exploring grand teton national park
In my last post, I mentioned the possibility of sharing our itinerary for our recent trip out to Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. I had several messages from folks who were interested in reading more about the trip – people who are heading there soon or want to one day, or people (hi Mom!) who just want to see more of our photos — so here is the first of three (maybe) more posts about my current favorite family vacation.
Warning: Photo-heavy post ahead!
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Day 1: Jackson, WY, and Grand Teton National Park
Our plane arrived at the Jackson Hole Airport, a tiny airport with the most beautiful views possible, around lunchtime. Despite a rough start to our day – kicked off with a flight delay and an unexpected two-hour drive to another departure airport – the rest of our day of travel was surprisingly smooth. All of our bags made it to our final destination on time and intact, the children hadn’t been overly rude or annoying to each other (or me), and picking up the rental car (a stylish minivan) at the airport was a breeze.
We had a quick lunch in the town of Jackson then checked in to our cabin at the Cowboy Village Resort. We stayed at the cabin just long enough to ditch our bags and don our jackets so that we could go exploring. We were determined to make the most of every minute in Wyoming. And we did, too. Most days, we were up and out of our hotel by 8 or 9 in the morning, not returning for another 10 or 12 hours.
The Grand Teton National Park is just fifteen or twenty minutes from the town of Jackson. That afternoon, we drove into the park through the Moose-Wilson Road, a scenic 8-mile stretch of road, which held the promise of wildlife viewing – especially, we hoped, moose.
We spotted our first moose nearly immediately after turning onto Moose-Wilson Road. This serendipitous sighting lulled us into the false belief that we would continue to see moose throughout our week in the two parks. We only saw one more moose, though, in Grand Teton – a bull moose lying down for a nap – and never any in Yellowstone.
Along Moose-Wilson Road is the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, a beautiful visitor center filled with educational exhibits on wildlife and the history of Rockefeller’s conservation efforts and impact on the Grand Teton National Park. The trailhead for a hike to Phelps Lake was at the Preserve, and we hiked a portion of it, but not all the way to the lake. We might have hiked the entire thing but my fear of bears was pretty intense that first day, what with all the warning signs everywhere.
We had dinner at the Q Roadhouse that night, right on Moose-Wilson Road. We ate on their outdoor patio overlooking a green lawn filled with young children playing while their wine- and beer glass-toting parents kept watch. Cottonwood seeds floated in the air around us, like fluffy but sturdy snowflakes that refused to melt. Maddie and Oliver knew this wasn’t the real snow they had so hoped to see, but that diminish their delight in watching the cottonwood seeds settle in our hair and in our drinks.
Day 2-3: Grand Teton National Park
We spent the second and third nights at the Jackson Lake Lodge, one of the official in-park hotels. About two weeks before leaving on our trip, I called the hotel to verify that all was okay with our reservation and learned that an upgrade to a mountain-view cottage room was available. I agreed, and it was one of the best decisions. Our room, like all of our rooms in the national park hotels, was sparse – with no air conditioning, television, or internet – but the view was unparalleled and entirely worth the upgrade.
In the early evening of the second night, we splurged on a themed chuckwagon dinner. There are lots of options for these types of cowboy cookout dinners in the Jackson Hole area, but we chose one that left from Colter Bay Village in the Grand Tetons, mostly because it was 5 minutes from our hotel. The wagon ride was about an hour each way, topped off with an old-fashioned cowboy cookout – grilled steaks, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and s’mores. It wasn’t very old fashioned (I’m pretty sure the cowboys of the 1800s didn’t have gas grills), and the experience was a little hokey, but I’m glad we did it. A scraggly red fox joined us at the cooksite periodically, and she made up for the plethora of mosquitos that emerged throughout the evening.
At 9:00 in the morning on day three, we took a scenic raft ride down the Snake River with two guides. It rained as we met the group, and it rained as we wriggled into our life vests and listened to the water safety speech. My thoughts were on my camera in my backpack, and how I hadn’t wrapped it in plastic before we left the room. I said many silent prayers that my backpack would be waterproof. We climbed in the raft with seven or eight other tourists, pushed off, and within five minutes the rain stopped. The morning on the water was beautiful, and the two bald eagles on an overhanging tree was a highlight for me.
During the remainder of the second and third days, we drove all through the Grand Teton National Park, over to the historic Mormon Row, Jackson Lake, Jenny Lake, and up Signal Mountain. We stopped when we saw animals on the side of the road – or when we saw other people stopped along side the road. We learned quickly to ask, “What did you see?” of the always-friendly tourists and locals. People shared their spotting scopes with us, let us look through their (more powerful than ours) binoculars, and even lifted up our children to help them see through expensive telephoto lenses on pricey cameras perched on tripods.
On the fourth day, we would leave the heavenly views of the snow-peaked Grand Teton range and drive north to Yellowstone National Park. More on that to come.
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For more information on where we stayed and ate, here are some links:
- Cowboy Village Resort in Jackson, WY.
- Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Teton National Park.
- Q Roadhouse & Brewing Company on Moose-Wilson Road in Wilson, WY.
- Mural Room at the Jackson Lake Lodge, Grand Teton National Park. (Reservations are important for dinner.)
- Pioneer Grill at the Jackson Lake Lodge, Grand Teton National Park.
- Leek’s Marina & Pizzeria, Grand Teton National Park