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Summer Drive - Americas National Parks in Utah & Wyoming

Day 5 & 6 - Grand Tetons Nat'l Park

semi-overcast 81 °F
View Driving the West - 2020 on rorndorff's travel map.

We arrived late afternoon after a long drive up Hwy 89 from Heber City into Jackson, WY; gateway to the Tetons. One look around the filled parking lots and people on the street took us back a bit given the COVID issue. It looked like a typical tourist area with the only exception being almost everyone was wearing a mask. Retail establishments had limits on how many people could come in at one time, restaurants practicing social distancing and using mobile phone menus, and volunteers in the town square explaining why these measures were necessary to bring tourism back to the area.

Day 5 - The Tetons was on the top of my list for a visit simply for its natural beauty, wildlife, and countless photo opportunities. We had two full days at the park and wanted to maximize our time there so we started out early each day. Some local advice recommended we start our first day at Jenny Lake. Visitor Centers and services were closed or not operating, but almost all of the trails were open.


With the sun rising in the east, and the skies clear, it was an absolutely magnificent sight with the towering Tetons rising from the shore, reflections proudly displayed in the still waters of Jenny Lake. A photo op extraordinaire. From our research we chose to hike the path counterclockwise ensuring the snow capped peaks were never far from our gaze. The Jenny Lake Loop is a 7.5 mi trail that travels around the lake. During normal park operations a NPS run ferry shuttle takes passengers across the lake to a dock on the west side for easier access to Hidden Falls, cutting about 3.5 miles off of the hike. Due to COVID the ferry was not operating, although due to resume on June 5th with other services restarting as well. On the first 3/4 of our hike we did not run into any other hikers, but because of the ferry not running the last 1/4 of the trail (southwest end of the lake) was packed with families making the trek up to Hidden Falls.


With the abundance of sunshine the area had gotten over the last couple of weeks (higher temps), the melt was at its peak. The falls and creek were at capacity and as we approached the base we could hear the roar of the falling water. A short easy side trail from the main trail provided us with a fantastic view of mother nature in all of its glory. As we made our way back to the trailhead on the main loop we were approached by a group of young women who were very animated, sharing with us their own close encounter with a bear and its cub on the trail just ahead of us. We proceeded with caution and 'bear aware' eyes and ears, but we didn't see the wildlife. We did both agree that our next stop would be the outfitters store in Jackson to buy bear spray for our upcoming hikes. On the last mile of our hike we came up a short rise in a lightly forested area and came upon two young elk, seemingly oblivious to our approach, they continued to much on leaves and grass. Both had been fitted with a tracking collar for migrant study by the park service.

As we unlaced our hiking boots and stored away our gear, I sat on the back of our SUV and gazed out at what we just experienced in total amazement of the sheer beauty and ruggedness of this very special place. Can't wait to see what tomorrow holds for us.

Day 6 - We wanted to hike up into the canyon areas of the Tetons, so we chose a path up into Death Canyon along the north side of Phelps Lake.


Our original plan was to take the lake trail up to a connecting point on the Canyon trail, but the parking area for the trail head was closed, and there were no pullouts along the windy narrow road. Plan B was to take a side road up to the Death Canyon Trailhead along an unimproved, pothole pervasive 1.5 mile dirt road. We parked just down from the trail in a pull off because I didn't like the condition of the road ahead. This just added a 1/4 mile to our hike, but saved on wear and tear of our SUV. Armed with bear spray picked up the night before we headed out on the trail, an out and back 10.5 mile round trip to the top of the canyon where it intersects with the crest trail that runs the length of the park. We were told by locals that there would still be snow on the ground at the higher elevations so we weren't exactly sure how far we would get. With the elevation change we knew this would be a good warm up for our summer in the Sawtooth Range. Not more than 1/2 mile into our hike, in a meadow about 200 yards down we spotted a mother bear and 2 cubs. I suspect one was a year old and the other newborn this spring. They were munching away on leaves and the mother looked directly up at us. We kept moving and i tried to snap a picture of the three further up the trail, but they were pretty hard to see thru the trees we sought for cover.

The trail was in pretty good shape, but the creek feeding Phelps Lake had overflowed its banks in places making it difficult to maneuver the flooded areas, but we managed just fine. Crossing several feeder creeks was not an issue, but we now got into some pretty serious switchbacks up the side of the canyon overlooking the raging white water coming off the mountain down to the lake. We stopped several times to just take in the awesomeness of the experience, snapping a few pictures along the way. We came up to the first snow field still across the trail. Others had gone before us, but without clamp ons I wanted to make sure we had sure footing.


Taking my time, using existing foot holds from previous hikers, I dug deeper footholds while bracing myself with my pole on the down slope. We made it over just fine, but wondered what lay ahead. We crossed several other small patches of snow on the trail but finally arrived at another deeper snow field that I decided would be our turnaround point. This snow field fell directly into the swift moving waters about 100 ft below with nothing to stop us should we have one misstep over the snow. We turned around and made our way back down the canyon, slightly disappointed that we didn't make to to the top, but rewarded with fantastic views of the lake in the distance.

Once back in the SUV we decided to take a drive up to Coulter Bay and scope out a hike for the following day. Lots of activity in the area due to the park service opening up the marina, restaurant and general stores on June 5th. Quite a sight to see Jackson Lake with not one single boat on it and a marina dock totally empty against a backdrop of the Tetons. Heading back to Jackson for our last night in town took us on a walk about of the town square and a nice dinner out to a place called Gather, that had its grand re-opening that evening. Our server, Joe, told us about Victor-Driggs area after we told him we had looked last year at spending the summer in Jackson, but it was too expensive to rent. Perhaps we can drive thru the area after spending the week in Island Park on our way up to Stanley.

Posted by rorndorff 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking driving national usa

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