Grand Teton National Park
One Memorial day weekend I had the crazy idea to do a very poorly planned road trip to Grand Teton National Park in western Wyoming with a friend from the police training academy. This road trip started in Pierre, South Dakota, which is about a 10 hour car ride to Grand Teton National Park. It was also the "maiden voyage" for my new Jeep Wrangler. I can't think of many better ways to break in a new vehicle than going off to the mountains and exploring one of the nation's greatest national parks.
It wasn't until 2015 that I had even heard much about Grand Teton National Park. I feel that it is sometimes overshadowed by the world-wide known park to the north, which goes by the name of Yellowstone.
While I like writing about of the foreign countries I have been to, I feel that it is just as equally as important to write and reflect about many of the treasures that can also be found in my own home country. There is plenty of great sights to see in our own backyard that we often forget. I am guilty of this myself. I also think that this article would help foreign travelers help plan and look for destinations to see and explore aside the typical New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles tourist areas. There are plenty of great escapes for foreign adventure-seekers to find in the United States.
The ten hour drive wasn't the most thrilling since most of it was during the evening hours, but it did include a brief drive through the Black Hills region of South Dakota which I will write a separate blog entry for my time spent there sometime in the near future! Most of the drive involved lots of flat land, corn friends, and farms/ranches.
Things start to get a bit more interesting once you are on the western half of Wyoming. The scenery begins to get more rocky, hilly, and eventually mountainous. If you are heading to GTNP, you most likely will be traveling from the east, or the south. If you intend on camping, or spending several days in the park, it would be smart to get groceries and supplies in Jackson Hole (south) or Dubois (East) as there is limited options once you are in the park, and prices are higher. There are some park ran stores within the park, but as I mentioned prices are higher, and they may not have nearly as much selection as a grocery store does.
Upon reaching the entrance to the park, you will have to pay a fee and register with the National Park Service. The fee is generally about $30 per vehicle, it can cost more or less depending on various factors. More of these details can be found on this website below.
While the fee may seem steep, it is for a 7 day pass, and this fee goes to provide funds for park preservation, and other projects which benefits visitors for the most part.
The roads leading up to and inside of the park provide stunning views. The views are incredible, and you will likely begin seeing a wide range of wildlife as well. I was so transfixed by the scenery that I was actually pulled over by a Wyoming State Trooper. Fortunately, I was only issued a warning! Pay attention though and don't speed excessively. This area is strictly enforced. On top of that, there is a lot of wildlife wandering around at all times of the day and night. You don't want to hit a bear, elk, or moose going 65 mph. It won't be pretty.
Just moments after entering the park we came across mule deer, a brown bear, and a black bear! The park is filled with wildlife roaming around freely. Generally, they are pretty used to lots of vehicles being around them and people. Don't let their relative calmness be a cue to go up closer to see them. They are still wild animals, and they will attack if provoked. Avoid being that person who winds up on the news for being mauled by a bear or knocked over by a angry elk.
Grand Teton National Park has an abundance of different ways and places to stay. Some resorts, hotels, and lodges can be found in the park or close by to the park. In my opinion, the best way to experience the park to it's fullest is by camping. There are a ton of campground areas in GTNP, but they fill up quickly during the popular months. Check out the link below to locate campgrounds or lodges in the area.
We decided to stay at the Jenny Lake campground located right next to the east of Grand Teton (The mountain itself). The Jenny Lake campground is known for being one of the best and most favored campgrounds in the park. It is in a pristine location, and is a well built campground. One thing to remember if you choose this campground is that it comes on a first come, first serve basis. Make sure to get to the campground early if you are attempting to get a site. It typically fills up by mid to late morning during busy times of the year. We were one person too late and the campground was filled when we asked for a spot. Luckily a friendly New Zealander was hospitable and offered to split a site with her.
Like always, whenever I seem to travel somewhere I never seem to have enough time. I only had two days to spend at GTNP, which is no where near enough time if you want to experience everything about the park. There is a ton of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. There are trails there rated for every type of hiker.
One of the most popular hikes in GTNP is the trek up to Inspiration Point. It is clear why this is one of the most popular hikes once you reach the end. You could say the view from Inspiration point is quite inspirational! On a clear day you can see quite a long distance and the view of Jenny Lake below the point is breathtaking.
If long distance hiking isn't your thing, you can hire a boat to ferry you across the lake and shorten the Inspiration Point hike to just about a mile. If you prefer to hike it, it is only around 3.5 miles from the trail head of Jenny Lake.
After we had reached the end of the Inspiration Point trek, we decided to continue going further into the mountains on another trail. This was one of the more lengthier and unprepared hikes I have ever done in my life, and it was a mistake on my part by only bringing a 20 oz water bottle and a few snacks with me.
