Jackson Hole and Jenny Lake

A tourist was walking her pet pig in Jackson

Last summer when Sandy's daughter Shannon and her boyfriend Jimmy came to visit, I took on some trips into the mountains. We went to Sawtooth Lake, my favorite hike in the Sawtooths, and did a hike close to home at Bogus Basin.

This year Shannon said that she wanted to take a road trip while they were here and go to visit Yellowstone National Park. Since I am the Mountain Guy, Sandy enlisted my help to make plans for the trip. I had only been to Yellowstone once before, and that was way back when I was in college. Although it was pretty, adjacent Grand Teton National Park made a much bigger impression on me. Those were spectacular alpine peaks. I went back to climb several of them during my more active mountaineering days. So the first thing that I did was make sure that the itinerary was expanded to include Grand Teton National Park.

Any trip to the tetons starts in Jackson Wyoming, a resort town just outside of the national park. According to Google it's a six hour drive from our house to Jackson. We left on Monday morning and didn't even have to leave particularly early. We got to Jackson mid-afternoon and checked in at the Motel Six. That wouldn't usually be Sandy's first choice but Jackson is an expensive place to stay, especially since the summer high season had just started. Even the Motel Six was pricey. But hotels were full and we were glad that we had been able to get reservations.

First view of the tetons as we drive into the park

After getting settled in our rooms we drove down to Main Street. We started at one end and walked towards the city square. Since we hadn't stopped for lunch on the drive over, Sandy wanted to get something to hold her over till dinner. She came across a tiny hole-in-the-wall place called D.O.G. (for Down On Glen - it's on Glen St.) which had smoothies. With a name like that she had to give it a try.

While we were waiting for them to make Sandy's smoothie, someone came by walking, not a dog, but a pig. The lady explained that it was in fact her pet pig and that his name was Hamm (seriously? a pig named Hamm?). Surprisingly, she wasn't a local but a tourist. We didn't even consider bringing our dog along on the trip. This person brought her pig. It was one big, fat pig too. And noisy. It did attract a lot of attention though. As we followed the lady down the street people were looking and pointing and taking pictures with their phones. I don't think that we're going to trade in our labrador retriever for a pig though anytime soon.

View from the south end of Jenny Lake

Since Jackson is a resort town it has a lot of shops, restaurants and bars. At the top of our list to visit was the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. It takes it's western bar motif seriously, even going so far as to have saddles instead of bar stools. Yes, it's touristy and gimmicky, but we thought it would be fun for a visit, especially since Shannon and Jimmy are big country western fans. Unfortunately when we got there we found out that it was closed for a private party. Bad luck but oh well. Instead we went to the Silver Dollar Bar in the Wort Hotel for a drink. The hotel was an interesting historic building, right on Main Street. I checked though and a room in summer runs over $400 per night. That explains why we were staying at the Motel 6 out on the edge of town.

With lots of restaurants to choose from, Shannon and Jimmy had dinner at The Merry Piglets. You wouldn't guess from the name but it's a Mexican restaurant. I was still under restrictions because of minor oral surgery I had the week before. I was only allowed to eat soft foods so Sandy and I went to Pizzeria Caldera where I could get a dish of pasta. We all enjoyed our dinners.

Real Hikers scoff at taking those shuttles across the lake

I should have been in heaven because Jackson was loaded with tshirt shops. But most of them emphasized Jackson Hole, rather than the tetons or the national park. It was tough but I showed discipline. I only got one, a "Labrador Lager" a tshirt that I couldn't resist. Even Sandy bought more than I did. But I was holding out hoping for better tshirts in the park. Since we weren't coming back this way, it was a big risk.

The next morning we got an early start. The forecast said there was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms so we wanted to do our hiking in the morning. We made a quick stop at McDonalds for breakfast, for everyone except me. I settled for a pack of Twinkies from the minimart where we stopped for gas before leaving town. I was content with that but I think that it grossed Jimmy out. I wasn't worried since I don't think anyone who has an Egg McMuffin for breakfast can claim the health food high ground.

Hidden Falls was in full flow

You can't see the Tetons from the town of Jackson. There's a mountain in the way. East Gros Ventre Butte isn't a big mountain. At 7411 feet it's only 1200 feet higher than Jackson but it's long north ridge completely blocks the view of the Tetons from town. After driving just a few miles north we came around the corner of the mountain and there was the entire Teton Range in front of us. It was a beautiful clear morning and with the light from the east the sight of the mountains was certainly breathtaking. We stopped several times to take pictures.

