Friday, September 27, 2013

Touring the scenic loop of the Grand Tetons

Sept. 20-21, 2013
Moran, Wyoming
Colter Bay RV Campground

After a fair amount of research about visiting the Grand Tetons, we decided to split our four days here between two places: Colter Bay, a campground right in the middle of the park followed by two days in the town of Jackson. From West Yellowstone, the two-hour drive on Hwy 89 takes you right through the park to the South Entrance of Yellowstone which leads directly into Grand Teton National Park. The only challenge with the road is you have to go slow because of the tourists and possible wildlife sighting traffic jams. There are lots of turnouts to let people pass, so that helps when you have a big rig. Having said this, we did encounter two potential hazards. It had snowed overnight at the higher elevations and there were signs up that said traction devices recommended. Ha.  Good thing we left late enough in the morning as we saw no signs of snow or ice on the roads. The second hazard was a long traffic delay (thirty minutes) which ended up being a head-on collision caused by a Honda Civic passing a fifth wheel.  A Mercedes hit the Honda head-on causing the fifth wheel to veer off into a ditch with major damage to the driver’s side of the fifth wheel. It was a sobering moment to see the crushed Honda being towed away. I heard later that no one died. The Honda passengers were lucky. Guess they were no longer in a hurry sitting in their hospital beds.

Colter Bay Village has two campgrounds: one with no hook-ups for RVs 25’ and under and one with full hook-ups that is big-rig friendly (and pricey). We paid for the convenience of staying right in the park, but quickly discovered the size of the park is much less imposing than Yellowstone or Glacier. The entire loop around the park is less than 50 miles. It was kind of refreshing to not feel so overwhelmed about where to go and what to see. 

We didn't do much our first day at Colter except go to the Visitor’s Center to gather information and take a quick trip (five miles) to the Jackson Lake Lodge. One disappointing discovery at Colter was the low level of water in Jackson Lake. A park ranger told me Idaho gets the first 29 ft. of water for irrigation. Apparently, there has been very little snow melt the past two years plus many Idaho farmers are transitioning from less water dependent crops such as wheat to corn, alfalfa and hay to support a growing dairy industry.  The water in the lake was down to 20% of its capacity.  All the piers at the marina in Colter Village were sitting on sand. The low water levels have had a big impact on fishing, boating, and the tourist industry in Colter Village.

The Jackson Lake Lodge is lovely, more swanky than rustic, but quite inviting with its huge windows looking out at the Tetons. We just had to go out on the deck and have an adult beverage while enjoying the view.  As beautiful as it was, the late sun of the jackson lake lodge mural windowsday made it difficult to get a decent photo due to the glare. 

We are sure blown away by the visual beauty of the Teton range.The Grand Teton is the tallest at 13,000 ft. which isn't all that high, but what makes them look massive is the lack of foothills at their base.

The other amazing feature of the park is the Snake River winding through it. They advertise a lot of rafting and float trips here which I would have loved to do in warmer weather. We had sunny but cold weather (30s overnight with daytime highs in the low 50s).  We considered taking the kayaks into one of the lakes but, again, the cooler temps dissuaded us. 

Our first full day here we decided to do the 42 mile loop driving tour starting from Colter Bay to get a sense of our surroundings.  I was also on the hunt for a moose sighting as there are several areas in the park which have perfect moose habitat (unlike Yellowstone whose moose population has been decimated by the wildfires).

grandtet_drive_01L (1)

The first stop on our driving tour was Oxbow Bend Turnout, a popular place for wildlife viewing, especially moose, ducks and swans. We only saw wood ducks here.  The best viewing time is early morning or just before dusk and we were here about 10 in the morning. The tallest peak in the background is Mt. Moran.  I think I could set up a chair here and just call it good.  This scenery really makes me want to be a painter—another unfulfilled aspiration!

From here we followed the east side of the loop to Elk Meadows Turnout. I thought the west side of the loop would be prettier as it is closer to the mountains and lakes, but we actually preferred the views of the mountains from this vantage point.  We met a cute young couple taking photos at the turnout and we offered to take their photo and they returned the favor.

Just a short drive away was a historical marker for Cunningham Cabin, an old homestead built by a trapper in 1888 that is open for viewing. According to western lore, two horse thieves who hid out here were killed in a shootout in the cabin and are buried nearby in unmarked graves.

The inside had dirt floors and very low ceilings, but what a view!  This is what you see from the open air window of the main living area.

We traveled about five more miles to a turnout that included our first view of the Teton stretch of the Snake River. The Snake River Overlook is an area most famous for Ansel Adam’s black and white photograph of the river with the snow-capped Tetons in the background.  Sorry for the glare on this photo but I wanted to include what this view looked like in the 1940s when Adams took this stunning photo.

Here is what it looks like from the same spot now—with my amateur photographer skills. Darn those trees for getting so tall!

Here is a more zoomed-in view of the same scene. I kept trying to capture the same silhouette as Adams, but I guess I would also need to be standing on top of our Jeep.

As you continue the drive south, you eventually are looking directly at the highest point, the Grand Teton, where there is a turnout called Teton Point.  I wanted to get a panoramic view of this scene and finally figured out how to do in on my camera (without having to stitch several photos together).

