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
Awwwww!!! I love the animal pictures! Ha, we complain all the time in VT about the moose crossing signs. We have never seen one there, either. I hope the bears were at a distance, too and now I am googling pikas. I want one. Great pictures, wildfire smoke and all!
Thank you! Seems like a lot of people are searching for the elusive moose! The bears were definitely pretty far away from us when we were taking pics, though we saw plenty of idiot tourists getting too close. Ughhhh…..
Perfect timing! We are headed back to GTNP today and one stop for sure is Mormon Row. And we didn’t make it to the top of Signal Mountain Friday so may have to go there too. Is that where you took the picture comparing Ansel Adams? Luckily the smoke has cleared here and we’ve been having gorgeous weather!! But, alas, we still haven’t seen ANY wildlife at GTNP!! Well, except for a marmot on the top of Rendezvous Mountain when we took the tram up there. 🙂 We are staying in the teeny tiny town of Victor, ID (pop 1,972) and have to drive over the Teton Pass to get to Jackson and GTNP, but it’s only 30 minutes and an incredible drive! Teton Valley Resort.
We drove over that pass too on our way from Ashton! We couldn’t believe how steep it was! The Ansel Adams photo was taken from the loop road – I can’t remember the name of the viewing area right offhand – I think it was just south of Shwabacher’s Landing, but don’t hold me to that. There’s a big placard at the spot showing where he took the photo from. Hopefully you’ll see it. It truly is a beautiful spot, especially if you keep having nice weather. Hope you find some fun wildlife soon!
Yup! Found it yesterday. Snake River overlook.
That’s it! Awesome!
You had a full day. It took us a week to do all of that. Great animal photos. Definite awwws in there.
Thank you! Yeah, we really tried to make the most of it. I so wish we had more time…
Hey, we’ve all seen those “majestic Elk” photos, the ones where Moose lift their heads from a stream with dripping greenery hanging from their mouths, pictures of Bear ambling along the blueberry patches, cubs tumbling together, but, I like yours much better! They show the animals personality, their habits unaffected by tourists with cameras. Your Pica pictures are perfection. Your Buffalo calf with it’s tiny horn buds and wet beard is really precious. Good job!
Awww thanks Sue! And I agree, who needs perfection when you’ve got deep-thinking Pikas?? We were amazed by how unaffected the animals were by all the tourists. There were some folks getting way too close to the mama bear and her cubs, and she just didn’t seem to mind at all. Of course, it helps they were black bears. Pretty sure there would have been “tourist-tar tar” if it was a grizzly.
You scored with the wildlife sightings and you’ve got excellent photos to prove it! So funny, your commentary about trying to capture photos of critters—they just won’t cooperate. (Loved the elk dinner menu :-)) But you scored with that beautiful photo of the bear cub in the berries—and the elk at Mammoth Hot Springs. And that adorable pika! And you saw a moose! In all of our years of travels, we’ve yet to see a moose.
Thanks so much for sharing ideas for how to explore the Tetons. Those little tips like “don’t bother with the last mile of the hike” are really helpful. So sorry you’ve been plagued by smoke this summer. I fear it’s the way things are going to be more often than not going forward. 🙁
Who knew so many people have never seen a moose? This definitely makes us feel better! We thought it was just us. And yes, I agree… so many people we’ve recently met in Oregon have mentioned that the fires are a yearly thing now and they’re getting worse. We actually just saw the destruction from last year’s fire at the Columbia River Gorge… heartbreaking. At least it seems like the worst of it is behind us, at least for this year….
Very cool, I can’t wait! As I mentioned before, we are heading there in about 2 weeks. But first, we have to get through all the wildfires in BC. I’ve already rerouted us twice because of road closures. Yay, for the moose! The baby bison is adorable and absolutely love the pika with the mouth full of grass. Great capture!
You are gonna love it, I have no doubt! It seems like the wildfires are a lot better these days, at least in the places we’ve been visiting. Hopefully the season is coming to an end and you’ll have clear skies when you visit. I hope so anyway. I look forward to reading your take on these places and seeing your photos!
Totally agree, GTNP is absolutely stunning and one of my favorites. You know you had me going “Awe!” with those Pika pics. It really is a rare treat to see them let alone capture an image … so kudos for a nice job. Too bad about the smoke. Guess that means, you’ll just need to return. Tough job, but I’m sure we’re all up for those kinds of challenges ????
We will absolutely return, no question. We felt like we barely scratched the surface of the park. Kevin actually got the pika pics – only because he had the patience to follow them around and keep snapping away. I’m glad he had the camera as those little guys are way too fast for me. But I’m very glad he put the effort in. They are some of my favorite pics!
