Getting Kids Out Into Nature

Trip Report: Grand Tetons, June 2016

grand teton national park, jackson lake, wildlife
Grand Tetons and Jackson Lake, Elk in the Foreground

Day 6 of our Grand Road Trip, Continuation: After we finished visiting Yellowstone back in June, it was time to move on to Grand Teton National Park. We drove into the north entrance from Yellowstone, and the landscape changed from volcanic lodgepole biome to more familiar flowers and shrubs. We drove through Lizard Creek Campground, because that was where I had heard the campsites don’t fill up as fast. The campground looked really cool, but unfortunately it was all full. I was a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a spot in the main areas of the park; we had taken our time driving out of Yellowstone and stopping at a few places on the way down. We pulled in to Colter Bay, and wow, what a different environment – it was super busy and full. We drove to the campground entrance, where there was a line to get in, but the sign said there were still spots available. But they wouldn’t let us choose our own spot; it would be assigned to us, and they were $25 per night. This would be the most expensive place we stayed on our trip, and the worst spot. There were some good spots at this campground, but ours had zero privacy, was down low in a mosquito-infested pit, and was just ugly. My heart sank. But I tried to pull my super grumpy attitude up and suck it up like a good traveler. The saying “beggars can’t be choosers” rings especially true in national park campgrounds.

We got our tent set up and tried to relax a bit, then drove back over to the large grocery store and gift shop to stock up on ice again. Then we walked through the Colter Bay Visitor Center.

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Pronghorn and Moose Antlers
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Colter Bay Marina, Jackson Lake

Aaron and the kids decided they wanted to do the Jr. Ranger program, so we got the booklets and they started working on them. We browsed through the displays, enjoying the historical native artifacts such as beaded outfits and saddles.

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Beaded Artifacts, Colter Bay Visitor Center

We went back to our camp and made dinner, cleaned up, and went to the amphitheater for an educational program with a ranger. At the end of the day, the kids and I found the trail down to the lake, where we relaxed for a bit before heading back to camp and turning in.

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Jackson Lake near Colter Bay Campground
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Annika in Jackson Lake at Dusk
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Scarlet Gilia
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Brief Sunset over Jackson Lake

Day 7: Driving Tour of the Park, Jenny Lake, Moose Visitor Center, Wildlife, and Other Sights We decided that, despite our disappointment with our campsite, we should stay another night. We wanted to take the time to explore this beautiful park. We decided to take the drive around the loop, which was much smaller than the loops at Yellowstone. We had picked up a brochure from the Colter Bay Ranger Station that had a list of the best places to stop on a day-long drive around the park. There were plenty of places to pull off and take photos of the mountains, and it ended up taking us most of the day to see a large portion of the park. We went south along the Teton Park Road, turning right at the Jackson Lake Junction. The sun was shining, the skies were clear, and the temps were mild. We stopped at several pullouts to look for wildlife and take pictures of the mountains from different angles.

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Jackson Lake Dam

We stopped at the Jackson Lake Dam and read the interpretive signs. At the North Jenny Lake Junction, we took the side road to the right and drove along the lake. There were several pullouts along this section, and most of them had interpretive signs. We were closer to the biggest mountains there, and they just got more beautiful with every stop.

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Mt. Moran
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The Cathedral Group

We really liked the views from the pullout at Jenny Lake.

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Grand Tetons and Jenny Lake
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Teton Glacier

But the Jenny Lake Visitor Center was too crowded for us to find parking, so we didn’t stop there, but continued on toward the Chapel of the Transfiguration. (Along the way, we stopped and had lunch at a roadside picnic area.)

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Chapel of the Transfiguration
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Contemplative View
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Inside the Chapel
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Stained Glass inside the Chapel of the Transfiguration

The Chapel of the Transfiguration is in the Menor Historical District, where there are old homes and businesses that you can look at.

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Menor’s Ferry Store

It would be interesting to attend a church service at the Chapel, with a view behind the pulpit of the towering peaks. Though it might be hard to focus on the sermon with that view!

