Grand Teton National Park
From Yellowstone, we headed south into Grand Teton National Park. The park encompasses the mountains of the 40 mile long Teton Range and areas of the valley known as Jackson Hole. The Grand Teton is the name of the tallest peak in the Teton Range. The Tetons are part of the Rocky Mountains, and so Grand Teton National Park has that combination of majestic, rugged mountains and picturesque lakes that you find along the Rockies.
Our visit was mostly about seeking out all the best spots to take photos of the Teton Range mountains rising dramatically from the valley of Jackson Hole. From the north, We went to the shores of Jackson Lake, which is the biggest lake in the park. When the winds are calm you can get a nice reflection of the mountains on the lake surface.
We also drove all the way up to the top of Signal Mountain. Signal Mountain is a small mountain on the east side of Jackson Lake. From the top of the mountain you get views of the valley, and also a view that frames a large part of Jackson Lake with the Tetons behind it.
Continuing south, we reached Jenny Lake, which is the most popular area of the park. One can hike all the way the shores of Jenny Lake to access the mountains and hiking trails on the other side. However, we decided to go with the “luxury” route and paid for the shuttle boat to go across the lake. Once we arrived on the western shores, we did the short hike to Hidden Falls, which is a nice waterfall located in the canyon between two mountains.
Photo opportunities are abound within the Grand Teton National Park. There are various pullouts along the roads, showcasing lakes, river beds and grassy fields with the Tetons in the background. In addition to all the natural features, there are also a few buildings in the park that made for great scenery. This includes the preserved homestead and farm buildings at Mormon Road. The image of the John Moulton Barn in front of the Teton Range is probably the signature photo for the park.
Another building worth photographing is the quaint little Chapel of Transfiguration. This is an active church located inside the national park. Everything looks great when you have majestic mountains in the backdrop.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
After two days in Grand Teton National Park, we drove back towards Seattle, but on the way we made one more stop at the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho. Like Yellowstone, volcanism is at the root of Craters of the Moon’s feature. However, the volcanic eruptions at Craters of the Moon are much more recent, with the last one being 2000 years ago. Even though it has been two millennia since the last eruption, the land still shows the scars. The dark basalt formed from cooled lava dominate much of the landscape, and hardy grasses and gnarly pines are still struggling to reclaim the soil.
The easily accessible features of the park are along the Loop Road drive. There are various lava cones, including the large cinder cone known as the Inferno Cone which we hiked up to the top of. It is a short but somewhat steep hike, and you are just walking up this dune of dark sand which made for quite a memorable scene.
For me, the coolest features at Craters of the Moon are the lava tubes/caves. There are a number of them in the Caves Area that visitors can climb down into. A lot of the caves are pretty small and require at least a headlamp to explore, but there is the large and spacious Indian Tunnel where most visitors can take a stroll. I’ve never been in a lava tube before, so this was a new experience for me.
Craters of the Moon presented a strange landscape that was different from Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and it was certainly worth visiting.
Overall, the entire trip through Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Craters of the Moon took 9 days and 8 nights. It was a lot of driving as we covered close to 2000 miles. It was definitely a trip to remember, and it was very enjoyable to spend quality time and travel with my family. Now I can cross these national parks off my bucket list, and plan my next big trip.