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