Mountain ranges surrounded us on all sides as we made our way north to Grand Teton National Park. It’s the perfect park for us as it has incredible hikes, plenty of wildlife and free camping in the adjacent national forest so we never feel the need to rush.
We arrived in the late afternoon so we hung out in a car park above a marshy pond and sipped tea while watching a moose grazing in the meadow and a beaver fetching foliage. Then we took the familiar road east towards the national forest to camp for the night. The designated free camping area only has 8 spaces so the earlier you arrive the better the spot, but there are plenty of other areas further up a rough dirt track. The view is incredible with sagebrush stretching for miles in front of the camping area and then the spiky Teton Range rising in its full glory.
Everyday we woke at 6am to take advantage of the golden light across the mountain range and to maximise our chances of seeing wildlife. On day one we hiked to Taggart and Bradley lake early in the morning and were treated to calm conditions with the mountains perfectly reflected in the water. I saw a rock out in the lake and thought it looked easy to access for a photo. It turned out to be a lot further from the shore than I’d anticipated so I hoisted my shorts right up and waded through the water. The rocks beneath my feet were covered in a slippery algae and my shorts were just a couple centimetres from getting wet but I made it to the rock and crawled on as if I’d been lost at sea and washed up onto a remote island…and then I landed in a pile of goose shit.
The walk was surprisingly quiet, not like the busy national parks of Utah and as we made it down to Bradley Lake through a heavily snow covered trail, we met a guy who’d hiked up to some alpine lakes we were interested in getting to. It’s a good job we spoke to him as he said snowshoes were necessary and that the lakes were still completely frozen. I’m not a fan of frozen lakes, they just look like snow covered fields so we were happy to leave it but he did recommend heading up a few of the switchbacks to get a view across Taggart and Bradley. So we took his advice, slightly regretting it as we climbed up in the hot sun. But on our way up Craig spotted a cinnamon coloured black bear in a meadow below us. It was quite a young bear and casually eating grass and roots in its own little world. As we went up a couple more switchbacks we got another view down to the bear and something in the forest must’ve spooked it because it ran like mad. It’s chubby body shook up and down as he darted off, we couldn’t believe the speed!!
We were pretty hot and sweaty after our 5 hour hike so we headed to String Lake and plunged into the cold water. Seeing as we were waking up so early we just headed to the national forest in the late afternoon to guarantee a nice spot to camp and we got some great locations over the next few nights. The jagged Teton range were silhouetted as the sun slipped behind them and we enjoyed the view with a toasty campfire.
The following morning was beautiful blue skies so we stopped at some of the parks classic viewpoints like the old barn built by Mormon’s and reflections in the Snake River. There were a few ‘pro’ photographers around who as usual thought they got special privileges and one had waded into the river and shouted “DON’T MOVE!!!” to a women who was taking photos ahead of him. She looked really confused so he shouted again “DON’T MOVE!” and the girl stood still with a panicked look on her face and wearily asked “why?” expecting him to say there was a grizzly or wolf approaching her, but instead he said he didn’t want her moving and ruining his photo!
We stopped for breakfast with a view and then headed to Phelps Lake for a hike. It was a big ol’ lake to walk around but there was hardly a soul on the trails and we were treated to more impressive reflections. We detoured up to an overlook of the lake and then headed around the opposite side past plenty of curious marmots who lived amongst the rock piles.
For our final hike in the park we wanted to hike around Two Ocean Lake. It’s an area of the park we hadn’t been to before and we were warned it was a serious romping ground for bears. Apparently a lot of them den in the mountains nearby and now that it’s spring their all out searching for food. The road was even closed due to bear activity recently but it was open on our visit so we decided to do a hike. We passed some elk on the way with tiny babies in tow but no bears. It was another long lake hike of about 10 miles, mainly through forest but with patches of meadows. We had our bear spray with us as always and Craig let out regular “HEY BEAR” shouts to give any bears in the area warning of our presence. Generally they don’t want to encounter humans so they’ll just run away when they hear us, at least that’s the plan. The meadows were lovely to walk through and we got some views of the mountains but in the forest it was dark and creepy with terrible visibility. We soon realised the opposite side of the lake wouldn’t have any mountain views and almost no meadows so we decided to not do the full loop and to head back. We did find some bear evidence though, a few perfect paw prints in a big muddy patch. On our way back we bumped into a Mexican and Guatemalan couple in their 50’s who we’d spoken to in the car park. They were seriously nervous about bears, asking if we’d seen any and how big the prints were that we saw. Then they wanted to know our age and life story and the lady was so impressed with my age, “Oooh you look less! You look so young”…obviously I agreed with her! We continued chatting and then the lady said to me “you are very pretty, I don’t normally like women, but I like you” and no one seemed to know what to say after that strange comment so the husband politely escorted his newly bisexual wife towards the bear riddled forest and we bid them farewell.
Seeing as we cut the hike short we decided to stroll around Jackson Lake. It wasn’t the most riveting of hikes but we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the lake and as we walked back to the car park a group of five people coming our way stopped in their tracks. A really small black bear was coming right down towards us. We backed away and the little bear waddled down the bushy hill and joined our pathway, walking away from us along the gravel trail like it was built for him. He was so small that we wondered if the mum was nearby, but it seemed he’d been pushed away from her at a very young age and was fending for himself.
We had one more night camping in the park before our drive to Yellowstone and we made sure to set off just as the sun was rising. Low lying mist rested in the meadows beneath the mighty peaks while bison rolled around in dust baths and escorted their young to fresher pastures beneath the jagged mountains. It was the perfect end to another great trip in the Tetons.