What better way to spend the Fourth of July than visiting the American West? Cowboys & horses, mountains & plains, abundant wildlife… Jackson, WY… here we come!
I had wanted to visit the Tetons for several years now; when Ryan and I realized that we both were given Monday AND Tuesday off from work for the holiday, we used one day of PTO on Friday to make this five day trip (finally) happen.
We would make the ~8hr drive from home to Jackson, WY on Friday morning, spend our time in Grand Teton National Park, and drive back home on Tuesday.
I could barely contain my excitement as we dropped into Jackson valley. Snapping pictures right and left with my face pressed up to the window.. we finally made it to the Moose entry station.
Now– we were planning on finding free (and scenic!) dispersed camping in the nearby Bridger-Teton National Forest each night, but when we arrived to the park around 10am we were surprised to see that many of the campgrounds were left unfilled. At $30/night, we decided to splurge and get a campsite for the simplicity & convenience of having a “home base” each day. We drove up to the Colter Bay campground where we got one of the last three remaining campsites before taking a leisurely drive through the park before settling in for the night.
**While the Colter Bay campground was decent– bathrooms were always spotless, they offered dish washing stations, you were near the marina where you could visit a market, rent boats, access the swim beach, etc– not every campsite was good. Ours was on a slope and had no privacy from our neighbors. We did walk around the campground and found other, more desirable, spots that were already taken.**
We woke up before sunrise and set off for the Snake River Overlook. While the trees have grown significantly and now obscure much of the river, I was still able to fully appreciate the location made famous by Ansel Adams in 1942. We had to make a quick stop as a herd of buffalo crossed the road, began running, and actually JUMPING over the fence! Who knew they were that agile! At about 7am, we finally made it to the lookout and had it to ourselves to enjoy the warmth of first sun.
Next, we headed to Mormon Row Historic District to visit another iconic location; the T.A. Moulton Barn. This is the most photographed barn in America, and is just one of many structures set up by the Mormons establishing new communities in the 1890s. I sure can’t blame them for settling here! While this is a fairly common shot to see, I was especially excited to see it from behind my own lens. Ryan and I explored the area a bit, which we had mostly to ourselves, before going into the heart of the park for the rest of the day.
We reached the Taggart Trailhead around 8am and set off for our hike; we would be doing the Taggart-Bradley Lake Loop. This is an easy 5.5mi hike with SPECTACULAR views the entire way (and we got to see a family of badgers playing near the trail!).
We first reached Taggart Lake and were thrilled to find it perfectly reflecting the 12,000ft+ peaks (Middle Teton, Garnet Canyon, Grand Teton, Mt. Owen, & Teewinot Mountain). At this point we had only seen one or two other groups, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet as we explored the shoreline before continuing up the trail to Bradley Lake.
While Bradley Lake is the smallest of the chain lakes that lie at the base of the Teton Range, it was still sizable and offered more breathtaking views and a reflection of Nez Perce, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, and Teewinot Mountain. We walked to the northern shore for a quick snack and nap on a sunny bridge before returning to the trailhead.
Later that evening as the sun began to set, we took a quick drive over to Oxbow Bend with hopes to see Mt. Moran reflecting on the water. While we did not get the crystal clear reflection that I had hoped for, we did see a beaver! He would swim by us all on the shore before diving underwater, only to surface again several yards away. I would take a wildlife sighting over a reflection any day!
Alarms went off at dawn to find the sky looking hazy and slightly cloudy. Knowing that we would not get a spectacular alpenglow show, we decided to sleep in a bit. We eventually made our way down to Jenny Lake, taking the scenic route as we were not in much of a hurry this morning.
We arrived to the Jenny Lake area, easily found parking, and took a 7:30AM boat shuttle to Cascade Canyon ($15/person round trip.. so worth it! Not only was it fun and scenic, but without it, you add an additional 4 miles to your hike). We planned to hike to the Forks of Cascade Canyon, which is 10 miles itself, so we certainly did not want to add on any more miles than we needed (this IS vacation, after all!).
With only four other people on our boat, we quickly found ourselves alone and climbing into a lush, quiet forest with abundant wildlife. Within five minutes, we had close encounters with chipmunks and squirrels. Within a half hour, we had a close encounter with a marmot as well as a family of marmots later on! The baby marmots were so cute playing in the tall grass. About an hour into our hike we reached treeline, and were met with picas and snakes (eek!). It wasn’t until our descent a few hours later that we finally saw a bull moose grazing right off the side of the trail.
We only saw a handful of people the entire day, with most of them being down near the beginning on the trail at the end of our day (noon-ish). This allowed us to fully appreciate our grand (no pun intended!) surroundings.
This was the healthiest forest I’ve ever seen.. it felt like we were in the Pacific North West! Trees towered overhead with moss covering their trunks, ferns that were taller than me lined the trail, and birds would shoot through the sunbeams as they sang.
Once we broke treeline and truly enter the Cascade Canyon, with peaks towering above us on both sides of the canyon while emerald-blue water crashed down the valley below. Occasionally the river would slow and form crystal clear ponds which we would take breaks at to appreciate how pure the glacial water was up here.
We continued hiking in and out of forested areas until eventually reaching the Forks of Cascade. Here you have the option to hike past the “Forks” to other passes, basins, and lakes.. but for us, it was our turnaround point. The hike was all downhill from here and we quickly (sadly!) found ourselves back at the boat dock.
We awoke early and headed to the String Lake Trailhead. This morning we took a nice, easy walk around String Lake (flat 3.8 miles) and had it to ourselves. The lake was perfectly reflective of the peaks behind it, and it was a pleasant morning.
After our walk, we headed over to Jenny Lake and rented a canoe! You can get a boat (canoe or kayak) for $20/hour.. again, it is sooo worth it! We paddled around Jenny lake for an hour or so before turning in. We only saw one other canoe on our time on the water, and it was very peaceful.
Since we were going on five days without a shower, we decided to go to the Colter Bay swim beach for a quick “bath”. Their beach is very well maintained and wasn’t too crowded when we arrived. We set up our chairs, had a picnic, soaked up some sun, and took turns braving the cold water before eventually the beach started to fill up so we headed back to camp for a quick nap.
Once rested (and clean!) we drove into Jackson for dinner at Snake River Brewing and then on to Teton Village! We took the gondola up to the top of the resort for cocktails before ending the night with their 3rd of July concert and fireworks. We got back to our campsite around midnight after driving verrrrrry slowly– in the dark of night, we saw several bison, elk, and even a moose run onto the highway.
Our last day.. with heavy hearts, we woke up and dawn and “packed up” camp. On our way out we made one last stop… Schwabacher’s Landing! Down a small dirt road you’ll find access to the Snake River with still pools perfect for reflecting. A photographer’s paradise! We shared the shoreline with a few others, happy snapping photos, before continuing on our way.
We stopped for breakfast in Jackson before making the long drive home.
I’ve lusted for a visit to The Grand Tetons for so many years, it hardly felt real that I was finally here! I could not have imagined a better place to spend our 4th of July “weekend”, and I don’t think that sloppy grin left my face for five days straight.