A&A Travel Review of the Grand Tetons, & Jackson Hole, Wyoming
On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill creating Grand Teton National Park, a 96,000 acre park that includes the Teton Range and six glacial lakes at the base of the peaks. At the time, the 96,000 acree park did not protect a complete all encompassing landscape, so Horace Albright (Superintendent of Yellowstone) and John. D. Rockefeller (amongst others) continued to pursue the dream of seeking private funds to purchase private lands in the Jackson Hole valley in order to complete the full park. This dream did not come fully true until 1950 when the park was finally able to expand to the current day boundaries.
The Grand Tetons, and entire Jackson Hole area are full of magnificent landscape and wild communities. The mountain range rises abruptly from the land, and hits you right in the face as you start to enter the park from the north, coming from Yellowstone. There are lush meadows, floodplains, bare alpine rocks, and wild sagebrush here, and that is home to grizzly bears, bald eagles, otters, moose, deer, elk and bison. Nothing obstructs your view of the Tetons jutting out of the Jackson Hole valley.
Rocks in the core of the mountain range here are about 2.7 billion years old, some of the oldest in North America, but yet this mountain range is among one of the youngest in the world. About 100 million years ago, well before any of today’s mountains formed, there was a collision of tectonic plates along North America’s west coast that bowed up a vast block of sedimentary rock deposited by ancient seas. About 10 million years ago the movement of the Teton fault generated massive earthquakes that caused the mountains to rise while the valley floor dropped. Movement from the Teton fault lifted the range, but erosion also began to sculpt the landscape. About 2 million years ago massive glaciers up to 3500 feet thick would flow south from Yellowstone and fill up the valley, thus eroding the mountains further and depositing huge volumes of rocky glacial debris. Ice sheets would fill the valley and the alpine glaciers would sculpt the jagged Teton skyline. We can thank these glaciers for carving the peaks and canyons that are current day Grand Teton Park.
These glaciers also impounded lakes amongst the mountain range, but sadly the glaciers have appeared to recede about 20% in the past 40 years.
It is $35 per vehicle to enter Grand Teton, however there are combo Yellowstone/Teton passes you can get that are good for 7 days and cost $50. We have an Annual Park Pass, America the Beautiful Pass, so we did not pay any entrance fees. [By this point in our travels our Annual Pass has 100% paid for itself, and we are just gettings started!]
This park is another one of those places where it doesn’t matter if you only have a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks – there is so much to explore and learn about. If you love to hike there are tons of trails, if you prefer road tours there is a 21 mile scenic byway and if you are more curious about a professional led tour there are ranger led programs too!
Where we stayed
There are campgrounds inside of Grand Teton National Park, however they can oftentimes be full or only provide dispersed camping options for a hefty fee. We choose not to utilize this option and instead branch out around the park for a more cost effective place!
Bridger-Teton National Forest
This is where our campground was located, the first campground as you enter the forest coming from the west and from Grand Teton National Park. This campground is southeast of the Antelope Flats, Mormon Row and Gros Ventre. The developed campgrounds in this forest provide picnic tables, campfires, pit toilets and bear food storage boxes. There were a few water spigots located throughout our campground, but other than that it is completely DRY camping. This area is first come first serve!
Atherton Creek Campground
Tucked into Kelly, Wyoming, appearing to be in a wilderness in its own little world, is Atherton Creek Campground, part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest system. Regular sites here are $15 a night, double sites are $25. We started out completely on the wrong foot at this place – literally. The last 3 miles of road to get to this campground were VERY rough, full of potholes and craters. Upon arriving at the campground we tried to park in a spot that we didn’t know was a double spot and then didn’t know where else to go. We ended up picking site #18 perched on the hill with no tree coverage because it seemed like the next best option, and then we struggled to get the trailer level for the first time ever.
But it was all just that, a rough start, and nothing more. This without a doubt ended up being the best campground we have stayed at yet and we ended up having the site with the very best view of Lower Slide Lake and the forest and the mountain tops. Each night we would sit out at our picnic table, sometimes having a fire until they were banned, and just stare into the abyss. At night we would watch the stars, seeing more stars than we have ever seen before! It was truly spectacular and we would absolutely stay here again!
Signal Mountain Boondocking
Just about 5 miles down the road from Atherton was a boondocking spot I had my eyes on for quite some time as it offered direct views of the Teton Range. The first day we took a drive over there in the van just to scout it out, and it was pretty heavily populated with tents and camper vans. It was a great spot, don’t get me wrong, but considering the views we did have at Atherton too, we were very happy we stayed where we were! We also had the luxury of a camp host so we felt more safe to leave our entire life contents while we would go out exploring!
Jackson Hole Valley
A large oblong valley to the east side of the Teton Range, formed by the mountain range. The entire area is filled with outdoor activities, biking and walking paths, bike rentals, hiking trails, ski lodges and resorts, and more. I fell in LOVE with the outdoor vibe here and seeing so many people taking advantage of it. The weather was incredibly brilliant and beautiful during our stay and there appeared to be bikers around every corner in the valley!
We had no idea this is what we were driving by every day to go to our campground in the Gros Ventre area, but apparently there are a bunch of historic mormon houses off of Antelope Flats Road, one mile north of Moose Junction. Here you can tour iconic and historic barns and homesteads from a mormon colony many years ago. The “pink house” is said to be one of the most photographed areas, because of the insane mountain range that juts out behind it.
This area of Antelope Flats is also heavily populated by wild roaming bison. We stopped several times to try to get around clueless tourists in the middle of the road just gawking.
This is an extended part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and full of contrasting landscapes. (Our campground at Atherton Creek was technically located within this area!) The Gros Ventre Mountain Range began about 50 million years ago, as folds and faults produced an asymmetrical arch, broken by it’s own faults and continuing to astound geologists. In 1925 an incredible landslide carried 50 million cubic yards of debris down Sheep Mountain forming a dam, and creating Lower Slide Lake (where we camped!) Just two years later a flash flood wiped out part of the damn and completely destroyed the town of Kelly, Wyoming. This entire slide area is now a National Geological Area within this wilderness.
Grand Teton National Park
Be Bear Aware!
Grizzly bears and black bears thrive here and you could literally encounter one at any time! Some of the most popular hiking trails pass right through bear habitat and unfortunately your safety is never fully guaranteed. Just like while in Yellowstone, it’s super crucial to always have bear spray with you!
We encountered our first bear on our adventures while hiking in Grand Teton and it could not have been more than 15 to 20 feet away from us. We first heard it rustling around in the brush and then saw it’s head and it’s butt poking through. I immediately blew our marine horn and starting shouting and clapping my hands loudly. Adam had the bear spray ready to go in case he needed to spray it. Luckily, after a moment it retracted back into the woods, but it was still a scary encounter for us nonetheless!
A 21 mile stretch (one way) from the northeast end of the park all the way down to Moose Junction at the south end. Along the way there are plenty of overlooks, places to stop for picnics or just to stare in awe at the mountains.
Jackson Lake Lodge
This lodge is one of two National Historic Landmarks in the park, first opening in 1955 on Jackson lake. It offers guests walls of windows that overlook Willow Flats, Jackson Lake and the Teton Range and is the lodge in the northernmost part of the park.
Along the scenic byway, about halfway through, will bring you to Jenny Lake and the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. We stopped here for a souvenir, and to fall madly in love with Jenny Lake herself, as it is absolutely the most beautiful lake and mountain view I have ever seen in my life! This overlook is a MUST see if you are going to the Teton Range at all.
Jenny Lake also offers a boat shuttle service across the lake for $18 per person. This shuttle is oftentimes taken by hikers to cut out a few miles of the longer hikes west of Jenny Lake.
Moose Junction District
In the southern part of Grand Teton National Park, and just 12 miles north of Jackson, you can enjoy a variety of trails, activities, scenic drives, programs food, and more. There are several areas to get souvenirs, groceries, sign up for excursions, get gas and everything you would need here. We frequently would stop here for one off supplies or to have solid 4G services for a few minutes as it was sometimes scattered at our campground.
Please note, this is NOT an area to drive with your trailer or 5th wheel as it is very tight, offers no trailer parking, and is difficult to turn around in!
This is another one of those places where hiking can be extremely intimidating to amateurs like ourselves. There are a lot of backcountry hikes here, where people disappear for DAYS on end into the mountain range wilderness. This type of hiking requires serious research and understanding about what you are getting yourself into, preparing with food and water and shelter, sometimes bringing oxygen, and ALWAYS bringing bear spray and other supplies. You must also get a permit from a Visitor Center in order to do any backpacking trips in backcountry.
