The Tetons are a beautiful stretch of the Rocky Mountains located in Northwest Wyoming, just North of Jackson. Getting to the National Park is pretty simple if you fly into Jackson Hole. From Dallas, we flew to Salt Lake City, then switched planes and flew into Jackson Hole. The Jackson Hole airport is one of the smallest and most charming airports I’ve ever been to. It sits right in front of the Tetons and is technically inside of the park.
Once you get to Jackson Hole, its a quick (and scenic) five min drive down the highway to get to the visitor center! This was a huge perk to me, because most of the parks we have visited were about three hours from the nearest airport.
We chose to visit the Tetons because for some reason this park had always appealed to me, and over Labor Day weekend, my in-laws were sweet enough to watch our daughter for 4 days so we could get away. It was the perfect timing to finally check out this park that was on my bucket list!
Day 1 – Permits, Wildlife, and Lakes
One of the draws of Grand Teton is the wildlife. There are lots of opportunities to see different animals throughout the park and its not uncommon to have multiple encounters. Our trip didn’t disappoint in this area! On our drive from the airport to the visitor center, we saw a moose on the side of the road!
My excitement was already through the roof at the beginning of our trip from flying right into the mountains and seeing wildlife within the first hour! At this point it was time to worry about logistics though. We went straight to the visitor center to get a backpacking permit and figure out what campgrounds had openings. We didn’t have a specific agenda planned because we knew that our backpacking trip would be determined by what permits were left when we got to the visitor center (you can’t reserve them ahead of time.) Luckily, when we got there we found that Death Canyon, one of the ones I’d been hoping for, was still available. We got our permit and bear canister, which is required for any backpacking in the park, and checked out the campground stats. Many of the campgrounds had already filled up, but Gros Venture still had a few openings and wasn’t too far from our trailhead for the next day so we took our chances there. When we arrived, there were only 2 spots that were potentially open and the campground attendants were having a hard time figuring out if they’d already been given away. We waited patiently for about 10 minutes before they let us know there was 1 spot that was actually free and we were lucky enough to get it!
After getting camp set up, we headed off to String Lake to explore. We hiked around the lake for a little while and reveled at the views of the lake along the trail! It was a super easy trail that was very serene even though there were quite a few people around.
After our stroll around the lake, we drove to Oxbow Bend which is known for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets, as well as opportunities to see moose, elk, beavers, eagles, and even the occasional bear! We weren’t lucky enough to see any of these animals, but we did enjoy the view!
On our way back to our campsite we saw a small crowd of people stopped at the Blacktail Pond overlook, so we pulled over to see what they were looking at. Fortunately, a stranger was kind enough to let us borrow his binoculars and we got to see a baby elk! I was really bummed that I didn’t have my own binoculars, so one of my biggest tips if you visit this park would be to bring a pair!
As we continued to our campsite, we saw a herd of Bison and several Pronghorn along Mormon Row.
Day 1 was an eventful with lots of excitement! We were ready to go to sleep and see what Day 2 had in store!
Day 2 – More Wildlife, Hiking, A Backpacking Mishap, and a Beautiful Campsite
After a good night’s sleep in the amazing weather, we woke up to find that there were four huge moose at our campground! Two of them were literally hanging out on someone’s campsite!
What a way to start the morning!
After getting packed up, we headed to the Death Canyon trailhead and once again saw a crowd of people on the side of the road. We pulled over and this time everyone was watching a black bear! Unfortunately, nobody was nice enough to lend us their binoculars this time so we didn’t get a close up view, but we were still able to see him without binoculars. As you can imagine, I was even more disappointed that I hadn’t brought any of my own!
Once the thrill of the bear wore off we continued to the trailhead where we were welcomed by a deer.
- Distance: The full hike to the end of the canyon is almost 20 miles round trip, but you can turn around whenever you’d like. 4 miles from the trailhead is Patrol Cabin and the Alaska Basin Trail Junction. You’ll have to go a little further than this to reach the backcountry camping zones, but it’s well worth it!
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Elevation Change: About 3700ft if you go all the way to Fox Creek Pass at the end of the canyon
Having seen so many animals already, I was a little scared of what we might encounter while backpacking! Regardless, we began our hike into Death Canyon. The hike started off flat, but quickly inclined and stayed that way for most the rest of the day. On the way up we passed by Phelps lake which provided incredible views!
The further we went the more views we got of the mountains, which always fuels me for the uphill! I think it does the opposite for Josh.
As we continued to climb we were able to look back on Phelps lake.
The views all around were spectacular and I’m glad to have gotten photos of them, but I was especially thankful for the next few photos because they became pretty important during the next part of our hike.
