A Visit to Yellowstone’s More Beautiful, Younger Sister

I realized I forgot to mention in either of my two latest posts that I’ve achieved one of my travel resolutions for this year! I wanted to visit two states I hadn’t been to before and I’ve now been to three! This particular vacation took me to Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho so now I only have six states left! Woohoo!

One of my other resolutions was to post here weekly and to post more often to Instagram. I’d argue that I am getting better at both of those but can’t claim that I’ve completed either. Oh well… I’m trying!

But now back to our regular scheduled programming… Picture it… Wyoming. 2019. June, to be exact. Have you ever had a moment where you’re so in awe of the beauty of your surroundings that there are literally no words that can describe what you’re seeing? I had that moment when I first glimpsed the Grand Tetons. We was barely out of Yellowstone, which is gorgeous itself, when we were immediately smacked in the face by the jaw-dropping beauty of the rugged Tetons. I’d heard from many people that the Tetons are far more spectacular than Yellowstone, and I can assure you, those people are correct. The lesser-visited of the two parks, The Grand Teton National Park lies just south of Yellowstone and to look at them on a map, you’ll see that the two parks just blend right into one another. If you are visiting Yellowstone, you MUST also visit the Tetons. Add on an extra day to your trip. Spend less time in Yellowstone. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen. The picture below is what we saw as we were crossing over between the two parks.

I’m assuming the truck was braking in amazement of this view that came from out of nowhere.

I’m definitely a mountains kind of gal. And I’ve seen tons of them… the Rockies, the Ozarks, the Sierra Nevadas, the Andes, heck, I live in the Appalachians. But the Grand Tetons are unlike any mountains I’ve seen before – they are extremely rugged with jagged snow-covered peaks. Driving from Yellowstone, there are winding roads where you can see mountains in the distance and then suddenly out of nowhere the jagged peaks jut out of a sparkling lake and you feel like you’ve just driven into a postcard. We pulled over at a turnout to take pictures and what struck me was how perfectly quiet the scene was. Sure, there we birds chirping and a light breeze rustling the leaves in the trees, but there was such a beautiful stillness around these jagged giants silently reflected in Jackson Lake. This stillness would continue throughout the park. Despite many tourists milling about the visitors centers, Grand Teton never felt crowded… only peaceful and, well, grand.

The Tetons rising out of Jackson Lake.

We actually weren’t stopping in the park this day, other than for my mom and I to get our Grand Teton National Park and John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway stamps in our national park passport book. We’d picked these books up in Yellowstone and in two short days had become a bit obsessed with plotting how to get all 400-some stamps. Mind you, my dad already had his own stamp book and was considerably ahead of us stamp-wise. We stopped at the Colter Bay Visitors Center, got our stamps, and got back on the road. We had rented a house in Driggs, Idaho and had a bit of a drive ahead of us. Guess what we saw as we were driving through the park? Go on, guess! If you said BISON you are correct! Look at all of the adorable little babies below!

There were probably three dozen bison in this herd – they were beautiful!

We exited through the south end of the park and straight into Jackson Hole, which was a charming little town. Jackson Hole, in recent years, has become quite the getaway for the wealthy and it definitely shows throughout the town. Exorbitant hotel prices ($300 a night for a Super 8??), fancy cars lined up in street parking, and designer shops dotting the downtown. Not that I’m complaining – it’s an impeccably maintained little town nestled in the mountains and I would love to spend more time there. But we needed to get over to Idaho so we passed right on through. Driggs, Idaho sits on the other side of the Tetons and was surprisingly beautiful. I don’t know what I was expecting of Idaho but for some reason it didn’t involve mountains and I have no idea why. I was harshly reminded of my incorrect presumptions when we had to drive through the Teton Pass at 8,000 feet to get from Jackson Hole over to Driggs.

Tetons in the distance, as seen from Driggs, Idaho at sunset.

We arrived in Driggs around dinnertime and checked in to our Airbnb, which was a really cute house right near downtown. We visited with some friends who had moved to Driggs several years ago, and then headed to the grocery to pick up some dinner and provisions for the next two mornings’ breakfasts. Back at the house, my mom put on a fashion show with her new hat that could be formed into a myriad of styles. It wasn’t the most stylish hat, but it sure made for great entertainment and will continue to do so for years to come. I don’t believe I have her permission to post any of said fashion show photos here, but the hat might pop up in a candid photo or two in this post…

We got up early the next morning, had a delicious breakfast that included huckleberry jam on toast, and headed back to the Tetons. With only one full day to explore, we’d plotted out our route the day before with the help of the National Park Service’s Grand Teton app, which I highly recommend. Our first stop was the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center. I’m actually not sure why we stopped there, but I’m glad we did – it was a really impressive visitor center with interactive displays and expansive views.

View from the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center

From there we headed to the Jenny Lake area where we were catching a boat shuttle over to the Cascade Canyon trailhead. I highly recommend taking the boat over ($10 per person one way, $18 roundtrip) because that will save you about 2 miles of hiking each way. We opted to take the boat from the Jenny Lake Visitor Center to the trailhead and then we hiked the approximately 2 miles back. There are many trails in the park, ranging from 2 miles to 20+ miles. There are not many restroom facilities (at least not around the trail that circles Jenny Lake), so plan accordingly! Also – BRING BEAR SPRAY! I cannot emphasize this enough. Although we didn’t see any bears on our hike, we heard rangers talking about bear sightings from that day in the surrounding area and apparently bears sometimes even get up on the boat dock and rummage through garbage cans. You can buy or rent bear spray from the gift shops in the park but it’ll run you about $40-$50. You can probably get it cheaper at a nearby grocery or Walmart.

