What Makes It Great
From city slickers to mountain men (gals) and everyone in between – all can appreciate the solitude and impressive expanse of this amazing park. The lake views, forest landscapes, brilliant canyon expanses and amazing wildlife all lend to the unforgettable destination of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). Back country hikes are the best method for experiencing the grandeur of this national park. We hope you’ll find our 10 day itinerary to Wyoming helpful: Where the buffalo and antelope roam; mountains are named in French for female anatomy (define: Grand Teton); and small towns charge through the nose for motel rooms. This first bit covers Grand Teton, see link below for our Yellowstone experience.
Also see –
Yellowstone Experience and best hikes in Yellowstone (Coming soon!)
How to prepare for back-country hiking / camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton (Coming soon!)
When to Visit
Most roads in Yellowstone and Grand Teton close in October and don’t re-open until end of April the following year. You could visit in winter but be aware of road closures, be equipped with appropriate gear for the winter, and research available lodging options. Winter can be the most rewarding time to visit the park since the amount of tourists declines dramatically and the blanket of snow enhances the scenery. The freezing temperatures will impact the thermal features, and all you can see will be steam clouds at most mud pots and geysers.
End of April – Mid May
The park roads slowly open at this time and you can beat the crowds by visiting in early spring. The weather is a bit chilly and snow is still melting so you might not be able to access some of the hiking trails unless you are equipped with the right gear. A highlight during this time of year is for cyclists and other non-motorized activities. A small section of the roads are plowed early in the season giving cyclists a unique, quiet experience of this national park. Spring brings the best wildlife viewing opportunities, with February born bear cubs and their parents getting active after a long hibernation.
Mid May – End June
It is slightly warmer and the crowds have yet to turn the park into a traffic zoo. Some trails can still be soggy and impassable at certain points, so bring your mud-kickers or rubber rain boots. This is the season when the black flies and other nasty insects are active. Cool nights and warmer days combined with moist conditions ensure that wildfires won’t impact travel plans or campsite reservations.
July – labor day in Sep
Weather is great and the bugs are fewer, but you will have to battle the park with hoards of other tourists. No amount of DEET will protect you from swarming tour buses and rude selfie-sticks. If you don’t mind the visitors or you can reach the best attractions at sunrise and sunset, you will still have a lot of fun. Check out our favorite hikes for suggestions on beautiful back-country strolls during afternoons in July/August.
Sep after labor day – Early Oct
The crowds have left (it can still feel pretty crowded in popular spots), the weather turns a little chilly, the leaves change colors, the elks start to rut – We highly recommend this time of year! This is an especially good time if you are going to hike through higher altitude divides which are covered in snow (sometimes until July) and get snowed in again at the end of September. No more mosquitoes or 90 degree days to hamper daytime hikes. We thoroughly enjoyed brisk, 45 degree nights sleeping in our tent and sleeping bags and rental car at various sites and campgrounds. Be sure to check park websites for road closures (shoulder season construction & wildfires), and several lodges and campgrounds close early as well.
Our Grand Teton Experience
Day 1 – Saturday 9:30pm Jackson, Wyoming
We opted for a lousy Motel 6 room just a 15 minute drive from the airport. This lodging choice made for a convenient end to a long day of transit (How we got to WY from NYC). Also, we needed to grab groceries and some camp stove fuel before getting into the park the next morning. Arriving too late/tired for a real dinner, we opted for snacks and channel surfing local TV stations before bed. It’s a shame, because most of the restaurants in town that we researched look delicious, and had great reviews!
Day 2 – Sunday 8:00am
We wanted to depart ASAP, but we were pretty lazy ourselves and did a lot of repacking and rearranging so all of our back country items and meals were organized for the next 3 days of back country hiking and camping. The wonderful Jackson Hole Grocer & Café was the spittin’ image of a Whole Foods Market, with plenty of shelf stable items for a week of driving and camping. We got a few sideways glances while buying bottles of local bourbon and canned beer at 8:30am, but stocking up sufficiently in town saved us a bundle. The grocery options in Grand Teton and Yellowstone are notoriously expensive and fairly limited compared to this store.
