posted in English. However, the dog symbol with the big red line through it was ubiquitous, and that didn’t stop some people from bringing their dogs on the trails. Oh well.
That evening, we went into Jackson for dinner in a Thai place, called “Thai Me Up,” that was pretty good. We did a little shopping in town, then back to Dory for a deep, sound, sleep.
Monday we had big plans. Some of them worked out, some did not. Richard’s plan had to do with biking from our site, up Signal Mountain, and back down to Jenny Lake. My plans involved kayaking at either Jenny Lake or String Lake, so we’d be able to meet up there (the lakes are next to each other). On my way however, I ran into our Finding-Dory-in-Zion Altoiste friend, Shannon, who just happened to be at the same national park at the same time as us. Again! She was waiting along the side of the road for her husband to do an impressive alpine run, so I pulled over and chatted with her. Richard just so happened to bike up to us as we were standing there. Group pic!
Shannon had a lot of insider information about the park, so I started thinking about shifting my plans a little. Unfortunately for me, one plan after another started getting thwarted. I tried the “secret” launch point down a gravel road at the bottom of Jenny Lake. But it was full. I then tried to force the car into a spot that only sort of looked like it could be a spot. I heard a crunch and realized I had run the front passenger side bumper into a log. That was very upsetting. There wasn’t a whole lot of visible damage, but it’s there. Drivable, yes. Functional, yes. But I scraped Bruce up and that really threw me.
Then I tried the normal parking areas at both Jenny Lake and String Lake. Big nopes there, as there were so many people trying to do the same thing, they blocked off the parking lots from further traffic. I did not feel like hauling my kayak the distance I’d have to park away from the lakes, so I then tried to see if I could put in at the Jackson Dam and do the five mile easy float Shannon had told me about. I drove all the way up to the dam, but there was zero cell service and logistically, I couldn’t figure out how to make any of that plan work with Richard’s plan. So I gave up and drove back down to find him at Signal Mountain.
His day was going quite well. I was cheered by seeing a huge elk right by the road and Richard, feeling kind of bad for me at that point, said that he’d drive me anywhere and drop me off if I still wanted to try kayaking. So we headed back to String Lake and I went for a cleansing afternoon paddle for a couple of hours. This lake is perfect for kayaks, as there are no motorized boats allowed. It is also very long and thin, as the name would suggest, so there’s lots of shoreline to stare at. By the time I was ready to get out, the crowds had thinned and parking in the lot was no problem.
Dinner was takeout Chinese, which was perfect after a long day.
Our last day in the park was rainy. Besides the fact that it made the river float plan less likely, it suited us fine. I had purchased rainy weather gear after our experience in Zion and I was eager to try it out. Plus, the rain made for nice, cool temperatures and fewer people out on the trails. All good. We took some good advice and went up to Phelps Lake, but first we stopped at the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve. This is a must do experience. I’ve never seen anything like it. It is a beautifully architected visitor center, with a room dedicated to a full surround sound nature experience. I swear, you will believe you are in the middle of a wilderness rainstorm in that room. Every detail, down to the natural light and cast bronze railings, is just beautiful.
Likewise, the trail that takes you gently up to the lake is so nicely laid out, with lookout points and boardwalks that allow you to fully immerse yourself in the spectacular surroundings, it has to be one of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen. There were meadows filled with wildflowers. The rushing river cascaded over rocks as the trail followed it up to the lake. And then, the lake itself, with the Tetons as a backdrop, appears as a reward at the top. We decided to do the loop around the lake since it wasn’t looking like kayaking was going to happen. The gentle rain steadily increased and I can confidently say that my jacket and rain hat both do the job quite nicely. It made the hike very enjoyable, as opposed to wet and cold.
A highlight of the hike was spotting a comically adorable little tailless mammal, jumping around in the rocks. I thought I’d seen something about Pikas in the Visitor Center, and sure enough, we were lucky enough to not only see a Pika, but chat with it for a few minutes while it jumped around and amused us with its huge cheeks. Very fun.
The hike ended up being close to seven miles and I was pooped. For the record, I was actually pooped at six miles, but Advil does wonders for sore feet. I still wanted to at least see the stretch of the river float area, even if I wasn’t going to get in the water this time. It looks like it would be very fun as long as you can work out how to manage the drop off and pick up. You would also need to be pretty aware of the take out point, or you could find yourself in the “Intermediate” section of the river. Not something I’d want to try. That goes on the list for the next time we visit.
This is definitely a park we’d like to come back to. Just wonderful.