Walter and Sara on the road to who knows where
We had a gorgeous crisp sunny blue sky day on Tuesday September 25th for our drive from Idaho Falls to Grand Teton National Park. We drove east on Highway 20 and then followed Carmine the Garmin’s instructions to juke and jive to get us onto Highway 20 heading east through the Swan Valley. The cold nights the previous week had brought on the first signs of fall color in the hills surrounding the valley painting them bright yellow in places and the wheat and hay fields were golden beige.

Swan Valley ID fall color

We had miles of yellow dappled hills.

Swan Valley ID fall color

There are two ways to get to Jackson, Wyoming from Idaho Falls. One takes you southeast around Palisades Reservoir and the other takes you northeast up over the mountains and two high passes including Teton Pass at 8,431 feet. We opted for the slightly longer road that doesn’t involve any high passes but is still wonderfully scenic. So when we came to the town of Swan Valley we stayed on Highway 26 rather than heading north on Highway 31.

The road follows the Snake River as it winds down the valley.

Snake River Swan Valley ID

In time, we began to pick up some red in the fall color.

Swan Valley ID fall color

And when we hit Palisades Reservoir it got even better.

Fall color Palisades Reservoir

Here’s a view across the lake looking southwest.

Palisades Reservoir fall color

We crossed into Wyoming at the foot of Palisades Reservoir and Hwy 26 swung northward towards Jackson. We switched drivers south of Hoback Junction and got a lovely view of the Snake River canyon.

Snake River Canyon WY

White water rafting is very popular on this part of the Snake since it’s got great rapids and is classified a scenic river. We didn’t see anyone out on the river but as we drove through Jackson we saw of group of folks in wet suits getting ready to board a bus for a trip. Jackson has turned into a upscale glitter gulch over the years and it was full of people and cars. Taking a trailer through the narrow streets is a bit of a challenge but we did okay which is a good thing since you don’t have any choice about it.

As we headed north out of Jackson we began to get our first views of the Teton Range. We saw a pair of trumpeter swans out on a small lake but didn’t get a photo.

In time, I pulled over to get a photo of the mountains in the nice light.    

Teton Mountains

Here’s a closer shot of the middle of the range. Grand Teton is 13,770 feet and it rises out of Jackson Hole (the valley) which is just 6,772 feet. So it’s 7000 feet above the valley floor which is why the whole range looks so marvelously tall.

Grand Teton

We drove on north and saw a single bison near the Elk Flats Ranch turnout. Then we continued on through Moran Junction and followed the shore of Jackson Lake. We saw a pair of does along the side of the road and then another single doe a bit further on.

Mule deer

We drove north out of the park proper and into the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway area (the area between Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks) to the Headwaters RV Park at Flagg Ranch. I had managed to snag us a 3 day reservation here for a pull through full hookup site back when I planned our September and October travels just after Labor Day. There had been no openings at the other campgrounds with electricity and I learned later that this campground had been full up until about a five days before we got there. It was pretty darned close to full our first night but it go less so over the next 2 nights. The last night for this (and many of the other campgrounds in the park) was just a few days away on September 30th.

We set up camp and put the weather station out. It was a whole 56 degrees but sunny and gorgeous. After a late lunch, Walter took a nap and I processed my photos from the drive. There’s no cell signal or WiFi in the Headwaters area so we had a nice quiet few days. There is cell service down in the main portion of the park so we could check for messages and email when we were out driving around but at least we managed a bit of a News Fast for a change.

At about 5 pm we set out to see if we could spy some wildlife. We drove south towards Jackson Lake and the late afternoon sun shone through the fall foliage painting everything golden.

Fall Color Grand Teton NP

We stopped at the Jackson Lake Overlook at the north end of the lake and I shot a panorama photo looking south

Jackson Lake Overlook view

And looking north.

Jackson Lake Overlook view

We drove on to Willow Flats which is just south of Jackson Lake Lodge to watch for wildlife. The park guide said this was a great place to see moose and other critters. We didn’t see a thing but we had a nice conversation with a young couple from New Hampshire who were doing a western road trip in a van.

