Journey to the Tundra: Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road
Alpine Visitor Center
National Park: Rocky Mountain
Map

Rocky Mountain National Park is World renowned for its protection of a rare and highly unique ecosystem: the alpine tundra. These biomes are constituted of tracts of high mountain terrain (alpine) that, based on climatic patterns, are unable to sustain tree life (tundra). The elevation at which the tree line ends depends on multiple factors, including wind exposure and a peak’s slope, but generally occurs around two miles above sea level. While the land above the trees may seem stark and inhospitable, it is full of hearty creatures and highly evolved plants that have learned how to survive its brief summers and pummeling winters.

Luckily for Park visitors, Trail Ridge Road has traversed Rocky Mountain’s high peaks and made this ecosystem accessible to all Americans since the early 20th Century. Through a series of switchbacks and winding passes between rugged peaks, the Road hurdles the Continental Divide and offers visitors a direct, albeit slow, route that connects the Park’s East and West entrances. The journey is a highlight of Rocky Mountain National Park and gives any visitor some of the best sweeping vistas the Park has to offer.

Many short trails leave from parking areas along Trail Ridge Road but visitors must be careful to walk slowly and drink plenty of water. Hiking this high has inherent challenges; thin air makes even small hills strenuous and obscured sunshine can cause surprise you with a quick sunburn and unexpected fatigue. Time in the alpine tundra is better spent soaking in its grand vistas and beautiful details with short jaunts, many of which leave from the National Park Service’s highest visitor center.

The Alpine Visitor Center, which sits at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, features skilled Park naturalists that educate individuals on the strange new world they are discovering around them. The Center exists off the grid and is shut down for 9 months of the year when battering storms often bury it under dozens of feet of snow. During the popular summer season, however, it provides informational exhibits, a restaurant, gift shop and restroom facilities. It serves as a good destination for visitors exploring the land above the trees.

Trail Ridge Road is a centerpiece of the Rocky Mountain National Park experience and is not to be missed. It provides the rare opportunity to come in close contact with marmots, elk, pika and remarkable flowers that employ a host of evolutionary features to make the tundra their home. It is yet another example of one of the great gifts the National Park Service has given to citizens of the United States and the World alike.

Posted in Activities, Activity, Park, Review, Rocky Mountain, Summer Park Tour

An Easy Rocky Mountain Summit: Deer Mountain

Deer Mountain Hike
Deer Mountain Trailhead
National Park: Rocky Mountain
Map

Rocky Mountain National Park protects some of our country’s most magnificent alpine scenery. With a visitor center that tops out at over 2 miles above sea level, much of the Park’s hiking brings visitors to elevations that far surpass those at home. Thus, when traveling to Rocky Mountain, altitude sickness should be taken seriously so that you aren’t left weak and nauseous for the majority of a valuable week-long vacation. Altitude sickness can be easily avoided by drinking extra water, getting full nights of sleep and gradually rising in elevation (when possible). Most importantly, take things slow and set aside the first couple of days to do less strenuous activities while you acclimate to your new surroundings.

The Deer Mountain Summit is an excellent way to ease yourself into Rocky Mountain’s hiking because the trail climbs gradually at a low altitude, yet still offers excellent views of the area’s lush valleys. The journey to the peak winds through groves of pine forest full of birds and other Rocky Mountain fauna. The summit, only three miles from the trailhead, treats even casual hikers to panoramic views of the Park’s peaks and glacier-carved valleys. You can also look down on Estes Park, the quaint adjacent tourist town, while eating your lunch on a boulder. Though, beware of thieving rodents that will go to any length necessary to snag a bite of your beef jerky or a granola bar. Always remember it is illegal to feed wildlife or litter (even biodegradable apple cores) in the national parks. These rules are crucial to maintaining the Park’s environmental integrity and ensure you don’t have an unpleasant run-in with a deceivingly cute animal.

Leisurely hikes such as Deer Mountain, where you can relax and take in your surroundings, allow visitors to discover the ultimate joys of being outdoors. There is wonder in the details of the natural world. It can be fascinating to watch a robin systematically peck at the ground for worms or feel how a piece of sandstone crumbles effortlessly in your hands. These experiences are hugely valuable and should not be overshadowed by the thrill of beating sundown on a full-day hiking challenge. In this way, taking time to adjust to the high altitudes also allows visitors to appreciate the full breadth of Rocky Mountain’s wonders.

