Sunday, October 14, 2012

Top 5 US National Parks - #3 Grand Teton

Before moving down to LA from the Bay Area to begin my Master of Public Health program at UCLA, Allyson and I decided to take a road trip for almost a month (July 16 through August 9, 2009). We traveled through 7 states, including California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. We visited 4 national parks, including Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Crater Lake. On top of that, we were in multiple national forests and state parks (including Mt. Hood National Forest and Moran State Park). Needless to say, we finished this trip with many road and trail miles under our belts, pint glasses from many breweries we hit up along the way, and many, many wonderful memories (and a few not-so-great memories like our car not starting in Glacier National Park with no cell phone reception). Grand Teton National Park was the first one on our trip, and it might have been my favorite. We saw a lot of this park, but there is so much more to see. I definitely hope we can make another trip back there some day!

We arrived in Grand Teton National Park mid-day and checked into our campsite at Gros Ventre campground. I highly recommend this campground if you don't want super crowded. Also, you can walk a little way through the trees, right from your campsite, to the Gros Ventre River. Yes, it's cold. But it was so fantastic to rinse off after a couple days of driving.

The first of many bison we saw right from the car!

Our original plan had been to do the Cascade Canyon/Paintbrush Divide Loop, but some of the higher elevation parts of the loop were still completely snowed in. Without the proper equipment, we didn't feel prepared to tackle the snow. Instead we planned to hike up Cascade Canyon Trail, first head north to Lake Solitude (9.4 miles), then head back the other way going south to Hurricane Pass (8.3 miles), and eventually head back out Cascade Canyon (12.3 miles). 

On Day 1, we started off at String Lake Trailhead, and worked our way through a burned forest along the shores of Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls (about 2.2 miles) and Inspiration Point. Many tourists take a shuttle boat across the lake, and then it's a very short hike to the falls. Therefore, the falls are busier than most backpackers would like. We got there pretty early in the day, so it wasn't too bad. 

Hidden Falls

Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point

All of Cascade Canyon is breathtaking, with lots of great spots to stop for lunch. Below is where we stopped for lunch. We walked to a little sand bar in the middle of the river to sit and eat lunch. After lunch, we continued up the trail and then headed north on North Fork Cascade Trail. 

Our lunch spot along Cascade Canyon Trail

Lake Solitude (elevation 9035 ft)

 Chillin at our campsite in the North Fork Cascade camping zone

 Pica! We could hear these little guys the whole time we were hiking on the North Fork Trail.

 On Day 2, we took North Fork Cascade Trail back the way we came and then continued onto South Fork Cascade Trail. We got all the way to Hurricane Pass, but then it was pretty snowed in. We found the most incredible campsite that I think I've ever seen at the edge of a cliff at about 10,000 ft elevation and then took our packs off and explored the area a bit.

When we got back to the site, the sky had completely changed and we started hearing thunder. This may have been the most terrifying night of my life. Yes, our campsite was awesome because we were right at the edge of a cliff and could see views in all directions. And yes, our campsite was really not the best place to be during a thunderstorm (there were even a couple of trees on the site that showed evidence of previous lightning strikes.) We hid in our tents for the rest of the night. Me with my eyes closed tight and trying to follow conflicting instructions I'd heard about what to do in a lightning storm. Allyson with her eyes wide open watching the tent light up from every direction and praying that we didn't get struck. I can't really tell you when the storm finally passed because it felt like I was freaking out in the tent for days. However, we made it and the next day was as beautiful as the last.


A storm's a brewin'

Glacier Lily

After the backpacking trip, we ended up getting a campsite at Colter Bay Village. This was basically like Disneyland. It wasn't bad because we were so tired, it was nice to get a shower and eat some real food at the little restaurant there. However, it's always hard to be back around that many people after seeing so few for a few days. 

The next day, we wanted to take it easy but also make the most of our last day in the Grand Tetons. We got up early and hit up a few spots that are considered "must photograph" spots. At the time, I only had my $100 point and shoot camera. Even with that, you can see why these are deemed great photograph locations.

Schwabacher's Landing

Snake River Overlook (If this looks familiar, Ansel Adams took his famous photograph from this exact location!)

Before heading up to Yellowstone later that day, we took the moderate 6.4 mile Two Ocean Lakes hike. It didn't feel that moderate being as tired as we were, but the views were outstanding and the wildflowers were absolutely incredible (as were the bugs). 

Up Next: Zion National Park (#2) and Joshua Tree National Park (#1 because it's where everything started with Allyson and me and there is just something completely unique and special about this place!)

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