Willow Flats

Folks would walk out on a trail into the flats and come back having seen nothing but sagebrush. We gave up after a while and continued southward to the Jackson Lake Junction where we turned west onto the Teton Park Road. Just as we crossed the Jackson Lake Dam the sun began to set behind Mount Moran. We pulled over into the parking lot there and I went out and had a wonderful time taking photos of the sun painting the sky and the water gold while it set.

Sunset behind Mount Moran

Here’s a panorama shot of the Tetons a bit closer up.

Sunset behind Mount Moran

And one last shot of Mount Moran lit by the setting sun.

Sunset behind Mount Moran

This was way fun, if a bit cold since the temperature was really starting to drop.

Here’s the view looking east across the Snake River.

Late evening light Grand Teton

And here’s the water gushing out of the raceways in the dam.

Jackson Lake dam

We drove as far as the Signal Mountain Lodge before it started to get pretty dark so we turned around. Even in twilight we only saw one more pair of deer and they could just as well have been the same two we’d seen earlier in the afternoon!

By the time we got back to the trailer at 7:30 it was 42 degrees (the truck thought it was 37 but we’ll go with the weather station). By 9:45 pm it was already 32 degrees and the trailer was sitting at 65 with both our heaters going (it had dropped to 55 while we were gone).

It was a good night to sleep in silk long johns with an extra blanket on the bed! By morning it was COLD. It got down to 16 degrees at 7:45 am and we turned on the bedroom heater (we’d left the one in the dining area on all night and it managed to keep the dining area at 45 degrees) and snuggled back to sleep for a while. It took all morning but it slowly warmed up. It was in the mid 40’s when we set out at about 11 am and it warmed up steadily until it reached about 61 in the afternoon before beginning to sink back down again.

We drove south and stopped at the Jackson Lake Overlook again, this time so I could get better pictures of the really tall cairns folks had built on the beach. These will disappear this winter when the level of the lake rises again so the park service isn’t worried about rock pollution like they are in the desert. The tallest of these were over 6 feet tall.

Stone Cairns Jackson Lake Overlook

We drove south past Jackson Lake Junction looking for the Oxbow Bend Turnout which I’d fallen in love with the day before as we drove in. I turned off the highway a little early onto the Oxbow Bend Road and we drove out the dirt road a ways before finding a place to turn around. Then of course, I had to stop and take a picture of the view.

Oxbow Bend Road view

And of the fall color over near the main road.

Fall color Oxbow Bend Rd

While there were lots of cars parked at the overlook we didn’t have any trouble finding a place to park. One thing you can say about visiting here at the end of the shoulder season is that we didn’t have problems finding places to park. There are still lots of people but it’s not crazy busy like it was in Banff in June which was also the shoulder season.

I will let the Oxbow Bend speak for itself. Here’s a panorama shot of the view.   

Oxbow Bend Overlook

There were Canada geese out on the oxbow and they were dipping like ducks—something neither of us had ever seen before. There must have been something really yummy that was pretty deep to get them to dip straight down like that.

Oxbow Bend Overlook

There were Canada geese out on the oxbow and they were dipping like ducks—something neither of us had ever seen before. There must have been something really yummy that was pretty deep to get them to dip straight down like that.

Dipping Canada Geese

The blue water, the fall color and the mountains were a photographer’s delight. I kept changing angles and shooting pictures.

Oxbow Bend Overlook

In the end, I decided this was my favorite shot.

Oxbow Bend Overlook

If you’re willing to brave the cold, you can get the mountain reflected in the oxbow when it’s perfectly still in the early morning.

Having completed my “I just have to” thing for the day we drove back to Jackson Lake Junction and took the Teton Park Road south past the dam and the Signal Mountain Lodge. There was a little bay just past the lodge with another great view of the mountains.

Jackson Lake view

We’d decided we’d do just half of the park road on our first day so we drove down as far as the Potholes Turnout where we stopped for yet another shot of the mountains. As you go south Mount Moran (the fatter domed mountain on the right) is supplanted as the center point of the views by Grand Teton which is the big tall one in the center here.

Potholes Overlook

We turned north back up the park road from here and took the side trip up Signal Mountain Road. This is a paved road that is barely 2 lanes wide which makes it a bit of a challenge to drive because there are so many cars on it. Near the top there’s a pull out right after a hairpin turn where we managed to once again get a place to park (getting out of it was a challenge later but we did okay). There’s a short hike out to a viewpoint from here where you look east across the valley that is known as Jackson Hole.