Posted in Activities, Activity, Park, Review, Rocky Mountain, Summer Park Tour

Lake Helene Hike

Lake Helene Hike
Bear Lake Trailhead
National Park: Rocky Mountain
Map

For hidden alpine lakes, towering mountain vistas and excellent opportunities to spot Rocky Mountain’s creatures, take the Lake Helene Hike. Beginning from the popular Bear Lake trailhead, the journey begins by traveling around the shores of Bear Lake and if you get out early enough, you can beat the crowds that flock to the area each afternoon. Getting on the trails early in the day also reduces your sun exposure, provides better lighting for photography and increases your chance of seeing wildlife.

You soon fork to the right and begin a gradual and steady ascent past bubbling springs and small meadows nestled in the pine forests. Keep your eyes peeled for moose and elk in addition to the Park’s diverse bird populations.

The first landmark is Lake Helene but you must keep your eyes out for a spot to venture off the main trail and reach its waters. Scenically placed in an amphitheater of peaks, Lake Helene is secluded from the gaze of most visitors. Its stillness and silence hypnotize you in to state of blissful contemplation; stare into the Lake’s peaceful reflection until you’re content to continue on.

Shortly after, you reach the trail’s highest point and begin a pleasant descent into the Moraine Park valley. Listen for the “eep” of a pika as the trail winds alongside boulder fields and craggy peaks. Odessa Lake, which you first see sitting below you like a gem, is reached by following the quaint trickle of a creek that brings the Lake’s waters farther downstream. Hiking around the Odessa’s rim affords a variety of spectacular views and spots to stop for a secluded lunch.

A short walk later, Fern Lake or an optional side trip to Spruce Lake make for further relaxation where you can easily escape the presence of the few other visitors in the area. Listening to the faint lapping of wind blown waves slipping through cracks in the rocky shore, it’s difficult to imagine you are in the heart of one of our Nation’s most highly visited parks. This feeling of being immersed in an enchanted landscape is only heightened when, a bit later, you discover Fern Falls cascading through a patchwork of mosses and logs.

Upon reaching a junction at The Pool, a point where water briefly collects before continuing its journey down the Big Thompson River, you have the choice of ending the hike at either the Fern Lake or Cub Lake Trailhead. I highly recommend the latter, which passes a final point of interest before cutting through a landscape dotted with wooded ponds and meadow-lined rivers. Cub Lake, nestled in deep forest, is framed by an impenetrable sea of lily pads; in the center, its deep blue waters provide prime habitat for Rocky Mountain’s riparian creatures, such as moose, ducks and beavers.

The Lake Helene Trail is remarkable in many ways. Beyond its fascinating wildlife and pristine mountain scenery, it also provides visitors the chance to venture deep into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park with relative ease. Starting at Bear Lake and ending in the valleys of the Moraine Park area, the trail actually has a net loss of elevation, which makes a daunting 10+ mile hike go by fairly quickly. It is best to leave your car at the exit trailhead and take the Park’s free shuttle to your Bear Lake start point. After a few days of acclimating to the high altitude environment, this hike is a perfect way to escape and explore this mountain haven on your own.

Posted in Activities, Activity, Park, Review, Rocky Mountain, Summer Park Tour

Yellowstone 3 of 3: The Mighty River, Tower Junction to Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone's Mighty River
National Park: Yellowstone
Map

The final post in this series focuses on the Yellowstone River’s dramatic impact on the Park. With enough geologic time, water has inevitably conquered rock and forges an entirely unique landscape and ecosystem.

Heading south from Tower Junction, you will first encounter Tower Falls. After taking a short walk from the parking lot, you get an excellent view of Tower Creek plunging 13 stories, pummeling the ever-eroding rock beneath it. As impressive as it is, the Falls, which are fed by a tributary of the Yellowstone River, is just a preview of the wonders that lie ahead.

Next, the Park’s main road takes you to Canyon Village. Centrally located, the area can be reasonably accessed from most reaches of the Park and provides visitors with a full complement of amenities, including showers, a small grocery store and a few basic restaurants.

Just a few miles away, one of our country’s most powerful waterfalls digs a thousand foot trench through the Earth. Three points of entry give you unique views of the area’s three main features: Upper Yellowstone Falls, Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It is easy to spend a day hiking the area’s trails, enjoying beautiful vistas and even looking over the precipice of the both the Lower and Upper Falls. While all are short jaunts from the parking lot, some can be deceivingly strenuous with formidable elevation changes. However, a number of trails are wheelchair accessible, flat and easy. Therefore, the Canyon Area can be fulfilling for any visitor. It always serves as an excellent opportunity to sit in silence and become humbled by the powerful walls of water surrounding you, which have been at work on the landscape for longer than you can fathom.