Shortly after that we stopped at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center in Moose.

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Moose Visitor Center

This is a newer center, with interesting educational displays for all ages, and a well stocked book store.

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Learn About Rocks
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Tracks

Rangers are also available, of course, to answer questions or distribute Jr. Ranger badges. We spent probably an hour there, finishing up the kids’ ranger booklets and figuring out what to buy in the gift store.

It was mid-afternoon, and we wanted to have some time to relax back at camp, so we continued on around the loop. We turned left at the Moose Junction, then right onto Antelope Flats Road. We were told that was a good place to see wildlife, and though we didn’t see very many animals, we did see a couple of pronghorns, which were thrilling.

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Pronghorn on Antelope Road
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Barn and Tetons

(Side note – Annika was particularly enamored by the pronghorns; I think she had learned about them in a nature show on TV.) We stopped at a few more turnouts, including the Teton Point Turnout, where we took photos from the same perspective as Ansel Adams had for a famous photo.

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Where Ansel Adams Took Photos
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Trying to Recreate an Iconic Photo

That was gratifying for both me and Gabe. On the drive back to camp, we saw buffalo and elk, and a few more pronghorns.

Back at camp, while the parents made dinner, the kids did some nature art.

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Nature Art Car Track
nature art, colter bay campground, grand teton national park
Gabe’s Spiral

After dinner it was still warm enough to go for a short swim in the lake. We had heard some thunder earlier, but the storm moved off, so we were able to get in the water. It felt really good to get the sweat off, and it wasn’t as icy cold as I had feared. Jackson Lake was a gratifying place to stay and play – there are restrooms and a day use area by the lake, water spigots and picnic tables. Swimming was nice, and it would also be fun to take a canoe or kayak and explore around the lake. The view of the mountains opposite was jaw-dropping.

grand tetons national park, jackson lake, colter bay campground
Dramatic Clouds over Jackson Lake

All of these things helped make up for the lousy campsite, and we were glad we stayed for 2 nights.

Day 8 – Leaving Teton, Toward Craters of the Moon – We decided that we would get up as early as we could the next morning so that we could drive as far as possible and perhaps see a few sights along the way. We were up at 5:00, with barely enough light to see, and were on the road by 6:30 am. A couple were driving by, asking us if we were leaving – they had driven all night and had hoped to be able to find a spot for the busy Fourth of July Weekend. While I took care of the last details of packing, Aaron took the kids down to the lake for some sunrise photos. They had the privilege of seeing white pelicans fly by! I was sad I missed them, but on the way out of the park, we stopped at one turnout that I thought would have some good birds, and we saw some out on the water. Yay!

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Early Morning Reflections at the Oxbow Bend Turnout

We had a quiet and lovely drive out of the park and into Jackson, where we tanked up the car. Then we headed west. Our destination: Craters of the Moon National Monument. Stay tuned for another blog post for that attraction, and the end of our long journey.

Tips for visiting Grand Teton National Park:

  • This park, like Yellowstone, has strict food storage protocols. It behooves us to pay attention; we heard on our first morning that a bear had been in camp and had trashed someone’s site overnight, because they didn’t store their things properly. The ranger said they have an active bear population. I never felt afraid; it’s not like they are waiting around every bush to jump out at you. But please pay attention to the food storage guidelines and keep a clean camp.
  • This park would be great to have bikes in. There is a long multi-use trail extending from Jackson to Jenny Lake that many families were bicycling on, and it had spectacular views.
  • While Yellowstone seemed more like a sightseeing park, Teton felt like an adventure park. We felt like people go there to hike, and indeed, there were many places we would have loved to hike to. It reminded me in some respects of Mt. Rainier or the North Cascades – driving through is nice, but hiking would be even better.
  • Colter Bay has a decent grocery store and other supplies you might need to restock with while you are there. They also have laundry and showers, though we didn’t use those.
  • As in Yellowstone, campgrounds are busy and fill early. Try to be there in the morning to get a site, and you might also get more of a choice about where you get to stay.

 

 

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