Teton National Park is home to some of the most stunning alpine scenery in the United States plus its teeming with wildlife and offers hiking galore. This trifecta of goodness made it a standout on the Western States Tour for the crew on the Road House. That and how it gots it’s name makes me giggling like a third grader.
While the Shoshone people who are believed to have lived in and around the range for as long as 10,000 years called the range “Teewinot,” which translates to “many pinnacles”, it’s also believed by some that the voyagers native to France who stumbled upon this eye popping scenery saw something else when they discovered the range. “Les trois tétons” became the name for the mountains, and, it stuck. Some people argue that the Grand Tetons were named for the Teton Sioux Native Americans who lived in the area, and that’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for how they got their name, however, that’s not what makes me giggle.
What I discovered is that “les trois tétons” translates from French to “the three teats” which led me to this story for how the Tetons got their name and got me giggling. The story goes like this: A group of French explorers came across the mountain range one day while trudging across the frozen tundra of western Wyoming. Naturally, they were experiencing quite the opposite of what life in France would have been like for them at the time and found themselves suffering a great deal in their efforts to explore the new world for previously untapped resources, possibilities, and opportunities. As they lurched across the wilderness day after day, covered in heavy furs and carrying heavy sacks full of provisions, with no place to lay their heads at night except the cold hard ground and no shelter except for their tents, they no doubt were thinking about the various comforts that they used to enjoy back home.
Comforts such as warm homes, filling and enjoyable meals, and the company of a woman had eluded them for a long time, and no doubt they were thinking quite a lot about those comforts and how much they missed them. So, when the mountain peaks that are now called the Tetons came into view, it’s only natural that their first thought was breasts. Thus the Tetons were christened by grizzled, worn out explorers from France whose first thought upon seeing the majesty of that beautiful mountain range was “Boobs!” The Grand Teton is the tallest of the three peaks and its name is literally translated from French to “the big tit.” Given this translation, one would conclude that the Grand Teton is the D cup of the formation, while the Middle Teton and the South Teton are the C cups – LOL!!! The French explorers who found the Teton mountain range have done a huge favor to all of us who enjoy third grade humor – Thanks Guys!!!
So for almost almost a week, we enjoyed the majestic boobs of Wyoming, saw loads of wildlife, hiked and of course had some great meals in Jackson. I scored a great camp site at the Gros Ventre Campground which is perfectly situated 12 miles from the town of Jackson and 11 miles from the south entrance to the park and the visitors center. Our site was spacious, had electricity and water and MOOSE. Well, not our own personal moose but every morning we had moose wandering through and behind our coach. Moose were not advertised as an amenity but they seem to be regulars at the campground. The sites at the Gros Ventre are huge, have a fire pit, picnic table and a ton of wood that the park staff thoughtfully piled up around the sites. We did our part to help clear the area with our ginormous fires at night. There was not a sewer hookup but there was a dump station right at the entrance/exit that we used before hitting the road again.
By the way, Gros Ventre translates from french to “big belly” – seriously! Yep, I am giggling as I get an image of what grizzled french explorers find attractive.
I love how easy and compact this NP is … it’s just 39 miles from the Moose Junction entrance to the top of the park. Hwy 191 actually runs through The Grand Teton National Park and is the connector to the south entrance of Yellowstone NP. Hypothetically, one can drive through the park on 191 and not pay an entrance fee. So if your short on time or just a cheapskate, that’s an option. Not one I’d recommend as there is so much more to see and do in the park along the scenic Teton Park Road.
We spent our first half day in the park getting the lay of the land by driving the loop. We packed a picnic lunch almost everyday as the lodges weren’t open yet making the food options inside the park limited. We did find an amazing wine shop inside the park on Teton Park Road. Dornan’s had a incredible selection of wines from all over the world.
Luckily for us Jackson Lake Lodge opened the day before we left so we were able to see the inside of this beautiful lodge and have lunch in the dining room. Breathtaking” does not begin to describe the view at Jackson Lake Lodge. The 60-foot floor to ceiling windows frame pristine Jackson Lake and the majestic Teton Range. For some, this view alone is the main reason to visit. I literally felt like I was looking out onto a vast savannah much like the ones I experienced in Botswana Africa. My pictures are not doing it justice.
If you are visiting the park but not traveling in an not RV, I would totally suggest you make the Jackson Lake Lodge your base camp in the park. It is actually quite large, with 385 rooms some of which are stunning suites, main lodge hotel rooms, and quaint cottages. The lodge also includes a variety of dining options, outdoor excursions, meeting space, retail shops, a swimming pool, and an exhibit featuring Native American artifacts and Western art. A complimentary guest shuttle is also available to Colter Bay, Jenny Lake, and the town of Jackson. Dang, I just sold myself, definitely have to come back again and stay in the Lodge!
