The hike on Jenny Lake Trail in Grand Teton National Park is unforgettable. You expect it to be stellar, and yet somehow, it exceeds all expectations. The early morning, mirrored reflections of the mountains in Jenny Lake were jaw-dropping; I could barely move in the face of so much grandeur. Later, I looked at the photos and was awestruck all over again. Was it really that beautiful? It was.
For our September trip, my husband Dean and I planned a visit to Yellowstone National Park (pre-flooding), and then, since we were going to be “in the neighborhood,” we would head south to Grand Teton National Park to spend almost another week there as well.
In the same way that I think Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring sometimes gets overshadowed by its big brother, Old Faithful, I think Grand Teton sometimes gets overshadowed by Yellowstone (and I was guilty of this, as well). Believe me, Grand Teton has plenty to offer.
Case in point: The Jenny Lake Loop Trail. Here are my top tips for this wonderful hike.
Note: When we visited, high-altitude smoke from west coast wildfires added a haze to the sky, which is why the mountains in the photos are not as crisp and clear as they would be otherwise. Still beautiful!
1. Download An App Before You Go
Purchase and download the Yellowstone/Grand Teton “Gypsy Guide” app for a nominal fee. It’s well worth it! As you are driving, 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 tour guide! This is great for your entire time in Grand Teton.
Pro Tip: If you prefer, download the free NPS app, which provides maps, tours, and on-the-spot accessibility information about more than 400 national parks.
2. Go Early
On this hike, as on so many adventures before and after it, being early risers served us well. The parking lot at Jenny Lake is big, but it gets busy, and people park on the street and everywhere. When we got there (around 7:30 a.m.), things were quiet, with plenty of parking.
Pro Tip: One timesaver is to purchase a park pass in advance. Also, unlike some National Parks, there are no entrance reservations here, but brace yourself for crowds and long lines, because Grand Teton fits 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 approximately a 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 hike clockwise to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, then down to the West Boat Dock and take the shuttle boat back across the lake to the visitor center. It’s a great morning activity.
Pro Tip: Check the hours and prices of the privately-run shuttle boat. Purchase tickets directly at the boat dock on a first-come, first-served basis.
4. Be Prepared
This is hiking 101, but heed the warnings from the park website: “Always be prepared when hiking in Grand Teton. Carry water for every member of your group, be alert to your surroundings, and understand your limitations on distance and elevation gain. Several trails from Jenny Lake can hold snow until mid-July. … Wildlife — such as bears — is commonly active in the area. Never approach a wild animal. To check current trail conditions and bear activity, stop at the visitor center or Jenny Lake Ranger Station to talk with a ranger.” Dean carried bear spray as a precaution; it gave us peace of mind as we hiked.
5. Enjoy The Mountains
We walked on a path through some trees to get to the start of the hiking trail at the lake and realized this 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 treasuring the views and taking photos. 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
As we started on the hike, we saw a mule deer. He was crossing the sidewalk by some display boards about the park. He didn’t seem to be too concerned about us, so after a quick photo, 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, two-and-a-half-mile hike with a 620-feet elevation gain.
When I posted this photo on Facebook, I wrote: “Hidden Falls, when you look this good, baby, there’s no reason to hide!” They were beautiful. It’s fed by snowmelt and was rushing in fall; I can only imagine what spring might look like.
8. Over The River And Through The Woods… And Up The Rock Stairs
From Hidden Falls, we followed the signs that took us another half a mile to Inspiration Point. The dirt trail had exposed roots and several switchbacks as we climbed rock stairs to a great view of Jenny Lake.
9. Get Inspired At Inspiration Point
At a 7,200-foot elevation, the views from Inspiration Point are inspiring. We sat down on the rocks, grabbed a snack from our backpacks, and took it all in. There was much to take in. We could see 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 tiny speck of a boat zooming across Jenny Lake. Sure enough, that was the boat shuttle that would take us from the West Dock back to the visitor center.
10. Hiking Out
I know I’m being redundant here, but it bears repeating: enjoy the mountains. The initial views of the mountain reflections on Jenny Lake are staggering. However, the views when leaving Inspiration Point are no less magnificent.
We headed down from that vantage point to the West Boat Dock, enjoying the trail as it paralleled Cascade Creek. The trail was in great condition but there was more of the same: rocks, roots, and some uneven footing.
11. The (Perhaps Exclusive) Shuttle Boat Ride
When we got to the West Dock, a boat full of passengers was just arriving. These were people who took the boat first and then might be doing our hike but in reverse. What we didn’t see were other people like us, waiting to take the 10-minute boat shuttle back across the lake.
After the boat docked and the passengers left, the captain let us onboard. “Where is everybody?” I assumed we would wait for more people to join. However, it doesn’t work that way. The shuttle is on a timed schedule, so if there are only two passengers, the Shermans get a private boat cruise across the lake!
Inspired by the view from the boat on what had become our private tour, I could have named this section “Enjoy The Mountains, Part II,” but I think you get the idea. The view of the mountains from this tiny shuttle boat was staggering, intoxicating, and magnificent. We are tiny against all this grandeur.
12. Pack A Picnic Lunch To Eat When You Finish The Hike
More than once, Dean and I enjoyed sandwiches, grapes, chips, and water from our small cooler at the end of a hike. These simple foods never tasted so good, especially when eaten on a park bench as you gaze upon the majestic Grand Teton mountains.
13. Watch For Pronghorn On Teton Park Road
As we were leaving 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.
This was a paved two-lane road and the only way in and out of Jenny Lake Visitor Center, so it was busy. Along with others, we had pulled over to the side of the road, and the group of pronghorns crossed safely, as cars stopped to let them cross.
I will never forget the mirrored reflections on Jenny Lake, the magnificent mountain view leaving Inspiration Point, or the private shuttle boat ride. Those are part of the travel memories I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I hope these tips help you enjoy the Jenny Lake Loop Trail; it’s a beautiful hike with a lot of payoffs in views and scenery in beautiful Grand Teton National Park.
For more information on hiking spots and visiting Grand Teton National Park, check out these articles: