[Mile 1,820 to 2,200 ]
Directly below Yellowstone National Park sits Grand Teton National Park. The two parks nearly touch but are separated by a narrow stretch called the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. Exiting the south entrance there’s not even an entry gate into Teton. Only the familiar park sign.
The first day we drove through the entire park and down to Jackson, the main town. Accommodations are quite expensive so we booked a site on Hipcamp in a field that had three sites with hookups on the outskirts of Victor, ID. Unfortunately to get there we ran into a steep mountain pass with prolonged 10% grades on both sides. It was rough enough on the Rialta that we decided to take an “alternate” route the next morning on our way back to the park (which turned out to be a harrowing all-day adventure) and booked a primitive cabin just north of the park.
We got up early the next morning and snagged a first-come park camp spot where we stayed two additional nights before heading back north to Yellowstone and eventually I90.
Arriving through the north gate.
Driving from the central tourist area to Teton was actually a great scenic drive. It was easy breezy out of the southern gate but the traffic driving north into the park was backed up for a good mile. Something we’ll have to experience going back. We stopped at the pullout by the gate for a quick photo opp.
Views our first day.
Teton is all about the mountain range. The main road heads south along Jackson Lake all the way through the valley. The sharp Teton peaks rise suddenly out of the flat valley for a site so inspiring it’s hard to take your eyes off them, even when you’re driving. The park itself is quite a bit smaller than Yellowstone and we were through it fairly quickly.
Camping in a horse field.
Shortly after Jackson, we turn right onto 22/33 over the Jackson Mountain pass. We had not expected the steep pass and the poor Rialta chugged up the 10% grade as best it could. We watched the transmission temp steadily rise to almost 270 before pulling over to cool down and take a quick nap. But we made it over and down into Idaho and past Victor and to our camp site with a bit of difficulty. The field wasn’t as secluded as we had hoped. Road noise and two close neighbors. But the sunset was lovely and two horses came to greet us as we took pictures.
Our harrowing “alternative” route.
Katy worked very hard to find a lower grade route back into the park to avoid our troubles with the pass. We found a more northern route that seemed reasonable on the map and headed out to try a different way. Our first hint might have been google stubbornly choosing alternative routes, all through the pass, but we were ok with the longer road if it was less steep. But our first turn off was onto a flat gravel road heading out into the farmland. Not a good first sign. But it was reasonably drivable if a bit rough on the undercarriage. Our next turn narrowed and became blocked in with undergrowth. A single lane road at best winding into the hills. But it was supposed to be a short connector road and we soldiered on to see how bad it could be. Ten minutes later the road worsened. There were no turn arounds so we were basically stuck and the road suddenly came upon a full washout with deep ruts and large rocks. This should have been our final warning sign but we were near the end of the connector and I couldn’t really back up so I maneuvered the poor Rialta down across the rough terrain as best I could and we continued to our main road which we hoped to be much better. But when we got there it was more unmaintained gravel road with massive potholes from time to time and random washboarding to avoid. I could barely maintain 10mph for the condition and we had over 30 miles to drive on it. But we had driven so far already to turn back and this road seemed better than the washouts behind us. So I continued, dodging holes and slowly crawling over the rough patches. I can do this, I thought, but after ten miles we passed back into Wyoming and the condition worsened considerably. Constant huge potholes and washouts, some larger than the vehicle. A constant dodging and weaving at 5mph in many places and a slow crawl over the rough patches and craters. The road wound up and up into the mountains and we knew we had made a mistake. 30 miles at 10mph was 3 hours of this. At half speed we were looking at 6. What had we done? The pass was sounding like a breeze at this point and the camper shuddered and shook mercilessly as we puttered on. It seemed like every ten feet we would hit another washout. This road would have been tough on a lifted 4×4. But the Rialta managed somehow. A little over 20 miles in we start running into remote boondock campsites. The occasional car to avoid on the narrow passes. Then finally into the edge of the park where the road becomes maintained again though still gravel. The last 9 miles I could take at 25, zipping around blind curves on loose gravel and barely missing a few cars on the way. But the sun was going down and I didn’t want to be trapped on this road in the dark.
Our little primitive cabin.
By the time we made it to our destination I was pretty worn out. We grabbed some takeout from the lodge kitchen and made our way to our tiny primitive cabin. The lodge itself was closed from COVID but the campground was packed. Tiny tent-only spots mixed edge to edge with scores of tiny cabins. The cabins had no water or electric, just a plywood cube with a bunkbed and a desk. But we were lucky to find a single night available. We ate our dinner, walked around for a bit, then hit the sack for our early morning.
Our first-come spot.
Early the next morning we went straight from bed to the camper and beelined it to a first-come campground in the park. The lodge site was depressingly crowded and we both wanted to get out of there. Luckily we found a chill spot within a few minutes, leveled out the rig, and went back to sleep for a bit. Our new site sat right on the edge of Jackson Lake with great views a short walk away. Such a better experience, though a bit competitive to acquire. Plus only $30/n vs. $80 for the cabin and even the most modest motels seemed to be running about $250 in Jackson.
More views of the park.
The next two days we spent driving around the lake and taking in views. I took a short hike with Katy at Colter Bay but was relentlessly assaulted by mosquitos that were biting me through my socks and clothes. And she took a longer solo hike around Jenny Lake while I chilled out in the camper. We also drove up Signal Mountain for a great view. Roads are thin and winding but we didn’t have much issue.
Grand Teton NP is definitely worth seeing and you can get most of the good views from the main road through it. Plenty of places to pull off and enjoy the lake, hike, or easily drivable views.