Notes from An American Road Trip: Grand Tetons National Park
Tripping Content Manager Katy Birnbaum
is currently on a 2 month road trip across the country, and we will be getting dispatches from her as she makes her journey. Check out the first one here
Surprise, surprise, the Grand Tetons are amazing.
Driving north from Utah through Idaho and into Wyoming, the features of the land began to soften, with long agricultural valleys laying coddled by rolling green hills and mountains. I crossed the Snake River several times as I weaved through Teton County into Jackson, Wyoming. After taking a sharp left out of the town of 9,000 people, the highway quickly lead to the huge prairie plateau of the Grand Tetons. Rising out of the flat, brush-filled landscape that stretches for miles, their charcoal jagged peaks looked utterly perfect, yet completely out of place at the same time.
I got there at dusk and, although I enjoyed the rose colored hue gleaming off the mountain faces, was ready to find a campground and eat dinner. Unfortunately, though abundant in beauty, Grand Tetons National Park has a devastating lack of signs. Highway 89 runs right across the plateau, yet not one of the junction signs says that it leads to a park entrance. After blindly turning into Moose Junction, I passed a park entrance, drove out past the filled Jenny Lake Campground and then out about 2/3 of the way to Signal Mountain, the next campground, only to turn around again and backtrack to the Gros Ventre Junction, which I had passed right upon my arrival into the plateau. Frustrating, yes. The demise of my trip, no. Two hours after arriving at the foot of the Grand Tetons, cup of noodles were had in the dark car just before hopping into bed at the spooky and oddly uninhabited Gros Ventre Campgrounds.
Much to my disappointment, the next morning brought clouds piled high and scattered rain storms that lasted for the duration of my stay. Half expecting the campgrounds to lose some of their lonesome shabbiness in the daylight, I was surprised to see that they were just as desolate and run-down when I went to brush my teeth in the morning. Though it wouldn't be my first choice, there were two saving graces to the Gros Ventre Campground:
- It was the closest camping spot to Jackson, which made it easy to spend the wet afternoons in a cafe.
- It was there that I experienced the highlight of my stay in the park—a very close encounter of the moose kind. Munching on vegetation for about 20 minutes, he offered many fine views of his handsome mug and robust bod.
Overall, it was much colder than I expected it to be in the Grand Tetons and was dismayed to awaken every morning to find more and more snow on the peaks. I ended up spending most of my time either driving around the park and making the quick jaunt out to overlooks or holing up in the town of Jackson. On the upside, I found a fantastic little spot called the Lotus Cafe, which offered a full organic food menu and an extensive tea selection. They were also kind enough to let me lounge in there for several hours on my computer—which is where I discovered that there were to be scattered rain and snow storms in Yellowstone as well. Feeling somewhat unprepared to battle the snow, I decided to stay another day at the lower elevation of the Grand Tetons.
With the extra evening, I made it out to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Although I got the sense that it was somewhat of a tourist trap, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting at the bar that featured saddles instead of stools, all of which were fully equipped with stirrups. I think it may have been the “rookie thing” to sit in them like you would a regular saddle (instead of side saddle), but there was no way that I was going to give up the opportunity to sip on a grasshopper while bobbling my feet in stirrups. I also sampled their Fire Fly cocktail, a beverage of sweet tea vodka and lemonade that tasted dangerously refreshing.
I was also able to do some window shopping and found two rather amusing retail items that I was tempted to kip into my entertainment budget to purchase.
Despite the poor weather, I managed to enjoy my stay at the base of this unusual mountain range. I would love to return earlier in the year when it is more certain that weather will be pleasant.
Although camping and being out in the wilderness has been terrific, I'm definitely ready to see some friendly faces and get the inside scoop on where to go and what to do. My next destinations are as follows. If you would like to meet up with me or have some great advice for what to do, leave me a comment here or drop me a line through Tripping!
(Dates subject to change)
9/12-Rochester, New York
9/18-Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
9/20-Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
9/29-New Orleans, Louisianan
And beyond! I will post my later dates when they come closer.
Grand Tetons National Park Tip
- Check the weather forecast before heading out to this region. Expecting it to still be warm in the end of August, I was caught off guard by how chilly and wet it was. However, destinations at this high of altitude have somewhat unpredictable weather and can easily get cold, especially at night.
- Try to get a map of the Grand Teton National Park before you enter the area, as it will make it much easier to find your way to campgrounds. A good stop may be the The Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center located in the town of Jackson (http://www.fs.fed.us/jhgyvc/). It closes between 5:00pm and 7:00pm depending on the season, so be sure to arrive before then.
Road Trip Tip
Although it may seem like overkill when the car is crammed full, bringing the appropriate amount and type of towels is crucial. I would suggest one large beach towel, one towel for showers, one small hand/face towel, and at least one wash cloth. If you have the room, pack a couple extra wash cloths as well.