The Jenny Lake Trail hike in Grand Teton National Park is unforgettable. You expect it to be stellar, and yet it exceeds all expectations. In the early morning, the mirrored reflections of the mountains of Jenny Lake were breathtaking; I could barely move in front of so much grandeur. Later I looked at the photos and was amazed again. Was it really that beautiful? It was.
For our September trip my husband Dean and I planned a visit to Yellowstone National Park (before the flood) and then since we were going to be “in the neighborhood” we would head south to the National Park from Grand Teton to spend almost another week there too.
The same way I think Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring is sometimes overshadowed by its big brother, Old Faithful, I think Grand Teton is sometimes overshadowed by Yellowstone (and I was guilty of that too). Believe me, Grand Teton has a lot to offer.
Concrete example: The Jenny Lake Loop Trail. Here are my top tips for this wonderful hike.
1. Download an app before you go
Buy and download the Yellowstone/Grand Teton “Gypsy Guide” App for a small fee. Worth it ! As you drive, it uses GPS to trigger audio about the park’s history, attractions, and more, based on exactly where you are in the park. It’s like having a private guide! It’s perfect for your entire stay in Grand Teton.
Pro Tip: If you prefer, download for free NPS appwhich provides maps, tours and on-site accessibility information on over 400 national parks.
2. Go early
On this hike, as on so many adventures before and after, being early risers served us well. The parking lot at Jenny Lake is large, but it is very crowded and people park on the street and everywhere. When we arrived (around 7:30am) things were quiet with plenty of parking.
Pro Tip: A time saver is buy a park pass in advance. Also, unlike some national parks, there are no reservations to enter here, but be prepared for crowds and long lines, as Grand Teton lives up to the adage of having only two seasons: winter and road construction.
3. Have a plan for the hike
Knowing that plans can change, I think it’s good to have a plan. The Jenny Lake Trail is an approximately seven mile loop around the lake. Some offshoots take you to other hiking trails.
One option is to do what we did: start at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center (yellow dot in the photo above) and walk clockwise to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, then descend to West Boat Dock and take the shuttle boat back across the lake. at the reception center. It’s a great morning activity.
Pro Tip: Check schedules and prices from the private shuttle boat. Buy your tickets directly at the boat dock on a first-come, first-served basis.
4. Be prepared
This is hike 101, but heed the warnings from the park website“Always be prepared when hiking in Grand Teton. Carry water for each member of your group, be aware of your surroundings, and understand your limits on distance and elevation. Several Jenny Lake trails can hold back snow until mid-July.… Wildlife – like bear — is generally active in the region. Never approach a wild animal. To check for current trail conditions and bear activity, stop by visitor center Where Jenny Lake Ranger Station speak with a ranger. Dean wore bear spray as a precaution; it gave us peace of mind during our hike.
5. Enjoy the mountains
We walked down a path through trees to get to the start of the lakeside hiking trail and realized that was the reward. Our first glimpse of Jenny Lake. The lake was like glass in the morning stillness and the reflection was breathtaking. We saw two young couples cherishing the view and taking pictures. One of the young men turned to us and said, “You can’t beat a morning view like this. We all agreed.
6. Watch for wildlife
Early in the hike we saw a mule deer. He crossed the sidewalk by billboards on the park. He didn’t seem to care too much for us, so after a quick pic, we each went our own way.
7. Take a break at Hidden Falls
The hike along the lake was beautiful. About halfway around the lake, our first stop was Hidden Falls, a 100 foot waterfall. The distance to the falls is a moderate hike of two and a half miles with an elevation gain of 620 feet.
When I posted this picture on Facebook, I wrote, “Hidden Falls, when you look this good, baby, there’s no reason to hide!” They were beautiful. It is fed by melting snow and rushes in the fall; I can only imagine what spring might be like.
8. Over the river and through the woods…and up the rocky stairs
From Hidden Falls we followed the signs which took us another half mile to Inspiration Point. The dirt trail had exposed roots and several switchbacks as we climbed rocky stairs to a great view of Jenny Lake.
9. Get Inspired at the Inspiration Point
At an elevation of 7,200 feet, the views from Inspiration Point are awe-inspiring. We sat on the rocks, grabbed a snack from our backpacks, and took it all away. There was a lot to take away. We could see the Jackson Hole Valley, Cascade Canyon, and a collection of mountains called the “Cathedral Group” (Mount Owen, Teewinot, and the named mountain that inspired it all: Grand Teton).
We also saw a small boat squall speeding across Jenny Lake. Sure enough, it was the shuttle boat that would take us back from the West Dock to the Visitor Center.
I know I’m being redundant here, but it bears repeating: enjoy the mountain. The initial views of the mountain reflections on Jenny Lake are stunning. However, the views leaving Inspiration Point are no less magnificent.
We descended from this viewpoint to the West Boat Dock, taking advantage of the trail parallel to Cascade Creek. The trail was in great condition, but there was more or less the same: rocks, roots, and uneven footing.
11. The Shuttle Boat Ride (Possibly Exclusive)
When we arrived at the West Dock, a boat full of passengers had just arrived. These are people who took the boat first and then could do our hike, but in reverse. What we didn’t see were other people like us, waiting to catch the 10 minute boat shuttle across the lake.
After the boat docked and the passengers left, the captain let us board. “Where is everyone?” I assumed we would wait for more people to join us. However, it doesn’t work that way. The shuttle is on a fixed schedule, so if there are only two passengers, the Shermans get a private boat cruise on the lake!
Inspired by the view from the boat on what became our private tour, I could have named this section “Enjoy the Mountains Part II”, but I think you got the idea. The view of the mountains from this little shuttle boat was stunning, intoxicating and beautiful. We are tiny in the face of all this greatness.
12. Pack a picnic to eat at the end of the hike
More than once Dean and I enjoyed sandwiches, grapes, fries and water from our little cooler at the end of a hike. These simple foods have never tasted so good, especially when eaten on a park bench looking out over the majestic Grand Teton Mountains.
13. Watch for Pronghorn on Teton Park Road
As we left the Jenny Lake area, we saw a herd of about a dozen pronghorns. They were in a meadow, and they timidly approached Teton Park Road to cross it.
It was a two lane paved road and the only way in and out of the Jenny Lake Visitor Center so it was busy. We and others had parked on the side of the road, and the group of pronghorns crossed safely, as the cars stopped to let them cross.
I will never forget the mirrored reflections on Jenny Lake, the beautiful mountain views leaving Inspiration Point, or the private boat shuttle. It is part of the travel memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Hope these tips help you enjoy the Jenny Lake Loop Trail; this is a beautiful hike with lots of views and scenery in beautiful Grand Teton National Park.
For more information on hiking sites and visiting Grand Teton National Park, see these articles: