I had been itching to do this hike ever since I heard the trail was clear of snow. Then another snowstorm and a week of ‘iffy’ weather caused me to postpone one more week.
From Rigby I drove to Swan Valley then to Irwin. Just past Irwin I took a left on Old Irwin Rd/Palisades Creek Road. Then 2 miles in on a dirt road to the campground. Just past the campground is the trailhead for Palisades Creek Trail. I saw five head of deer along the edge of the trees as I pulled into the trailhead parking lot. They saw me and scattered so I wasn’t able to get a photo of them.
The trailhead parking area sits at an elevation of 5500 feet and has a restroom and info board with map of the area.
Beginning the hike
At the trailhead I crossed the first of many bridges along the way. It is a pleasant 4 mile hike from here to Lower Palisades Lake with only about a 500 foot elevation gain. Because of this you can make good time and if you push it you can make it to the lake in two hours. It took me a lot longer as I stopped often to capture images of the beauty around me.
Less than 1/4 mile up the trail the US Forest Service has a sign-in area and asks for hikers to register on their way in and again on their way out. I wish all trailheads had one of these. Just another way to make a hiking experience a little safer.
The trail follows Palisades creek pretty much all the way into the lower lake. It had rained during the night and everything was fresh and clean looking. The Trees and bushes were getting there leaves and grass was growing, the colors vivid!
This is a very scenic and fast moving stream, swollen and muddy now due to snow melt.
Because the water level was so high there were 3-4 areas where the stream overflowed its banks and sent water down the trail creating a new stream for short distances. This is one of the reasons I use trekking poles. They help me keep my balance as I try to keep my feet dry and also are great for gauging the depth of water in case I need to cross.
There are about 5 bridges between the trail head and the lower lake as the trail crosses back and forth across the stream. These are bridges built not only for human traffic but also horses. This trail is popular for horseback riding and also mountain biking.
Palisades Creek Trail changes elevation quite a few times from down level with the stream to a few 100 feet above the stream with some grand views.
Many parts of this canyon are lined with cliffs and sweet looking rock formations. If you take time to stop and check the cliff ledges above you, you might see some mountain goats. I had been told that there were quite a few in this area but didn’t see one until about a mile or two up the canyon.
Mountain Goats love to eat along the cliff edges and watch hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers from their lofty perches. Many hikers I’m sure walk right by them without seeing them.
This goat watched me the whole time I watched it.
The trail pulls away from the creek at times and meanders through some beautiful groves of trees and vegetation.
Not long after I walked across the fifth bridge of the hike I started up a rocky incline which would be the first of five switchbacks before reaching the lake.
Just before I reached the lower lake there was a nice campground off to the right of the trail with several campsites and an outhouse off in the trees behind the area.
Lower Palisades Lake sits at about 6100 feet elevation. I read that it was created by a huge rockslide blocking the stream ages ago. The lake was muddy brown from runoff but still picturesque. I ate my lunch and visited with a couple of hikers who arrived shortly after I did. They were some of the first people I had seen since early morning. (I ran into three hikers when I first started my hike. They were finishing their hike and had spent the night at the upper lake the night before.)
After lunch I headed back to the trailhead. I ran into several hikers and mountain bikers on the way back and saw some more mountain goats. It started to rain when I was about 30 minutes from the car. I keep a rain poncho and waterproof jacket in my pack but decided to relax under a big tree with lots of cover until the rain stopped which was long enough to reflect on this beautiful hike and plan my next one. I decided I would hike this same trail next time but keep going until I reach the upper lake and maybe go a little farther up into Waterfall Canyon. Already looking forward to it! Happy hiking!!
A couple of weeks ago I drove up to Mesa Falls, about a 45 minute drive from where I live. This area is located just north of Ashton Idaho on the Mesa Falls Scenic By Way. What a beautiful drive, most of it along the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. After you pass the Bear Gulch area one of the first turnouts you come to is the Lower Mesa Falls parking lot. If you walk over to the viewing area you can see the lower falls down in the canyon. Personally I have not shot a photo of the lower falls from this viewing area because I haven’t found an angle that I like. You really need a long lens to get a decent shot from this vantage point. Less then a mile up the road is the turn off to Upper Mesa Falls. This is a fee area and there is a visitor center there that is worth checking out.
HIKING MESA FALLS NATURE TRAIL
As I parked my car in the parking lot I put my backpack on with the intention of hiking the Mesa Falls Nature Trail. The trail head is at the south end of the parking lot and is an easy 2.2 mile in and out hike that takes you to a plateau just above the lower falls. My plan was to hike this trail, get some shots of Lower Mesa Falls and then shoot the upper falls. It’s a pretty hike through fairly thick forest. I saw and heard plenty of birds during this first part of the hike. About half way down the trail I decided to leave the trail and hike over to the edge of the canyon for some photos but also to see if there was a way down into the canyon. I wanted, if possible, to find a way down and then hike up river to get a shot of the upper falls from a different vantage point.
There are steep cliffs pretty much all along the canyon below the upper falls. I searched at great length for a way down and found a few places where I MIGHThave been able to descend safely but I probably wouldn’t have been able to climb back out so I gave up.
At that point I discovered that I had lost my water bottle somewhere so I searched for a while but didn’t find it. I decided not to hike the rest of the way down to the lower falls and back without water. So I hiked back to the upper falls to get a few shots.
Upper Mesa Falls is about 114 feet high and 200 feet wide. You can hear the roar of the falls from the parking lot. There is a half mile of boardwalk and viewing platforms between the falls and the visitor center. After exploring some of the paths and enjoying the view from some of the platforms I headed home, did some research and and found out that there is indeed a way down into the canyon.
DESCENDING INTO THE CANYON
So… today’s trip to the falls was for the purpose of getting some shots from down in the canyon. I arrived just before sunrise before anyone else was there, loaded my camera gear, water and snacks into my backpack and headed down to the southern most viewing platform. I then carefully climbed over the guard rail onto a rocky outcropping and then down a very steep mostly unused trail.
In the above photo (upper right corner) you can see the stairs down to one of several viewing platforms. To the right of the platform is where the trail begins. I doubt very much that the park staff want visitors climbing over the rail. That’s why I went early before the visitor center opened or any other visitors arrived. I didn’t want anybody else following me over the rail and down the steep dangerous trail. If you are not a photographer I would not recommend doing this. Its just not worth it considering there are better views of the falls from above.
ON THE RIVER BELOW THE FALLS
It took me about 20 minutes to reach the river. One thing not real noticeable until you see the falls from this perspective is that Upper Mesa Falls is actually a series of two falls with a smaller water fall just below the big one.
The hike back out with 25-30 lbs on my back was definitely more challenging then the hike down. After climbing back out and over the rail, the bench in the viewing area was a welcome sight and sorely needed until I got my breathing under control and some water down me. No regrets though. Another little adventure checked off my list. I still want to finish the Mesa Falls Nature Trail hike and explore the Lower Mesa Falls area and will do so in the near future.
In September I drove to Grand Teton National Park to do some hiking but the area I planned to hike was closed for maintenance. So I drove over to check out the historical Menor’s Ferry area.This area is in the unincorporated community of Moose Wyoming. To get there I drove through the south entrance to the park and took the first right into a parking lot in front of The Chapel of the Transfiguration. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was just coming up. I decided that I would get a few shots of the chapel with the morning light on the mountains behind it.
CHAPEL OF THE TRANSFIGURATION, MOOSE IDAHO
The Chapel was built in 1925 and provided religious services for dude ranchers and tourists who didn’t want to ride the 12 miles into Jackson. Services are still held here every Sunday during the summer time. It is also very popular for weddings.
The Chapel can seat about 60 people and this amazingly beautiful view behind the altar is quite inspirational!
MENOR’S FERRY, MOOSE IDAHO
There is a paved path around the parking area that also loops through the trees along the nearby Snake River. Along this path are restrooms and a number of old historical buildings, cabins and such built in the late 1800’s.
Bill Menor made a homestead claim on the west side of the river in about 1890. Using a cable system he built a ferry with docks and a wooden pontoon boat.
For homesteaders and ranchers living on the east side of the river this was the only place in Jackson Hole to cross over (and stay dry) into what is now Grand Teton National Park. Besides the ferry there was a store and blacksmith shop and all this became the center of the Moose area.
Another interesting fact I found out was that the Moose area was the setting for a motion picture in 1955 called ‘The Far Horizons’ about the Lewis and Clark expedition. It starred Fred MacMurray, Charleton Heston and Donna Reed.
This is a beautiful place with lots to see. The park visitor center is located here and is one of the nicest visitor centers I’ve been to…
Well, I may not have been able to do the hike I wanted but I still enjoyed my day and was able to see a few new places and ponder what it must have been like for those first homesteaders to live in this place. I can’t imagine how hard life would have been here. But to be able to see the beauty of the Tetons every day would have been ‘balm to the soul’ for sure!
About three weeks after hiking into Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes I decided to hike the Leigh Lake trail. ( In the photo above is Leigh Lake ).
I have gotten into the habit of arising early enough to be at the trail head by daylight but didn’t think about the fact that by late summer the sun is rising a little later each morning. So when I arrived at the Leigh Lake trail head in Grand Teton National Park it was still very dark. I didn’t want to just sit there in my car waiting so I decided to drive to the Jenny Lake overlook and take some long exposure shots of Jenny Lake while still dark. There is a chain of three lakes in this area of the park that are all connected by inlets and outlets. Jenny lake is the southern most lake then String Lake in the middle and Leigh Lake to the north. You can actually float your canoe or kayak from one lake to another with some short portages.
THE JENNY LAKE OVERLOOK
I arrived at the overlook about a 10 minute drive away. Early mornings are great in the mountains. No sounds of civilization but not as quiet as one might think. The wind in the trees and sounds of the forest waking up all make their own sweet music. The fresh air and subtle smells of pine, damp earth and wildflowers help revive the soul and awaken the senses. Ha ha now I sound like a free spirit talking all sappy like that. But I do feel that I am recharged mentally, emotionally and spiritually after these trips. Now…early mornings in the dark, alone and hearing rustling noises in the underbrush on occasion can make me a little jumpy at times. Using a flashlight to aid in setting up my camera on a tripod and pointing the lens towards the lake and mountains that I can’t see but know are there tends to ruin any night vision. And any time I hear a noise behind me I’m twisting around flashing my light over the surrounding area hoping nothing is sneaking up on me. Need to bring my headlamp next time. Below is one of the images I captured of Jenny Lake while looking towards the west before sunrise.
THE TRAIL HEAD AT STRING LAKE
Afterward I drove back to the Leigh Lake trail head which heads north from the String Lake parking area. From the parking lot you also have access to the String Lake beach. String Lake looks more like a wide channel connecting Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake and sits just below the steep slopes of Mount St. John and Rockchuck Peak. It is a shallow lake with a sandy bottom and water temperature that is quite pleasant. This has been a popular swimming area since the early 1900s when guests of nearby dude ranches and early homesteaders enjoyed the lake’s clear waters.
Now not only do people come here to swim but also to paddle-board. They will also launch their canoes and kayaks from here and paddle north less then a mile to Leigh Lake.
ACCESSING THE STRING LAKE LOOP TRAIL
From the parking lot is the trail head for the Valley Trail, also known as the String Lake Loop Trail. Trail head elevation is about 6800 ft. As I began my hike from here I followed the part of the trail that goes along the east edge of String Lake and stopped along the way to capture the beauty around me. The view of the mountains are spectacular from many parts of this trail. Mount Teewinot is 12,325 ft high, Mount St. John 11,430 ft and Rockchuck Peak is 11,144 ft high. Mount Moran (12,605 ft) can be seen in the distance (photo below) bathed in early morning light.
The trail is well maintained and an easy hike through this stretch.
One reason I like to start my hike early is to beat the crowds. I didn’t see anyone at all on the trail until about 2 hours into my hike.
I saw many different kinds of waterfowl on the lake and a Bald Eagle in the trees along the west edge of String Lake (see image below).
The lake really narrows down through here and gets to a point where it’s too shallow for kayaks and canoes. Then they must be carried a short distance to the Leigh Lake portage area.
The trail splits here going left across a long foot bridge and up into Paintbrush Canyon (a hike I will take at a later date) and right to the Leigh Lake portage area (see below).
NEARLY BROKE MY CAMERA
All morning I kept one eye on my surroundings and the other on the trail checking for any fresh bear sign and making as much noise as one person can make to avoid meeting a bear on the trail. This area is well known for it’s bear sightings. As I came to the steps going down to the portage area I decided to go down and set up my camera and tripod on the beach. Just as I secured my camera to the tripod I heard a crash in the brush behind me and heart pounding I whirled around to see that a grouse had dropped down from a tree into the brush which was a relief. But in my brief panic I accidentally knocked over my camera and tripod into the sand and gravel! As I knelt over my equipment I thought for sure I would find something broken but other than a few scratches everything seemed to work fine.
View (above) from the beach of Boulder Island and Mount Moran in the background. There are about four Islands on the lake and I hear that they are fun to explore by canoe or kayak.
After I left the portage area I followed the trail around the south end of the lake and over a low ridge. The early morning sunlight was beautiful as it filtered through the trees. Being late August some of the plants in the area were already starting to show some fall color.