Still farther south, more thermal features demand to be seen. Bison meander through rising steam while mudpots boil and hiss. One of Yellowstone’s most unique features, Dragon’s Mouth Spring, is simply enchanting. Water vapor billows from the hidden depths of a rock cave while waves of water lap into an adjoining murky pool. After hearing its groans and hisses firsthand, it’s easy to see how it was named.

Completing the Park loop takes you to Yellowstone Lake, a body of water so massive that you could fool yourself into thinking you’re on a sea’s sandy shores. In truth, the Lake lies nearly 8,000 feet above sea level and is guarded by three feet of ice for half the year. While driving, you can see steam rising from its banks, a final reminder of the Park’s intricate relationship with the magma brewing beneath its surface. And indeed, the Lake’s immensity is just another testament to Yellowstone’s grandiosity.

Yellowstone must truly be experienced in person. Nothing matches the opportunity to see its boiling cauldrons, hear a wolf howl or feel like one of the drops of water beginning its descent into Yellowstone’s deepest canyon. Yellowstone is our Nation’s first national park and arguably its most breathtaking. It is the result of diverse natural forces and the ecosystems it contains are almost inexplicably pristine. If it’s the first park you visit, it will overwhelm you with the wildness of America’s West and inspire you to see more of America’s wonders. But it also functions excellently as a park to build up to; once you think you’ve seen all the amazing landscapes our country has to offer, journey to Yellowstone and find a renewed passion for the outdoors. Either way, every American must see Yellowstone and will undoubtedly be glad for it.

Posted in Activities, Activity, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour, Yellowstone

Yellowstone 2 of 3: The American Serengeti, Mammoth to Tower Falls

Yellowstone's Northern Range
National Park: Yellowstone
Map

The next theme of Yellowstone is that of vast, intractable wilderness that hosts the most intact ecosystem in the continental United States. Bison, which used to number in the hundreds, now graze by the thousands alongside elk, pronghorn, deer and moose while eagles and osprey circle over miles of lush grassland. Coyotes, black bears and grizzlies scour mountainsides in search of a variety of vegetation, ground squirrels or a distracted marmot. And Yellowstone’s returned kings, the wolves, have now reclaimed the entire Park and some of the West but are most commonly seen in their original reintroduction site, the remarkable Lamar Valley.

In these grand mountain valleys, the visitor is treated to the most extraordinary wildlife viewing our country has to offer. In 2 days, one could quite easily see a majority of the animals listed above. This environment functions like it should and you feel it; spending time in the northern reaches of Yellowstone is a spiritual experience where you are forced to acknowledge the beauty of wild, untamed nature.

Gardiner, Montana

North of Mammoth, you can quickly access the town of Gardiner and the small sliver of Yellowstone that resides in southern Montana. If you’re heading from Mammoth towards Gardiner, the alternate route (a one-way, easily missed dirt road) is certainly the way to go. Immediately, you are removed from any crowds and are treated to magnificent views of the wild expanse of Yellowstone’s rolling mountainsides. In general, any time there is a one-way, off-the-beaten-path road in the national parks, take it. During the leisurely drive, I saw pronghorn and a nursery of mother elk and their calves; locals say they see wolves hunting along the hillsides frequently.

The large stone arch that marks Yellowstone’s north entrance is of significant historical note. The first heavily used entrance to the Park, Gardiner also served as the gateway to Yellowstone for President Roosevelt during his multi national park tour in 1903. The arch was under construction during his visit to Yellowstone and Roosevelt was asked to place the structure’s cornerstone, which covered a time capsule containing a bible, picture of Roosevelt and local newspapers. Roosevelt gave an impassioned speech in defense of the parks, re-iterating Congress’ pledge to protect these places “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” That iconic phrase, which exemplifies the democratic qualities of the National Park Service, now adorns this portal to our Nation’s first park.

Lamar Valley

I overheard a Yellowstone ranger calling the Lamar Valley the absolute best place to view wildlife in the lower 48 states. If you are interested in seeing the West’s large (and small) creatures, you need to spend time here. A single road stretches from Tower Junction to Yellowstone’s northeast entrance; expect to stop for bison crossings, bear jams or the sight of the Park’s dedicated cohort of wolf trackers. With almost no development, this is one of Yellowstone’s most wild and accessible regions. The rich and immense grassland supports large numbers of the Park’s bison, pronghorn, deer and elk. Consequently, coyotes, bears, wolves and scavengers are also found in abundance.

