My team won an company award for some software we built which resulted in a trip to Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). Having visited just last year, I had a good picture of what was ahead of me. I was excited to return to experience the breathtaking views, to breathe in some heavy mountain air, and to see some cute, furry animals. The group was planned to meet on Monday afternoon, but I thought it would be fun to extend my trip to include the weekend to do some additional hiking. Since my wife would be busy at graduate school, I decided to embark on my first real camping trip too.
Literally months went into planning those three days. Having never camped before, and with my propensity for technical and logistical research, I scoured the web for ideas on where to go, what to bring, and how not to get eaten by a bear.
I arrived later than expected in the afternoon because of a mechanical issue on my plane. I had a couple of orders of business: pick up my rental car, eat a non-airport meal, purchase camping fuel and bear spray, and obtain a campsite. With great luck, the latter had been taken care of while I was on the plane by a colleague of my wife’s and the colleague’s new husband – but still mere strangers to me – who happened to be in GTNP for part of their honeymoon (which I inadvertently crashed).
Dornan’s: I stopped in at Moosely Mountaineering which was out of both things I needed. The cashier said the best source would be all the way back in Jackson. As I turned to leave, he then suggested that the general store across the street might have some. I have no idea why this wasn’t the first suggestion: the general store was fully stocked with almost everything someone would need for camping, including multiple sizes and types of fuel and bear spray, and a huge variety of other goods. Seriously, if you stopped into this general store naked, you could walk out with a complete camping setup. I stopped in at Dornan’s famous open-air restaurant for lunch with a view of the mountains, sharing a table with a very nice Swedish couple.
Signal Mountain Campground: In the course of my research, I looked at every picture and read every review of all the campgrounds in GTNP to try to get a sense of which would be best for this weekend. Jenny Lake is the most popular, so it fills up earliest, but part of it is undergoing construction. Gros Ventre has great views of the mountains, but is huge, doesn’t fill, and has no facilities. (Colter Bay and Lizard Creek were already closed for the season, but were too far away from Jackson and the southern trailheads.) All are first-come, first-served, so there can be competition.
Signal Mountain, on the other hand, is relatively small, on Jackson Lake, and a new shower and laundry facility and general store were recently built there. It is more centrally-located, though still a ways from Jackson. I think this was the right choice for the weekend.
Julia and Kyle snagged me spot #17, right next to theirs. There are three separate tent-only spots very close to each other in that area, each with their own fire ring and bear box. All three had views of the lake and the mountains through some trees. These spots are just down the road from an expansive rocky beach on Jackson’s shore with several picnic tables and stellar views. The only downside was that the designated tent beds are very rocky.
The Signal Mountain General Store is extraordinarily well stocked with everything from camping supplies to frozen burritos. Their walk-in beer fridge is notably good. I immediately purchased a box of firewood, a six-pack of a local IPA and their “famous” “Mountain Cookie”, which is a freshly-baked combination of every kind of cookie imaginable, and walked back to a table on the beach.
Upon their return from hiking, J+K hosted me by their campfire, where we cooked some boil-in-a-bag dinners and discussed plans for tomorrow. J+K were contemplating making the hike down Granite Canyon, the hike I planned to lead for my group later in the week, but were tantalized by the idea of summiting one of the Tetons. They were gracious enough to let me tag along.
We woke up to a 5am alarm (plus a nearly simultaneous car alarm from across the campground…) to get an early start.
Hiking to Static Peak: Hiking this trail turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever been involved with. At 18 miles (29 km) round-trip and with over 5,300 feet (1615 m) of elevation to climb, it was the hardest hiking trail any of us had done. Including frequent breaks and a long time soaking in the chilly summit air and brilliant sunshine, the route took us about 10 hours to complete.
The views were unparalleled. The trail was in great shape. The bear we briefly spotted didn’t want anything to do with us. We came back sore, tired, and hungry.
It was a great hike.
Upon arrival back at camp, we made use of the newly installed showers up the road. The well-kept facilities rival those at my office.
Dinner at Signal Mountain Lodge: Our food for the day so far consisted of a pack of Entenmann’s donuts, some PB&J sandwiches, and a bunch of energy bars. The closest, best source of calories was at the nearby lodge. A burger, some fries, a margarita, and a local craft beer filled in some of the caloric deficit I built up.
