Grand Tetons (Wyoming)

On Monday morning we took advantage of our Airbnb in Idaho Falls and slept in, before making the drive to Grand Teton National Park. It was a great basement apartment and included a friendly outdoor doggo. He was nice. We stopped to grab some breakfast at a highly-rated place we found online called Mitchell’s, which we discovered upon arrival was a gas station diner. To clarify, the diner was in a building shared by the gas station convenience store. I digress. The food was solid and kept us moving which is all we needed.

The drive in search of a free camp site for the night took us up and over the mountains (a slow drive, especially when you get stuck behind a livestock truck), across the valley, and up a long and questionable dirt road. Emily found a nice quiet spot with a great view of the Teton Mountains and we arrived early enough to relax and play some pitch. The next morning we got up early with plans to do a pretty lengthy hike through the park and were greeted by some new wildlife we hadn’t seen yet! As we turned out of our camp site, not 50 feet from where we had slept, we saw a bull moose on the dirt road. We startled each other and he picked up his pace to get away, but we were able to snap a few great shots.

Moose!
Moose!

Thrilled that we saw a moose for the first time on the trip, we drove back down the questionable dirt road, back across the valley, and towards the park with a brief stop at a scenic overlook. This was one of Emily’s top National Parks she wanted to visit and even though the smoke continued to mute the mountains a bit, it was an incredible few days for us.

Our first full day was spent hiking through Cascade Canyon, which brings you up through a valley between two of the massive peaks which makes for some incredible views. The trail starts at Jenny Lake, and while there’s a ferry that takes you across the lake to get to the trail head, in the off-season the ferry doesn’t start running until 10AM. We wanted to get moving earlier than that so we added a few miles to our trip by hiking around the lake. The full trail continues on to Lake Solitude, but we opted to turn around where the trail splits and were happy we did by the end of the long day (13.5 miles all in).

Within the first few minutes of the hike we were blessed again by the moose gods and saw a mother and a calf chomping on the nearby greenery. They were so well camouflaged in the brush that we weren’t even able to get any clear photos. An awesome site to begin the morning.

Once we made it around the lake we made two brief stops and Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. As we continued the valley started to open up with views of the mountains on either side, and between the two of us we must have mentioned how amazing the colors were at least a dozen times. Each new view of the adjacent mountainsides brought more fall colors, patches of ice and snow, and even some waterfalls.

After lunch (which consisted of the usual P(A)B&J sandwiches and was enjoyed on a log, riverside, with a view of the overhanging mountain) we put it into high gear and made our way back to the car. Before leaving the park in search of free camping for the night we made a pit stop at a campground with public showers ($3 each, a little pricey) and savored every minute (before the shower started loudly beeping at you to let you know your time was almost up and the water would shut off). Feeling refreshed, we headed back up another long, questionable dirt road in search of a spot for the night.

Unfortunately for us we arrived a bit too late and the camping area was completely full. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for us there was a fellow camper who’d met the same fate as us and was also trying to figure out his next move with limited cell phone service and dwindling sunlight. He asked if we had a backup plan and mentioned that he did and offered to lead the way. (Also important to note is that he was alone, in a black Astro van, with very few windows). So, naturally, we followed. We drove behind him up another dirt road and he took a spot right at the entrance to a forest road and we took a great spot up the mountain a few miles in. At this point we’d been on quite a few rough and uneven dirt roads, but this one was pretty bad. No need to worry, our Astro van friend was just a friendly stranger and we’re fine. (Wildlife note: Before heading up the mountain to find a spot to park, we saw TWO MORE MOOSE, a male and female adult pair, to bring the total for the DAY to 5 moose. Super cool).

Moose
The plural of moose is, moose.

The next day we woke up all kinds of sore and decided we needed a rest day, so we drove down through the valley to Jackson Hole to find a coffee shop with free wifi. We spent the morning at Jackson Hole Roasters eating breakfast, drinking coffee (or tea), and catching up on the past week’s blog posts and photos. Around mid-day we swapped the coffee shop and coffee for a brewery and beer on the other side of town which was located at the foot of a ski slope.

After a day well spent sitting, off our feet we headed back towards the park to find a camp spot for the night (this time a little earlier, to hopefully avoid last night’s scramble). We found a spot in Custer Canyon with another great view of the Tetons. The designated spot that we took for the night showed clear signs of a vehicle path up to the top of the nearby hill but multiple signs and barriers prohibited vehicular access. That said, we left the car at the base of the hill and walked up with our chairs, and the view up there was awesome. (It was also my brother Jack’s birthday that day and the hill gave us enough cell service for a family Zoom; happy birthday borther).

The next morning we got up early for a hike that would take us up the side of a mountain (around a 3,000 foot elevation change over 4 miles’ distance or so) to one of the numerous alpine lakes in the park, Delta Lake.

The way up was split into two types of trail; Part 1: a marked dirt trail (left photo) which included great views of several lower-elevation lakes, and Part 2: unmarked, full on rock scrambling (right photo). Although well-trodden and not particularly difficult, the dirt trail portion included plenty of rocks, switchbacks, and elevation change. The second half of the way up, however, was basically straight up hill. The final mile (or more) felt like we were climbing a 50-60 degree incline which was a challenge but also good fun before the ultimate payoff of the hike.

There wasn’t really a marked trail and at one point we had to bushwhack our way across to the “path” just before reaching the rim of the lake, but we made it to the top nonetheless. As the lake came into view the morning’s effort was quickly confirmed to be well worth it. Delta Lake was like something off of a post card with turquoise water and beautiful snow-capped mountains.

Before our well-earned lunch break we each took the opportunity to dip our feet into the water. At maybe 40 degrees Fahrenheit (total guess), our feet remained submerged for about 10 seconds combined and we scurried back up to the top of our rock to lay down and relax for a while. Sandwiches, some cucumbers and hummus, and some pitch made for a nice lunch in this amazing location.

The reverse trip back down was tough, especially the top portion (rock scramble). At such an incline it’s tough to keep your balance, especially when any step could be onto a loose rock. This is probably the first trail where hiking sticks really made a difference. After a few hours the RAV came into view and we plopped down ready to head to a camp site for the night. We stopped back at the $3 shower campground and took advantages of the hot water and great water pressure one more time. A shower makes a world of a difference following a long hike, especially before seeping in a compact SUV.

We drove a few hours south through the mountains of Wyoming and found a spot to camp along the Snake River. While Google Maps showed a huge reservoir next to our site, the water level was way down, so we were really just camped next to a huge sandy beach. The water was far enough away for a few people to be tiny dots in the center of the reservoir enjoying a beer in some camp chairs along the actual shore line. The sandy, open terrain and low water level also attracted several motor sports enthusiast, including a lone dirt biker and an off-road pickup/dune buggy type of thing that came flying around the corner of the path and completely dusted us out (to his credit, the driver tried to stop and even apologize, but the dust storm was already surrounding us at that point). A quick meal of ramen and veggies and we settled in for the night.

Camp site views of the Snake River.
Camp site views of the Snake River.

TBD on our next stop…

  • Mike

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