Jackson Hole from Signal Mt

All that open country and not a single critter to be seen except a few ground squirrels!

If you follow the rocky path west you get a nice view of the mountains and a bit of the lake.

Tetons from Signal Mountain

The lake is at about 6800 feet and Signal Mountain tops out at 7727 feet so you’re nearly 1000 feet above the lake here.

There was a lovely patch of what looked to me like huckleberries that had turned color. I had my camera on automatic and it thought we were taking a photo of a sunset!

Fall color

Walter stood out in the road to watch for on-coming cars (and stop them if need be) and I backed out of our parking spot and got us pointed up hill for the last bit of road and another hairpin turn.

There’s a nice viewing deck up at the end of the road with another view of Jackson Hole.

Jackson Hole from Signal Mt

There was also a cell tower up here and there was a guy up on it working on it.

Repairman working on cell tower

There was no sign of a power source for the thing but when Walter talked to the other repair guy who was on the ground he said there was power that came from down at the Signal Mountain Lodge. So they must have brought it up underground. Looking at all those wires and connections all Walter could think was how often something might need fixing exposed to the weather as it is.

We drove on back down the mountain enjoying every minute of the pretty drive through the woods. Then we turned north back to Jackson Lake Junction where we turned north again to the Jackson Lake Lodge. This is the high-end lodge in the park. It was built in 1955 and has cottages all over it’s grounds and then one big building with the lobby and the restaurants and bars. I stayed here in 1965 when my mom and sister and I made the great family road trip from California up to Yellowstone and back. So I wanted to revisit the place and see if it was as I remembered it was. It had been posh in 1965 but it’s much higher end now then it was then.

It has these huge mural windows looking out across the lake to the mountains. These are in the main lounge area. But there are windows like this in the dining rooms and the bar too.

Jackson Lake Lodge view

Here’s the view out the center window close up.

Jackson Lake Lodge view

There’s a big porch area outside and I went out and took a photo of the view.

Jackson Lake Lodge view

I remember my mom being very frustrated with this place because the mountains were so far away and she ‘wanted to get out into it’. I don’t think we even drove down by the lake which might have helped her some. What really would have fixed her would have been a ride across Jenny Lake on the shuttle boat and a walk to Inspiration Point. But there was no time for that. We had started in LA and visited Las Vegas, Zion, Bryce, Yellowstone and Grand Teton and were home again in time to go to San Diego for the long Labor Day weekend to finish off her 2 weeks of vacation. So we didn’t spend long here. Ah, the days of the great American road trip!

From here we drove on to the Coulter Bay Visitors Center. It was lunch time so we sat in the car and ate before heading in to see the Visitors Center. It’s got a big gift shop and a nice porch where I took a photo.

Coulter Bay Visitor Center view

And then we sat and watched the movie which turned out to be an outstanding National Geographic program on the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone. They only show the movie on the park a couple of times a day and it was going to be a while until they showed it again so we moved on.

We drove on back up to the Headwaters area and took the Grassy Lake Road out to see if we could see any wildlife. This is an area that was burned during a big fire in 2016. So once the road turned to washboard gravel we turned around. But we stopped so I could take a photo of Pole Cat Creek. Doesn’t it look like there should be critters here?

Pole Cat Creek

Here’s the view looking the other way.

Pole Cat Creek

It was late afternoon by this point so we headed home. Our weather station said that it had been up to 61 in the early afternoon and it was still in the high 50’s at nearly 5:00 pm. The trailer had gotten enough solar gain that it was 69 so we didn’t even need to turn the heaters on until later in the evening when the temperature started to sink again.

It wasn’t nearly as cold that night as the night before. It only got down to 25 degrees the next morning and it warmed up faster too. It was nearly 50 when we hit the road heading south again at about 11 am. We took the Teton Park Road from Jackson Lake Junction and as we came to the little bay past Signal Mountain Lodge I nearly jumped out of the my skin. Walter managed to get us a place to park (he doubled parked) and I leapt out and began taking photos. The lake was mirror smooth and we had just the right kind of clouds to make a perfect reflection photo.

Jackson Lake Teton reflection

Here’s a full panorama shot.