After some time by a campfire, sleep beckoned all of us.
Breakfast at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn: While J+K went on a rafting trip down the Snake River, I used my time to revisit Nora’s, a local favorite for diner-style breakfast, in order to satisfy the remainder of my calorie deficit. A huge breakfast burrito and a half-order of biscuits and gravy set me straight.
On the way back toward Jackson, I encountered one of those moments that really make a trip memorable: the police briefly shut down the only road connecting the neighboring towns of Jackson and Wilson to allow a cattle drive of hundreds of cows to proceed unhindered by traffic.
Getting a campsite at Gros Ventre: Since it was J+K’s last day in GTNP before moving on to southern destinations, I decided to move camp to Gros Ventre, which is closer to town. I was placed in spot #231, between the F and G loops along the main road, where my backyard was the entirety of the valley floor, backstopped by the Tetons. Once nice feature of GV over SM is that the tent pads are comparatively softer. I’d later find out the downsides: the bathrooms were in much worse condition (admittedly an odd complaint while camping) and the whole campground felt much like my hometown of New York: impersonal due to its size.
Lunch at Snake River Brewing: After perusing the shops around town, I met up with J+K for lunch. Our preferred destination was Thai Me Up, a combination Thai restaurant and brewery (more on this below), but turns out they’re only open for dinner. The next logical choice is the next closest brewery. I shied away from the peach/chorizo pizza experience from the previous year and opted for the enjoyable brussel sprout salad paired with their double IPA, both of which I’d have again.
Taggart Lake Trailhead: I had a whole afternoon to kill, and, still sore from the previous day’s hike, I opted to not hike up yet another mountain. I instead found a nice tree just off the start of the Taggart Lake trailhead to lean against while reading Into the Wild, a story about a young man throwing away his ties to an ordinary life – and ultimately life itself – by venturing into nature, a fitting story for the moment.
Dinner at Thai Me Up (and Melvin Brewing): Along with the Static Peak summit, this was a highlight of this trip. I had low expectations for a combination Thai restaurant that is also a brewery, picturing a run-down place with someone’s yellow fizzy water.
I could not have been more wrong. The food, beer, and ambiance at Thai Me Up is simply on point. The yellow curry was luscious and silky and the potstickers were crispy where it counts and delicious (both had at happy hour prices, no less!). Paired with the award winning 2x4 DIPA, it got even better. It turns out Melvin was named the Best Small Brewery at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival, and won a bunch of other awards too. The effort they put into their entire operation really shows. (The biography of the first co-founder sounds like a dream, but I’m sure it hides a bunch of the stress required to build something great).
Never did I think I’d spend a Sunday night in Jackson, Wyoming having great beer, with great food, listening to hip hop and watching Kung Fu on mute. This is an experience wherein any one part would make an enjoyable evening, but altogether make for an amazing experience. I wish I had the opportunity to return.
I returned to my campsite, set a campfire, and got scared by a moose walking through the brush next to me.
I tore down my camp for the last time this trip, and maybe even this year or forever, having no future camping trip planned.
Hiking to Inspiration Point and into Cascade Canyon: Knowing the threat of bears in the area, I was hesitant to go hiking alone, so I picked a heavily-used path for a half-day venture. After Static Peak, and with a whole tour bus-full of people, Inspiration Point was not too impressive; a better view can be easily had by driving up Signal Mountain. I propelled myself farther up the slope into Cascade Canyon, which provided the hike I was looking for. On the return, I came across a whole family of moose. Encounters with humans were all-too-frequent to not worry about bear issues.
While driving around GTNP, I realized I could make a positive difference in someone’s life by picking up some hitchhikers. But the form this took was unexpected. Upon arriving at my car, I was approached by a husband and wife of refined age whom I had passed on the trail a few minutes earlier. The woman explained that they expected the loop around Jenny Lake to only be 2 miles, when I noted that they were only half way around the 7.1 mile trail. I was more than happy to ferry them back to their car at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.
Snake River Lodge: After washing the one outfit I brought on this trip at Signal Mountain, and using up my remaining tokens by also taking a shower, I checked in to my employer-sponsored, non-primitive housing. This hotel was nothing to write home about; I did appreciate the largess of the shower and the presence of a one-person whirlpool next to it. The service at breakfast was friendly and the food all-American. I would have preferred to stay at the Four Seasons next door…
Handle Bar at the Four Seasons: …which is where I headed for beer after gathering a bunch of colleagues. The beer is expensive, but there are great options, and it can come in a boot.
Dinner at the Mangy Moose: Skip it if you can. I will say that the watermelon-infused steak sauce was something I’ve never had before.
Hiking Coal Creek Meadows: I opted for the organized group hike sponsored by the company and fulfilled by The Hole Hiking Experience. I had looked at this outfit before deciding I was comfortable trying to hike alone and was sceptical of their services: how hard it it to drive to a well-marked trail and walk on it? Well, I was again surprised. Our guide, Bev, was simply excellent. She seemed to know everything about everything we saw, heard, smelled, or felt along the trail. She was a wealth of knowledge that would have been worth an out-of-pocket admission price. The hike itself was in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness, itself within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest (both are designations of federal varying specificity).
Lunch at the Handle Bar: Upon return to Teton Village, I headed straight back to the Handle Bar to refuel with a beer, a burger, and an apple crisp for an afternoon hike.
Hiking Taggart and Bradley Lakes: Yuko and I did part of this hike last year, but it nagged me that we didn’t go to Bradley Lake, which adds just a couple of miles to the route. On the afternoon of my visit, the main legs of the route were in heavy use, including two loud groups of school children. The ancillary legs were significantly less populated and a long time passed between human sightings. This is a worthy, short hike with splendid views, and one that is especially accessible alone.
Dinner at Spur: We had another organized group dinner here, which was made particularly good by the careful attention of our waitstaff. The beer selection was decent, the food was tasty, and my company for the evening was entertaining and enlightening.
My company offered another scheduled group activity but a number of us declined. Instead, I organized a trip down the 13.1 mile canyon route into GTNP behind the resorts.
Hiking Granite Canyon: This is a worthy hike, but it involves cheating: you take the tram up to the summit and the route is almost all downhill. The biggest views occur right at the start and get progressively less interesting.
After having a big breakfast and picking up some provisions at the nearby Bodega, we took the first tram up the mountain at 9am. I stashed an overpriced waffle from Corbet’s Cabin at the summit for later (a bad choice, due to sogginess), and started down the path. This accessible hike brought the standard stunning GTNP canyon views and a single faraway moose. With a couple of stops, we took 6h15m to descend back to the hotel.
If staying in Teton Village, this hike is strongly recommended given its proximity.
After breakfast at the hotel, I had a few hours to kill before my flight. The Moose-Wilson Road was closed this week for construction, so I had to go through Jackson.
Persephone: My conversation was similar to last year: “I’ll take a blueberry muffin and a soy macchiato, please.” “Our macchiato has only two shots of espresso and some milk foam on top. Are you sure this is what you want?” “Exactly.” Both the muffin and the macchiato were perfect, as expected. I learned that the owner opened up a sister restaurant nearby called Picnic that looks positively delightful.
I dropped off the remainder of my camp fuel at the Gros Ventre recycling station, donated my bear spray at the GTNP Visitor Center, gassed up the rental car at Dornan’s, stared at the mountains some more, and then flew home.
I took a lot more photos.
There were a few pieces of information that I couldn’t find on the web that would have been useful on this trip:
- Many hikers use 1L SmartWater bottles for water portage. They can definitely be found at the general store in Moose and probably elsewhere.
- Firewood can be purchased at the Signal Mountain general store or from the camp host at Gros Ventre. The wood comes in a cardboard box and has some kindling and some larger logs. It was $7 or so per box.
- American Airlines definitely does not supply heavy-duty plastic bags at La Guardia Airport, which have been claimed to be useful for checking a backpack.
- You can check to see what time the various campgrounds filled the previous day by calling 307-739-3603, then pressing option 1, and then 1 again.
- Having an SUV for the road to the Death Canyon trailhead is recommended.