View from the shuttle boat dock area looking out at Jenny Lake.

After a beautiful and quick ride across Jenny Lake, we arrived at Cascade Canyon. We decided to make the half mile (and steep) climb to Hidden Falls and then proceed on another half-mile and even steeper hike to Inspiration Point, before retracing our steps and getting on the two-mile trail back to the boat dock and visitor center. Another recommendation – BRING WALKING STICKS! The hike we did was one of the ‘easier’ ones. Ha! I don’t think I would classify it as ‘easy’ and I don’t think I would have been able to do it very well without a walking stick. As you disembark the boat, you’ll see the trail leading you from the dock to the actual trail that will lead you to the Hidden Falls and to Inspiration Point.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you… it’s a workout!

We headed up the mountain and although there is a defined trail, it is quite rocky, with definite inclines (since you’re walking up a mountain, duh). I wouldn’t say it’s strenuous and I saw plenty of people who were in far worse shape than me and who were decades older than me making their way up without issue, so it’s definitely doable. We made our way to Hidden Falls, which are 230 foot cascades hidden away in the forest. They are gorgeous, loud, and make for an incredible photo op.

Hidden Falls, with the mountains peeking through the trees in the background.

There were tons of people at the falls so you may have to be patient in order to get a people-free picture. It’s such a peaceful place though that you won’t mind plopping down on a rock and watching the water rush by.

We pressed onward and upward to Inspiration Point, which lives up to its name. Sweeping views of Jenny Lake and the Tetons surround you.

We then started the trek back down the mountain and on to the two-mile trail that led back to the boat dock. Again, let me stress that this is not just a casual stroll through the wilderness. There is a trail but the terrain is rough in parts and there is quite a bit of ascending and I cannot overstate how grateful we were to have walking sticks. Also, since there are bears roaming the area, it is important to make a fair bit of noise as you walk. For my mom and I, that mean jingling bells and loudly discussing shipments of bull semen (don’t ask). The entire hike took I’d guess around two hours and although I was exhausted and my feet hurt, it was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever taken. I absolutely recommend it to everyone.

Tiny yellow flowers dotting the mountainside.
Jenny Lake hiding behind the trees.
My dad heading down the trail.

Everything was so GREEN. And the sky and water were so BLUE. The pictures barely capture how brilliant the colors were. If you decide to make this trek, know that when you get to the Jenny Lake Boat Launch (not to be confused with the Jenny Lake Boat Dock), you’re almost there! The boat launch is where you can launch canoes and kayaks. I can’t imagine how beautiful a kayak ride on Jenny Lake would be.

Canoeing on Jenny Lake

We arrived back at the Jenny Lake boat dock and visitor center, starving and with jello legs. We hopped in the car and headed to the Dornans complex, where there was a delicious pizza and pasta restaurant, a chuckwagon, souvenir shops, restrooms, outdoor shops, and access to the Snake River.

View from the Dornans complex.

As we walked down to the Snake River, we encountered some adorable wildlife – a prairie dog or ground squirrel standing on its hind legs, and some mama and baby elk (we think).

Snake River was very wide and fast-moving and we saw lots of people on large inner tube-like things floating (rather rapidly!) down the river. We didn’t have time to investigate that activity but its definitely on my list for next time.

Snake River

From Dornans, we headed to our last stop in the park, Mormon Row. This is an area that was settled by Mormons due to the Homestead Act of 1862. This area is a must-see for your Grand Teton trip – the structures have been very well-preserved and these quaint houses set against the backdrop of the majestic Tetons is a strange and beautiful dichotomy.

Mormon Row
Barn at Mormon Row

As we walked through the ghost town of a settlement, I kept noticing large holes in the ground. Like large enough to sprain your ankle if you accidentally stepped into one. After wandering around for a bit, I discovered why the holes were there – PRAIRIE DOGS!! They were running around everywhere! There appeared to be an entire colony of them living in the barn in the picture above. They’d scurry in and out of the floorboards and run around in the nearby woodpiles. They must be accustomed to tourists because they had no problem running right up to you.

Log Cabin and Outhouse

After Mormon Row, we drove a bit more through the park and then headed to Jackson Hole where we did a bit of shopping and got ice cream at Moo’s, which has a bazillion delicious flavors – I enjoyed the Huckleberry and Mocha Chip.

Nom nom nom!

And last but not least, one final photo of my (poor) attempt to capture the beauty of the Tetons.

Simply stunning

One thought on “A Visit to Yellowstone’s More Beautiful, Younger Sister

  1. Linda Mittermaier

    How have I not commented on this before?? My apologies. We had a wonderful trip to Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho and you did a great job of capturing our adventures in the magnificent Tetons – both in words and in pictures. (And yes, I was one of those people who told you that the Grand Tetons > Yellowstone.) Hope you can go back again soon!

    Like

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