People make Teton lake hike memorable

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Growing up in the shadows of New York City, I’m not a person that is accustomed to strangers being friendly. So, imagine my surprise when I heard a cheerful “hi!” out of nowhere as I hiked the perimeter of Jenny Lake at Grand Teton National Park.

I looked up in time to catch a glimpse of the man’s face as he passed me. I blinked.

“Did he just say hi to us?” I asked the classmates with whom I was hiking.

Click on the video at right to see a slideshow about hiking along the shore of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, photographed and produced by Darci Miller.

They smiled indulgently at me. Clearly, I was not used to the Western way of doing things.

“Jenny [Lake] is probably the busiest (and thus most stressful) trail, particularly near Inspiration Point,” said Brian Bergsma, a trails supervisor at the park. “But yeah, most folks visiting are so blown away by the area that they are super nice.”

As the three of us continued our two and a half hour hike, we came across several other groups of hikers, each as friendly as the last. Though it wasn’t at all crowded due to the lateness in the season, the people we encountered ran the gamut from parents and toddlers to newlywed couples, and everything in between.

At right, the trail around Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park is often uneven and rocky, but it is clear and wide, making it an easy walk for hikers (Photos by Darci Miller). Below, hiking during the offseason gives visitors the opportunity to experience the park’s fall colors.

“Jenny Lake is probably the most popular destination for the average family coming here looking for a day hike,” said David Lewis, one of Grand Teton’s park rangers.

The lake boasts trails for hikers of all levels of expertise. The one I chose was a simple loop around the lake and was clearly enjoyed by numerous small children scampering up and down the paths.

In the middle of October, the park is on its seasonal attendance decline. Visitors can hike for what feels like ages without coming across another soul. While Lewis recommends hiking in the summer months as opposed to the winter months, later in the season, such as early fall, would be his ideal time to get out on the trails.

“I even recommend doing them even when you get to more in the off-season, so even like the end of September I’d recommend then,” he said. “Off-season you can get without being too extreme into winter. Because again, when you hit the middle of the summer, July and August, you’re gonna have a lot of people.”

Again, the Northerner in me shows when I ask Lewis about the change in seasons. During winter in the mountain region, many businesses and activities largely shut down due to the weather and lack of tourism.

Jenny Lake usually has a ferry to shuttle people across the lake, which Lewis “absolutely” recommends.

“The ferry’s a cool experience,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to spend more time enjoying the actual destination.”

However, if a visitor is interested in experiencing the ferry, he or she needs to be sure to visit the park before Sept. 30. The Jenny Lake Boating Company shuts down, and the ferry is no longer an option during the winter months.

To those intrepid souls that are willing to brave the frigid weather, there are numerous winter activities in which to take part.

“It kind of transitions into snowshoeing and cross-country skiing,” Lewis said. “People will go through the trails, mostly just in the same kind of area; you don’t really follow the trail as much anymore because there’s just so much snow. So a lot of the hiking shuts down as soon as we get a lot of snow.”

Bergsma says that all the trails are open but are covered by two to 40 feet of snow.

“Last winter we had over 700 inches of snow so most people ski, snowshoe, snowboard, climb, etc.,” he said.

Jenny Lake is, of course, far from the only hiking destination in Grand Teton. In the park’s visitor center, Lewis gestures to a scale model of the park.

“I typically like to send people to Taggert Lake before Jenny Lake because they can get a better feel for hiking in the park,” Lewis said. “You get a little more of a different dynamic, whereas Jenny Lake, a lot of people just take the boat over and hike about a mile up to Inspiration Point and all back up, which is about a two-mile, quick hike. But I prefer Taggert Lake because you get more encompassing; you get the good views of the mountains… and you still get the hike to an alpine lake. It’s kind of a beautiful area. And I feel like you get away a little bit more in that area, whereas if you go to Jenny Lake and Inspiration Point, it’s going to be pretty crowded.”

At right, a lone kayaker drifts to shore on Jenny Lake. Boating is a popular activity on the lake. However, most activities, including the boat that ferries guests across the lake, close down in the offseason. Below, the trails at Jenny Lake are known for their beautiful, scenic views.

I happen to have lucked out; on the day I completed my hike in mid-October, the crowds were gone. As I walked with my classmates, I reflected that, quite often, we were completely alone and without cell service. This brought my concerns to the bright red can of bear spray strapped to my backpack and rhythmically tapping me on the thigh. All hikers are encouraged to take a can with them for their protection.

Bears “are a big concern,” said Lewis. “I think people need to just be… just stay aware. They don’t need to fear bears, just show respect. Ya know? You’re in their territory.”

Bergsma, who has worked at Grand Teton since 1994, has only experienced three or four grizzly bear attacks during his tenure, and there have been no black bear or mountain lion issues.

“Just use caution and give ‘em all a wide berth!” he said.

Luckily, my bear spray remained untouched and the trail remained bearless. Instead of large threatening creatures, I was treated to an afternoon of breathtaking views, crisp air, and the kind of serenity only nature can provide.

“It’s a phenomenal place to hike and you can’t go wrong anywhere you go,” Lewis said.

If You Go

The Jenny Lake Visitor Center is located on Teton Park Road eight miles north of Moose, Wyo., at South Jenny Lake.

Entrance into the park costs $5 per person between mid-December and April 30, and $12 for the rest of the year.

The shuttle boat across the lake costs $10 for an adult round trip, and runs every 15 to 20 minutes during the day. For more information, visit

The Jenny Lake Ranger Station can be contacted at 307-739-3343.

All trails are free of cost. There are no parking fees in the park, but spaces are limited and may fill in popular areas such as Jenny Lake in summer months.


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