After our brief stay in Idaho we were bound for Jackson Hole, WY and Grand Teton National Park. We soon realized we’d have to climb over a fairly substantial mountain pass. Grades of 10% for 5+ miles up and grades of 10% for 5+ miles down. And we were carrying a full load of water (approx. 500 lbs. between all three tanks), meaning we were HEAVY. Not overweight heavy, but just under the limit. So after chug-a-lugging along at 20mph on the way up, stopping once to let the transmission cool, and stopping once on the way down to let the brakes cool (and readjust the trailer brake after the pedal in the truck nearly went to the floor…I was legitimately looking for a run-away truck ramp) we were extremely pleased to see the terrain flatten out significantly as “civilization” appeared before us.
There is a lot of hype about Jackson Hole (Jackson is the town, Jackson Hole is the bigger geographic region). It promises an amazing national park experience, luxury for those willing and able to afford it, and four-seasons of outdoor activity. In reality I think Jackson Hole has two seasons: warm and frigid. We arrived in town in need of an easy campsite, grocery resupply, some internet connectivity, and an itch to get into Grand Teton. I dropped Jessie off at the nicest public library anyone’s ever seen and proceeded to set-up a pricey campsite inside the park and drop by the the local (expensive) grocery store to pick up provisions. I was also on a quest to pick up a fire-extinguisher sized can of bear spray. Bears are a big draw for the parks in this part of the country. In fact, if you pay attention to the retailers and many park officials in the Grand Teton/Yellowstone region there is a 700lbs mama grizzly bear with cubs waiting around every bend to dismember you. To be fair there are documented accounts of parents putting peanut butter on their child’s hand and sending him/her over to a bear to “get a good picture”. You can imagine how that ended. I suppose putting a healthy dose of fear into the general public is a good idea.
With a restocked pantry and a place to park “Moby” (our RV), we were ready to explore Grand Teton NP. Wow, just wow. Grand Teton is among the most majestic places we’ve ever been. To see the mountain range rise from the valley floor, to see the wild flowers in full bloom, to see the abundant wildlife (from a safe distance), to see the amazingly well constructed and preserved barns of “Mormon Row”; it is a special place.
After our day one hike around Jenny Lake up to Hidden Falls we knew we’d want to spend significant time in the park. Our travel plans, or lack there of, give us the freedom to stay in a park until we feel like we are “done”. We knew it was going to be a while. There was so much hiking, cycling, and sightseeing to do. What this also meant is that we couldn’t afford to spend $24/night on camping fees. So part of our day-two activities included scouting out Bridger-Teton National Forest that held the promise of free camping. We indeed found a lovely campsite and after filling up our freshwater tank and getting set-up in the forest, we were looking at 5 days of free, quiet camping with stunning views and a centrality to the park that we couldn’t even get by staying INSIDE the park! What a deal!
The days that followed were some of the best of our gap year thus far. We enjoyed the miles and miles of mostly flat (but still 6,500′-7,000′ elevation) bike path. We hiked an epic 12.5-13.0 mile, 9-hour trail with 4,000+ feet of elevation gain, snow, and boulder field crossings that allowed us to explore several of the more difficult-to-reach spots in the park. We had our first bear sighting in the backcountry from a safe 250 meter distance. We sang loudly as the sun faded and bears were on the move so as to not encounter a bear closer than 250 meters (despite the $50 worth of bear spray on my hip). We grilled out and enjoyed our 10 million dollar view from our free campsite. We cooled off with a swim in one of the many snow melt/glacier fed lakes. We rented our first Redbox on the road and watched “Wild” (after reading it and having “family book club”) powered exclusively by solar. We cycled into Jackson to return said Redbox. We found the cheaper of the two grocery stores in town that shared a parking lot with a laundromat (double win) with WiFi (triple win). It was a fantastic week.
A few things to know about Grand Teton and the greater Jackson Hole area. First, unless you are camping in Grand Teton or the national forest, this area isn’t cheap. In fact, it can be downright pricey. For example, the local private RV campground charges $80/night. Second, there is a major airport in the national park. It is indeed weird to see many planes landing and taking off (private, corporate, and commercial) daily. Third, Grand Teton definitely has more of a resort feel than any of the other parks we’ve been to. Perhaps it’s the multi-million dollar homes surrounding the park, the ski slopes directly adjacent to the park, the semi-formal dress suggested for meals at one of the lodges, or the town of Jackson with it’s Western-luxury feel, which is a different vibe than we’re used to. Not that we didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it might be the most livable (for us) place we’ve visited so far. Affording it would be a different matter entirely. And finally, to truly “get” this park you must hike deep into the park. Hike until you reach the snow or you haven’t gone far enough.