If you have never visited Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming – and I strongly suggest you do – you might not know that the park is far more than a bunch of big, saw-toothed mountains, one after the other on a north-south axis.
Not that the peaks are not worth appreciating just for themselves. But after spending four days in the park last week I found that a huge part of the charm of this 310,000-acre park is the water; the lakes, ponds and the Snake River that magnificently complement those gorgeous peaks rising above them.
On the west side of the park is the Teton Range, topped by Grand Teton, the park namesake, at 13,770 feet. The Tetons rise up dramatically, virtually without foothills, making for dramatic scenery throughout the park, a wall of rock looming over a floor, the floor a valley known as Jackson Hole. Through the valley the Snake River flows, the Snake being one of the major rivers of the Northwest. From the north, roughly one-third of the way into the park, the Snake pours into Jackson Lake, a body of water some 15 miles long that is natural, but its surface area has been enhanced by a dam. I spent a most pleasant afternoon paddling the lake in a kayak, with Mount Moran, one of the highest peaks in the park, looming over the lake.
The Snake then flows out, coursing through the rest of the park, on its way to nearby Idaho.
At the western edge of the valley, sometimes tucked into the very base of the big peaks, are ponds and small lakes.
Does the image of a pond bring to mind a body of water surrounded by cottages? In Grand Teton National Park the ponds and small lakes are surrounded by forest, and trails, at least those I visited. Clear, cold water. Very scenic.
I began with the hugely popular trail to the Phelps Lake Overlook, a hike of a little more than a mile over moderately steep terrain to the rock outcrop with a sweeping look at Phelps Lake below, all of it cradled by the Tetons rising behind you as you look at the lake.
The next morning I approached the lake on another trail, this one within the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve within the park. I took the Lake Creek Trail which follows Lake Creek and brings you to a special vantage point with the lake and the Tetons rising behind it. From there I took the Woodland Trail back to the parking area, a total of about 3.5 miles round-trip. A must-do hike that, in fact, most do.
Stopped by Jenny Lake the next day to take photos. This is yet another beautiful lake with a pullover area that attracts crowds all day long.
On another day, I took a trail that follows the east shore of String Lake about one mile then connects with a trail that circles Leigh Lake. All along the way the Tetons loom on the far side of the lakes. Photo ops galore.
Wildlife? I saw moose, pronghorn grazing in sagebrush flats, coyote, eagles, osprey, common mergansers, plenty of songbirds, but no bears though there are both black and grizzlies in the park.