If you are more like us, and just like to casually hike during the day, than our day hike trips are more for you!
What we did: Taggart Lake Trail
A 3.1 mile round trip hike to Taggart Lake and amazing views of the Teton Range. Taggart Lake is much like Jenny Lake with shimmering teals and turquoise colors. It was a moderately easy hike and a great spot to take a break and just enjoy the scenery.
What we did: Death Canyon Trail
This trail, to a ranger cabin in the woods, crossing Phelps lake but stopping before getting to Static Peak, was about 7.9 miles roundtrip. You climb about 2,100 feet in elevation and stroll through multiple roller coaster ups and downs until the straight vertical climb through the canyon to get to the top of the trail. The sun was shining and it was cooler that day but we were totally pummeled by the rays and I on the descent back I almost felt like I was experiencing total heat exhaustion. This trail is also where we encountered our first bear in bear country!
Upon getting to the ranger cabin at the top, you can continue onto several trails or onward to Static Peak, named because of how often it is struck by lightning. You can also stop just before you get to the cabin at a nice picnic area on the creek and set up lunch on some of the rocks like we did.
Disclaimer: You can only drive all the way to the parking area if you have a 4×4 vehicle or are super brave. We ended up parking down one mile from the trailhead so we tacked on an extra 2 miles total to our hike, making it a 10 mile day!
We did this hike one week ago today and I swear I am STILL sore from it!
What we wanted to do: Jenny Lake Trail / Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point
A shuttle boat can take you across Jenny Lake for a fee, and to shave off a few miles of the total venture. This hike could be upwards of close to 20 miles roundtrip, just depending on how far you want to go. Unfortunately we just weren’t cut out for this kind of day adventure right now, but I know it would have been something truly special.
The Jenny Lake Trail will take you all the way around the lake, and from there you can continue onto other trails or end your trip.
Hidden falls is a popular trail that climbs 1200 feet above Jenny Lake’s south shore to a view of a 230 foot cascade fall. From here you can head up to Inspiration Point for more stunning views of Jenny Lake.
A lively tourist, ski community – Jackson is a beautiful town full of life and wonder and tucked into the Jackson Hole Valley. There are three ski areas here and a town square that features an arch made of elk antlers shed from the local National Elk Refuge. Just outside of downtown, The Museum of Wildlife Art features Andy Warhol. North of Jackson displays the peaks of the Teton Range and the vast wilderness of Yellowstone National Park.
While in the area, we took just one afternoon to drive into town, park and walk around square and just admire and observe everything. I had my eye on finding a huckleberry shake or ice cream, and that turned out to be our first scavenger hunt.
Jackson Drug – For over 100 years the Original Soda Fountain has been special to locals and tourists. This was also the place of choice to try to find a huckleberry treat! Last minute, as I waited in line for a ridiculously long time to place a to-go order and was allowed time to change my mind, decided to go for one scoop of vegan huckleberry ice cream and I think it was the best choice! It was so creamy and delicious I absolutely ate it all and the little huckleberries were so tasty too! I would go back there just to get this again.
D.O.G. – Almost like a street vendor, but not really? A small and super convenient open window food service a few blocks from town square that offered burgers/sandwiches, burritos and other snack food. A nice outdoor patio with shaded seating, and I saw them give treats to peoples dogs too!
There are many other food and beverage places to explore downtown, including the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar!
Created in 1912 to protect habitat and provide a sanctuary to elk herds. This is also home to the historic Miller Ranch. The area for the refuge is in what is called the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and houses a variety of wildlife throughout.
Summer is wildfire season, and on our last full day we were alerted on our phones of one that was in Jackson. While hiking back on Death Canyon Trail we could see it burning in the distance and read more about all the areas they were telling to evacuate. Make sure you help prevent human caused fires by not building campfires anywhere outside of designated areas. Be aware and help keep nature wild!
We plan to launch our Nomadic Newsletter ASAP. I hate to say it again, but this will be delayed until September 2019, due to high amounts of adventuring and low amounts of a 4G connection. I swear I’m just still getting into my groove of things – this delay will not continue!
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