So about all that wildlife…The highlight of our time in Grand Teton NP was seeing so many animals. Specifically, bear mama 399 and her four cubs. 399 is a legend in the park and is probably the most photographed bear ever! Our wonderful friends the Ellers, who we visited while we were staying in Sun Valley Idaho gave us so many tips about what to see and do as they lived near the Tetons for years. I would have likely not known about Bear 399 if they hadn’t told me a bit of her story. Generally passive in nature, 399 has raised her broods by roadsides in view of groups of curious humans, including some who have exercised poor judgment by moving closer to take photographs of her and her cubs. The theory is that she does this to protect her offspring from aggressive male grizzlies who have been know to kill clubs to bring the female back in estrus. 399 is so beloved and has a huge international fan club including the renown Biologist and chimp expert Jane Goodall AND 399 has her own Wikipedia page (click on the 399 link above to read all about her)! This 25 year old gal emerged out of hibernation this year with FOUR cubs and we we luckily enough to see her, fairly up close as well. Yep, that made me uneasy and we eventually retreated back to our car when she and the kiddos tried to cross the road. They caused quite a bear jam the day we saw her and the park rangers somehow magically appear out of nowhere to stop traffic and keep all the camera carrying idiots who insist on getting too close from getting mauled. We have never experienced a bear jam and I have to say that people can be such asshats. Early on when we saw her and the kiddos, there weren’t many people there yet but holy shite within 10 minutes literally hundreds of cars appeared and people swarmed the road. We were so disgusted by how stupid some people were and how they swarmed so close to the bears. When the cubs got frantic trying to follow Mom across the road we went back to our car and tried to leave. Those same idiots had parked in the middle of the road to get closer and blocked everyone else from leaving. ARGHHH, the poor rangers were literally yelling at people to stand back and give the bears some room … uh, I may have yelled at a stupid, fat guy chasing behind the bears with his giant camera in hand. I though 399 showed considerable restraint, that dude would have fed the whole family! Spoiler alert, the photo of her standing with all four cubs around her is not mine… I borrowed it from an article written about 399 by the Guardian which BTW, is worth reading!
While seeing 399 and her cubs was definitely one of the the wildlife viewing highlights, we also saw so many other critters…moose, elk, deer, bison, coyotes, fox, badger, marmot, mountain goats, eagles, ospreys, ducks, geese and loads of other birds. Another great tip from our friends was to check out the road behind the elk refuge for mountain goats. Bam, saw them up close as well as a coyote being followed by a badger. Now that was odd!
The elks had all migrated from their winter home at the refuge but we did see them at Elk Flats – go figure! We also met a really neat couple while we were hanging out photographing the goats, Phil and Hope and hope to meet up with them again when we are in Mesa AZ in October.
The park is also home to big herds of bison and again we got to see them up close just off Hwy 191 near the Triangle X Ranch. They were on both sides of the road and at one point a big group of them ran from one area to another, crossing the road right in front of where we had pulled over. Like many of the animals we saw, the bison were shedding their heavy winter coast and looked a bit scrappy. We sat for quite a while just observing them, rolling in the dust and grazing. There were also so many birds around the herd…some of the birds were on the bisons backs catching a free lunch of insects that they attract. The bison created their own small ”bison jam“ but people seemed more respectful and less crazy than at the ”bear jam”. I didn’t even have to yell at anyone nor did we get to see anyone get gored…that was a bit disappointing.
For some reason, we are both taken with moose. They are such unusually looking creatures and seem like gentle giants. Did you know that they can keep their head completely underwater, often for more than a minute at a time? So why do they need to stick their heads underwater?? Well, apparently the aquatic veggies give them minerals they need, which they store in the summer for the hard winter ahead. Of course we were thrilled to see a moose right off the Gros Ventre Road the first day we were driving to our campground. Double thrilled to see moose just behind our coach the next morning but the funniest moose sighting we call “moose in a hot tub”! We spotted this dude, soaking in the Kelly Warms Spring Creek just off the Gros Ventre Road past Kelly. We were headed out to check out the Upper and Lower Slide Lakes area and there he was. I loved how happy he looked, poor dude looks so scrappy but his smile looked so happy, that warm water must have felt great. Another unplanned sighting!
Moose are solitary creatures so the ones we did see were often alone with the exception of the two young ones we saw near our campground everyday. I felt so lucky to have seen so many of them. We watched a female in a creek off the Snake River by Jackson Lake Dam. She was munching on willow and seemed to care very little about the people staring at her. It was so cool to see her sticking her head under water and pulling up big mouthfuls of creek grass.
Everyday was an opportunity for a new adventure and to see more critters. As much as we enjoy hiking, we spent more time exploring and less time on the trails in the Tetons. Honestly, it probably why we did see so much wildlife. There is also a picture in the next slide show of a old, rare, black boxer too.
Our days were really full and there was at least one planned and sometimes an unplanned adventure everyday…We really enjoyed hiking the Jenny Lake trail from the boat ramp area to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. This is one of the most popular trails in the park as you get spectacular views of Jenny Lake and Jackson Hole from Inspiration Point, as well as a 100ft cascading waterfall. The hike was about 3.3 miles total, mostly flat. Once on the west side of the lake, the trail gently sloped up 200ft in elevation towards Hidden Falls which was all snow packed. This gorgeous 100ft cascade fed by snowmelt was in its glory. We then went further up the trail another 0.5 mile to Inspiration Point. What a view and luckily the trail up which is steep, narrow and has a drop off one side was clear of snow and ice. I get a bit wiggy on these kinds of trails, maybe the fear of dying, so I hugged the rock wall and probably swore a little bit which belive it or not is very calming! Another great reason to go early in the season is there weren’t too many people and the snow melt makes for some spectacular waterfalls and raging rivers. This is a great picnic lunch spot. We also saw Mr. Marmot sunning himself on a rock on this hike. He looks quite please to be basking in the warm sun! The trail is actually a 7 mile loop around the lake but we opted to take the scenic boat ride back across the lake after the hike and lunch which was the perfect way to end that adventure.
