Like all our national parks, Grand Teton National Park is a treasure. In 1950, it must have been pure wisdom that combined the 1929 Grand Teton National Park with the 1943 Jackson Hole National Monument to form what we call Grand Teton National Park today.
The Taggart Lake trail is popular, to say the least. There are several ways to do it, but we did the 3-mile “out-and-back” with phenomenal views of the Teton Range. The average slope of 6 percent is very doable, but the hiking trail includes rocks, roots, and steps.
Pro Tip: Purchase a National Park pass in advance to save time at the entrance gate.
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 otherwise be. Still beautiful!
Here are some tips to help you get the most from a hike to Taggart Lake.
1. Take The Good Advice From Gypsy Guide
Before you go, purchase and download the Yellowstone/Grand Teton “Gypsy Guide” app for a small fee. 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. Your own private tour guide! The Gypsy Guide told us this hike was a “must-do.” This app is great for all your time in Grand Teton National Park.
Pro Tip: You can also download the free NPS App, which provides maps, tours, and on-the-spot accessibility information about more than 400 national parks.
2. Watch For Wildlife
Even before we got to the trailhead, we were on the lookout for wildlife, which is always a good idea in Grand Teton National Park. Our reward for being early risers on this day was seeing a bull elk in a meadow on Teton Park Road. We spotted him in the same area we had seen pronghorns the day before. It’s a popular stretch of road for wildlife!
3. Go Early
We were in the park several days before we did this hike, so we drove past the Taggart Lake trailhead several times. From mid-morning to the end of the day, the parking lot was full, and cars were parked every which way and halfway down the road. So, get an early start (we were there by 7:45) to beat the crowds.
Pro Tip: In September, we had a cool start in the high 30s, but it warmed to 80 degrees. Dressing in layers is always a good call.
4. Be Prepared
Be aware of the national park tips for hiking in Grand Teton National Park because it “can be a challenging experience due to the rugged nature of the landscape, including high elevation, steep trails, and extreme and sudden weather changes.”
Rest easy, the hike to Taggart is rated “easy.” Still, hiking basics like the right footwear, hiking poles if you need them, and plenty of water are a good idea. We loaded up our backpacks with trail mix and grabbed our bear spray (another essential) and set out.
As we were just getting started, we saw a mule deer. He was easily identifiable because of his large, mule-like ears. Apparently not a fan of hikers, he quickly ditched into the woods when he saw us coming.
5. Soak In The Initial Aspen Views
Views on the hiking trail as you leave the trailhead are not mountainous, as you might expect. The hike starts in an aspen-covered moraine before the trail broadens to views of the Tetons. Trees were starting to turn orange and golden and Grand Teton had more fall color than we had seen in our previous week at Yellowstone.
6. See The Clear Waters Of Taggart Creek
At every wooden bridge over every creek crossing, we could peer into the water and see all the way to the bottom. The water may not have been potable, but it was crystal clear. At this hour, virtually no one was on the trail. Private hiking!
7. Take Your Place Among Giant Boulders
We hiked past giant — and I mean giant — boulders. Dean and I were dwarfed by this massive boulder that sat to the right of the hiking trail, and others like it. It was probably exactly where it had sat for many, many years.
8. Enjoy Other Woodland Amazements
As we hiked along, we saw other curious sights, like a snag (dead tree) with so many deep holes that it looked like the handiwork of a woodpecker on overdrive. We saw another tree with large gashes on the bark and places where the bark was entirely stripped away from the tree. Hmm … we were in black bear and grizzly country. What could make a big mark like that? Even with bear spray, I didn’t want to think about that too much.
9. Take The Offshoot To Bradley Lake
Feeling ambitious? At the signed trail split, follow the Valley Trail right and head to Bradley Lake. Note that the Valley Trail is rated “moderate.” Moderate, and worth it! I say, any morning you can hike to two alpine lakes is a good morning.
We were captivated at Bradley by the gorgeous reflection of the mountains in the water. We didn’t see a soul! Who are we that we get our own private lake, mountains, and trees?
The bridge at the far end of Bradley went over the narrowest end of the lake. I also couldn’t help but notice how many of the old trees in this section of the park have fascinating, thick, gnarly tree roots.
Pro Tip: If you take the Bradley offshoot, the park website estimates hiking time at 2 to 3 hours. Without Bradley, the Taggart hike is estimated at 1 to 2 hours.
We loved our detour here, but it was time to hike on. From Bradley Lake, we followed the well-marked Valley Trail signs on to Taggart Lake.
10. Linger Over The Taggart Lake Views
Taggart is popular for a reason. Everywhere I looked, mountains were reflected in this large, still lake. Purples and greens and mauve colors. Evergreens and large rocks with that clear water. Even with the smoke from the wildfires hazing up the mountains, it was a beautiful sight.
11. Try Your Hand At Fishing
Fishermen were lined up on an outcropping of rocks near the water, trying their luck fishing in Taggart Lake. I’m not sure what they were angling for, but the lakes at Teton hold some 16 species of fish, including brook trout, lake trout, cutthroat trout, and whitefish.
12. Take The Long View From The Wooden Bridge
Before you leave this heavenly spot, walk to the long wooden bridge on the south side of the lake. It gives you a long perspective of the lake that you can’t fully appreciate from other viewpoints.
13. The Hike Out Has Its Own Rewards
As we headed back to the car, we passed a family hiking toward Taggart Lake. I turned around to take a photo of this family sharing such dramatic nature with their children. At one point on a hike, we talked to a dad and mom, each hiking with a small child in carriers on their backs. I applauded their efforts (knowing that travel with small kids is an effort) and told them so, and the dad easily replied, “Gotta start ‘em early.” I loved it.
Pro Tip: The hike to Taggart is wonderful, and there are many more trails to choose from. When you go, stop at a visitor center and talk with a ranger, who can suggest additional hikes and give you updated trail conditions.
14. Pack A Picnic Lunch To Enjoy Post-Hike
More than once, Dean and I have enjoyed sandwiches, grapes, chips, and water from our small cooler at the end of a hike. Simple foods somehow taste better when eaten with the majestic Grand Tetons as a backdrop.
15. Make A Photo Stop On Teton Park Road
As we were heading out on Teton Park Road, we saw a by-now-familiar picturesque small brown stable set against the mountains. We had driven by this scene before, but this time, horses strolled through the meadow. I also loved the old buck rail fences in the foreground, so unique to the area and getting to be a thing of the past. The mountains were a little smoky, which made them look a bit surreal and to me, only added to the wonder of the scene.
With more than 250 miles of trails, I’d say Grand Teton National Park makes the most of its mountainous scenery. It’s got something for everyone, from short walks like this 3-mile Taggart beauty to true backcountry experiences. Plenty of options to get up, get out, and get in it.
The short, easy hike to Taggart Lake is quintessential Grand Teton, and it offers everything a person takes a hike in the mountains to experience: natural beauty, solitude, and a glorious place to refresh your soul.