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Hiking+: Grand Teton

posted Sep 21, 2012, 2:19 PM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Mar 29, 2013, 2:28 PM ]
View from our cabin in Driggs
Driggs Cabin View

Well, our week in Grand Teton National Park with my brother and his family came and went too fast. As it turns out, you could spend a lifetime between Teton and Yellowstone and fall short of seeing it all. We broke our trip up into relaxing, sightseeing, and hiking. My brother and I had grown up together and gained a lot of experience relaxing, and we'd all done a little bit of hiking; however, none of us were adept at sightseeing, so this of all things challenged our planning skills and tested our ability to spend hours on end in a car together.

Removing the two travel days that bookended our trip left us with six days to explore all the area had to offer. As I mentioned, this was a far cry from enough time, so we had to set some priorities. As a result, we ended up spending one day on a driving tour of Yellowstone, a day goofying around Jackson Hole, three days hiking, and a day whitewater rafting the Snake River.

Our Yellowstone driving tour
Yellowstone Collage

Most of the wildlife that we saw was on the driving tour of Yellowstone. We saw hundreds of buffalo, a brown bear, a grizzly bear, a coyote or a wolf, several moose, perhaps some elk, and a number of other lesser spectacular critters. Of course we also saw geysers and sulfur cauldrons, beautiful lakes, raging waterfalls, and amazing rock sheer mountain faces; however, we were mostly there to see the big game, and there was so much ground to cover that our short but frequent stops were reminiscent of the Clark Griswald family exit from the Grand Canyon.

After the sensory overload of bouncing around Yellowstone like a pinball, our day in Jackson Hole was a nice uneventful change of pace. Jackson Hole actually refers to the the town of Jackson and the surrounding area. Jackson itself is a small and very secluded ski town snuggled up with the calderas at the base of the Tetons. The half-day drive from any sizable airport keeps this beautiful historic town from seeming touristy. Jackson hosts amazing views, many specialty shops and outfitters, good eats, and popular ski slopes. We found ourselves wandering from shop-to-shop exploring the Wyoming style, and in some cases buying into some of it. For instance, my brother and his wife each bought "cowboy" boots... hilarious! They'll finally fit-in at those weird bars my brother likes in Texas. We took a midday ski-lift ride to the top of Snow King Mountain for some fabulous views of the hole area. We wrapped the tour of Jackson Hole by arranging for a Snake River white water rafting trip later in the week.

Our Snow King lift ride over Jackson, WY
Jackson from Snow King

Throughout the week, we mixed in various day hikes to explore the Tetons up close. Hiking in this area can range from meandering loops to all out brutal mountaineering. Fortunately, we chose a range of hikes from easy to tough but not impossible. In fact, although the Blue Ridge Mountains pale in comparison to the Grand Tetons, I can honestly say that our first Appalachian hike prepared us well for the hikes we chose in the Tetons:

Our Alaska Basin Trail hike
Alaska Basin Trail
  • Moose Ponds Loop: We kicked off day one in the Jenny Lake area with a 3 plus mile roundtrip hike from the Jenny Lake trail head to the Lupine Meadows trailhead, including the Moose Ponds Loop trail. This trail wasn't very well traveled or marked, but it was all flat terrain and not to difficult to find your own way around. In hindsight, I wish we'd done the hike to Hidden Falls instead. The Moose Ponds Loop was a bit boring, and we saw no moose. Later reading led me to believe the Hidden Falls hike was not difficult and much more rewarding. [on the trail: map, photo, photo, photo, photo]
  • Alaska Basin Trail: This second hike was much more enjoyable. Still not strenuous, but the views were absolutely incredible. We started at the South Teton trailhead outside of Driggs, ID and hiked to the Devil's Staircase (and up the staircase a few hundred feet). This trail follows the South Fork of Teton Creek through the Teton Canyon, winding through a meadow full of wildflowers and bordered by mountains on both sides. The roundtrip was approximately 6 miles, and I'd highly recommend it. Start early and continue on to Basin Lakes... go farther than we did :). [on the trail: map, photo, photo, photo, photo]
  • Beginning our Death Canyon experience
    Death Canyon Trailhead
  • Death Canyon: Straight UP but worth it! This hike definitely ratcheted it up a notch. This is a strenuous hike, but the kids were troopers. It starts with a 400 foot climb to Phelps Lake, where there is a breathtaking view. If this is all the farther you make it, you'll not be disappointed; however, pushing on you'll get to the real meat-n-potatoes. Beyond Phelps Lake the trail is straight up 1050 feet via switchbacks. If not for the magnificent rock displays and raging waterfall breezes and mistings, the toughest hikers would be tempted to turn back. We hiked through the upper canyon portal to the Historic Patrol Cabin, took a break for lunch, then explored the top and walked through the first couple switchbacks toward Static Peak Divide before heading back down. The roundtrip was 8+ miles, and it was the most fabulous hike I've been on to date. [on the trail: map, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo]

We concluded our week and rounded out our trip with a whitewater rafting trip down the Snake River. This was an 8 mile trip with class III or IV rapids, passing through the notorious Lunchcounter and Big Kahuna rapids among others. What a way to let it all hang loose and enjoy our last day together. I hope we can do this all again someday, but regardless, these memories will last forever.