Jackson Lake Teton reflection

The day before at nearly the same time there was no reflection at all here. This was just totally amazing as far as I was concerned. Heaven, I’m in Heaven!

I jogged back to the truck and we drove on without having caused any problems with our quick and dirty parking job. We drove on south to the Mount Moran overlook where you get a great view of the mountain.

Mount Moran Overlook

From here you can easily see that there is an odd vertical stripe in the left hand side of the dome.

Mount Moran

It’s a vertical black dike of 750 million year old diabase which is 150 feet wide and juts from the face of the mountain because the surrounding gneiss has eroded away. The core of the Tetons is 2.7 billion year old gneiss and 2.5 billion year old granite. Way cool.

We drove on and at the North Jenny Lake Junction took the Jenny Lake Road.

The next pull out was focused on the Teton Fault and the Cathedral Group (Teewinot Mountain, Grand Teton and Mount Owen). So I just took a photo of it all.

Cathedral Group Overlook

The fault runs across the base of the big mass in the middle and the Cathedral Group stands to the left with Grand Teton with his head in the clouds.

The road continues through the trees (a nice change from sage brush) and arrives at the Jenny Lake Overlook where wonders of wonders we actually found a parking space okay. Because of the trees the view here is broken up in to chunks.

This gives you the northern section of the view which is Mount St. John.

Mt St John at Jenny Lake

And this is the southern section of the view, which is Cascade Canyon in the middle with Teewinot Mountain (12325 feet high) on the left.

Teewinot Mountain at Jenny Lake

You can take a shuttle boat from the Jenny Lake Visitor Center area across the lake to Cascade Canyon for hikes up the canyon and around the area. There’s also a trail that goes all the way around Jenny Lake (7 miles) for those who don’t want to ride the boat.

There was a small patch of red berries glowing in the sunshine. I don’t know what they are, but they’re pretty.

red berries Jenny Lake

And there were elk hoof prints in the concrete walkway just to add to the entertainment.

Elk print in concrete

We drove on and took the turn off into the Jenny Lake Visitor Center area just to take a look. The parking lots were entirely full which is typical according to the park information. Folks park here to take the shuttle boat and are gone all day (and sometimes several days) hiking. So if you want to park here you need to get there EARLY.

South of Jenny Lake, Walter spied a herd of pronghorns a ways away from the road. We pulled over to watch them for a while.  


There was something on the far side of them (hikers perhaps) that seemed to be agitating them because they kept wandering around. But that makes for better pictures than when they all have their heads down eating.


At the Teton Glacier Overlook you get a great view at the rapidly receding Teton Glacier on Grand Teton.

Teton Glacier

The lower half is gravel toe. It has shrunk in size by 15% in the last 50 years (since 1967).

Here’s a panorama shot with Grand Teton at the center.  

Teton Glacier Overlook

We changed drivers in the parking lot of the Visitors Center at Moose (where the administrative headquarters is too) and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the mountains with the fall color in front of them.

Tetons from Moose Visitor Center lot

We must have been close to the peak of fall color since it had gotten better each day we were there and leaves were beginning to drop on Thursday.

We headed up Highway 89 and as we neared the Elk Ranch Flats Turnout we saw a lot of black dots out in the grasslands. We pulled over and got out the binoculars and I shot some photos at full zoom and sure enough, it was a herd of bison.  

Grand Teton Bison herd

On Tuesday when we’d driven past here we’d seen one young bison romping away on the other side of the road. So we were thrilled to see the whole herd this time.

Grand Teton Bison herd

We may not have seen any elk or moose but we didn’t do too badly considering how dry everything was in the valley.

It was nearing lunch time so we stopped at the Lake View Picnic Area which actually has a lake view.

Lake View Picnic Area view

The wind had come up and there were white caps and a little surf on the lake.

We had our lunch and managed to get back to the trailer in time to do some housekeeping to get ready to hit the road again the next morning. It got up to nearly 65 that afternoon and the trailer was lovely and warm.

It was much warmer that night and only got down to 30 degrees the next morning. It was another beautiful sunny day as we packed up to drive south on Highway 89 back through Grand Teton and Jackson and on to Montpelier, ID.

There was construction at the south end of the park and we got to sit in line for 45 minutes looking at the scenery! Nice to have a lovely view if you have to sit in traffic. The rest of the drive was full of more fall color.