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One of the most popular activities in Grand Teton National Park is to experience the area around Jenny Lake. You can either hike around the lake, or you can take one of the ferries to the other side. We even saw people swimming in the chilly water in June! No matter how you choose to experience the area, you’re in for a treat. Jenny Lake is one of the prettiest places inside the park and not to be missed!
Jenny Lake: What to Do
Jenny Lake was named after Jenny Leigh, the Shoshone wife of trapper Richard Leigh. Both Jenny and Richard, also known as Beaver Dick, helped guide the Ferdinand Hayden Expedition of 1872. Sadly, Jenny and their six children all died of small pox within a two-week span in December of 1876.
The Jenny Lake area is popular in Grand Teton National Park for many reasons. The lake itself is peaceful and surrounded by gorgeous scenery. You can hike around the lake via Jenny Lake Trail, or you can take the ferry across the water for easier access to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Many people kayak in the lake, and as I mentioned before, some people were swimming near the shore.
The cabins of Jenny Lake Lodge are nearby, and the area is also a starting point for other hikes, like Moose Ponds or Cascade Canyon. You can also do backcountry hiking to Hurricane Pass or Lake Solitude using Jenny Lake as a starting point.
Because there is so much to do in the peak time of summer, the area will be crowded and the parking lot will be full from mid-morning to late afternoon. If the lot is full, you will have to parallel park in the road and then make the long trek to the Jenny Lake area. When I was planning for this trip, I read a lot of advice that suggested that you should go to Jenny Lake bright and early in the morning, including advice from my friend April who had been to Jenny Lake in 2019.
Click here to read about Minivan Adventures’s experience hiking at Jenny Lake!
While this is great advice, we also noticed on our first afternoon in the park that the parking lot started to thin out in the late afternoon. Since there are only so many things you can do early in the morning, we decided to take a chance and do Jenny Lake one afternoon at about 3:00 p.m. We hoped we could fit in some other activities in the morning, especially since that was prime mountain-viewing time for us since fire season had started early that year, and the smoke obscured the mountains each day by about 10:00 a.m.
Visiting later in the afternoon worked well for us! We easily found a space since many people were leaving at that time, and we walked right up to the ferry launch with a minimal line.
Jenny Lake: Taking the Ferry
As you leave the parking lot and head towards Jenny Lake, one of the first things you’ll encounter is the Jenny Lake Store.
You’ll find the usual gifts, t-shirts, and a few groceries here. We love shops like this, so of course we took a look. You can also get information at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. In the picture below, there is a large restroom. It’s worth noting that there isn’t a restroom on the other side of Jenny Lake, so be sure to go before you take the ferry or the hike.
From here, you’ll follow the signs to get to the trailhead or the ferry launch. We opted for the ferry. First of all, we like boats. Secondly, we hike a little, but we are far from what you’d call hiking enthusiasts. On the way to the ferry launch, you use the Discovery Trail. They have models and information that explain the mountains and wildlife.
Jenny Lake: Taking the Ferry
Soon, we got to the ferry launch. We paid the admission, and there weren’t many people waiting to head to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, so we were able to get on the next available boat. With our hands stamped for the round trip, we boarded the ferry and made ourselves comfortable under the awning.
The boat ride is nice. I would do it even if I didn’t plan on hiking much on the other side.
The boats are also pretty frequent in the summer. You’ll likely see several during your journey.
Hiking to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point
Soon, we arrived on the other side. We kind of held back for a bit to let faster people ahead of us. We certainly are not fast hikers. When most people were on their way, we set out. The walk is gorgeous.
The hike to Hidden Falls is only about 1/2 mile, but most of it is up!
We were in no real hurry. We just needed to make it back before the last ferry left. Since it was July, the last boat would leave at 7:00 p.m. We had plenty of time. We made plenty of stops to catch our breath and drink water.
This is probably a good time to mention that we each had our own Hydro Flask.
And I believe we all finished our water by the time we boarded the ferry back towards the parking lot. There were some refill water coolers at the boat launch, but not enough to fill a bunch of water bottles, so plan ahead. Also, this was a time for a good hat. And heart-shaped sunglasses, apparently.
We made plenty of stops to check out the scenery, both on the way up and on the way down.
Finally, we made it to Hidden Falls. Or so we thought at the time. I’d forgotten what the end result looked like, so I thought this bridge was the viewing point. In fact, it wasn’t until I started working on this post that I realized we didn’t make it to the viewing point.
We hung out in this area for a while.
Now this will probably sound crazy to avid hikers, but once we got this far, we really didn’t car about going all the way to Inspiration Point. I’m sure it’s lovely and totally worth it, but we decided to turn around. The trail was still going straight up, and we were enjoying the waterfall and the scenery. Also, remember we’d already been exploring other areas of Grand Teton National Park all morning, so we were a bit tired. So instead of heading upward, we headed downward at a leisurely pace. Sometimes you just do whatever works best for your family, you know?
So, this is the story of how my family thought we’d hiked to Hidden Falls, but it turns out, we didn’t. Another fail for us! But the hike was so beautiful, we were content with what we saw. If you really want to see what Hidden Falls looks like, check out the post by Minivan Adventures. Here is the link again. She has a picture of what you’re looking for if you plan to hike to the falls. Insert laughing emoji here.
I would at least try to hike to Hidden Falls if you and your party is up for it. Again, I would take the ferry just to go on the boat if I couldn’t do any hiking, but that may just be me. The hike to Hidden Falls is lovely, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe next time I will actually make it to the viewing point for Hidden Falls. Maybe I will even go all the way to Inspiration Point!
Bears at Jenny Lake
One thing that turned out to be lucky for us was a bear sighting while we waited for a ferry to head back. Three bears, to be exact! We did have a bit of a wait for a boat since more people were leaving the Hidden Falls area than arriving, so the timing was a bit skewed. Lucky for us, a mama bear and her two cubs were in a nearby tree!
This cinnamon brown bear and her cubs had quite an audience since several of us were waiting for a boat. We watched them climb down the tree and then head off into the forest. She definitely kept her eyes on us to make sure we weren’t following her and her babies.
Not long after this, we were back on the boat heading towards the parking area. It was the perfect ending to a perfect Grand Teton day. If you’re planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park, I would put riding the ferry on Jenny Lake and hiking to Hidden Falls on your must-do list!
“History of Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Area.” Jenny Lake Boating, 21 Jan. 2019, https://jennylakeboating.com/education/history-grte-jenny-lake/.
“Jenny Lake.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/jennylakeplan.htm.
“Jenny Leigh Pioneer Cemetery Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, 31 July 2020, https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=140644.