This past winter where I live was a rough one. The worst in over 25 years. So there wasn’t many opportunities to drive into the mountains because of treacherous roads and deeper then usual snow. It was a difficult task just getting out of the driveway most mornings. I was able to exercise inside regularly and stay in decent shape throughout the winter so I would be somewhat prepared for the spring/summer/fall hiking seasons. But nothing prepares you better then actually getting out on the trail with a backpack full of all your gear.
HIKING CRESS CREEK TRAIL
There are foothills a short distance from my home and the south slopes are some of the first places the snow begins to melt. In those hills above the south fork of the Snake River there is the Cress Creek Loop Trail. The trail gets its name from the watercress that grows in the nearby creek and is a favorite food for the moose in the area. I finally got out and up the trail the beginning of March this year. There was still snow on most areas of the trail but only a few inches. The temperature was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky was mostly cloudy but no wind. I dressed in layers but the outer layer came off about half way up the trail. The first half mile of Cress Creek Trail is paved and is wheelchair accessible. This is a self-guided interpretive trail with 18 interpretive signs with info about the geology and ecology of the area. The trail is not difficult and is a 1.3 mile loop with 285 feet of elevation gain winding through bunch grass, sage brush and groves of Rocky Mountain and Utah Juniper.
From the trail you can see the South Fork of the Snake River, farmland, mountains and volcanoes.
The air was fresh with the smell of juniper and sage as I stood on the trail looking west. I could see the Menan Buttes in the distance which are two of the worlds largest volcanic tuff cones and behind them the Lost River Range of mountains.
This hike was the perfect chance to try out my new waterproof Keen mid boots. They were very comfortable and light weight and don’t seem to need much in the way of ‘breaking in’.
And I tried out my CapturePRO camera clip. When hiking its difficult to get all the photos I like unless my camera is hanging from my neck (which annoys me) So I usually carry it on my hip in a zipped, padded case. This is more comfortable but still not very handy and the case will sometimes catch on rocks or foliage. The CapturePRO camera clip is attached to the shoulder strap of my backpack. My camera locks into place safely and releases quickly whenever I need it.
On this hike I only made one loop of the trail. In the next week or two I will be back and make two loops (2.6 miles) instead of one and then increase to three and four loops of the trail a week or two after that. By then I may be able to get in to some other trail systems at higher elevations.
It was so nice to get out and hike for the first time this year! Even just a short hike like this does wonders for the soul. So…get out and hike!
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!
Their are two beautiful glacial lakes within a mile of each other that sit at the base of the Teton range in Wyoming. Taggart Lake and Bradley Lake. They share the same trail head which is accessed by entering the south entrance of Grand Teton National Park via Moose Junction just north of the Jackson Wyoming international airport. Just a few miles up the road from the park entrance is a parking lot and trail head. This is the main trail into both lakes (Please see my Taggart Lake – Beaver Creek Looppost for a more detailed description of the hike into the lakes).
About a mile up the trail there is a split in the trail on top of the moraine that surrounds Taggart Lake. Take the right fork to Bradley Lake. This will take you through an old burn and back out and over a lateral moraine that separates the two lakes. The views along this stretch are beautiful. You can see a lot of Taggart Lake along the way with the ever present Tetons in the background. There are plenty of wildflowers all around this area. You may even see a bear along this stretch as there are huckleberries growing along the ridge. I was with a couple of friends on this hike and we were making plenty of noise. Definitely don’t want to surprise a bear. I always want them to know I am coming up the trail.
The trail climbs up the moraine and back down to Bradley Lake. You will be hiking through some big stands of pine and Douglas Fir. As you cross over the ridge you can stop and turn around to see Taggart Lake below and all the way out into the valley. I always have my camera with me so I stop often to appreciate the magnificent views around me.
The trail goes down and around Bradley Lake to a marsh and ponds where moose, deer and elk are often seen. There is a trail that goes over the moraine on the lake’s north side, forks right out to the Lupine Meadows trailhead or left up into Garnet Canyon. If your plan is just to visit Bradley and Taggart Lakes then you are better off retracing your steps here and heading back to the main trailhead. Be sure and take your time, relax with a snack , take some photos and take in the sounds of nature and fresh air. It’s 4.8 miles into Bradley Lake and back out to the parking lot. This is a pleasant easy hike with only about 400 feet of elevation gain. We started this hike early which is the way I prefer. The morning was cool and not very many people on the trail until on our way out. We stopped and chatted with a few along the way. It’s always fun to find out where people are from. People from all over the world visit this park. There was an older couple who asked to have their picture taken on the bridge over Taggart Creek. Apparently they take a picture there every time they visit from Texas and have been doing it for many years. Sweet tradition…Happy hiking!
I live a little over an hour away from two national parks. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Both parks can be pretty crazy with the amount of people visiting in the summertime. These two parks are amazingly beautiful in their own way. I spent most of this summer hiking the trails in the Tetons. One of these trails is the Taggart Lake Loop.
GETTING TO THE TAGGART LAKE TRAIL HEAD
I live on the Idaho side of the Tetons so I drive over the mountain into Jackson Wyoming and then enter the park through the south entrance near Moose Wyoming. Just a few miles up the road on the inner highway is a parking lot and restrooms just off the highway. We left home well before light and arrived at the trail head just at sunrise (this is a good idea if you want to beat the crowds as this is a popular hike). As we exited our car we could hear an elk bugling and as we donned our gear we could see on the ridge where we were headed several elk in the trees. If you have ever heard the sound of a bull elk bugling in the cool morning air it is a sound you won’t forget. Even in midsummer early mornings are in the low 40’s so it’s best to dress in layers (by afternoon the temperature rose to about 80 degrees).
HIKING TO TAGGART LAKE
The hike into Taggart Lake is an easy hike with only a 277 foot elevation gain. There is one trail leading from the parking lot straight toward the Tetons across a flat area and then over a glacial moraine. It’s 3.2 miles in and out or you can take the loop from the lake south around and back along Beaver Creek and that is about 4 miles. We took the 4 mile loop in order to come back a different way.
After you leave the parking lot, and cross the flats the trail winds through some beautiful aspen groves that are especially beautiful in the fall.
The trail then crosses Taggart Creek via a bridge that is perfect for photos.
While on the bridge look to your left for a great view of a waterfall
The trail crosses Taggart Creek, circles past Park Service corrals and an historic old barn and cabin from the homestead era ( circa 1911 ), and turns back towards the mountains.
The trail then climbs up the moraine along the creek then as you flatten out and walk towards the mountains the trail then splits right towards Bradley Lake ( see myBradley Lake Loop Trail post ) and left toward Taggart Lake through an old burn and down to the lake.
Taggart Lake is a pristine glacial lake sitting at the base of Avalanche Canyon with views of the high peaks behind. I am told that fishing for trout from the shore is pretty good. The water is cold and I’m sure the fish would be tasty. This is a perfect place to break out the camera for photos or canvas and brushes to begin a painting. We lingered here for about an hour then continued south around the end of the lake across a footbridge over a low rise then down along Beaver Creek back to the trail head. The parking lot was full to overflowing when we returned with people of all ages headed up the trail. As I said before this area is very popular and if you want to beat the crowd and the heat go early!