A little further down the road, I fell in love with a similar view of the range with horses in the field.  Somehow it just seems right for Wyoming scenes to have horses in them.

From this viewpoint, we headed east off the main road to an area called Mormon Row. In the late 1800s, Mormon settlers established 27 homesteads in Jackson Hole near the Gros Ventre River in an area known as Antelope Flats. Here is the first view of the old homesteads.

mts scene with cabins-

These settlements are now part of the historic register and are especially popular to photograph.  I can see why as this photo I took of the John Moulton barn is my favorite of the day.

Not far from Mormon Row is the Gros Ventre Campground, a national park campground that we wanted to check out. Aside from wanting to see the campground site, we had heard there had been several moose sightings in the the A and B loops of the campground—which made it even more intriguing to visit.  What we learned is there were plenty of sites that were big rig friendly. All the sites are first-come, first-serve dry camping sites, and, with the senior pass, the daily rate is $10.50. We would definitely consider staying in this campground as the national park is small enough for this location to still be convenient, plus you would have the added bonus of being about 20 minutes from the town of Jackson.  The disappointing part is we did not see any moose while we were here.

We decided to take a little side trip into the town of Jackson to see the park we were going to be staying at for two days and to get a bite to eat before finishing our loop drive.  There are two different ways you can go back into the park: on a road further to the east that goes past the Grand Teton Ski Village which includes about a five-mile section of dirt road or back up on the main road to Moose Junction.  We chose the more scenic dirt road route hoping to see more wildlife. 

We did not take time to go to the ski area, but we could see a skytram and it looked quite inviting. I would love to come here to ski in the winter.

Past Teton Village, on the Moose-Wilson dirt road, I suddenly yelled out, “Stop, there’s a moose!”  Oops, not quite, but still fun to spy this guy in the woods. At first I thought he was fake as he stood so motionless.

elk in trees-

Our last stop of the day was Jenny Lake.  Vic remembered camping here and swimming in the lake during his family’s trip to Yellowstone in the 1950s. I liked that he thought it looked the same.  There is a five mile walking trail around the lake that is pretty popular. Kayaking looked like another possibility if it was warmer. The campground here is tents only.

The following day we would be moving to another campground in the town of Jackson, less than an hour away. My kind of travel day. Our final plans for our stay in this area are to walk the streets of downtown Jackson, get in a good hike in the park, visit the Wildlife Art Museum, and see a moose! 


  1. What beautiful photos. I loved your shot of the famous Ansel Adams photo. That's beautiful country.

  2. What a gorgeous place...I'm with you, the photo of the John Moulton barn is amazing! Jenny Lake is beautiful too!


  3. One thing we have always worried about it driving in snow. So far we have avoided it. Glad you did too.

    We had a wonderful time at the Grand Tetons. So much beauty in that area.

    Your photos are wonderful. The last one does look like you painted it. So lovely!

  4. I am just loving these posts. We were in these same places and they were so wonderful. This is such fun to relive them through your great pictures. We stayed in Gros Ventre and I could have stayed forever. There were moose there in the late evenings.

    So glad you didn't run into snow. That was always my worry about staying to late or going in too early to Yellowstone, Teton and Glacier. And what in the world could have been so important to be in that much of a hurry? I said to David, if I were driving and someone had passed me like that, I would immediately just stop to see what was going to happen. Imagine the horror of the mercedes seeing that car coming right at them. All the damage and injury to the other people and vehicles. The driver may well have a lot of law suits coming his way. S/he is VERY lucky no one was killed. Your commment about they won't be in a hurry now in their hospital beds was right on. So unfair to the innocent passengers and others in the other vehicles.

  5. Love the barn picture. People who pass in the parks are just idiots. I feel bad for the 5th wheel people, especially if that's home. Looking forward to what you see in Jackson.

  6. Love love love the pic of Jenny Lake...stunning!

  7. Great tour and pictures, it has been a while since we have been there. Sure makes us want to head back:)

  8. Loved your pictures. I'm a mountain girl, and the Tetons are one of my favorites!

  9. Loved this post and your photos are just stunning. We took some of those same shots when we were there back in 2004. We were lucky enough to see a moose and get a couple of pictures. Loved the Jenny Lake shot - I have almost that same shot. Wonderful memories.

  10. What wonderful scenery! You must have taken dozens or perhaps hundreds of photos! Thanks for sharing them!

  11. What wonderful scenery! You must have taken dozens or perhaps hundreds of photos! Thanks for sharing them!

  12. Not sure I can pick a favorite! Boy, you definitely have some amazing photos. What a perfect day for your loop drive. I don't believe there is a bad view out there. Another blogger recent put the same two photos on, Ansel Adams' photo and present funny.

    That might not have been a moose but he sure was a beautiful elk. Our moose sightings all came from the west side of Rocky Mountain NP. We saw several up close and personal in early June. They certainly are tough buggers to find. Our best wildlife sightings have all been during the day. I know they say early morning or dusk but we have had no luck then anywhere.

    I hope your weather holds so you have more gorgeous photos to include. So hoping you get that moose:)


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