If Yellowstone lived up to its hype, then Grand Teton exceeded my personal expectations. I had barely heard of this National Park before we got on the road, but it quickly caught my attention after I started following more travelers and photographers on Instagram. Grand Teton was mentioned frequently as a favorite, and sublime photos backed up the sentiment. By the time we were getting close, the Tetons was one of my most eagerly anticipated National Parks.
Grand Teton is only 10 miles from the South entrance of Yellowstone. The parks are connected by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, which was created in 1972 to protect the land between the parks. Rockefeller was so impressed with Jackson Hole and the Tetons after a visit to Yellowstone in 1926, he started buying up land anonymously with the intention to donate it all to the federal government. The revelation of Rockefeller’s involvement was highly controversial with local ranchers, as was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order in 1934 to create Jackson Hole National Monument (after an ultimatum from Rockefeller). While Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929, it wasn’t expanded to what we know of it today until 1950. You can read more about the complicated history in this link, and about the last private acre on Mormon Row being passed over to the National Park just this year.
I thought it would be helpful to define some names that were admittedly vague to me before we arrived in the area. Jackson Hole is a renowned ski area, but it’s not an official name on a map: it’s been the nickname for the Wyoming Valley (or “hole”) since the early 1800’s, after the fur trader Davey Jackson. Jackson, Wyoming is the main town in the 48-mile long valley. Jackson and Jackson Hole seem to be used interchangeably. Grand Teton is the tallest peak in the Teton Range, its name attributed to French-speaking fur trappers (“les trois tetons” – the three teats – were shortened to “The Tetons“). Humans history dates back 11,000 years, when paleo-Indians first entered Jackson Hole not long after the last of the glaciers retreated.
We got our first glimpse of the Tetons on the beautiful drive from Yellowstone, and they were as breathtaking as I’d imagined. Jagged granite peaks rise straight up from the valley floor, without foothills or any sort of gradation to temper the dramatic effect. It looks like a child’s drawing of mountains sprung to life.
We stopped at Gros Ventre campground inside the park, but their sites are first come first serve and there were no hookups available. We drove on to Jackson, where we paid almost $100 per night to stay at a nice but basic RV park right in town. Apparently the high cost of housing in Jackson extends to campgrounds. Price aside, we enjoyed the location. The small western downtown is really charming, and the public library across the street from the RV park was seriously one of the best we’ve visited anywhere in the country.
After a delicious lunch at Liberty Burger downtown, we took a short drive to a park on the Snake River. Pretty much everywhere you look in Jackson Hole there is breathtaking scenery. I’ll try not to by repetitive, but it can’t be overstated how gorgeous it is here. We followed a wide, flat dirt path along the river bank where we let the dogs off leash. We passed a few other people with dogs, and it was all peaceful and civilized until there was a sudden rustling in the woods next to us. Both Sky and Otis took off. We heard a moose bellow, crashing in the brush, and called frantically to the dogs. Sky emerged after a few minutes, panting but unscathed. When we realized that Otis was not following her, Chris went into the woods. A tense few minutes passed until Chris finally came back with our beloved, dumb dog. Chris had found Otis behind a fence, with a mother and child moose standing close by. Chris got the impression that the moose wanted nothing more than for him to remove the disruptive dog. So he climbed over the fence, hauled Otis’ 70 pounds back over to the other side, and returned to his tearful children, worried wife, and oblivious second dog. Our hero!
After recovering from that excitement, the next morning we left the dogs at home and went into the National Park. The 14 mile drive from town to the Craig Thomas Discovery Center was…wait for it… stunning. The spacious visitor center had engaging exhibits and beautiful local artwork. Armed with maps and junior ranger books, we drove first to Jenny Lake. The parking lot and visitor center were under construction, but we found solitude on the lakeshore not far off the main path.
As much as I would have loved to take the boat across Jenny Lake and go for a hike, we only had the day to explore and wanted to see as much as we could. Jackson Lake, which we passed on the drive down from Yellowstone, was just as spectacular as Jenny Lake in its own way. We bought sandwiches at the convenience store at Signal Mountain Lodge for a picnic lunch, and enjoyed a relaxing time together exploring the rocky beach.
Historic Mormon Row, settled by homesteaders from Idaho in the 1890’s, is a cluster of farms that were built close together for shared resources and community. The remaining buildings are beautiful, evocative, and extremely picturesque, set against the vast valley and towering peaks. This is not a unique observation: Mormon Row includes the iconic T.A. Moulton barn, whose image is captured by photographers from around the world.
Our time in Jackson Hole was short but memorable, and it’s in the top of my list of places to return to and spend more time. If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone, you won’t regret adding on even just a couple days to experience the magic of the Tetons.
Next up: A new state for us: Idaho!