After leaving lovely Henrys Lake State Park, we drove due south and set up shop in the tiny town of Ashton, Idaho, which is about 90 minutes northwest of Grand Teton National Park. All things being equal, we would have wanted to be closer to Grand Teton, but, unfortunately, we just couldn’t make it work with our route and schedule. In the end, being 90 minutes away meant we only headed into the park one day, but we made the most of it: on lakes, on trails, on scenic drives, and hanging out with the wild things. Full disclosure: Some of the wildlife pictures in this post are actually from our time at Yellowstone, but I’m including them here because a) Yellowstone and Grant Teton share a border; b) my Yellowstone post was very long, so I wanted to break things up a bit; and c) I’m pretty sure the animals aren’t going to object.
Grand Teton National Park is one of those places that everyone thinks is gorgeous. There’s just nothing to discuss. If you have a pulse, you’ll agree: it’s stunningly, ridiculously, stupidly, beautiful.
There are several lakes within the park but I had heard Jenny Lake was the one not to miss. I’d also read that the parking lot for the lake was tiny, so it was best to head there early in the morning. We arrived around 8:30 a.m. and had no problem finding a parking spot, but, as expected, when we drove by later in the day, the lot was an absolute zoo.
There’s a perimeter trail you can hike around the lake, but after speaking with the NPS folks, we opted to hop on the small boat that ferries passengers across the water to hike a trail on the far side of the lake.
The Cascade Canyon Trail came highly recommended as an optimal “get a taste of the park when you only have one day to visit” hike. The first mile or so is through the forest and it’s where you gain most of your elevation. We saw a fair number of folks struggling because of the altitude, but if you’re in moderately good condition and acclimated to the 7,000 foot starting elevation, it is absolutely worth slogging up the hills because when you get done with that, you get to see this:
As you continue along the trail, the canyon becomes more defined.
Grasses and bushes at ground level are eventually replaced by water
and that water is spectacularly clear.
At points along the trail, we could look up into the mountains and see water, sourced from the melting snow at the upper reaches of the mountains, cascading down the face of the rock.
If there was one downside to this trail, it was that there were a lot of people on it. A lot…
But, fortunately, groups started peeling off as we continued down the path. The trail is an out and back, 4.5 miles each way, for a total of 9 miles, but the vast majority of folks turn around early. We completed the whole thing, but, if I’m being honest, the last mile was pretty dull (by GTNP standards, not by any other standard). If we had it to do again, we’d probably go about 3 or 3.5 miles out and then turn around, which would have left us more time to hike other trails.
Once we completed the hike and took the boat back, we jumped in the car and hit some of the scenic drives. We headed to the top of Signal Mountain to take in the views…
before heading out on the loop road that takes visitors by numerous scenic pull offs. As you can see from the photos though, we were faced with an unfortunate reality that has followed us all summer – smoke from wildfires. Smoke has been our constant companion in Colorado, Idaho, and, most recently, Oregon.
At GTNP, as the afternoon wore on, the western views got hazier and hazier, obscuring the park’s namesake mountains and leaving everything looking pretty flat.
Not that it wasn’t still beautiful:
but having seen so many photographs of this stunning place, by mid-afternoon, we knew that what we were seeing wasn’t the norm.
Speaking of which, eagle-eyed readers might recognize this particular scenic location as the one photographed by Ansel Adams in 1942.
I think you’ll agree: Pretty much the same thing.
Ok, fine… but he had snow capped mountains, dramatic clouds, a clear view of the river, and everything wasn’t on fire.
Suck it, Ansel.
We also made a brief stop at famous Mormon Row… These are a group of preserved barns and cabins from the 1890’s when Mormon settlers lived in the area.
Tip: As you drive down the road that takes you to “Mormon Row,” you’ll see a parking area on your left. If you park there, you can explore the barn you see above, as well as a couple other structures. Unfortunately, while doing so, you will be joined by a lot of people….
If, on the other hand, you take a right, you will find this fabulously empty parking lot…
and this magnificently photogenic (not for me, in this case, but whatever….) barn.
in addition to numerous other historic buildings from the same period.
Perhaps we just got lucky, but when we were wandering around this section, we had the whole place to ourselves.
Visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are pretty much guaranteed to see wildlife, and we saw plenty. Photographing them, however, wasn’t always so easy.
Take this elk – I watched him and his buddies eating for twenty minutes. “Munch, munch, munch, munch…”
For twenty minutes I stood by, waiting for him to come out from behind the trees, pick up his head, and show me that “majestic elk pose” they do.
“Munch, munch, munch, munch, munch….”
Finally, after enjoying an amuse bouche, appetizer, salad, soup, main course, second course, palate cleansing sorbet, dessert, truffles, and coffee, he finally decided to pick his head up and take a look around…
only to choose the one place where his dumb majestic head would be obscured by bushes.
What a jerk.
In the meantime, when we were at Mammoth Hot Springs, we ran into this goofball, napping on the springs….
He spent most of the time sleeping, but when he did wake up, well, let’s just say he hasn’t mastered “majestic”:
Luckily, the animals at Grand Teton were much more cooperative. Indeed, Grand Teton was the first place we saw a moose!! We’ve been searching for a moose for EVER.
We first looked for moose in Vermont when we saw “Moose Crossing” signs all along the highway. But there were no moose in Vermont.
We were told there were “plenty of moose” in Canada, but we left that country, sadly, moose-free.
“You’ll definitely see moose in Yellowstone!” they said. They lied.
But finally, in Grand Teton, there he was! A moose!!!
And yes, he was hundreds of yards away and no, my camera lens is not good enough to capture a great image from that far, but that – right there – is a freaken moose. Check the damned box, it finally happened!
In the meantime, we saw bears! Mama and two adorable cubs grazing on the greenery like visitors at a salad bar.
And, unlike the unhelpful elk, these fluffballs posed nicely:
Even more adorable than the bears? Pika!! “What the hell is a pika?” you ask… It’s a tiny bundle of cuteness that zips around like its hair is on fire grabbing grass for nests.
Speaking of cooperative animals, when we encountered a huge herd of bison in Yellowstone, Kevin managed to get some photos of a mom and her “little” one walking past our car.
All together now: “awwwww….”
All in all, we were pretty happy with our wildlife viewing experiences in Wyoming. Any day that includes bears, bison, moose, and elk, in which neither of us gets mauled, gored, bitten, or crushed, is a winner in our book!
Speaking of which….
Seriously, NPS… WTF is with your bookstores???
Where we stayed: Jolley Camper RV & Cottages, Ashton, Idaho