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September 28, 2019 / mws

2019 Grand Tetons Sept

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GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK           

MAY OR SEPTEMBER…WHICH IS BETTER?

For those who follow my posts, it is known that I like to write summaries rather than day by day narratives.  For our 2019 September trip to the Grand Tetons, we followed our typical itinerary.  This includes Moose-Wilson Road, the Moulton barn area, Schwabacher Landing, Gros Ventre area, Oxbow Bend, Antelope Flats area, and much more.

When planning our trips, I sometimes use information from Trip Advisor.  For first time visitors, TA is a great source to start a plan.  Frequently, Trip Advisor will have posts from users about the best time to visit Grand Teton National Park.  The consensus seems to be May or September.  We have been to the park in April, May, June, August, September and October.  Notice the conspicuous absence of July! I do not enjoy crowds even though the beauty and wonder of the park is always there! For this post, I will compare visiting the Tetons in May versus visiting in September.

Scenic photos in the Tetons are easy to frame.  Really, all you have to do is point and shoot.  In May, the brilliant greens contrast with the snow covered mountains and delightful composition is automatic.  In early May, some of the winter browns remain, though the snow cover is better earlier in the month. Jackson Lake is likely to be frozen in early May, but will become a clear blue by the end of May.

May 30 2012 Jackson Lake

September brings a gorgeous transition in Grand Teton National Park.  The timing is not the same every year.  It’s usually around the last week of September or the first week of October.  There are remaining summer greens mixed with stunning yellows and oranges. The aspens and cottonwoods put on a show. In late September 2016, I finally had a moment I had dreamed about for years.  We timed the fall colors perfectly that year.  At Oxbow Bend the sight was truly amazing. We arrived before daylight to get a decent parking space and then we waited.  When the sun rose, the sight was glorious!

Sept 2016 Oxbow Bend

An advantage of visiting the Tetons in May is seeing the young wildlife. Caution is urged when viewing and photographing all animals, especially those with babies. Park Rangers will manage all known bear sightings and encourage all visitors to follow the established regulations when viewing animals. There may be areas that are closed for wildlife management. It’s always a little frustrating to have to “stay out” of an area, but it is for visitor safety and for the well being of the animals.

In September, wildlife is still visible, but you have to search a little more!  However, September is when the elk rut occurs…exciting!

Sept 2016 Elk

When making a decision about the timing of a visit to Grand Teton National Park, weather is a major issue.  In Spring, snow may be a concern and  some years the lakes are frozen till late into May. We have visited in May during cold snowy weather and during sunny warm weather. You could have snow in September as well. In all the years we travelled to the Tetons, we have had a wide variety of conditions.

We have encountered smoke, fog, hail, snow and high winds. However, the weather never caused us to delay for more than part of a day. A change in the plan for a bad weather day can bring unexpected bright moments.  We have found that the unplanned days are some of the best!

Spring hiking in the Grand Tetons can be challenging. Some years, there is mud and snow.  In September, it is usually a great time to be hiking in the park.  We have hiked to Taggart in Spring and in the Fall.  Each season has been kind to us!  If you would like to read about our specific hike to Taggart in May follow this link 2018 Taggart Lake Hike To read about our Fall hike to Taggart follow this link 2016 Taggart Lake Hike and page down to number 2.

September 2016 Phelps Lake Overlook

Other hikes we have enjoyed are the Phelps Lake Overlook, Hidden Falls, Colter Bay area, and Two Ocean Lake.  Most of these hikes occurred in the fall in excellent hiking weather.  We encountered very few other hikers, and, of course, carry bear spray.  Our very first encounter with a bear on a hiking trail occurred in September 2009 in Grand Teton National Park.  There is a large parking area along the Moose Wilson Road with an overlook. Folks stop here to look for moose and elk.

We like to walk the trail along the ridge and have had good luck to see moose, elk, porcupine, sand cranes and bears. Now, I’m not saying that it happens on every walk!  But we are patient and use binoculars to try to spot the wildlife.  In September 2009 we were out on the ridge for about 2 hours and were returning to our vehicle.

Sept 2009 bear sighting

Sept 2009 Mamma Bear

As we approached the last 1/4 mile, we saw a Mamma black bear and her cub on the trail just in from of us!  The nerves kicked in right away!  We backed away slowly and just waited.

Mamma was eating berries and wondered off the trail a fairly safe distance.  But little cubbie spied us and started walking our way.  Now we were really nervous!

Well, Mamma must have noticed us and called cubbie over to her.  We judged the situation to be safe enough to wander on.  As we rounded the last curve, there was a large group of photographers shooting from the parking area.  They were complaining that they couldn’t get good photos of the cub, but I did!!  ❤

Sept 2009 Bear Cub


2019 Comments  September 15 – 17 and September 24-29

Hidden Falls Hike at Jenny Lake

Hidden Falls can be found just west of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. There is a shuttle boat from the Jenny Lake east shore boat dock to the trailhead for Hidden Falls. There is also a hike around the south end of Jenny Lake to the trail to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and  Cascade Canyon.  We caught the first morning boat across Jenny Lake to the trailhead.  We have done this hike before, but wanted to see the improvements that were dedicated in July 2019. A huge project was underway last September when we visited to repair and improve the areas that had deteriorated over the years. 

New display area

“National Park Service crews  improved access to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls by building new stone steps, leveling trails, and providing better drainage for rainwater and snowmelt. Work completed also reduced congestion , provided larger boat docks, increased restroom facilities, and created designated rest areas. There are also hands-on interpretive elements including a bronze 3-D relief map, new signs and, mountain viewing scopes in the visitor center.”

