When I meet other hikers on a trail, something I always ask in conversation is, “what is the best hike you’ve ever been on?” I love hearing what people love about hiking, plus I might learn about a hike for the future. I was recommended by several people to check out Grand Teton National Park, and specifically the Teton Crest Trail. When I started looking into it, I knew I had to find my way out there, and soon! I had the perfect opportunity this summer when my friend was living and working in Canyon Village in Yellowstone. I was so excited when I saw that the Tetons and Yellowstone are so close to each other, they are basically the same park. So, I planned a 2 week trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks to visit my friend, see some large wildlife, and hike some epic trails.
There is SO much to do in both parks, so I am going to break them down into two posts.
In this post, I am going to highlight the Grand Teton National Park.
Bridger-Teton National Forest
Okay, so right off the bat our plans to hike the Teton Crest Trail had gone out the window. The first thing we did when we got off the plane was drive to the Craig Thomas Discovery Center to reserve our backcountry permits to thru-hike the TCT, a 50 or so mile trail that takes you through the Teton mountains for some seriously epic views. We both had our hearts set on this and was very disappointed to find out that the campsites were booked up for the next 4 days, and you must stay within the designated camping zones when you are in the park. Obtaining a backcountry permit in GTNP is VERY DIFFICULT! We had read online that they reserve permits for walk-ups, so, we assumed that there would be campsites available the same day. This was not the case. So, if you are going to try the walk-up option, be warned that you may not be starting the trail for several days.
We were pretty bummed that we couldn’t do the whole trail thru-hike style, but we improvised and came up with another plan. I have learned over the years that the ability to improvise and be spontaneous are necessary qualities of a traveler.
So our improvisation starts with needing to find a place to sleep on night 1. Since we weren’t able to stay anywhere in the park (no permits or campground availability) we asked about our other options. On a budget, we were trying to limit out hotel stays and camp whenever possible. We learned that you can disperse camp pretty much anywhere in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, a huge area of land that borders the park on the east side, and so our decision was made. We set out along Gros Ventre Road into the forest and found a spot along Lower Slide Lake for the night.
We got up early the next morning in hopes that a permit might be available for us. The office opened at 8 am and we aimed to get there at 6:30. On our way back to the Craig Thomas Discovery Center, we made a quick stop at the Mormon Row Historic District to check out the Moulton Barns. They are hand-built wooden barns that make an excellent photo opportunity with the Tetons in the background. You have a pretty good chance of spotting wildlife here in the open grassy plain. We were lucky to see a herd of bison crossing the field as we drove by.
Teton Crest Trail
Needless to say, we were stuck without a permit once again, and desperate to hike the trail. After staring at the map for hours and talking to a park ranger, we came up with a new plan. We learned that there are a couple areas on the trail that leave the park and enter national forest territory, meaning you do not need a permit to camp there.
Now, this plan was a little ambitious for us, but having hiked the JMT we thought it was do-able. We decided to try and make it to Alaska Basin from the Death Valley Trail Head which is about 12-15 miles with some crazy elevation gain.
As you start along the Death Valley Trail, the first point of interest you’ll come to is the Phelps Lake overlook which is about 1 mile from the trailhead. There are several trails that will take you to this lake, it’s a great spot for a picnic or cliff-jumping!
We had our first bear sighting near the lake. A black bear crossed the trail not too far ahead of us. Everyone on the trail started clapping their hands to scare him away, but he acted as though we weren’t there, just minding his business.
I guess this is a good time to mention, that bear spray is HIGHLY recommended, if not required when hiking in the park. They sell bear spray everywhere, but it’s not cheap, like $50-60 per canister. But, if you don’t mind shopping second hand, you can just ask the check-in desk at the airport if anyone has turned in bear spray before taking their flight home. They literally had buckets full of unused bear spray to choose from, and it was free! #hikerhack
Now, back to the trail.
Continuing along Death Canyon, we got to see some dazzling and colorful wildflowers. They say that mid to late summer is the best time to catch the wildflower blooms. They even named one of the canyons, Paintbrush Canyon, after the iconic Indian Paintbrush flowers that cover the canyon floor.
At mile 4 or so, you will come to the junction for Static Peak. We kept left and continued along the Death Canyon Trail to begin climbing to the top of Fox Creek Pass (9,600 ft.) and onto the Death Canyon Shelf. It was a tough climb and I definitely overexerted myself trying to make it to camp before sunset. The top of the pass is where the Death Canyon Trail meets with the Teton Crest Trail. You will see signs as you enter and leave Alaska Basin. Once you pass the park boundary and are in Alaska Basin, you are free to camp pretty much anywhere!