The trails we continued on brought us through the Cascade Canyon, directly west of Jenny Lake. We followed that trail all the way up until Lake Solitude. I was a bit shy of Lake Solitude before I turned back due to exhaustion and dehydration. Fortunately, I ended up running across a fellow hiker who had extra water who was also on his way back. At one point during the 8 mile hike back we both chanced it by drinking the river water since he ran out of water as well.
The hike through Cascade Canyon is another one of the more popular hikes to do in the park, and for good reason. It is a relatively easy hike with favorable weather conditions. It also has some great views of the surrounding mountain range. There was not a whole ton of uphill hiking until nearly reaching Lake Solitude.
On my way back I ran into several people who had come across a herd of moose. They stated that they had been hiking on the trail and they suddenly stumbled upon the herd without any warning. It is common to be completely unaware of moose nearby you on the trail until you are nearly feet from them.
I found this out the hard way myself towards the end of this hike. I was on the last mile of the hike which runs along the shores of Lake Jenny. I was rather exhausted when I walked around a pine tree to find a moose casually staring at me from the shoreline. I had never seen a moose in person up to this point, and knew they were big. I didn't fully comprehend how big they were until I was 10-15 feet from one. A chill definitely went down my spine, and then I quickly took advantage of a large boulder nearby and climbed it to watch and attempt to take photos of the moose.
Unfortunately, this unexpectedly lengthy hike summed up most of my hiking time while in GTNP. The other day was spent exploring most of the area by vehicle and getting our campsite set up. With all of the potential activities and hikes to do in GTNP, I would say a week would provide a good amount of time to explore!
One of the most iconic aspects of GTNP aside from Grand Teton itself, is the Moulton Barn. You have probably already seen the iconic 20th century barn at one point or another in photographs. It is a must see if you are in the area. It provides an epic photo opportunity if the mountains are visible in the background. See the map below for directions to the barn from Jenny Lake.
I can't stress enough to people who decide to visit this park that you should check out this area, especially for those interested in photography. As usual with my bad luck I ended up only getting photos of a similar nearby barn (directly north of the Moulton Barn, it is visible across the road.)
When should I go to GTNP?
It all depends on what you want to do for activities. Obviously if you want warmer weather the Summer months are the best. Autumn also proves to be a good time of year, especially when leaves begin to change colors. Winter has its own uniqueness as well, though not all of the park amenities and activities will be available, and parts may be subject to closure due to weather conditions. Be prepared for rapidly changing weather, especially during the Winter and Spring months in the Grand Tetons.
With each given season, there will be differing activities available, with the summer and autumn providing the best range of activities overall. While visiting in the Spring time is feasible, it is not as great of a time to enjoy the park. Trail conditions are often poor with the frequent rain and snow combination.
It goes without mentioning, but for those unfamiliar with the United States and it's weather, you should wear clothing and gear suited for snow during the Winter season.
What else do I need to know?
As mentioned earlier about the brown and black bears, it would be wise to bring some sort of container to hide food and or coolers with food inside them. Fortunately, a lot of the camping areas in GTNP have big metal boxes to store and lock food in. If you don't take these precautions, there is a solid chance bears might scavenge your food and make a mess. We actually received a written warning by the Park Rangers for leaving food and food related items out.
Also another suggestion would be to carry some sort of bear mace. Locals will often recommend it to you. Bears in this area are very used to people, and are not afraid to get up close and personal. Bear mace works as a good deterrent for them if this does occur. When we first arrived there were several brown bears making attempts to raid the campground. This was right around noon too!
Apparently a .357 magnum also suffices as good bear repellent since we noticed one hiker was sporting this on her hip. I suppose that is one way to attempt to prevent wild animals from attacking you.
Also prepare for all types of weather, this is another region where weather can change rapidly and unexpectedly. Nothing ruins a hiking trip quicker than being soaked or being too cold.
If you plan on renting a hotel, lodge, cabin, or other similar accommodation make sure to reserve ahead! This is a popular destination and spots fill up quickly during the popular months of the year. Not all locations operate like Jenny Lake campground's first come, first serve basis.
GTNP is a great destination that can be found in our own backyard. I honestly believe it gets overshadowed by the more famous national park Yellowstone to the north. If you plan on being in this region, you should try to make time for both, since both are such iconic national parks. You could easily spend 2 weeks in this region(GTNP and Yellowstone) if you are a serious outdoor adventurist.
If you find yourself in this area of Wyoming, and you luck out with clear skies, make sure to look up late at night. It is a good area for viewing the night sky. The amount of light pollution is minimal, so take advantage of this great opportunity.
It should go with out mentioning, that if you are in this area, you should make every attempt to also visit Yellowstone if you have the time available. I don't think there are many times people make a trip out to Wyoming, the least populated state in the United States, so make the most of your efforts. Just do your absolute best to avoid being in Yellowstone when it finally blows!
Another place I wish I had time to visit was Jackson. I heard a lot of favorable things about the tourist town. If I had another night or two to spare, I definitely would have checked it out. From what I hear it is a pretty popular and busy destination year round.