We watched in awe as the bald eagle soared into sight and snatched a fish right from the mouth of an osprey in flight. Ospreys are skillful hunters and can see a fish swimming 100 feet above the water. Unfortunately on this day, its freshly caught breakfast flew away in the mouth of a fiercer bird. The daring theft took place mid-air as we drove through Grand Teton National Park one morning last July. And this was just the first of the exciting wildlife we were fortunate enough to see that day. One of two national parks in Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park sits to the south of its (slightly) more famous neighbor, Yellowstone National Park.
If the sight of an American flag blowing in the breeze can make your heart swell with patriotic pride, then brace yourself for the Grand Tetons, which sit eloquently against the blue Wyoming sky. The sight of these massive mountains is so glorious that it would be a hard heart that would not melt upon gazing upon them. The Tetons filled us with such emotion that even now, months later, I can close my eyes and see and feel their impact. We spent two nights (not nearly long enough) in Jackson, more well known as Jackson Hole, although that refers to the entire valley while Jackson is the city; guests who arrive by plane arrive by specially certified pilots to land in the only U.S. airport situated in a national park. Jackson in July is at its busiest. The weather is perfect, wild flowers are in bloom and the rivers are full of feisty fish. While Congress set aside 2.1 million acres to create Yellowstone in 1872, it wasn’t until 1950 that the U.S. finally established Grand Teton National Park. The two parks sit side by side and make a perfect vacation destination.
Visitors can enjoy everything from rustic camping to true five-star elegance as the range of accommodations, restaurants and activities is astonishing. Each season provides unique offerings – from fishing, swimming, hiking, climbing, skiing, snowmobiling, bicycling, boating and the most popular – wildlife watching. A $25 per vehicle admission is good for both parks and there are thousands of miles of paths to hike, roads to drive and rivers to fish. The variety of choice extends to accommodations in the Jackson Hole area, where visitors find everything from elegant homes to family-style casual rooms to hotels located in the parks themselves.
We chose the Spring Creek Ranch (springcreekranch.com). This exclusive resort situated 700 feet above the valley offers all you could ask for -- a gracious, affordable stay surrounded by indescribable beauty. Our upscale, western, homey condo had two bedrooms and a Murphy bed in the living room. The furnishings, recently upgraded, were top flight and we sipped coffee from the balcony off the upstairs bedroom each morning, listening to the quiet sounds of daybreak and watching the morning birds busily greeting the day.
The resort offers stunning views, excursions, tours, a spa, a conference center and all rooms feature handmade lodgepole pine furniture and stone fireplaces. It is the perfect location for enjoying all the area attract own of Jackson, which features galleries, boutiques and a bustling nightlife, is only a few minutes away. Spring Creek’s Granary Restaurant is popular with locals – always a good sign. Our dinner was delightful. Making the most of our brief stay, we made one of the best vacation decisions ever. We hired Ana Rode, owner of Ana’s Grand Excursions (AnasGrandExcursions.com), to drive us through the lower loop of Yellowstone. Ana is a total delight. Knowledgeable, pretty, laid back, friendly, fun and accommodating, Ana spent nearly 13 hours showing off her beloved parks.
From Old Faithful (a must!) to the lakes nestled in the parks, and as many sights as she could put into our day, we had a blast. The sun was not up yet when Ana’s custom-designed van pulled up to our hotel room door. She offered coffee, muffins and yogurt as we headed north. We spent the morning driving through the town of Jackson and the outer park road of the Grand Teton National Park where we thrilled to watch nature displayed before. Over the next few hours, Ana headed into Yellowstone, chatting informatively as we drove deeper into some of America’s most stunning scenery. She happily obliged as we asked to stop for this and that photo. Right before lunch, Ana pulled into the Old Faithful area. We walked a short distance under her direction for the best seats to watch the famous geyser while Ana took and retrieved our deli order. Old Faithful is the most famous of the more than 10,000 thermal features in the park. Many areas have elevated boardwalks for a close view (but not too close!).
Lunch was a treat in more than one way. Ana spread out a feast before us on a picnic table. A red and white checkerboard tablecloth was capped with fresh fruit, beverages, pickles, cookies and more. As we began to eat, Ana appeared in costume! She entertained us dressed as a bear – thoroughly wonderful. We spent the afternoon in the Canyon/Waterfall area; and returned via the lower loop road in Grand Teton. During our fantastic day, we spotted a young bear happily and obliviously munching berries, elk, bison, beavers, moose, big horn sheep and a rarely seen gray wolf. Ana graciously stopped for every animal sighting. Her van is an amazing compendium of every possibly anticipated item – she even carries red Santa hats for posing Christmas card photos. She has a variety of never-ending snacks, beverages and an amazing array of artifacts to pass around while she shares knowledge of the history, activities, flora and fauna of the park. The day spent with Ana was tremendous.
The next day we signed up for an equally memorable Breakfast With the Eagles Tour with AJ DeRosa (woodboattours.com). DeRosa’s boat tour company features unique handmade wooden boats, offering, he says, the finest experience on the river. Most of his boats were handmade by DeRosa or his guides. You will see many boat tours in Jackson, but this is the only one with personalized, small boats that can slip into small channels off the Snake River.
We bundled up against the nippy morning air and sat back while DeRosa paddled out into the still morning. The sun rose up to meet the mountains as we glided past bald eagles (there are seven mating pairs located on this stretch of the river), ospreys, ducks and geese. In the quiet ripples of the river, we took in the majesty of the moment. Several hours later, we docked and headed a short walk to DeRosa’s Tipi camp where we had a lovely breakfast. For those wanting faster action, take in some whitewater with Jackson Hole Whitewater (jacksonholewhitewater.com). One of the oldest and most respected whitewater companies in Jackson, JHWW offers several different kinds of trips – scenic (you stay dry), classic raft trips (you get wet), combinations of these and a sunrise tour complete with a boatman’s breakfast. Children as young as three are welcome on the scenic trip; kids six and older may enjoy the whitewater trips. Jackson Hole offers a perfect vacation, whether it be for a family, for romantic couples, an outdoor guys-only or even shopping and spa for the ladies. Splurge and stay in a five-star property or pile into a family-style cabin and make your own meals. But don’t miss the opportunity to see America’s paradise – the wondrous Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks.
Information about the Grand Teton National Park may be found at nps.gov/grte; Yellowstone National Park at nps.gov/yell. Visit JacksonHoleChamber.com, a complete source of information about the entire area.