Stop #7: Grand Teton National Park
On Sunday, Jess and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am to pack up our tent and get on the road. We left Lander early so we could get to Grand Teton National Park by 7:30am to get a camping spot. The campsites at this National Park are first come, first serve and summer is the busiest time of year. We decided to try Signal Campground and luckily found a spot fairly easily. Camping tip: make sure you have cash on hand, as some campsites only take payment in cash… or check but who carries those around anymore?
Jess has a friend, Illias (“Eli” for short) in Bozeman, MT who came down to meet us for the day in the park. We met Eli at Jenny Lake, which is centrally located in the park and one of the most popular spots in the park. We realized this when we came to meet up and could not find a parking spot. People were parked on both sides of the road leading up to the Visitor Center and were even parking on the main road.
We decided to drive up to Colter Bay, which is in the northern end of the park. It also has a visitor center, campground, and is located on Jackson Lake. We did an easy hike around the area, taking the views of the mountains, lakes and forests of the park. The highlight of our hike is when we were about to exit the forest to come back to the parking lot and a park ranger came up to us and asked, “Did you see that bear you all just walked past?” Wait, what!?
We were chatting loudly the whole time of the hike (which is recommended when you’re in bear country; it warns bears of your presence), and we had our eyes on the path to avoid large rocks since we were coming downhill. The ranger pointed up and to the right of the path and there was a young bear ambling through, foraging for food. It turns out a few rangers had been observing him for a bit. They were glad to notice that he avoided us as we were coming down the path and only crossed the trail after we had left.
Every year National Parks have to deal with bears who become accustomed to people and unfortunately have to be killed once they realize people are a source of food. The rangers told us that two bears this year already had been put down for this reason. There are many signs and warnings about keeping food away from bears and also what to do if you encounter them during a hike.
There was another short path that went along the lake and we decided to check it out. The lake had pebbly beaches and we took a snack break to soak our feet in the cold water and enjoy the view.
We drove back to Jenny Lake to drop off Illias and then to Signal Campground to set up our campsite. After a long day, I couldn’t wait to get into my sleeping bag.
The next day, we drove back to Colter Bay. Jess did some light hiking as I went on a trail ride. My horse was named Corona and she was behind her sister Tequila during the ride. 😂 Our guides explained some of the signs of bear activity and gave us a little history of the area. We were told that cowboys would rub Sagebrush on them before heading into town. Cowboy cologne anyone?
It was cloudy and bit cooler than the day before, so Jess and I thought we’d try to see Jenny Lake again. We found parking and decided to try a 4-5 mile hike up to Hidden Falls. About 5 minutes into our hike, I heard rustling to my left and grabbed Jess and whispered, “That’s a bear, let’s back away!” We warned a couple coming up after us and make sure the other hikers coming knew he was there. The park recommends staying at least 100 yards away from bears. It definitely was much less than that in this situation. I’ve noticed that most people’s first reaction when they see a bear is to start taking photos of it. 🙄 People seem to assume that they are in a zoo and there is a magical barrier between them and the bear.
The bear crossed the path a few times but eventually wandered off. We continued our hike and soon it started raining. It was fairly steep uphill climb, all the while raining, but we made it to the Falls.
The mountains looked beautiful in the rain. We hiked back down and I eventually went ahead of Jess. As I was nearing the end of the trail, I nearly stumbled into another bear! I think it was the same one we saw earlier. A ranger came up to me from the right and I noticed they had stopped people from coming up the trail. There was a family I had just passed and the ranger went to stop them. Luckily, there was a short path to a parking lot used by Park staff just to the right and I snuck into there as we all watched the bear. He ambled along, and crossed the path and wandered through the trees. It’s so exciting to see them in person but also terrifying because this is the wild! And you never can know what a wild animal will do.
Jess eventually caught up and we were both thoroughly soaked by then, so we headed back to camp and started a fire to warm up. It was another great day in nature.