Time Out!: 5 Great USA Getaways

The Tetons, Wyoming

Jan 15, 2004
Outside Magazine
grand teton national park

The Grand Tetons more than make up for a lack of geological maturity—they're not even the tallest mountains in Wyoming—with a distinct edge in the beauty stakes.    Photo: PhotoDisc

STAND AT THE BASE of Wyoming's magnificent Tetons—at somewhere over two million years old the newest range in the Rockies—and look up to see a massive wall of rock and ice piercing the clouds 6,000 feet above you. Recipe for our favorite mountain formula: Explore these jagged 13,000-foot peaks by day; then, by night, bask in the sounds of classical guitarists at Jenny Lake Lodge, in Grand Teton National Park. Many travelers rush through this park, a 30-minute drive from Jackson, on the way to its better-known neighbor, Yellowstone National Park. But those making a beeline for Old Faithful miss out on a haven of moose, elks, bears, wolves, and even white pelicans, as well as some of the country's best climbing. During a May visit, I enjoyed a medley of horseback riding through the aspens, floating the Snake River, and—my favorite—climbing the 5.8-5.10 Guide's Wall. After it all, I watched the evening light dance across 12,000-acre Jenny Lake, tinting pink the glaciers that slash across the Tetons, geological new kids on the block.

Weaving among the hills atop a horse gives a heightened perspective on the park. Grand Teton Lodge Company leads two-hour trail rides that take you off the beaten path, where you're much more likely to catch a glimpse of a griz than on traffic-jammed park roads. Their rafting trips on the Snake River, which bisects the park, are a relaxing two to four hours of lazy floating, matched with grilled steak or trout for dinner. But for white-knuckle action, go climbing with Exum Mountain Guides. I was lucky to climb with Amy Bullard, who led the first unsupported American women's expedition up an 8,000-meter peak when she climbed Cho Oyu, in 1999. After taking a boat across Jenny Lake, we hiked 90 minutes through pine forest and along the rushing Cascade Creek, where we were joined for a moment by a moose. A short scramble over a steep scree field put us at the base of Guide's Wall, one of the most beloved climbs in the Tetons. The route follows the lower southwest ridge of Storm Point and is known for its variety: We tackled chimneys, dihedrals, faces, and finally a tiny vertical crack. Five pitches and 700 feet later we were cross-legged on a rocky ledge, munching on cheese and oranges.

After watching the sunset—gin and tonic in hand—on the porch of the Jenny Lake Lodge, move inside the elegantly rustic dining room for a five-course dinner that might start with golden tomato coulis soup followed by organic field greens with watermelon and an appetizer of rabbit loin. Entrées rely on local game: pheasant, elk medallions, and trout; the menu rotates every five days. Dessert would seem impossible if the spicy Asian pear tartin weren't so tempting.

Arriving at the venerable Jenny Lake Lodge, which opened in 1952, is like returning to a summer home you visited as a child. Set at the foot of Grand Teton and a short stroll from Jenny Lake, the 37 log cabins are surrounded by lodgepole pines and feature private baths, hand-made quilts, and patios with rocking chairs. It's the perfect yin for your adventurous Tetons yang.

In addition to one-day climbs (starting at $110 per person), Exum Mountain Guides (307-733-2297, www.exumguides.com) offers multi-day outings such as a four-day trip up Grand Teton, the park's tallest peak at 13,770 feet, and backcountry skiing. For float trips ($52, includes three hours on the river and dinner) and horseback rides (starting at $25), contact Grand Teton Lodge Company (800-628-9988, www.gtlc.com). One-room cabins at Jenny Lake Lodge (800-628-9988, www.gtlc.com/lodgejen.shtml) are $444 per night, double occupancy, including breakfast and dinner at the restaurant (307-733-4647) and a mountain bike to tool around the lodge grounds. For information about Grand Teton National Park, call 307-739-3600 or visit www.nps.gov/grte.

Filed To: Wyoming

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