For me, there is no place in the world that holds more special memories than the mountains and valleys of Jackson Hole. I first visited The Tetons when I was just five years old. My parents took us to an Old West Dude Ranch for a week of horseback riding and exploring. We loved the experience so much that we returned for the next 12 summers!
As I got older, I became less-and-less interested in the horses and more-and-more excited about the mountains. I hiked in them. I photographed them. And, at age 16, I even climbed one of them: the Grand Teton at 13,770 feet.
When Jessica and I began dating, I knew that I needed to take her there. In the months leading up to our trip, I did my best to ruin the magic by repeatedly describing how amazing the area was and asking “Aren’t you so SO excited?” over and over again. Sometimes I just can’t help myself!
Despite my pre-trip haranguing, Jessica will admit she was still incredibly impressed. Everything about The Tetons seems designed to overwhelm you–including the flight path to the Jackson Airport. The approach enters the valley heading directly for the largest mountains. As a passenger, this hides The Tetons from view until a last-minute sharp left-handed turn reveals them in all of their glory. Fly in at the right time and you can see the setting sun illuminating the snake river at the base of the mountains. Remember to buy a ticket on the right side of the plane.
Our visit in August of 2012 coincided with a serious wildfire season. At the time, smoke from one of the fires was drifting into the valley. The smoke wasn’t so bad that it affected your breathing. In fact, except when looking far away, you weren’t even really aware of it. More than anything it just limited our views of the mountains, as you can see from the photo below.
Here is another view of the crazy smoke. I took these photos from the same spot: one in 2011 and one in 2012. It is pretty clear (pun!) which photo is from the smoky year.
Despite the smoke, Jessica and I hit the trails hard over the course of our visit. We went on a number of hikes; and, in this post, we will share photos and details from two of them. The first is the hike to an overlook above Phelps Lake (shown above).
The trip to the Phelps Lake Overlook is a lovely mile long jaunt to this beautiful view. Many hikers stop here, but we continued on down towards the lake. Descending along the trail takes you through endless patches of blooming wildflowers spread across the hillside.
After numerous switchbacks, the trail arrives at the edge of the lake and continues along its edge. About halfway around the lake we passed a large boulder sitting on the lake’s edge. We knew there was a place you could jump into the lake, and watching other take the plunge gave me the confidence to try. (Author’s note: mountain lakes are cold. Yes, even in August) Despite the cold water, a quick swim was the perfect way to cap off an amazing hike.
On another day we hiked near a different lake. Located at the base of Cascade Canyon, Jenny Lake formed when a glacier melted and pooled behind a terminal moraine at the bottom of the valley. Trails circumnavigate the lake, and you can hike the 2 miles around the lake to the start of the canyon. But, with much of my family in tow, we opted for the beautiful ferry ride.
From the bottom of cascade canyon, an easy trail climbs up through the pine forest along a river and into the canyon. The river is small but powerful as it falls down the numerous cascades that give the canyon its name. The most impressive waterfall is Hidden Falls located less than a mile down the trail.
From Hidden Falls the trail turns back towards the lake and begins to climb more steeply. As you work your way towards a rocky outcropping at the edge of a cliff, you catch an incredible view of Jenny Lake and realize that your efforts have been rewarded with the view from Inspiration Point.
From Inspiration Point, the trail turns, again, into Cascade Canyon. The Inspiration Point trail is quite busy, but beyond the point, Cascade Canyon is nearly empty. Those hikers that turn around are really missing out. Another 15 minutes of hiking brings you to some incredible views from the foot of the tallest peaks in the range.
After hiking for about 30 minutes further into the canyon, we climbed 100 feet up a scree field for a better view. Sadly, this was our turn-around-point. Heading home is never easy, but it is sure nice to know that you will get another chance to pass Inspiration Point and Jenny Lake on the way back to the boat.
While the hikes around Jenny and Phelps Lakes are fairly easy, the Tetons offer plenty of demanding treks. Stay tuned for future Where We Went posts including ones detailing Jessica and my first night sleeping in the backcountry, our
tear-inducing fun and motivating hike to Lake of the Crags, and other adventures in Wyoming!