Wolves rejoined the ecosystem in 1995 after 7 decades of absence as a result of one of the world’s most successful reintroductions. Ushered into the park underneath the Roosevelt Arch, the wolves first (re)touched Yellowstone ground in the Lamar Valley. It is still the most likely place to see wolves in Yellowstone and being on the lookout at dawn and dusk increase your chances. If you see a clump of spotting scopes, pull over; wolf watchers either have a wolf in their sights or are eagerly awaiting one to re-emerge from the brush. Following these wolf enthusiasts is your best chance to see a wolf as anything more than a speck moving across a distant mountainside.

Even if you do not see a wolf during your time in the Lamar Valley, you will still be amazed by its diversity and concentration of wildlife. You will surely leave thankful that the National Park Service and previous generations were able to have the foresight to save these magnificent creatures who were so close to the brink of eternal destruction. Traveling to Yellowstone gives people the chance to see what the American West once was and what it could return to if we amp up conservation efforts in our country.

Posted in Activities, Activity, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour, Yellowstone

Yellowstone 1 of 3: The Thermal Features, Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone's Thermal Features
National Park: Yellowstone
Map

Yellowstone is simply one of the strangest and most breathtaking places in the world. It refuses to stop leaving you in shock; no matter how many photos or documentaries you’ve seen on “The American Serengeti”, nothing prepares you for the surprise of seeing its wonders firsthand. A journey to Yellowstone truly expands your preconceived notions of what constitutes reality in this world. And to best serve all Americans, nearly all of Yellowstone’s famous sights can be seen by visitors of all ability levels.

In the morning you can watch thousands of gallons of boiling water rocket from a small hole in the Earth; in the afternoon you can chance to see a wolf in the most intact ecosystem in our continental United States; and in the evening you can witness a powerful waterfall carve a deep canyon of yellow and red. And while you could do all this in one day, why not give yourself more time and immerse yourself in this unparalleled wilderness? A fulfilling vacation to Yellowstone demands at least three days. Thus, I’ve broken Yellowstone into three themed reviews, each of which encompasses approximately one third of the Park.

The first entry is on the Yellowstone the volcano. One of the world’s most currently active volcanoes, Yellowstone is home to roughly 10,000 thermal features and the highest concentration of geysers in the world. It is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of these statistics without seeing for yourself miles of steam rise over the Firehole River while you weave between translucent pools that bubble and groan. The landscape is darkly fantastical and is equally as frightening as it is beautiful.

Yellowstone’s wilderness is traversed by a single road that transects the Park in a figure-eight formation. The most notable thermal features lie to the West and are divided into three general areas: Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs. They contain a variety of different thermal features. Before you continue on, you can read a few important definitions by clicking here.

Old Faithful

The Old Faithful area is way more than the single, reliable geyser we all hear about in popular culture. While that feature is impressive, there are miles more of spitting, hissing and scalding geothermal drama unfolding just steps away. As far as the eye can see, the Earth is scorched barren by the unsettled works of nature that brew below. Boiling water drains into the Firehole River, which cuts through the landscape like a serpent. Every feature is has its own name that gives insight to its unique qualities that distinguish it from any other thermal feature on the planet. In truth, each geyser, hot spring, fumarole and mud pot are more remarkable than the last. As a visitor, you’re filled with regret that you must leave one but boundless enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing another. While you could spend a day getting acquainted with a single feature, it would be wise to spend at least 3 hours exploring this area.

Norris Geyser Basin

As you head north from the Old Faithful area, you encounter a variety of smaller hydrothermal pull-overs. If you have time, stop at all of them. But surely don’t miss Grand Prismatic Spring and Fountain Paint Pots- their likeness is not to be seen anywhere else in the World. Finally, you will arrive at the Norris Geyser Basin, the oldest and hottest collection of thermal features in the Park. This area is divided into two sections and to do both thoroughly would require approximately 2 hours. The features here build upon what you’ve seen at Old Faithful so time could be shaved off here if needed.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Back when the Army used to protect Yellowstone’s borders, this served as their base camp. Historic buildings sit at the base of a giant terrace of sinter, the white calcium carbonate deposits that build up around geysers and hot springs. This mineral, carried from deep below the Earth’s surface, builds upon itself to form the grand staircases of Mammoth Hot Springs. While an area is actively discharging hot water, the ground is covered in thermophiles but once the site becomes dormant, the bacteria die and reveal the bright white sinter that has developed underneath. You can easily spend 2 hours scouring the shelves of Mammoth Hot Springs and seeing the strange formations that surround the area.