Another fun adventure we had with Bentie was the drive to Lower Slide Lake. This area is outside of the park in the Bridger Teton National Forest. Its was a gorgeous drive, much of which was on a well graded gravel road and the bonus was seeing the moose in the hot tub. From the Gros Ventre Campground, its about 10 miles one way to Lower Slide Lake which is as far as we went. This area has some fascinating geological history as the Upper and Lower Slide Lakes were created when the massive the Gros Ventre landslide occured in 1925 and dammed the Gros Ventre River River. This massive slide on Sheep Mountain, hurling down the slope at 50 mph, a mile-wide carried, 50,000,000 cubic yards of debris down the mountain and then another 300 feet up the opposite slope. From the view point and info center high above Lower Slide Lake, you can still see when the slide ravaged the mountain and all the debris it left behind. There is also a rustic campground at Lower Slide Lake if you are up for the long drive in on a gravel forest service road!
The lake was once much larger, however part of the rock dam failed less than two years later, on May 18, 1927, causing deadly flooding downstream. The lake waters have natural and stocked fish including lake and Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout, and mountain whitefish.
Since we’ve been to Jackson and Jackson Hole Ski Mountain before we choose to spend most of our time on this trip in the park exploring. That said, we did have a great lunch and a follow up dinner a few days later at Hatch Taqueria and Tequila’s in Jackson. The food and Hatcharita’s were sooo good… I was particularly drawn back for the Spicy Hatch made with Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila and may have had several. We also found a pickle ball court in Jackson – WHAT!!!
Being early in the season meant less tourist and no lines to get into the park. I am not sure the Grand Teton National Park is as popular was its sister park Yellowstone but I suspect it gets a fair amount of over flow from Yellowstone during the crazy summer months.
Speaking of tourists, the western vibe town of Jackson and the area around Jackson Hole can be crowded and crazy with people in the summer. Apparently, this is not a new phenomenon. Tourists started coming to Jackson Hole not long after the first cattle ranches were settled. Some of the ranchers supplemented their income by catering to “dudes,” eastern tenderfoots yearning to experience a little slice of the Old West in the shadow of the stunning Tetons. The tourists began to raise the first concerns about preserving the natural beauty of the region. The vast acres of Yellowstone Park, America’s first national park founded in 1872, were just north of Jackson Hole. Surely, they asked, the spectacular Grand Tetons deserved similar protection.
In 1916, Horace M. Albright, the director of the National Park Service, was the first to seriously suggest that the region be incorporated into Yellowstone. The ranchers and businesses catering to tourists, however, strongly resisted the suggestion that they be pushed off their lands to make a “museum” of the Old West for eastern tourists.
Finally, after more than a decade of political maneuvering, Grand Teton National Park was created in 1929. As a concession to the ranchers and tourist operators, the park only encompassed the mountains and a narrow strip at their base. Jackson Hole itself was excluded from the park and designated merely as a scenic preserve. Albright, though, had persuaded the wealthy John D. Rockefeller to begin buying up land in the Jackson Hole area for possible future incorporation into the park. This semisecret, private means of enlarging the park inspired further resentment among the residents, and some complained that it was a typical example of how “eastern money interests” were dictating the future of the West.
By the late 1940s, however, local opposition to the inclusion of the Rockefeller lands in the park had diminished, in part because of the growing economic importance of tourism. In 1949, Rockefeller donated his land holdings in Jackson Hole to the federal government that then incorporated them into the national park. Today, Grand Teton National Park encompasses 309,993 acres. Working ranches still exist in Jackson Hole, but the local economy is increasingly dependent on services provided to tourists and the wealthy owners of vacation homes.
A big thanks to the vision of Albright and help of Rockefeller, the hours they spend scheming to preserve and create The Grand Teton National Park for us to all enjoy now. There is a short little walking path near the grand Jackson Lake Lodge that leads to Lunch Tree Hill that is only a great place to have a picnic and enjoy the amazing views but very historically significant in Albright’s efforts to see this area preserved.
Honestly, we could have stayed a couple of weeks and not run out of things to see and do. Spring was arriving during our stay but the mountains still had loads of snow on them. This made the scenery absolutely stunning but this also made many of the back country hiking trails inaccessible. Coming in the spring also gave us an opportunity to see loads of wildlife and some youngins. I loved being in the Tetons in the Spring and would definitely come back again in the fall to see a different perspective and hike some of the back country trails. This has turned into a very long post but I have are a few more pictures of places we visited to share below. Next stop on the Western States tour is Cody Wyoming so stay tuned for part four!!!