Grand Teton National Park: Day 1

I first visited Grand Teton National Park 3 years ago, during an epic holy crow-I’m-turning forty/3,000 miles/5-National Parks-in 72-hours whirlwind road trip with my brother. That tripped marked the beginning of a love affair with Grand Teton National Park. Captivated by its beauty, I vowed to return someday with my family to give it its proper due.

Last summer, we arrived at Grand Teton in the early evening after an 8-hour drive from Wind Cave National Park and Mount Rushmore. Knowing we’d arrive late, we reserved a tent cabin in Colter Bay as a special treat. I love tent camping, but it was so nice to be able to jump out of the car with our sleeping bags and call it a day.

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Pathway to our tent cabin, Grand Teton
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Tent cabin and fire ring, Grand Teton
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Colter Bay tent cabin, Grand Teton National Park

Each tent cabin comes equipped with a fire ring, picnic table, and bear locker. Tent cabins are a unique hybrid of tent canvas and log cabin that offer a fun alternative to tent camping or hotel lodging. Coming from Hawaii, we were enthralled with the wood-burning stove inside. The bunk beds don’t look like much, I know, but they felt like heaven after a week of sleeping on sleeping pads. The restrooms at this campsite were particularly clean and spacious, with hot water sinks to boot.

Day 1:

We set our alarm for 3: 30 am and roused the kids from deep sleep–not a practice I generally recommend unless you have a sunrise float trip down the Snake River scheduled, which we indeed were lucky enough to snag. With a start time of 4:45 am, we drove 30 minutes to Triangle X Ranch. We were glad we observed the slower speed limit, especially when a large family of elk leaped in front of us. They paused for a moment to peer into our windshield. It was a thrill to behold!

The ranch was unbearably cold that early in the morning, but our hosts were warm and welcoming. We perused the gift shop and waited for the rest of the guests to assemble.

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4 am, Triangle X Ranch, Grand Teton National Park

We loaded into our guide’s van and drove to our push-off site, a gravelly beach area several minutes down the road. Shivering, we donned our life vests and stepped into the boat, sleepy but excited to begin. Our guide pushed off, silent, allowing us to enjoy the quiet of the lapping waves. A full moon still graced the sky, but the day proved to be dawning crisp and clear. Lovely lavenders danced across the water, bathing the distant peaks in purple hues.

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Push-off site, sunrise float trip
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Full moon on the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park
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Lavender hues, Grand Teton National Park

Cool purples gave way to blush, then melon pastels, washing the peaks in warm, golden tones.

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Daybreak on the horizon, Grand Teton
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First blush of day, Grand Teton National Park
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Sunrise Float Trip, Grand Teton

 

A 2 hour float trip along the Snake River might seem long on paper, but each bend in the river brought delightful new angles and wildlife surprises, among them bald eagles, osprey, elk, beavers, and a grizzly bear. Our guide mentioned that a grizzly bear sighting along the banks was a thrill for him, too, as it only occurred about once a month. We felt fortunate to have experienced such a rare sighting from a safe distance.

 

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Bald eagle, sunrise float trip, Grand Teton
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That splash in the background is a family of elk crossing the river
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Sunrise float trip, Grand Teton National Park

If you’re on the fence about a Triangle X sunrise float trip, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a little pricey, but the river provides unforgettable views of the Teton range. Watching my family fall in love with the beauty and majesty of the Tetons made it well worth the cost. Our guide was careful to remain quiet, preferring instead to point out wildlife with a nod and a finger so as not to disturb the animals–or disturb our opportunity to absorb the peace in our surroundings. The float trip was the perfect start to our Grand Teton experience.

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Back at Triangle X Ranch, Grand Teton National Park

After arriving back at Triangle X Ranch with full hearts and hungry tummies, we found ourselves eager for breakfast. The original plan was to stop at Oxbow Bend to grill up breakfast, but my husband decided a special treat was in order after such an incredible morning. We drove instead to Jackson Lake Lodge, where we indulged in a scrumptious breakfast buffet at the Mural Room. Renowned for its panoramic views and outstanding service, breakfast at the Mural Room was a true trip highlight for us. The kids loved the moose-imprinted Belgian waffles and the fresh, ripe fruit. The food, service, and company combined with the float trip we’d just shared made for a favorite family memory.