The improvements provide a better experience for hikers and the repairs will benefit visitors for years to come.  Not bad for $20 million. (Public and private funding).

HIdden Falls trail

Hidden Falls

When you are on the first morning boat across Jenny Lake, you should dress warmly. The ride is cold and quick.  (about 5  minutes).  The advantage of being on the first boat is you arrive at Hidden Falls before a big crowd gathers and it is much easier to get pictures without random people in your photos. 🙂

After the boat shuttle across Jenny Lake,  it is just a half mile trek on the newly renovated trail to lovely Hidden Falls. (“hidden” at the base of Cascade Canyon)  The trail crosses Cascade Creek (on a bridge) before winding up the canyon to the 80 foot cascading Hidden Falls.

While at Hidden Falls, there is an extra .5-mile and an extra 200 feet elevation gain to hike to Inspiration Point.   Here there is a stunning panoramic view of Jenny Lake, Jackson Hole, the Gros Ventre and Wind River Mountains.

At Inspiration Point the elevation is 7,200 feet.

Gros Ventre and Slide Lake area

Gros Ventre River

Gros Ventre River

The key feature of Gros Ventre is the Gros Ventre slide, one of the largest earth slides that has occurred anywhere in the world. The landslide occurred on June 23, 1925, following snowmelt, several weeks of heavy rain, and earthquake tremors. The debris blocked the Gros Ventre River, and created a large dam over 200 feet high and 400 yards wide across the Gros Ventre River. The slide backed up the water and formed Lower Slide Lake. After the water stabilized, the 1927 engineers proclaimed it to be safe. Two years later, after another winter of heavey snow,  the dam at the lake failed and the town of Kelly was destroyed. The flood killed six people and resulted in an estimated $500,000 worth of damage. If the flood hadn’t happened Kelly would be far different today…and so would Jackson!

Gros Ventre Area

Gros Ventre Area

Today, the Gros Ventre River is known for outstanding fishing and kayaking. In the Gros Ventre Area, there is also camping, wildlife spotting, horseback riding and mountain biking. Lower Slide Lake still exists, but it much smaller.  There are overlooks along the Gros Ventre Road and we have spotted moose, and mountain sheep in this area. There are also excellent views of the Grand Teton from Gros Ventre slide area.

Signal Mountain Area

SML Restaurants and Gift Shops

The main area of Signal Mountain has the lodge, a campground, a store, restaurants, gas station, a lounge, a gift shop and a laundry. (And Jackson Lake!) Signal Mountain Lodge is our preferred lodging in the park.  We have stayed in various cabins and they have ranged in quality from acceptable to great! Of course, the waterfront cabins are marvelous, but pricy!  We stayed in a cabin at the far end of the complex, and spotted a black bear foraging around in the woods. We have also seen fox and deer in the mornings along the shore of Jackson Lake.

Signal Mountain area

A little over a mile south of SML,  there is turnoff to Signal Mountain Summit Road.  There is a large parking area at the turnoff.  The paved Signal Mountain Summit Road travels up the west slope of Signal Mountain to the summit at 7,593 feet.  Three-quarters of the way up to the summit is Jackson Point Overlook.  This is a great stop with adequate parking, sweeping views of the mountains and  a wonderful view of the valley floor. There can be wildlife along the Summit road or in the wooded area.  Please do not feed any animals that you may encounter!!

There is a six mile hiking trail from Signal Mountain Lodge to the summit. This is a loop trail and takes about 4.5 hours to complete. The trail rises approximately 800 feet from the lodge to the overlook. At times, there has been bear activity reported along this trail and closures have occurred.

For more photos from our 2019 trip to Grand Teton National Park, click here

Thoughts…In 2016 and 2019 we visited the Tetons in September. It is a marvelous time to visit, but I really missed seeing all the young Spring wildlife.  Moose, elk, bison, and bears are visible without too much effort in May.  In the Fall, you have to look a little harder to find most of the animals. Bears can be especially difficult to spot in the Fall unless you know where the berries grow. 🙂

The scenic views in September are stunning if you have good timing and patience with all the other photographers! There is so much beauty in Grand Teton National Park no matter when you visit.  My suggestion is to visit when it is convenient for you.  Be aware that summer visits will be more crowded, but more activities are happening in Jackson during the summer.

I’m reluctant to state that the Baby Boomers are descending on the Grand Tetons in droves, but more seniors are visible in the Spring and Fall than when we visited a decade ago.  Of course, I love seniors, (since I am one of them!).  Also, it seems that more families with children are visiting in Spring and Fall. In addition, we have seen a very noticeable increase in tour buses in the park the last few years in both Spring and Fall.

Social media and travel websites are raving about the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Park apps are easy to download and information overload is common when you are trip planning. Sometimes, I think longingly about the days we traveled before cell phones and the internet.  We would have a paper map and follow it each day.  When we were ready to retire for the night, we would find a phone booth and use the AAA travel book to call a hotel and make our reservation for that night.  Even in Jackson and Yellowstone, we didn’t have to reserve ahead of time.  How old am I???

So now, I have a website, and use WordPress to create my own travel blogs.  I wouldn’t think of travelling without my cell phone or my travel laptop. Evenings are spent reviewing photos and downloading to Facebook and my media files.  Like other frequent travelers to the parks, I make my lodging reservations at least a year ahead so that we can stay in the park. A lot has changed in the last 25 years!  One overriding fact remains!  We want to continue visiting Grand Teton National Park and soak in all the glorious beauty that renews our spirits!
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”  John Muir
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One Comment

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  1. Marie / Sep 29 2019 7:35 am

    I still love paper maps – there I’ve said it!! Enjoyed the post and great photos.

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