HIKING THE LENGTH OF LEIGH LAKE
Leigh Lake is the third largest lake in the Tetons. 2.8 miles long, 2.4 miles wide and 250 feet deep which makes it one of the deepest in the park. It is named after Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh, a trapper and guide who led expeditions into the area in the 1870’s. Nearby Jenny Lake is named after Beaver Dick’s wife, a Shoshone Indian. As I hiked the trail along the the east edge of the lake I noticed a variety of coves and bays with different views of the mountains.
Some beaches were open and filled with boulders and easily accessible.
Some were harder to get to and strewn with deadfall and thick brush. In the photo above you can see in the distance a small rocky island with a tree standing in the middle.
There are also a few beaches with soft white sand that are great places to rest and enjoy the view.
Most mornings there is very little wind so the mountain reflections are awesome!
About half way along the edge of the lake there is a good sized sand and gravel beach.
Just inside the tree line are three campsites with fantastic views of the Tetons. I noticed that the park service installs “bear boxes” in these areas. These are metal boxes or lockers that campers are required to put their food in, are easily opened by humans but bears can’t get in them. I also noticed steel poles that looked like flag poles near the campsites. These poles have a pulley system and several hooks at the top to hoist and raise your food out of reach of bears. Because of frequent visits from black bear and grizzly bear to these campsites campers must be extremely careful about food storage.
These beaches on the lake are very popular for canoe and kayak camping and the fly fishing here can be an awesome experience. Leigh Lake holds many Cutthroat, Brook trout and Mackinaw. I have not fished this lake myself but intend to at some point in the future.
The Leigh Lake trail is about a 7 mile in and out hike. Which is a nice hike. I didn’t find the walk to be very difficult, there were some up and down but overall not a lot of elevation change. Most people hike to the north end of the lake and then turn around and head back. There are two more lakes to see to the north of Leigh Lake. By adding about two more miles on my hike I was able to see Bear Paw Lake and Trapper Lake.
BEAR PAW LAKE
As I left Leigh Lake I continued following the trail as it rounded the north end of the lake I walked through an old burn and then through some open meadows as the trail headed directly toward the base of Mount Moran. The first lake I came to was Bear Paw Lake.
It’s a lot smaller then Leigh Lake but is more secluded as not many people choose to hike this far in. In the above photo you can see the lower slopes of Mount Moran at the head of the lake. As I’ve mentioned before this is bear country. When hiking alone I tend to talk out loud to myself while banging my trekking poles together ever so often. I also like to play music (instrumental not rock) at full volume from my iphone. I get some odd looks from people at times but have had a few folks comment that they liked the way I chose to let the animals know I’m on the trail. As I followed the trail around the lake with my music playing I startled a deer that came crashing out of the brush ahead of me. It didn’t hear me until I was right on top of it because of the noise made from a stream plunging down the slope into the lake. I was thankful it hadn’t been a bear.
There are several secluded camp sites around the lake. I rested while I ate my lunch at the above camp site and as I left the site to get back onto the trail another deer (or maybe the same) stood in the trail ahead of me calm and not afraid. I waited for it to move off before I proceeded up the trail towards Trapper Lake.
Trapper Lake sets further up the slopes of Mount Moran and gets it’s water from Skillet Glacier.
I was a little bit disappointed with Bear Paw and Trapper Lakes and I shouldn’t have been. On their own they are pretty little lakes. But when I compare them to Jenny, String and Leigh Lakes they don’t even come close in my opinion. I had debated whether or not to hike the extra miles to these lakes but had decided I would never have a better chance to see what they look like. I don’t regret the decision. I just was not ‘wowed’ by them.
HEADING BACK DOWN THE TRAIL
On my way back down the trail I talked to a couple who had forgotten their bear spray and asked me with some trepidation if I had seen any bear. They heard my music playing long before I reached them. I told them I hadn’t seen a bear at all during the five hours I was on the trail and if they made plenty of noise going up the canyon they should be okay.
I also ran into about a dozen people on horseback heading up the trail to Bear Paw and Trapper Lakes. As I hiked back along the shores of Leigh Lake and String Lake I encountered many hikers of all ages and nationalities working their way up the trail. Even one guy with and inflatable kayak (deflated) on his back. He was headed all the way to the north end of Leigh Lake to put in and paddle the length of the lake then portage to String Lake and paddle it’s length back to the parking area. I thought I might try that sometime. I have an inflatable kayak but I’m not sure I could hike that far with it on my back. I think I would rather paddle both ways.
By the time I reached the trail head and String Lake beach area it was getting warm, about 80 degrees. The parking lot was full and there were a lot of people enjoying the water, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. You won’t find a more beautiful area to hike and/or play in the water…I look forward to visiting the area again but next time I will bring my wife, kayak and fishing pole!