Our first stop in the park was at the Visitor Center. It was early season and I wanted to get the most current information that I could on snow levels on the trails. We were planning to hike around Jenny Lake and I knew that there was trail construction still in progress there, so I also wanted to find out the latest on which trails were open and which were closed. The ranger there was very helpful and she marked up a map for me with all the info that I needed.

Oh yeah. I scored a cool GTNP tshirt and hat combo too. My patience and discipline at the tshirt shops in Jackson the night before paid off.

From the Visitor Center it was only a few more miles to the south end of Jenny Lake. There were several large parking lots there, a campground, a general store, and a small Park Service information center. It's also where you can catch a shuttle boat across the lake so you can save two miles of walking around the lake.

Sandy at Lower Inspiration Point

If you are hiking up Cascade Canyon into the high country, you have a long hike ahead of you and taking the shuttle makes sense. But it was early season. The ranger told me you couldn't get very far up the canyon because of snow. So taking the shuttle now meant getting off the boat, walking a half mile to Hidden Falls, and then going back to the boat dock. We wanted to do a serious hike, so our plan was to take the shoreline trail all the way around the lake. It's about eight miles, mostly flat, and very scenic.

We followed the signs to the boat dock, which was where we could catch the trail. As hikers we could feel superior to all the people who were being lazy and taking the boat across the lake. We were going to hike counterclockwise around the lake, but when we reached the boat dock we found that the trail in that direction was closed for construction. We quickly decided that we really wanted to hike around clockwise. After all, forced moves are easy.

Right away there were beautiful views. Across the lake we could see Mt. St. John, Rockchuck Peak and Mt. Woodring, all of them spectacular rock peaks rising five thousand feet right from the lake's edge. The hiking was easy, although the trail gradually climbed above the lakeshore. It took us about an hour to walk the two miles to a junction. From here a short spur trail led to Hidden Falls. Another trail came up from the boat dock so now we were joined by hordes of people who came across on the shuttle.

This is why they call it Cascade Canyon

I wasn't expecting much. When I think of Grand Teton National Park, waterfalls aren't the first thing that come to mind. It's all about the big peaks. Plus Sandy and I had just been in Yosemite Valley two weeks before when the waterfalls there were at record flows. We were going to be hard to impress. But the Tetons had a heavy snowpack this year as well and Hidden Falls was full of water and roaring. I had to admit that it was quite a sight.

We followed the trail above Hidden Falls towards Inspiration Point. We couldn't go all the way because the upper part of the trail was closed for for reconstruction. The Jenny Lake area is one of the highest use areas in Grand Teton National Park and the Park Service has been doing a multiyear project to rebuild the trail system around the lake. This is the last year and the trail to Inspiration Point is one of the last to be finished. We did reach a nice viewpoint over the lake which has now been named Lower Inspiration Point, probably by the shuttle boat company's marketing department.

View of the Cathedral Group from the String Lake outlet

The view from Lower Inspiration Point was pretty. You could see the entire lake and a vast area of mountains to the east of the park in Bridger-Teton National Forest. It's still not nearly as impressive as the view from the east side of the lake looking across to the Tetons.

From the viewpoint we hiked back down towards to the lake. Near the boat dock we left most of the people behind again as we turned north to complete the hike around the lake. We hiked through an old burn area for most of the way along the west shore, until we reached the outlet coming from String Lake. It was an impressive stream, at least fifty feet across and filled with snowmelt. Sandy was concerned that there was no bridge in sight and expressed some doubts about my hike planning ability. But the trail turned away from the lake and went upstream for about half a mile where we did in fact find a nice bridge.

Looking back to Cascade Canyon and Inpiration Point

From the bridge we followed the trail along the east side of the lake. It had clouded up as we hiked but now the sun came out again and we had fantastic views of the Tetons across the lake. There weren't a lot of people on the trail but the on this side of the lake, the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive parallels the trail only a short distance away. At the Jenny Lake Overlook, the road and trail come together at a famous viewpoint. Fortunately for us, there weren't many cars on the road so it didn't detract much from our hike.

When we finally got back to our starting point, we stopped to buy cold drinks and munchies at the general store and then enjoyed a snack break. It had been a long time since I had been to Grand Teton National Park and it was good to be back. It had been a great hike on a beautiful morning in an awesome place.