9:30am Spent FAR too much time food shopping, but it was worth it! Had some decent breakfast sandwiches and picked up a case of firewood as well. Finally made it to Teton Mountaineering store to pick up a small canister of camp stove fuel. These canisters are not permitted on airplanes, so this is always one errand we have to complete when travelling far from home and camping.
10:00am Jackson to Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve
A GORGEOUS morning drive to the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park. The moment you leave town and almost as soon as you drive past the airport on Route 191 you are welcomed with astounding views of this looming mountain range. Luckily for us we found a parking space, hiked a lovely 7 mile loop trail around Phelps Lake, and briefly enjoyed the interpretive center at LSR preserve
This lake loop hike came with a verbal warning from park rangers about bear activity in the area however the only wildlife we saw was squirrels, birds and deer. The trail around the lake’s edge was pretty much level for the entire loop, and provided hiker’s with grand views of the lake and Tetons beyond.
1:00pm Phelps Lake to Craig Thomas Visitor Center
After returning to our silver yacht of a rental vehicle, and we began a delightful afternoon drive further into Grand Teton NP. These narrow, winding 2 lane roads throughout the parks force you to slow down and enjoy the scenery. This particular afternoon a tree fell on the roadway and caused a significant hold up. Heaps of praise and respect is due to the park service, because they had chainsaws roaring and the road cleared within 30 minutes. In this instance, the alternate route around this roadblock would have been over 1 hour of extra driving, so remember to check your road rage at the gate when driving in GTNP and Yellowstone.
Walking out of the bustling Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center with our back country permits and site reservations firmly in hand, we were ready to explore! Some remarkably picturesque stops on the drive to String Lake would be Schwabachers landing, Mormon barn, oxbow bend, etc. We had a leisurely afternoon with grocery store snacks and sandwiches, eating while taking in the views.
5:00pm Visitor Center parking lot to Site 12A
We drove around the various picnic areas near String Lake twice until we could tell it was the closest we’d get for parking to the Leigh Lake trail-head. A brief 10 minute hail storm welcomed us to the parking lot while gearing up, and a local trail runner returning to the car next to us confirmed that any weather is possible in Grand Teton. She had just completed the same loop we were about to embark upon in 1 day! The 3 mile lake side stroll to campsite 12A was pleasant and smooth. We passed a few day hikers returning to their cars while enjoying the warm setting sun’s rays light up the forest before twilight. We had the entire group campsite to ourselves! With over dozen ideal sites to choose from we opted to tuck our small tent between 2 pine trees near the lake shore. The winds were really whipping across String Lake, blowing down from Mt. Moran and earnestly trying to steal every unsecured piece of camp gear we didn’t tie down. A perfect Boy Scout fire circle was established with cut trees to sit upon, and a large fire ring to keep everything safe and contained. This was one of the few sites which allowed campfires in the parks. With the tent pitched and secured to 6 rocks and 1 tree branch, we made a quick meal on the stove using the metal bear-proof cabinet as a wind screen. Dinner was delicious, homemade/dehydrated lentil soup. A stupidly delightful evening nature scene to cap off the day of scenic drives, perfect trails and the POLAR opposite of crazy life in NYC. A wee little night cap of Bowmore scotch beside the fire only added to the elegance of our surroundings. In bed by 9:30pm.
Day 3 – Monday 6:00am
After a long 9 hours of fitful sleep, scrambling out of the tent to irrigate the trees in absolute silence was enjoyable. The wind had roared until 4am, making each powerful gust convince my half-conscious mind that the trees providing us with minimal windbreak might actually just topple over. Fortunately this did not happen, and the morning coffee was brewed with clear water from the glassy lake. Being up for sunrise while hiking might be my favorite reoccurring moment in life.
7:30am Campsite 12A to Lake Solitude (North Fork Cascade Divide camping zones)
Our stroll that morning briefly retraced our steps from the previous evening, until we hooked up with the paintbrush canyon trail about 1 mile later. An adolescent black bear (wearing a brown coat) was looking for breakfast about 25 yards to the left of the trail as we began our ascent.
This hike was FABULOUS! Plenty of flat sections to allow us to really appreciate the woodland strolls, but mostly uphill for the entire afternoon. About 5 miles into our hike that day we reached the alpine zone, and the landscape made a lovely transition from dirt paths and pines to sparse vegetation and boulders. The trail was still very well maintained, but less tree cover demands for sunscreen and plenty of fluids. The Paintbrush / Cascade pass was the (literal) high point of our hike in GTNP, and the approach was a constant 10% grade uphill for about 90 minutes. As soon as we crested the pass, we were blasted with the same late afternoon, 50mph winds that had blown down upon us at the lakeside campsite the prior evening. The afternoon 2 mile descent towards Lake Solitude was by far the most rewarding and beautiful section of our stay in GTNP. Dramatic, sweeping views of the North Fork Cascade Canyon from 2,000 feet above was just breathtaking.
5:00pm Lake Solitude to North Fork Cascade Canyon Camping Zone
Upon reaching the valley floor and approaching the edge of Lake Solitude we were greeted by 4 deer bounding past us, playing chase through the boulders.
Pretty fatigued and hungry at this point, we opted to skip a lakeside snooze & snack and hightailed it to the 4th campsite side-trail. This selection proved perfect, as the designated tent area was located just 100 yards from the main trail, 50 yards from the river, and even had a bear box tucked between the boulders that separated us from a second campsite nearby. Dinner was made anxiously with the sun setting, and we crawled into our 3 lb. tent and promptly fell asleep by 8:00pm.
Day 4 – Tuesday 6:00am
North Fork Campsite to Cascade Canyon Junction
To reiterate, September is the PERFECT time to visit this area of Wyoming (assuming wild fires and early snowfall cooperate). Sunrise conditions on this day were pristine. Crystal clear views of the Grand Tetons through the valley, just cold enough to see your breath while heating coffee before breaking down camp, no hungry bears stalking us. After a vigorous cup of joe and some breakfast pastries from Jackson we sauntered off down the trail with renewed energy. Surprisingly, all aches and pains and sorry muscles were revived from the day before. We passed approximately 7 more posted campsite side-trails while hiking south towards the junction. Each side trail appeared to have at least 2 established sites, and most were towards the river side of the valley for an easy water source. We spotted a fox on the prowl for his breakfast right next to the trail, and took several photos as the sun lit up the mountain range before us.
9:00am Cascade Canyon Junction to Jenny Lake
This fork in the road reminded me of a place for hobbits to rest that Tolkien may have described. Taking a sharp left turn down the canyon towards Inspiration Point, we continued to be rewarded with an easy downhill stroll and ever changing views of the Tetons and cascading river. The sun began to warm us and burn my cheeks by 11:00am, when we decided to have a late 2nd breakfast at Inspiration Point. Continuing on to Jenny lake, we passed many families and day hikers heading uphill. Some did not look pleased, I can only hope the sweeping views of Jenny Lake and beyond were reward enough for them at Inspiration Point.
During the high season a shuttle boat runs from Jenny Lake Ranger Station to this west edge of the lake, allowing visitors to either tramp up to Inspiration point or wander back along the lake edge path to a number of trail-heads/parking lots on the main road. We really enjoyed this undulating dirt path that encircled Jenny Lake, then dumped us back out on the opposite side of String lake. A total of 13 miles this day made us weary and pleased as we dumped our packs into the truck and changed into fresh socks (finally). The weather was perfect for our 3 days in the back-country, and the only minor downside to the journey was finding Leeks Marina Pizzeria closed for the season as we drove into Yellowstone. That spot looked like the bee’s knees, but instead of happy tourists noshing pizza by the lakeside, we found the restaurant filled with kayaks and canoes that had been stored for the winter.
This concludes our Grand Teton portion of the 2016 Wyoming trip. Stay tuned for a rundown of Yellowstone National Park.
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