There are too many pictures, grandeur and awe to share with others after a visit to Yellowstone’s thermal areas. You must simply see it for yourself. And as if you weren’t already impressed enough by Yellowstone, you’ve only covered a third of the Park. What else is there to see? Wait for the next post…

Thermal Feature Definitions:

Geyser- Requires heat, water and pressure. Magma thousands of feet below the surface heat large underground reservoirs of water. Water slowly rises through small fissures and cracks in the Earth’s crust, collecting and cooling towards the surface. This cooled water effectively caps the exit cracks, allowing the subterranean heated reservoirs no route to expel water. This creates sufficient pressure on the underground reservoirs to the point where they remain liquid while their temperature exceeds that of boiling. Once enough pressure has built up, the superheated water instantly vaporizes and explodes upwards, launching the cooler water up to hundreds of feet in the air. What we see when a geyser erupts is the mixture of water-turned-steam from deep beneath the surface and the cooler pools of water that have gradually collected at the surface.

Hot Spring- Essentially a geyser without the built underground plumbing that causes extreme pressure. As a result, water heated underground constantly forces water and steam to spill out of the surface.

Fumarole- The hottest thermal feature, fumaroles are formed when water slowly trickles down from the surface, eventually encountering rock superheated by the magma below. The water flashes to steam and, because steam takes up much more room than water, the gas must expand to a size greater than the underground cavity and is propelled to the surface. The result is a relatively constant vent of steam that rises from small holes in the ground.

Mud Pot- These strange features develop from a fumarole that has been covered by a layer of water at the Earth’s surface. The water suppresses the rising steam and other gases that eat away at the surrounding rock. That dissolved rock mixes with the water to create giant cauldrons of mud. The underground gasses bubble and hiss as they slowly push their way through the gelatinous layer of mud above them. During periods of intense rain, mud pots are watery while times of drought increase their viscosity.

Thermophiles- Directly translated “Heat-Loving Bacteria”. These microscopic organisms thrive in extremely heated water, which they find in the discharges from geysers and hotsprings. Each variety of bacteria thrives in a specific range of water temperatures. Each variety of bacteria also looks a different color. Consequently, water towards the edge of hot springs and geyser pools (which has cooled down) supports an entirely different world of bacteria. The result is brilliant layers of color in these steaming pools of water. Scientists can tell if the hydrothermal feature is getting hotter or cooler based upon the colors (and thus, bacteria) that are present.

Posted in Activities, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour, Yellowstone

Death Canyon Hike

Death Canyon Hike
Death Canyon Trailhead
National Park: Grand Teton
Map

Despite its name, the Death Canyon Hike is one of the most scenic, calming hikes in Grand Teton National Park.  Relatively untrammeled and remote, this trail takes you deep into the heart of the Canyon’s towering rock walls.  The farther you hike, the more you feel immersed in its rugged power.

The trail begins with a gradual ascent to the Phelps Lake Overlook, a gorgeous deep blue lake that draws stark contrast to the surrounding forests.  You then descend toward the Lake through a series of switchbacks that cut through flowering shrubs (prime bear habitat).  You reach a fork that gives the hiker an option of continuing toward Phelps Lake or venturing into Death Canyon.

As you slowly climb into the Canyon’s valley, you begin to hike alongside a rushing creek that supplies a constant source of water for the valley.  The result is a dynamic landscape peppered with forest, meadow and boulder fields created by annual avalanches.  A couple rigorous miles take you to the pass that overlooks the Canyon.  It is from here that you can relax and enjoy the view or continue on to a number of trails that take you even deeper into the Teton high country.

The hike is also remarkable in its opportunities to see wildlife.  One day on the trail afforded me up-close views of a (friendly) black bear, moose, a great gray owl, many marmots and even the rare and elusive pika* (see below for more information on these amazing animals)!

Death Canyon is a strenuous hike but rewards the hiker the entire way with beautiful views.  The hike can easily be stretched from half-day to an entire day wilderness adventure of 10+ miles round trip.  An excellent hike to end a trip in the Tetons after you’ve become acclimated to the elevation and difficulty of hiking in the mountains.