About 30 or so minutes after we took these photos I realized that my sleeping bag was no longer attached to my pack. I started to panic because I had no idea when I’d lost it, and there was no way I could sleep in 30 degree weather without it. Two things really worked out in our favor. The first was that shortly after the photos above, the trail had finally flattened out. The second was that we had these photos to know that I’d had my sleeping bag at that point so it had to be somewhere between that lookout and where we were. We started backtracking to look for it. I was sure that it had rolled down the side of the mountain or that an animal had gotten it or that another hiker wasn’t thinking and had picked it up. After about 15-20 min, we spotted it and I was so relieved! We were both so incredibly thankful that the part of the trail we had to hike three times was the flat part!
As soon as we made it into the camping zone Josh was ready to set up camp at one of the first sites we saw, but I wanted to keep going farther into the canyon. A few people we had passed told us that the further into the canyon we went, the more amazing the scenery. Additionally, I was hoping for a site near the water so we wouldn’t have to work too hard to refill. After passing just a few sites, Josh wasn’t willing to go any further, but we compromised and decided that he could rest at one of the sites (which was admittedly pretty awesome) while I went a little further to see if there were any better ones deeper into the canyon. I walked for about ten minutes, all uphill, and I only ran into two more sites, neither of which as breathtaking as the one Josh had stopped at. I turned around figuring it would be better not to make Josh hike anymore than he wanted to, and to have plenty of time to enjoy our campsite before dark. It wasn’t a complete waste though because I was able to scope out where we could get water and a good spot to eat, which would have to be at least 100 yards from any campsites and the water.
Once I got back, to our site, we set up, relaxed for a while just laying on the huge rocks, then hiked up to our dinner spot to enjoy some Backpackers Pantry Alfredo together. After dinner was time for more relaxing in the tent looking up at the sky and the mountains. It turned out to be such a beautiful evening!
Day 3 – Coffee in the Mountains, Even More Wildlife, and some Canoeing
We woke up in the morning to an amazing sunrise over the mountains.
This backpacking trip was the first trip I’d been on since I started drinking coffee, so I was really looking forward to drinking a cup in the mountains. I bought some Kuju Pour Over Coffee from REI to try on this trip and it turned out to be really good! Watching this sunrise in the amazing weather with my cup of coffee was everything I hoped it would be! I can’t think of a more enjoyable place to have a cup of coffee in the morning! We took the morning slow and soaked it all in before we had to say goodbye to what ended up being one of our favorite campsites ever.
The hike back out of the canyon started off with a thrill. Not too long after getting started we came upon a moose that was standing right off the trail in the trees. I was honestly terrified. I had been so focused on what to do if we encountered a bear that I couldn’t remember what we were supposed to do if we saw a moose. I knew that they could be aggressive, so I didn’t want to provoke it in any way. We were probably only 15 feet from it, and I wasn’t sure if it was safe to walk past it or if that would startle it or make it upset. We decided to calmly keep walking, but I kept my eye on the moose the whole time and I swear it was staring us down with eyes that were saying you better get out of here!
At this point, my adrenaline was pumping and I knew that if I actually saw a bear, which I had secretly hoped (at a safe distance of course), I would probably pee my pants. I decided I didn’t really want to see any more large animals, I would just be satisfied with the mountain views.
As we were getting closer to the end, we came around around a part of the trail that turned a corner and just past the corner, above and below the trail was a clearing of the trees. As soon as we turned the corner and were in the clearing, I saw a black bear standing in the clearing about 100ft away from us. My heart started racing but I kept walking and at the same time turned to Josh behind me and said something like “Holy crap there’s a bear!” I was slightly terrified, but also excited and in awe. For some reason the bear didn’t seem as scary as the moose. He seemed like he wasn’t bothered by us at all. As my mind was running through all of these thoughts, I noticed another hiker on the trail in front of us just past the clearing; the fact that there were three of us made me feel more at ease. We walked over to him and talked for a while about how awesome it was to see the bear. He told us that he’d tried to yell at us before we rounded the corner to let us know the bear was there, and he also told us that the bear had already known we were coming way before we’d seen him, which was good because I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to startle him!
We watched the bear for a little while longer until he crossed the trail right where we had initially seen him and we were thankful he hadn’t decided to cross at the same time we were rounding the corner!
Even though I’d said I didn’t want to see anymore large wildlife, I was so happy we finally got to see a bear while hiking! It was incredible!
The rest of the hike back to the trailhead was pretty uneventful, but we still enjoyed the views, especially of Phelps Lake!
Once we got back to the car, we decided to try and fit in one more small adventure before heading back to Jackson. We ended up renting a canoe at Jenny Lake and relaxing on the water for an hour or so. Being on the lake with the mountains surrounding us was amazing!
I absolutely loved so many things about this trip and Grand Teton National Park! It was our first time to go backpacking after Addison was born, and our first post baby vacation with just the two of us. The weather was amazing. It was incredibly easy getting to the park and navigating around the park. We saw so much wildlife! And of course, the mountains were incredible! I hope one day we can come back!