In mountain years, they are the picture of youth. Some ten million years ago, as the Rocky Mountains approached their 60 millionth birthday, the Earth’s crust began to stretch along the Teton fault in modern-day Wyoming. As the crust quaked and ruptured, the land east of the fault collapsed to form the valley of Jackson Hole. But west of the fault the land rose skyward, eventually forming a new range of mountains to tower over the sunken basin.
A few million years—and tens of thousands of feet of vertical displacement—later, the Teton Range has become home to ten summits of more than 12,000 feet. And because their youth has not yet allowed for the erosion of foothills, the Tetons are a range of dramatic elevation gains and unobscured vistas. They also earned the designation in 1929 of Grand Teton National Park—a natural wonderland frequented by bears, wolves, moose, elk, pronghorn, and nearly 2.5 million people each year.
So mountaineer or fisherman, hiker or ski bum—there’s a Teton landscape waiting to be explored over the next three days.
I’m Going To Jackson, Look Out Jackson Town
The United States is a nation of spectacular national parks, but few can boast a neighboring community quite as charming as Jackson. For half of the year, this town of nearly 10,000 residents is a snow sports paradise—only steps from Snow King Mountain and mere miles from the legendary Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. But in the summer months, Jackson is an easy-going town of eager outdoorsmen—where cowboy bars and breweries peacefully coexist with four-star restaurants and hotels.
Hang your hat for the weekend at Spring Creek Ranch, where the rustic rooms, townhomes, and villas occupy some of the most scenic—and affordable—real estate in Jackson Hole. And don’t be afraid to request a room with a mountain view—the wonderfully friendly staff will do their best to accommodate you (1800 Spirit Dance Road).
When Grand Teton National Park was established by Congress in 1929, its boundaries included the peaks of the Teton Range and six glacial lakes, but excluded much of the valley of Jackson Hole. Enter John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the philanthropist son of the Standard Oil Company founder, who spent much of the next two decades secretly purchasing large swaths of Jackson Hole to donate to the National Park Service. By 1949, Rockefeller’s gift amounted to 33,000 acres, which—when combined with the Jackson Hole National Monument, created in 1943—allowed for the park to expand to its current boundaries in 1950.
Survey the stunning scenery with a morning drive along Highway 91 and the Teton Park Road, while the sun still sits low in the eastern sky. Make a counter-clockwise loop from Moose Junction, stopping along the way to gape at the views from Schwabacher Landing, the Snake River Overlook, and Oxbow Bend. And if you pack your lunch at the Moose Trading Post & Deli in Dornans, you’ll find a picture-perfect picnic spot on the shore of Jenny Lake.
Taggart, You’re It
Stretch your legs on the trail to Taggart Lake, an easy 1.5-mile ascent that will treat you to sweeping views of the three Tetons—the 12,514-foot South Teton, the 12,804-foot Middle Teton, and the 13,770-foot Grand Teton. And if you must know, the Teton name dates back to 19th century French trappers, who nicknamed the mountains les trois tétons (the three breasts).
While more ambitious hikers may choose to extend their trek to Bradley, Surprise, or Amphitheater Lakes, there’s no shame in heading back to Jackson early—especially if dinner awaits at the Snake River Grill. Between the rustic décor, the impeccable service, and the stellar treatment of classic western ingredients, you’ll be tempted to dine at this local landmark for the next two nights. And no judgment if you do (84 E. Broadway, reservations essential, fail to order the Eskimo bars at your own risk).
Power Of The Persephone
Every now and then, I stumble upon a restaurant or café that makes me think, “Now, that’s a business I could see myself running.” Welcome to Persephone Bakery, the quaint patisserie and café I would own if only I had the business acumen and artisanal baking skills. Because I don’t, I do the next best thing and join the crowd of locals that gathers here each morning for the best pastries and egg creations in Jackson (145 E. Broadway).
You’re My Soul And My Heart’s Inspiration
Hop in the car after breakfast for a short and scenic drive to Jenny Lake, a pristine depression formed by glacial movement during the ice age. Your trailhead this morning is the East Shore Boat Dock, from which a handy shuttle boat traverses the lake every 10-15 minutes—and shaves valuable time from the trek into Cascade Canyon. Hiking from the western lake shore, you’ll pass the 200-foot cascade of Hidden Falls and expansive views from Inspiration Point within one mile. But don’t turn back just yet—the next 3.8 miles will lead you to the fork of Cascade Canyon, offering panoramic vistas of Grand Teton, Mt. Owen, and Teewinot Mountain along the way.
No Strings Attached
Dawn is an enchanted time in Grand Teton National Park. Elk graze in the open meadows, moose wade across the Snake River, and motionless glacial lakes reflect images of the sun-kissed mountains above. And although I cannot guarantee any wildlife sightings—nor would I wish a grizzly bear encounter upon you—beautiful views are a sure bet on the trail that traces the eastern shore of String Lake. Whether you turn back at Leigh Lake or go the extra few miles to Bearpaw Lake, you’ll enjoy gazing at 12,605-foot Mt. Moran along the way.
It would be easy to drive right by Nora’s Fish Creek Inn and never know what you missed. This Lincoln Log cabin in nearby Wilson isn’t much to look at—but Nora Tygum’s family has been serving the most legendary huevos rancheros in all of Jackson Hole since 1986. In fact, the James Beard Foundation even bestowed an America’s Classic award upon this unassuming country diner in 2012. So eat hearty—this long weekend isn’t over just yet (5600 Highway 22, Wilson).
The Bicycle Renter
Thanks to its scenic and navigable system of roads, Grand Teton National Park is wonderfully accessible to drivers (for roughly half of the year, while the weather permits). But in 2009, the National Park Service brought cyclists and walkers into the fold by opening a multi-use pathway between Jackson and the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. So pick up a rental mountain bike from Dornans and hit the flat, paved path—there’s no better place to bid farewell to this extraordinary mountain landscape.
A Few Notes
Although Grand Teton National Park is open to visitors year-round, many roads, visitor centers, and ranger stations are closed between October and April. Click here for assistance in planning a winter visit—or just do yourself a favor and visit in September, when the fall colors have reached their brilliant peak.
While it is an undeniable thrill to see wild animals living in their natural habitat, sharing trails with grizzly bears is no joke. Remember to always carry bear spray and to follow these wise tips to avoid a confrontation with a bear.
TITLE: The Tetons, as seen from Schwabacher Landing | FRIDAY: Spring Creek Ranch; Schwabacher Landing; Snake River Overlook; Oxbow Bend; Jackson Lake; the trail to Taggart Lake | SATURDAY: Jenny Lake | SUNDAY: String Lake; String Lake; the view from the multi-use pathway.