Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

An American Summer Road Trip: Jackson Hole To The Grand Teton National Park

Exploring Jenny Lake, sunset views atop the Signal Mountain, catching the wild denizens of the Grand Teton National Park, are a few of the attractions of this great trip

Grand Teton range as seen from the national park
Grand Teton range as seen from the national park Shutterstock.com

It snowed in the mountains the day we arrived. With lush green valleys, blue skies, and clear visibility for wildlife sightings, the scene was just set for an epic road trip. We were at Wyoming, the 10th largest state in the United States of America, in May this year.

Choosing to visit at the beginning of May was a good decision we later realised because the crowds then were a lot smaller, most parts of the park had already opened and were accessible.  Also, the weather was not so hot and sultry.

We picked up a DodgeRam from the Salt Lake City airport to begin our peregrination. We chose the 5-hour longer but the scenic route via the Garden City and Bear Lake on Highway 89 till Jackson Hole.  Jackson Hole is only about 12 miles from the Grand Teton National Park Loop Road, making it a popular pit stop for tourists en route to the neighbouring Yellowstone. 

En route to Grand Teton
En route to Grand Teton

Jackson Hole, Wyoming is both a welcoming, quaint mountain resort town and a bustling hub for travellers from across the globe. ‘Hole’ refers to a valley between two towering mountain ranges – the Grand Teton and Gros Ventres. Jackson Hole is elucidated by contrasts. The extreme winters invite snowboarders and skiers to test their mettle, while the summer months offer tourists a myriad of ways to enjoy the relaxing outdoors. Both keep up to the essence of the Grand Teton.

Jackson Holes’ ranching community has cowboy roots and serves as a second home to Kanye West, Sandra Bullock, Kim Kardashian, Harrison Ford, Pippa Middleton, Tiger Woods and more. The mountain town keeps up to its Wild West image. To my dismay, as a long-time Clint Eastwood fan, I didn’t find cowboys on horseback riding across this town. However, I was told to be their guest at Jackson Hole Rodeo. “Don’t forget to carry your cowboy hats,” they said. 

Souvenir shopping at charming downtown shops, relishing local flavours in quaint eateries, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and boating in a few of the most enchanting lakes around are a few activities that were planned for the next days. I stayed at one of the prettiest inns, Wyoming Inn. It was home for two nights.

A useful bit of info - the America the Beautiful pass is a permit one needs to purchase and can be used across America's national parks, the validity of which is through the year of purchase. 

The Oxbow Bend Lookout point
The Oxbow Bend Lookout point

In contrast to the previous gloomy day, the sun shone bright on our second day for our drive along the Grand Teton National Park loop.  This 42-mile scenic drive reveals the grandeur of the park, in great detail. As the park roads had just been opened to tourists, there were very few fellow travellers. The mountains and their serenity were left for us to savour. 

If you yearn for amazing captures, then dawn is the best time to get out on the roads to capture the mesmerizing golden hour hues, since the Grand Teton face east. Around this time, the chances of spotting wildlife are also the highest. 

Next, our drive took us on a highway that almost mirrored a city skyline where skyscrapers were replaced by towering peaks. Enjoying the journey, instead of worrying about getting to the next destination in time, we chose to stop at all the overlooks with unobstructed views that we passed by. Each one had something peculiar or fascinating about it. 

One of them was the Schwabacher Landing. In my opinion, this was one of the most stunning spots in the park since it had a boat landing as well. We were lucky to get here around the right time to catch the reflections of the surrounding Teton in the Snake River. It’s easy to miss the turn and drive past Schwabacher landing, so be careful and patient.

A short walk around the Snake River Overlook was invigorating.  We trekked down to the riverside to sit here listening to the sweet chirping of the birds. This place is a paradise for birdwatchers. The Oxbow bend turnout provides an eye-catching view of Mount Moran. My ultimate recommendation would be to make a long halt here. Pull out your mats, pull out your picnic sets, and sip hot coffee out of your flasks here with a backdrop of magnificent views of the Snake River. Believe me, you are not going to regret this.

The Teton is lined with overlooks (viewpoints) and it is indeed difficult to choose between which one to stop at and for how long can the mesmerizing views hold your attention.  

The Moulton Barns

The Mormon Row is a small historic district established in the 1890s where the Mormon settlers arrived from the neighbouring states. Originally some 27 homesteads existed here but today you can see only a few barns from the era. An interesting fact about one of the dilapidated wooden barns here is that it is the most photographed barn in America.  The wooden structure with the scenic Teton range rising from behind makes a nice rustic set-up for a photoshoot. Indeed a photographer's delight at dawn and dusk.

The best and most exciting part of this drive was my favourite Jenny Lake. The drive to Jenny Lake can be an outing by itself. We were lucky to reach at a time when the snow had just melted, and there was a thin layer of ice on the calm waters of this pristine lake. To catch a glimpse of the looming mountains making reflections on the serene still waters of this emerald lake was like icing on the cake. At the start of the summer break, Jenny Lake turns into quite a chaotic place with boat shuttles running across this lake. Beginning of May, to our delight, the shuttles hadn’t yet started, and the place was its peaceful self. 

We did attempt to trek up the Jenny Lake loop but had to make a turn due to unexpected showers and wind. The ‘bear encounter’ scare lurked all the time. We explored Jenny Lake at a time when the tourist season was just about to begin, and this is the time when the bears are still prowling around in search of food without the fear of human interventions. Once the tourists are in hordes bear sightings are seldom and they are found deeper in the forests.

Herds of bison in the sagebrush flatlands of the National Park.
Herds of bison in the sagebrush flatlands of the National Park.

The Jenny Lake visitor centre adds up as a cute souvenir shop and that’s the place where you can pick some of the best hot chocolate and cookies. You may buy your bear spray for the trek here. Adding to our excitement, the forest officials had spotted a mama bear with her cub just the previous day. It was here that our anticipation to spot the animals began. Then, lo and behold, our first sighting was of a hyena crossing by. And there was a lot more waiting. Soon we also spotted herds of pronghorns and bison in the sagebrush flatlands of this grand National Park.

The lush valley floors, quaking aspen trees and alpine lakes of The Grand Teton left me awestruck and more in love with the outdoors. Such breath-taking places etch memories that stay with you forever. 

A career guidance counsellor, globetrotter, and travel writer, Kinnari Shah seeks and finds happiness amidst nature. She believes in the motto - 'Travel is my therapy, look for yours'.