21.6 mi / 11.5 mph / 668 ft. climbing
Home: Jenny Lake Campground hiker/biker site
The restaurant at Colter Bay does a breakfast buffet, and we’d obviously be remiss if we didn’t compare the one in our third National Park of the summer to the buffets in the previous two. Well, like the “normal” grocery store here, the restaurant is also surprisingly “normal”. Like, it could be a country-style family restaurant in a suburb of a city, rather than a food operation wedged into a National Park building, which is more what the restaurants at Glacier and Yellowstone felt like. Anyway, it was really good, a huge spread with no shortage of good fruit, and it wasn’t even busy.
After that we went back to that grocery store to do a big stock up for the next few days, especially taking advantage of their produce section. Because we’re heading to Jenny Lake for a few days, where we’ll be downgraded back to a “normal”, produce-less National Park general store.
We didn’t really see much of the Teton Range on our entry into the park yesterday, but today’s 20 miles would take us right into their heart. We came here in 2021 (with our car) and spent a couple of nights. We had been living in Washington for two years, where we could regularly see snow-covered mountains in any direction, so I sort of doubted that the Tetons would be as impressive as flatlanders make them out to be. Well, the mountains slapped me right upside my head and said “dumbass jaded Washingtonian, we ain’t no lame-ass Washington mountains!” Despite being broadly the same thing as their Washington counterparts, the shape, scale, and setting of the Tetons took my breath away even though I was fully prepared to keep that air inside my lungs.
But now, having already seen them (and just two years ago), surely they wouldn’t wow me in the same way. Um, wrong. “We see you’re still a dumbass, and you see that we’re still fucking incredible”, boomed the mountains at me. I still don’t even really understand how this was possible, but I was struck just as breathless as the first time.
The day was a mix of clouds and sun, and while those clouds sometimes obscured the mountaintops, they also added depth and drama, sometimes making it seem like the mountains were smoking.
We stopped at the Willow Flats viewpoint, and stared agape alongside another guy there. He actually runs the Jenny Lake General Store, and even though he lives and works here all summer, here he was was still marveling at the view like a first-timer (and us second-timers). At least that proves that on my third visit here, and my thirtieth, the mountains’ breath-stealing ability will remain completely undiminished.
Oh, and, I’d of course been doing my usual scrutinizing of photos in Google Maps to attempt to determine what kind of stock the Jenny Lake General Store might carry, but if I’d known we’d run into the guy who runs the place 15 miles outside of Jenny Lake, I wouldn’t have even bothered! I’d been wondering if we should stop at the Signal Mountain store to stock up even more, but now I knew we’d be fine.
Eventually the Jenny Lake Loop road we were on became a one-way affair (with a contraflow bike lane!), and then we took a bike path into the backside of the campground, which brought us to the hiker/biker area before we even hit the registration booth. I had known from our last visit what a highly sought-after campground Jenny Lake is, so when I learned it had hiker/biker sites it felt foolish not to visit. On top of that, the hiker/biker sites are some of the best in the campground, which makes them some of the best in the world. Since we were early on-scene after our short ride, we had our pick of the eight tent pads, and picked the one that gave us the best mountain view.
We walked over to the General Store to round out our lunch supplies, and then ate on a bench outside. Rain came outside the covered porch and continued for nearly an hour, but luckily there was a really cool couple from Austria (“Americans always talk ‘Swiss this, Swiss that’, it’s never Austrian!!”), currently living in Michigan and getting more of a taste of home here, along with their cute kid. Even when the rain had stopped we found ourselves still chatting with them and getting a good overview and inspiration to visit Austria some day.
Between the store and the campground there is a small CCC log building that now houses a permit office and two individual bathrooms with showers. The super-awesome camp hosts (a married couple who have been running this place for years) actually recommended them to us over the campground’s (one, old) bathhouse (“they have hot water! And heat!”) We shared a single $5 shower token. When we drove here in 2021, we used a truck-stop shower in Rawlins (or did we just look into it?) after a few days off-grid in Colorado. If we were the badass National Park experts that we are now, we would have known to just come here!
After dinner we again had to hide from a bit of drizzle, but when we walked the fifty steps over to the shore of Jenny Lake, our most-expensive-ever hiker/biker site ($14.43 per person) became even more worth it. During the afternoon, the area around the store and Visitor Center and lake shore was absolutely mobbed with people, just as it had been when we came through on a hike two years ago. But by evening, those crowds disappeared and we essentially had the lake to ourselves.
And at this world-famous lake, we got a private showing to the greatest no-sun sunset we’ve ever seen. Yeah, this is definitely a place to spend a couple more days!