*Some information on the fascinating Pika: Commonly referred to “Rock Rabbits”, these are very picky creatures that live in high elevation boulder fields called talus .  They never hibernate so they have developed a number of unique adaptations in order to survive the harsh alpine winters.  First, they spend all spring, summer and fall gathering vegetation, storing what is not eaten in a multitude of haypiles situated under large rocks in the talus field.  These haypile locations are meticulously chosen because, come winter, the pika must be sure snow will not block the sub-rock passageways between its life-saving food sources.  During the winter months, the pika will never leave this underground network, enjoying the insulating effects of the deep snow that towers above.  If the pika runs out of food, it has one more trick up its sleeve- it can recycle nutrients by re-ingesting its feces.  Might not be pretty but it helps the pika occupy an incredibly unique and relatively uncontested niche in mountainous environments.

So, the pika needs the following three things: rock fields with boulders large enough to maintain winter passageways, an environment that provides thick snowfall, and an area abundant in summer vegetation.  These particular demands and its inability to migrate far make it supremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Park Service scientists pay close attention the health of this species as its population has been facing some uncertainty.  If you make it to a park with some alpine environment, be sure to take a moment and look for these adorable creatures hopping from rock to rock in talus fields.

 

Posted in Activities, Activity, Grand Teton, Grand Teton, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour, Uncategorized

Trapper Lake Hike

Trapper Lake Hike
Leigh Lake Trailhead
National Park: Grand Teton
Map

For a secluded, gentle hike to beautiful crystalline lakes framed by the Teton peaks, take the Trapper Lake Hike.  You begin the jaunt, which can be designed to be anywhere from 3 to 7 miles, walking the shores of String and Leigh Lakes.  These relatively large, open lakes provide a great playground for visitors with canoes and kayaks.  As you continue, you leave the lakes briefly for quiet woodlands and the periodic meadow clearing.  Finally, a fork in the trail leaves you the option of continuing towards either Trapper or Bearpaw Lake.  With enough time to add an extra 2 miles, give yourself time to explore both.  Otherwise, spend your time at Trapper Lake; buried in the Teton’s gorgeous mountain scenery, fed by a small creek that bypasses the beaver dam just upstream, this is a place to find respite from cares of our everyday lives.

Every national park in the Rocky Mountains will have a hike like Trapper Lake that winds through forests and arrives at an undeveloped backcountry lake.  These hikes can be an excellent choice for a lowkey, relaxed day at the parks.  They generally have lots of shade cover and aren’t heavily trafficked, which allows you to sleep in and start the trail later.  There’s also usually little elevation gain so these hikes are not very strenuous and allow you to just enjoy your surroundings.

I would recommend the Trapper Lake Hike for any family who wants a relatively easy half-day hike.  It is also best planned in the middle of a trip, when your mind and body need a little break.  Check out these pictures for a taste of the Tetons!

 

Posted in Activities, Activity, Grand Teton, Grand Teton, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour

Forks of Cascade Canyon Hike

Cascade Canyon Hike
Jenny Lake Trailhead
National Park: Grand Teton
Map

I recently took one of the best hikes in Grand Teton National Park!

It was a cold night (dipping down to below 30 degrees) so it was hard to get out of bed in the morning but it was definitely worth it.  This hike, which begins with a short boat ride across the beautiful Jenny Lake, starts by taking you past two of the Tetons’ most famous spots- Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.  While both are great places to stop, if you want to leave the crowds, see rare wildlife and get a close-up look at the Tetons’ iconic rock walls, continue down to Cascade Canyon.

With a round trip distance of 9 miles and little elevation gain, this trail a rigorous half-day hike or leisurely full-day hike for a relatively fit family.  Though, you can easily turn back at any point along the way.  You venture into a U-shaped valley carved by the area’s receding glaciers, some of which still remain in the higher elevations.  Following a powerful creek, the Cascade Canyon hike nearly guarantees a moose sighting.  We saw five that morning in addition to a young elk that crossed our path.  Bear also frequent the Canyon so don’t forget to bring the bear spray, a necessity for any vacation in the Tetons!

A light sprinkle of snow followed me nearly the entire day.  It truly felt like a wintry wonderland while I was enveloped in this silent, peaceful wilderness.  This feeling of solitude is much easier to find if you start the trail early, allowing you to see the Park at dawn’s first light, before most the tourists are even out of bed.

Overall, the Cascade Canyon trail would provide an excellent capstone hike to a week in the Tetons, allowing you to truly experience these fabled mountains.

Posted in Activities, Activity, Grand Teton, Grand Teton, Park, Review, Summer Park Tour