62 Parks Traveler started with one simple goal: to visit every US national park. Avid backpacker and nerd Emily Pennington saved up, built a tiny van to travel and live in, and drove off. The parks as we know them are changing fast and she wanted to see them before it was too late.
Pennington is committed to following CDC guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep themselves and others safe. She visits new parks and adheres closely to best safety practices.
There are days when you think you might be hiking the Teton Crest Trail in northern Wyoming in late June, and then there are days when your dreams come crashing down on you. As a spoiled SoCal hiker, I’m used to the fact that the snow line is well over 10,000 feet in midsummer. But after strolling to the wilderness permits desk with my partner Brian, my jaw dropped when a friendly ranger told us that the snow was somewhere around 500 meters.
“What’s the next best thing?” I asked. “Could we backpack Lower Paintbrush Canyon?”
“Yes, that should be nice and practically snow-free,” he said, giving us a permit tied to a twisted tie.
To confuse the strange monotony of a two-month van trip in the middle of the summer pandemic, my friend Brandon from Salt Lake City drove up to us on our trip. That day in the park, we packed our bags and avoided peanut-sized hail in a parking lot near String Lake. Then we hiked.
“We’re finally hiking in the Grand Teats!” Shouted Brian. We had joked about the park at the Sophomoric all month and loved the chance to try them out in person. “You know, the park is actually named after the French phrase” the big titmouse “,” replied Brandon.
It’s true by the way. The story goes that exhausted French explorers, homesick, gazed at the Teton Range, gazed at the wide, jagged mountains, and thought: Breasts! The Grand Tetons is the largest of the three peaks, and when the park was established in 1929 the name was retained.
Since I was outnumbered two to one, I clearly had 48 hours ahead of me.
My cheerful group of guys maneuvered around the glistening west coast of String Lake, crossing a piece of not-yet-ripe blueberries. It was my first time backpacking grizzly land and my mind was on high alert. I always kept a can of bear spray close by while I pitched my tent, cooked dinner, and peed in the bushes. I didn’t go all the way to become an Ursin Protein Bar.
The next morning, we had the ambitious goal of climbing Holly Lake at an altitude of 9,400 feet. Yellow-bellied marmots flitted across the path like tiny mafia dons, not knowing or caring that we were over 15 times their size. Breathlessly, I took in a new, unfamiliar view of the Tetons that enabled me to see the delicate waterfalls and rugged cliffs of metamorphic gneiss deep in a canyon. We stopped and stared in silence at a massive alpine circle that was below the Paintbrush Divide.
We were the only hikers for miles and it was perfect. The three of us slipped on our buttocks all the way back to camp and then started the long walk back to the cars. My original plans had been abandoned, but the trip was still damn phenomenal.
At least now I have an excuse to go back.
62 Parks Traveler Grand Teton Info
Size: 310,000 acres
Place: Northwest Wyoming
Created in: 1929 (national park), 1943 (Jackson Hole National Monument), 1950 (the current national park, which combined the national park and the memorial site)
Best for: Hike, hike, boating, wildlife viewing, stargazing, and scenic drives
When to go: Summer (36 to 78 degrees) and autumn (15 to 67 degrees) are the best seasons for hiking and backpacking. Spring (14 to 58 degrees) brings thawing snow, while winter (4 to 32 degrees) is the least visited season.
Where to sleep: If backpacking is not your thing, Jenny Lake Campground is centrally located and has breathtaking views of the Teton Range. Each location is equipped with a picnic table, fire pit, and access to flush toilets.
Where should we eat: Cowboy Coffee in nearby Jackson Hole serves a mean panini and an incredible range of fancy caffeinated drinks. It’s a great morning stop on the way to the park.
Mini adventure: Hike to Bearpaw and Trapper Lakes. This flat trail offers an epic family-friendly hike along the shores of scenic Leigh Lake with breathtaking views of the Tetons and 12,605 foot high Mount Moran.
Mega adventure: Go with the backpack. The 40-mile Teton Crest Trail is the park’s crown jewel, though there’s no shortage of single and multi-night hikes if you know where to look. See the park’s backcountry camping page for wilderness permits and planning tips.
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Main photo: Emily Pennington
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