We camped with a beautiful view of the canyon, surrounded by wildflowers and were even lucky enough to spot a moose in the distance and hear coyotes at night! I was feeling sick as we set up camp, and after trying to eat some ramen, I ended up vomiting, most likely due to overexertion. I felt much better after that.
The following day we continued through Alaska Basin to begin climbing our way over Buck Mountain Divide (10,550 ft.) to Static Peak (11,303 ft.). From there it was all downhill back to the car. It was another 12-ish mile day, but felt much easier than the day before.
After making it back to the car, we decided to treat ourselves to a warm meal from Dornan’s, a restaurant adjacent the Craig Thomas Visitor Center. We drove off towards Bridge-Teton National Forest and ate our food in the trunk of our rental car as we watched the sun set behind the Teton mountains.
Another highlight from the trip was Jenny Lake and the hike to Inspiration Point, Hidden Falls and Cascade Canyon. The parking lot fills up quickly and you will find yourself circling around for an hour if you don’t get there early enough. Hiking around Jenny Lake is beautiful. There are lots of options for recreation, like kayaking, boating, paddle boarding, etc. There’s even a ferry that will take you across the lake to the base of Inspiration Point (this will save you 2ish miles both ways). If you choose to hike instead of the ferry, you will come to an overlook of Moose Pond, where moose are regularly spotted drinking or taking a dip. As you round Jenny Lake and start to climb, at about 2.5 mi, you will come to Hidden Falls, a very impressive waterfall and shady spot for a break. As you continue another half-mile uphill, you will come to Inspiration point, which overlooks Jenny Lake.
I hiked a little further into Cascade Canyon and was rewarded with some wildlife sightings. Moose, both male and female, and three bears! One of them was wading in the water, going for a swim.
On the North end of Jenny Lake near the Jenny Lake lounge, you can hike to the wonderfully warm and shallow String Lake. A trail follows the perimeter of the lake, a lake that you can walk all the way across without getting your hair wet. The deepest the water came to was my armpits, but in the middle of the lake it was only up to my knees! I’m not sure if it’s only like that because of the time of year I was there, but it was such a lovely spot to spend the day, especially with the warm sun on your skin.
Oxbow Bend and Schwabacher Landing
A couple, easy access spots with excellent photo opportunities are Schwabacher Landing and Oxbow Bend. At both places you can just pull off the road and hop out of your car to see. Not much walking or hiking required. Sunset and Sunrise are prime time for photography here. In fact, at Schwabacher Landing we saw a whole wedding party doing a photoshoot, and maybe 100 ft away from them someone else was getting married!
As you start driving further north in the park you will come upon Jackson Lake, the biggest lake in the park, with a marina and more options for water activities. After a short hike from the parking area at Colter Bay Village, the shores of Colter Bay make an excellent spot for a picnic and a swim. There is a grocery store up at the Colter Bay visitor center, where we picked up some food and beer to bring along to the lake.
Flying into the Jackson Hole Airport was a great choice because it lands you right in the middle of the park. From the airport, I rented a car and was immediately off on my adventure.
The town of Jackson Hole is great if you are looking for restaurants, hotels, shopping and other town things. We stayed at the Pony Express Motel for a couple nights. It was a reasonable place to stay and is walking distance to some great food.
If you didn’t already know, I eat a vegan diet, so no meat or dairy, and was able to find something to eat at all the following places located in Jackson Hole, my favorites are listed first:
-They are an ALL-VEGAN cafe! Wooo! The perfect spot for breakfast or lunch! I recommend the smoothie bowl and some of their delicious coffee!
-They have some great vegan ramen, you can build your own bowl! and appetizer options.
The Merry Piglets Mexican Grill
-You can’t go wrong with Mexican food! A classic veggie fajita or burrito bowl is the way to go! The margaritas here are great too!! Shout out to my vegan server who recommended I try Cultivate Café
Thai Me Up Restaurant and Brewery
-I had the thai fried rice which was so yummy, as were the brews! The sour beers are my fav!
Roadhouse Pub and Eatery
-I only had beers from here, they are right in the town square with outdoor seating!
Jackson Hole Roasters
-The coffee here was excellent, and they have non-dairy alternatives, but there is not much in terms of vegan food options. I had the breakfast potatoes and peanut butter on a bagel.
So, that’s all for my trip to The Grand Teton National Park. It was an amazing trip with spectacular views. Thanks for reading my post, let me know if you have any questions or comments, and I’ll catch you on the next one!
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Camping in the Backcountry: https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/back.htm Park and Trail Maps: https://www.nps.gov/carto/hfc/carto/media/GRTEmap1.jpg