From Jackson Hole to Grand Teton National Park During the Fourth of July

On July 3rd, we left Rocky Mountain National Park to drive north to Jackson Hole, en route to Grand Teton National Park. Since we had left the Detroit area, we had driven about 2,500 miles, and this drive to the north would involve about an 8 1/2 hour drive. For us, though, the drive was longer than the predicted time, as always, due to our many stops for coffee and restrooms.

One of these stops gave us our first experience with a uniquely Wyoming rest stop

Around 6pm on the third, we reached our next destination, Jackson Hole. We checked into the Ranch Inn, showered for the first time in a while, and headed into the downtown area.

Walking around Jackson, we found a number of shops to entertain McKenna while we were waiting for a table for dinner. One of them had this book:

Spoiler alert: the answer is no, they do not enjoy camping. Walking around touristy towns on the other hand…

Princesses definitely like this.

The day after we arrived was the 4th of July, and Jackson and the surrounding parks were super crowded. We had planned to get a campsite at the Jenny Lake Campground in Grand Tetons National Park, as had many, many other tourists. Knowing this, we woke up at 6am to claim a site.

‘Summer’ in Jackson Hole.

We made it to the Jenny Lake Campground early enough to choose an open site, but the directions at the Ranger Station for how to claim a campsite were lacking. Luckily ran into some campers who were leaving, and they inducted us into the mysteries of claiming a site at Jenny Lake. There are tags on a post at each site that read “occupied” or “open,” and you basically drive around the campground until you find an “open” tag, fill out a card with contact information, flip the tag to “occupied,” and clip the tag and card to the post. Having navigated this process, it was time for our next exciting adventure: doing our laundry at a local laundromat and restocking at the grocery store. We finished these tasks, checked out of our hotel at exactly 11, and attempted to escape Jackson Hole. This took some doing because there was a Fourth of July Parade right down the middle of town.

We narrowly avoided disaster by turning down a side street in the nick of time.

We finally broke through and drove to one of the places Laura used to camp on the Gros Ventre River.

The scenery was amazing.

However, there were two issues that kept us away from this kind of rustic site: no bathrooms, which was a dealbreaker for McKenna, and the mass of pollen haze that hung over the region, triggering my hay fever.

Beautiful but sneeze-inducing

We drove back to our claimed site by Jenny Lake at around two and found that the place was now completely infested with tourists. Bypassing the overflowing parking lot, we made our way through the campground to site seven. The rangers at this campsite were much more casual about bears than the rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park, claiming that we could store food in our car because their bears “hadn’t figured out how to get into cars.”

Our wonderful campground with unsophisticated bears.

The rangers at the park had put together this flier, which included information about the bears in the park.

Negative, Park Rangers. If I am approached by a bear while I am eating, the bear can have all of my food that it cares to eat.

Once the tent was up, we left again to drive around the region. Compared to most of the mountains in the region, the Tetons are much more jagged and imposing, with a kind of Lord of the Rings vibe.

Pictured at center: the entrance to the Mines of Moria.

We had decided to go canoeing in the late afternoon at Colter Bay, just off of Jackson Lake. This was one of the activities that McKenna really wanted to do, so we tried to squeeze it in to offset the trauma of forcing her to slum it in a tent. On the way north, we drove to the top of Signal Mountain, which offers spectacular views of the region as well as, well, telecommunications signals.

We arrived at Colter Bay at a little after 5pm only to find that they did not rent canoes after 4pm.

So the scene of many available boats in the harbor only served to taunt McKenna. Awesome.

We were able to make it up to McKenna by offering something she would never refuse – the opportunity to swim in 59 degree water.

Since this day was the Fourth of July, we went a bit south to see fireworks. Having experienced the traffic of tourist-infested Jackson earlier that day, we stopped instead at the fringe of the park on the advice of the internet. The all-knowing internet had informed us that the turn-off by the Grand Teton entrance sign would allow us to see fireworks in both Jackson and Teton Village.

By this time, the temperature had dropped into the 50’s, presenting us with a problem we didn’t typically have to confront on July 4th in Richmond, Va: how to stay warm enough as the sun set and the temperatures dropped into the 50’s.

Meanwhile, in Richmond the heat index was 106, and these clothes would have resulted in your sweat reaching the boiling point.

Finally, around 10pm, it was dark enough for the fireworks.

From this distance, the fireworks were a bit underwhelming, particularly those of Teton Village, which were launched from the ground. McKenna rated the fireworks of Jackson as significantly better, in part because these were launched from the mountainside and seemed to explode at the top of the peak. On the plus side, when the fireworks ended, we were able to quickly extract ourselves from the pull-off and return to our tent.

The next day, McKenna slept until after eight, which happens at home only when she is extremely ill. In spite of her frequently expressed dislike of camping, she sleeps great in a tent. In fact, she claimed that she would have slept longer but she “couldn’t go back to sleep because of all those children screaming,” indicating the kids at the next campsite that were the same age that she was.

We made breakfast using our various camping purchases made after our Charleston trip over Spring Break. One of the camping purchases that has definitely made camping easier was the kitchen set below.

Certain people really, REALLY like for plates, utensils, pots, containers, and other items to have their “place.” In our house, even particular sizes and shapes of plastic food containers have a specific “place” on a specific shelf in a specific cupboard, and woe to the interloper who misplaces one of these plastic containers. Therefore, one giant bin of camping supplies just wasn’t going to cut it, and a camping cupboard was a NEED.

After carefully placing all of our cooking items back in their proper places like all civilized people do, we stored everything to protect it from the unsophisticated bears and walked to the Jenny Lake Marina. There we could catch the shuttle boat across the lake, cutting down on the hiking distances.

Here is McKenna, carefully scouting out the length of the trail.

We had initially intended to see Hidden Falls and a bit of the rest of this side of the lake, but we learned on the boat that some of the trails were closed for renewal. That meant we would not be able to link the Falls with other hikes. Laura then audibled to the Cascade Canyon hike, a hike that could be done as a three mile in-out hike. Unfortunately, the front end of the hike had almost all of the elevation gain, and we made it about 2/10 of a mile before McKenna started to complain bitterly.

A lake full of all of the tears McKenna shed by the 5th switchback.

For unknown reasons obviously completely unrelated to genetics, McKenna becomes insane when she is hungry. Recognizing this, we tried to feed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and in her crazed state, she promptly dropped half of it on the ground. Emergency measures were taken, and we forced McKenna to eat the second half of the sandwich with the urgency of a person using an EPI-Pen to treat an allergic reaction. Mercifully, we made it to the level portion of the trail not too long after this.

In addition to the intake of food, what kept McKenna going were reports that there was a moose in the canyon ahead.

This revitalized her even more than the food.

‘Are we to the moose yet? Are we to the moose yet? How about now? Now?’

About a half mile into the canyon, we reached the moose, which, like McKenna, enjoyed lounging in freezing cold snow melt.

Not even the thrill of the moose sighting could overcome McKenna’s dread that we would have to walk the same distance out that we had come in.

McKenna happily discovered that going down the mountain was easier than walking up, and we quickly made it to the base. There we found four elderly Italians who were hiking while playing music loudly on two of their phones. As we approached them, they explained that this was to keep away the bears, which meant that the music-playing hikers were 57.9% more likely to be killed by a fellow hiker than by a wild animal. Using the shuttle boat, we escaped the noisy phones and crossed Jenny Lake.

Once we crossed, we tried again to rent a canoe. There was a long wait, so in the meantime, McKenna imitated the moose we saw earlier.

Yet again, we were denied a canoeing opportunity, this time by one of those random mountain thunderstorms that rolls in when there is a zero percent chance of rain. It lasted just long enough to ruin the canoeing plans.

On the sixth, we were leaving for Yellowstone, and the campground manager had flipped the tag on our campsite post from “Occupied” to “Open” around dawn. When I checked the tag at 7:45, the site had already been claimed. From that point until we left after 10 am, the people who claimed the site circled us like sharks, impatiently waiting for us to leave.

Breaking away from predatory campsite seekers, we finally experienced success in renting a canoe, this time by the Signal Peak Lodge.

The canoeing trip went well, especially after we distracted McKenna from her attempts to capsize the canoe by allowing her to paddle.

Because while McKenna and the moose were cool with swimming in 58 degree water, McKenna’s parents were not cool with that.

4 thoughts on “From Jackson Hole to Grand Teton National Park During the Fourth of July

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