Great pictures Laura, especially the bear and the Pika. And of course your picture ranked right up there with Ansel Adams only you had to deal with the smoke 🙂
Ha! Thanks for indulging me!
I can’t believe you saw a Pika! Great pictures. I love the bear cubs. When we were there last year it was smoky too. It was still pretty, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed after all the gorgeous pictures I had seen.
Yeah, the wildfire smoke seems like a summer tradition all the sudden. It was disappointing for sure to have all that haze. I think if we go again, we’ll try for early spring when there’s more snow on the mountains and less threat from fires. I think that would be a perfect time to visit.
Good for you, you were able to at least do one hike! For us, we gave up as soon as we saw cars on the main road from Jenny Lake.
By the time you got to the spot where Ansel was, the trees have grown obstructing the river, but still you got the shot sans snow 🙂
Lucky you, the bear was there to pose and so with the adorable Pika! And you scored quite a few of those wild animals!
Hopefully those books deter the stupid ones from doing anymore stupid antics while at a National Park. That guy that harassed the bison was finally caught in Glacier National Park, such an idiot!
We were so glad we started with Jenny Lake. Later on, it was just a madhouse. But, on the other hand, you got fantastic photos of the mountain ranges in the morning when it was clear, while we got the hazy smoky afternoon ones. Guess you kinda gotta pick one thing and do it in the morning. I really want to go back at some point when we have more time so we can explore more…. it’s just a wonderful park.
Any day chock full of critters is THE BEST DAY EVER!
I could NOT agree more!
What an awesome day Laura! We haven’t seen moose either so maybe the Tetons is the place to go…hopefully next summer! The Pika is the cutest little bundle of fur EVER! What a great capture!
The moose really are elusive… funny how many warning signs there are about them when no one ever actually sees one! Anyway, I hope you get to go next summer… if you can go early in the season, you might have better luck avoiding smoke….
Why I love your blog…..amazing pics of scenery & wildlife, great tips, & funny commentary! Can’t wait to visit both places. I’m also looking for a moose in Maine
Thanks Debbie! I hope you see a moose up there too! From all these comments, I’m starting to think seeing a moose is like winning the lottery!
I am glad we went early in the season, signal road was still closed but we didn’t have fire smoke to deal with
Yeah, if we had it to do again, we’d definitely go in late May or early June. The smoke was a real drawback, and it was everywhere this summer. Whenever we go to Glacier, we’ll also want to go early in the season since they seem to have the same issue. You guys definitely timed things right.
It is so difficult to get the wildlife to cooperate properly. Some just didn’t get the memo on what do for the tourist and their cameras! We’ve waited for a long time, as well, for that creature to lift its head. Your moose was the highlight. There are so few around. The Tetons seem to be the place. Spectacular wildlife day! Awesome photos! Too bad you only a day and were so far away. Remember that you are setting the plan and schedule:) Make necessary changes to go where you want when you find something interesting. The Tetons are on our next summer plan. We’ve been twice but on motorcycle trips. We need to go to hike this time and search for moose:)
Unfortunately, our one-day stay was the result of things beyond our control fixing our schedule… I truly wish we’d had more time, but as I believe Plato once said: ‘shit happens….’. ???? We will absolutely return one day for a proper visit. It’s a wonderful place and, if it’s the only place on earth where moose roam, (which I kinda believe might be the case), we will absolutely go back for more!
Thanks again for getting us excited about our next destination! Once we get our fill of Yellowstone, that is, and if we survive elk “bugling” season. Elk were the one major animal that we were still hoping to see, and we’ve seen our fill here at Mammoth in just a few days. As in, they are so frequent and persistent that I will be ranting about them in my next blog post. Chalk it up once again to wildlife never really cooperating with human plans.
Isn’t it funny how that happens – you’re so excited to see something and then you just get sick of it? That happens with a lot of people visiting Yellowstone and encountering bison. The first bison jam is AWESOME! The second bison jam is “pretty cool.” By the 12th bison jam, you’re ready to punch a bison in the face…… 🙂
We’ve spent one day in GTNP, took the Jenny Lake boat ride, did Signal Mtn, Mormon Row and the Chapel of The Transfiguration. One of my favorite photos from there is through the chapel window. Glad you got to finally see your moose.
We totally missed that chapel…. I don’t even remember seeing it on the map. That sucks. Definitely another thing to add to our “must-do upon return” list!
The trail around Jenny Lake is a great hike for those wanting a little adventure without being too strenuous. There are some areas that gain and lose some elevation, some areas that are slightly exposed, but overall this hike can easily be done in a morning or afternoon in hiking boots. And also don’t forget to bring a pair of trekking poles. Wildlife will often be visible in the early morning or evening. If you make it halfway around the lake and decide the walk back is too much you can take a boat ferry back to South Jenny Lake Junction.