We actually stumbled upon Jenny Lake by accident, and it’s scary to think that we nearly missed it, as this stunning body of water in the Grand Tetons National Park was one of the highlights of our road-trip through the USA.
Planning a visit to Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons National Park
Jenny Lake is a glacial lake, around 12,000 years old, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. You can hike around it, sail across it, swim through it and the water is so pure I’d be tempted to drink from it too. We (that is to say myself, my wife and our son) found ourselves a secluded patch of sand close to the main trailhead, shaded by spruce firs and conifers. We would hear other daytrippers and hikers walking past, but saw virtually no-one else the whole day. It was like we had our own personal lake.
Getting to Jenny Lake is a breeze. It’s actually one of the main focal points in Grand Tetons National Park, and therefore well-signposted, and with ample car parking close by from May to October. In peak season though, you need to keep in mind that this is a very popular area and so you want to be arriving early.
You can also camp near Jenny Lake and I really, really wish we’d done that because I can only imagine how good it would feel waking up to views of the lake and Signal Mountain, then taking a refreshing swim before breakfast.
Ranger Programs in Grand Tetons National Park
When you visit a US National Park you can usually join a Ranger Program, though in peak season you’ll probably want to book ahead. On our second day at Jenny Lake we decided that we wanted to understand the area a little better, as well as stretch our legs, and so we dropped by the visitor centre to see what kind of programs they had on offer that day. This also worked for us because our son had seen rangers wandering around when we’d visited other National Parks and he was interested to learn more about what they did.
Outside the visitor centre a ranger was entertaining a small crowd with a display of wolf pelts. He was explaining how the colour of a wolf’s fur can vary depending on where they live, and by the season, as a form of camouflage when stalking prey. Our son was thrilled when he was invited to stroke the various pelts to see how soft they were – he wanted to stroke a real wolf afterwards and we had to explain there might be a few logistical and safety issues preventing that!
We were so lucky that we were visiting just outside peak season, because we didn’t need to reserve a place on any of the Grand Tetons ranger programs. We joined a departing group headed for a short walk along the south shore to Moose Ponds. That was about three miles in duration, and the pace was fine for our five year-old son. It was wonderfully relaxing just to wander along the banks, with the ranger (think his name was Tim?) explaining the flora and fauna of Grand Tetons as we went.
In the afternoon, we joined a talk by another ranger (Liz?) about bear safety. You’ll find both black bears and grizzly bears in Grand Tetons and although the chances are they will stay as far away from people as they can most of the time, if you’re going hiking then you always need to have your wits about you. So we learned the basics of bear safety from Liz, about how talking or singing as you walk lets the bears know you’re coming so they don’t get any nasty surprises, how to deploy bear spray if needed and, worst come to worst, what to do in the event of a bear attack. I happened to look at my son at this point and his eyes were gleaming, as he hung on the ranger’s every word – strange kid.
Why you should try Ranger Programs in US National Parks
As someone with a passion for ecotourism, I’m a huge fan of the Ranger Programs that operate in many American National Parks. If people are going to protect these pristine environments then we need to understand them, and the knowledge that rangers build up through years of exploring trails, monitoring animals and vegetation, is an invaluable resource.
The other reason I think Ranger Programs are so great is as a way of educating and entertaining children. My son was just five when we visited Jenny Lake, but he was absolutely enthralled by the talks we were given, and thoroughly enjoyed the nature walk too. He probably learned more about wolves, bears and glaciers in that one day that he’ll pick up from books or school in the next few years, because it was all right there in front of him. You just can’t beat this kind of hands-on learning. If we’re ever lucky enough to go back to the States, I’ll enroll him in a Junior Ranger Program for a day so he can experience life as a park ranger – he’d love it.