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The view from our table, Mural Room, Jackson Lodge, Grand Teton
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Breakfast buffet, Mural Room, Jackson Lodge
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Moose-imprinted Belgian waffles, Mural Room

With tummies full, we continued on to Colter Bay Visitor Center, where we stamped our passport books and journals and picked up Junior Ranger packets. From there, we hiked the 2 mile Lakeshore Trail behind the Visitor Center. It was the first time we’d hiked in bear country, and those first tentative calls of “Hey, Bear!” were met with no small amount of trepidation. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any bears on the trail–just a gorgeous riot of wildflowers and a peaceful sand spit where we spotted a family of otters and nesting osprey.

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Hiking Lakeshore Trail, Grand Teton
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Lakeshore Trail, Grand Teton National Park

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Grand Teton never fails to stun, Lakeshore Trail

We ran into 2 families the entire length of the trail–during busy July 4th weekend, no less. Lakeshore Trail may not be an iconic Grand Teton hike, but it was truly rewarding. Upon returning to the Visitor Center, we stopped to sketch Colter Bay marina and catch up on our journal writing.

We later attended a Junior Ranger talk about bear safety, where our kids were thrilled to practice deploying (fake) bear spray.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and birdwatching at various scenic overlooks, including Willow Flats and Cathedral Turnout. Unfortunately, the moose sighting we’d hoped for eluded us yet again (no luck at Rocky Mountain National Park or Yellowstone, either; we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a Glacier moose sighting in a few weeks). After our early morning start, we were too tired to explore Signal Mountain–clearly necessitating a return trip to Grand Teton someday. 😀

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Willow Flats, Grand Teton National Park
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Wildflowers at Willow Flats, Grand Teton National Park

After a long and memorable day, we settled in for the night, eager for our Day 2 hike in Grand Teton National Park.

Tell me: What do you love best about Grand Teton National Park? What is your favorite Grand Teton memory?

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14 thoughts on “Grand Teton National Park: Day 1”

  1. Another great post, I want to go to these places…tomorrow! The sunrise float trip is now officially on my bucket list, what an amazing experience for you and your family. My husband might have to carry me at 3:30 AM though, I might not be functioning! I have to move Grand Teton further up on our list of parks to visit. Thanks again for all the info.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hear you…we were pretty comatose at 3:30, too, lol! Our youngest fell asleep about 30 minutes after push-off, making it officially his most expensive nap ever. 😀 I think there’s even a sunset float trip that might be worth checking out…it’s definitely at a more civilized hour. Knowing you love Yosemite, I think Grand Teton might be right up your alley, too!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing your day 1 at Tetons National Park. We visited in 2008 and it was one of our favorite stops. We did not do the sunrise snake river float but we did an early morning half day float and it was so worth it. We saw a bald eagle. What I loved the most about the Grand Tetons was their quiet beauty and the different colors that you could see throughout the day as the sun rose, was full, clouds blocking or at sunset. Grand Tetons is one of my top 10 favorite national parks and I never heard of of until we decide to go visit Yellowstone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your half -day float trip must have been amazing! I completely agree with you about the quiet beauty of the Tetons. The Tetons took my breath away every moment of the day…sunrise, sunset, and every moment between. You’re so right; I feel like so much attention is given to Yellowstone (and rightfully so) that Grand Teton gets relegated to second place status when it’s just as incredible as Yellowstone–just in different ways. I’m totally with you–it’s absolutely one of my top 10 faves. Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am really enjoying reading so many of your blog posts. We just finished visiting a few of the Utah parks, and over the next few months we plan to go to Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier and Badlands. I will save your posts so I can read them again as we get closer so I can remember all your advice. Great posts! I love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I can’t tell you how much it makes my day to hear the posts might be helpful. 😀 I love your blog, too! So happy to see that you did Carlsbad, Petrified Forest, and Big Bend last year. We’re hoping to do that loop next year and will be referring to your posts often to help us plan. So great to connect with other families that love the parks!

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