Visiting Grand Teton’s Picturesque Jenny Lake

Trees just beginning to turn golden line the edge of beautiful Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

Beautiful Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Photo © snehit/123rf.

Map of Jenny Lake Area

Jenny Lake Area

Carved some 12,000 years ago by the same glaciers that carved Cascade Canyon, Jenny Lake is perhaps the most picturesque and popular spot in the park. The hiking—to places like Inspiration Point and the even more beautiful Leigh Lake—is sublime, and the water activities—scenic cruising, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing—are plentiful. The park’s fanciest and most expensive lodging and dining can be found at the historic and tony Jenny Lake Lodge.

In much the same way that Old Faithful embodies the Yellowstone experience for many visitors, so too does Jenny Lake conjure up all that is wonderful about Grand Teton. A scenic drive from North Jenny Lake to South Jenny Lake skirts the water and affords breathtaking views of the Grand Teton, Teewinot, and Mount Owen. Those who are more interested in solitude would be well advised to get off the main drag here, away from the crowds and into the wilderness.


Jenny Lake and Vicinity Sights

Jenny Lake

In 1872 an English-born mountain man, known widely as “Beaver Dick” Leigh for his enormous front teeth and his penchant for the animal, guided Ferdinand Hayden around the Tetons. Hayden named the lovely alpine lake for Dick’s wife, Jenny, a member of the Shoshone tribe. Tragically, in the fall of 1876, pregnant Jenny took care of an ailing Native American woman, not knowing the woman had smallpox. Jenny and all four of her children became ill. Her baby was born just before Christmas and, along with Jenny and the other four children, died within a week. Beaver Dick buried his family in Jackson Hole.

Despite its tragic namesake, Jenny Lake is indeed one of the most beautiful and beloved spots in the park. From cruising across the lake to hiking along its shores, there are an endless number of ways to enjoy this idyllic spot.

Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point

One of the area’s most popular hikes is to the spectacular Hidden Falls. From Jenny Lake’s south shore, the hike follows a moderate 2.5-mile trail with 550 feet of elevation gain to the cascade. Visitors who want to put fewer miles on their feet can take the Jenny Lake Shuttle (307/734-9227, hours change monthly mid-May-late Sept., $12 adults round-trip, $7 one-way, $6 children round-trip, $5 one-way), which runs every 15-20 minutes throughout the day, to shorten the hike to 1 mile with 150 feet of elevation gain. The hike to Inspiration Point, a breathtaking overlook 5.8 miles round-trip with 700 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead, or 2.2 miles round-trip with 420 feet of elevation gain from the boat shuttle, earns its name.

Leigh Lake

Named for mountain man “Beaver Dick” Leigh, Leigh Lake is much quieter and perhaps even more beautiful than the more southerly Jenny Lake. The lake offers unrivaled views of Mount Moran, Mount Woodring, and Rockchuck Peak, and it is dotted with sandy beaches ideal for picnics. The 5.4-mile roundtrip (out-and-back) trail is flat and weaves in and out of the forest with a constant water view. The Leigh Lake Trailhead is at the northwest corner of the String Lake Picnic Area. The trail can be hiked as early as May or June, depending on snowmelt, and is typically passable well into September. Although popular, Leigh Lake does not attract the crowds that Jenny Lake does.


Recreation around Jenny Lake

Fishing

Fishing is permitted in Jenny, String, Leigh, Bradley, and Taggart Lakes. A Wyoming fishing license is required, and they can be purchased at Snake River Anglers at Dornan’s (307/733-3699), Signal Mountain Marina (307/543-2831 or 800/628-9988), and Colter Bay Marina (307/543-3100 or 800/628-9988). Pick up a fishing brochure from any of the visitors centers to learn about all park regulations.

Boating

Scenic one-hour cruises ($16 adults, $10 children), shuttles to Cascade Canyon hiking trails ($12 adults round-trip, $6 children round-trip, depart every 15 minutes), and canoe or kayak rentals ($15/hour, $75/day) can be arranged through Jenny Lake Boating (307/734-9227).

Hiking and Biking

Jenny Lake is at the heart of the park’s largest concentration of popular hiking trails. In addition to the Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, and Leigh Lake trailheads, there are a number of excellent trails in the region. The mostly level Jenny Lake Loop Trail circumnavigates the lake with a 6.6-mile round-trip hike. The Lupine Meadows Trailhead offers hikers a number of ways to get up into the Teton Range. The multiuse pathway from South Jenny Lake to Taggart Lake Trailhead offers bikers (and all nonmotorized travelers) 16 miles round-trip of smooth, level pavement. There are bike racks at Taggart Lake Trailhead and in Moose. Bicycles can be rented from Dornans (in Moose, 307/733-2415). In addition to adult mountain bikes ($15/hour, $29 half-day, $32/day or 24 hours, $180/week), Dornans rents kids’ bikes, Trail-a-Bikes, bike racks, and Burley carriers for toddlers.


Accommodations and Camping at Jenny Lake

A former dude ranch for sophisticated Easterners, Jenny Lake Lodge (800/733-4647, late May-early Oct., cabins $689, suites $869-959) is the finest lodging in the park and the only four-diamond eco-resort. The cabins have authentic log walls, newly renovated baths, and touches such as handmade bed quilts that add to the rustic elegance of each room. Situated among the three lakes, the lodge is comfortably secluded but offers beautiful vistas in all directions. The rooms are pricey, but guests get a lot for their dime. A gourmet breakfast, five-course dinner, horseback riding, and access to bicycles are all included in the rates. If you are looking for a romantic getaway, consider booking one of the suites, which come with wood-burning stoves.

A much less expensive, and truly rustic, option is the American Alpine Club Climbers Ranch (307/733-7271, $16 AAC members, $25 nonmembers), located just three miles south of Jenny Lake. The ranch has small log cabins that serve as dormitories for 4-8 people. Guests must bring their own sleeping bags and pads, towels, cooking equipment, and food. There are cooking and dishwashing facilities, toilets, and showers with hot water available. No tents or camper camping is allowed. There is also a general store on the grounds where you can stock up on groceries as well as hiking and camping supplies.

The Jenny Lake Campground (800/628-9988, tent sites mid-May-early Oct., $21 with vehicle, $8 hikers and bicyclists) is the smallest in the park and is available on a first-come, first-served basis only; it is usually full by 8am. It has 49 sites that can each accommodate one vehicle, two tents, and up to six campers. There are 10 additional sites set aside for hikers or bicyclists. There are no large group sites, nor are trailers, campers, or generators are allowed in the area. Because of its size and popularity, the maximum stay is seven days (at the other campgrounds it is 14 days). There are toilets available but no shower facilities.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Montana & Wyoming.

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