I took advice from a coworker on Grand Teton National Park, they said “you can just drive through the Tetons, they really aren’t any big deal”. This was quite possibly the worst advice ever!!! This place was majestic, but I am a mountain addict. I live in the plains and farmland of Iowa so mountains get my travel adreneline up and pumping. I could travel through mountains for the rest of my life and they would still amaze me. We did plan a day for this park, but I could have stayed and enjoyed it for at least 4 or 5 days.
We had stayed at Headwater’s Lodge and Cabins at Flagg Ranch the night before, we had just done our Yellowstone stint and it is a great in between location for both parks. We are doing the day at the Tetons and heading back to the lodge for another night.
Morning started early with some bowls of cereal on the deck of our lodge and straight into the car, I love that early morning mist and smell of the outdoors. I do try to enjoy it every summer morning, when life doesn’t get in the way. First stop was the Teton sign heading into the park from the north side. Once again we lucked out with another great traveler being there at the same time and willing to take our photo.
It then felt like we drove for miles with beautiful overlooks of Jackson Lake. There wasn’t an entry station for the Tetons coming from Yellowstone so we swung into Colter Bay Visitor center to pick up a map of the park. Great little visitor center, we got our magnets, stickers, Junior Ranger packet and cancellations at this stop.
Continuing on down the main park road this takes you to a fork in the road. We turned right to Jackson Lake Junction (this is just going to be a big loop). We stopped at Jackson Lake Dam because, well damn you can get some pretty dam good pictures here. 🙂 It is gorgeous in the early morning light. I don’t think you could take a bad picture here, even it you were trying.
We spent a lot of time here enjoying this panoramic view of the lake. So calm and still in the morning, it was lovely. Next stop was the Chapel of the Sacred Heart. This was a pretty cool place, not much info on this, we walked around and inside. There was an absolutely beautiful stained glass window in here that my kids enjoyed looking at.
We turned on the next road on the left and drove up Signal Mountain Road, elevation 7727 ft. What an amazing view of the Tetons from up here. Very peaceful and enjoyable, the beauty of getting up early is that there was nobody for miles and we had the view all to ourselves the whole time we were up here. Bonus after being around thousands of people at Yellowstone. There is a trail you can follow down the hill to get great pictures of this viewpoint.
Back down the mountain and out onto the main road again. Next stop was Mount Moran Turnout, the park is starting to fill up. This right here is why I lust after mountains, look at all of the colors starting from the bottom all of the way up to the sky. Nature surely is amazing.
Off we go heading to Jenny Lake. We turn on the one way road at the North Jenny Lake Junction and soon find out we are not alone at this park. This is where everyone has been this morning as we enjoyed the peacefulness. Parking lot at String Lake was completely full by 10 am when we arrived. From what we could see this was a hot spot at the park. We were not able to stop but the scenery driving by was breath taking, not to worry the next stop we were able to do was just as awesome. We continued on and pulled over at Jenny Lake overlook, there was actually parking available! This spot, was spot on. Amazing views of the lake under the beautiful mountains. I could live here, or just visit more often. Check it out.
After enjoying this view for awhile we hopped back in the car and headed to Jenny Lake Visitor Center. Car and people explosion. There were cars parked for miles and no parking spots anywhere to be found. Unfortunately we hit the park when Jenny Lake was under construction. Our only choice was for me to drop the kids off and send them into the visitor center with all of our passports to get the cancellation. This was a huge bummer because I was looking forward to a Jenny Lake boat ride and hiking to Inspiration Point. Next time I guess, the good news is The Tetons are on the way out west from Iowa to other parks, so it is possible to come back and enjoy this place again. Kids got the cancellations and we headed out to our next stop, Craig Thomas Discovery and Moose Visitor Center. Plenty of parking and no crowds here, it was nice.
We walked around the discovery center and enjoyed the displays. This place has a great gift shop as well, we got more cancellations and enjoyed the low crowded area.
Next up was lunch at Moose Junction. Crowded but not so bad that you couldn’t find a spot to park. We ended up choosing Pizza Pasta company, low budget and great food. You line up and order your food, go sit and they bring it to you. We found a great seat outside on the patio overlooking the tetons. Great service, our food was delish and the beer hit the spot.
We are back in the car and heading north on 89. This will be the circle that takes us back to Colter Village, where we started. This highway has a few turnouts to stop at and get some great panoramic views. It was very hazy there due to wildfires in and around Montana but still fantastic. We hit Blacktail Ponds overlook and Snake River overlook.
Cunningham Cabin stop was nice to get out and stretch our legs. Great little walk down the the cabin and very peaceful. Enjoying the silence of nature the whole way down and back. Cunningham cabin is one of the best surviving examples of a homestead cabin. The site of an 1892 shootout. A band of self-deputized locals sought to root out rumored horse thieves.
Took a left at Moran Junction, came back into the park at Moran Junction. We took some time to just sit and relax at this part of the park. We pulled over and parked at (I think) Oxbow Bend turnout. We hiked down the river, I sat and enjoyed the view while the kids were busy skipping rocks and hanging out with other kids their age. We got some great photos up above the river. It was getting hot, and kids wanted to get in the water.
We headed up the road from Oxbow and turned left onto a gravel road. Followed it to a gravel parking lot and parked in the shade. The kids changed into swim trunks in the car and I got a book and enjoyed a nice break in the shade while the kids burnt off some energy. No one around for miles 🙂
After our energy burning session we drove back to Colter Bay Village, it was time to check in for our dinner ride. At this point my mom has decided she doesn’t want to ride a horse tonight. LOL. She is having flashbacks of Bryce Canyon trail riding. When I went to ask about getting money back the lady was very nice and put my mom on the wagon dinner ride. Which like the name implies you ride a wagon out to where the meal is served. The rest of us are riding a horse. When we got there my mom was really unsure about this. The horses headed out first and then the wagon left to meet us there. The kids and I had a good time on horses on the way and learned quite a bit of information on the Tetons, snow, bears and other wildlife. Out trail boss was very easy to listen to and had a great personality! He even stopped to take pictures for us 🙂
We arrived at our dinner spot, tied up the horses and were really surprised to see a very happy grandmother. She was elated! She had so much fun on the wagon ride she couldn’t stop talking about it. I would recommend this for anyone who would like to experience this dinner ride but is unwilling to ride a horse. The spread was amazing: steak, beans, potatoes, corn, cornbread and a really nice salad bar. Dessert was apple crisp. All of this under the Tetons. You won’t go hungry on this trip, for food or scenery.
We sat around the campfire for awhile listening to others stories and travels. We had a great group of people with us from all over the U.S. traveling to different parks. We hopped back on the horses and set off back to the ranch. This way we experienced trail riding. Most of the way there was road riding. It was beautiful. We even stopped for a beautiful sunset photo. What a great way to end the ride.
Back at the ranch the kids got to unsaddle their horses (they were already pros at this) it was fun to watch the others do it. Fed some treats and we were off to a campfire Ranger talk.
An evening ranger led talk at Colter Bay ampitheater(9 p.m.) rounds off our evening at the Tetons. It was a presentation on bear safety and the various birds found at the Tetons. This was a really interesting talk and our park ranger was passionate about birds and their safety. Who knew I would be interested in bird safety? Kids got their Junior Ranger program signed and finished. We will stop back by here in the morning to receive the badges. For now we are beat and need to hit the hay! Back to Flagg Ranch.
Tomorrow we make our way towards Glacier National Park with a few stops along the way. Check back to see more of our adventures.