The Grand Teton Range, Wyoming
The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are indeed grand – the essence of majestic with pristine alpine terrain and lakes. Over two hundred miles of trails rich with towering peaks, glistening lakes, wildlife, and flora and fauna provide photographers with an abundance of photo opportunities.
Get ready to pack your camera and bags as we explore the Jenny Lake area of the Grand Tetons.
Jenny Lake Trail Network Gets a Facelift
The spring 1939 issue of Grand Teton Nature Notes pronounced that “By far the most popular trail in the park is the lower portion of the Cascade Canyon Trail which leaves Jenny Lake and climbs above Hidden Falls.” More than 75 years later that statement still holds true. As a result of overuse through the years the park, in conjunction with the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, launched a multi-year project in the spring of 2014 to improve the area surrounding Jenny Lake.
Public Domain Permission – PD-USGOV-INTERIOR-NPS
Grand Teton National Park Map
Inspiring Journeys: A Campaign for Jenny Lake is a $17 million public-private collaboration that will transform Jenny Lake’s trails, bridges, key destinations, and visitor complex. These much needed upgrades will improve the experience of photo hikers headed to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and Cascade Canyon, as well as the Jenny Lake loop trail. In addition to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, this extensive five-year project “will create an inviting trail system and captivating experience for the 21st century visitor”.
The hike along the Cascade Canyon Trail is regularly touted as one of the top hikes in America. It provides photographers with a wide array of subjects, which can include rugged peaks and rock outcropping. The typical hike includes a boat ride across Jenny Lake and then makes visits to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, before entering Cascade Canyon itself. During the boat ride you’ll want to keep a lookout for reflections on the water. Be sure to have your polarizing filter handy while on the edges of the lakes, so you can create images of the rocks below the surface.
Jenny Lake – West Boat Dock
Shortly after disembarking from the shuttle boat hikers will reach Hidden Falls. Located at the mouth of Cascade Canyon, this impressive waterfall drops roughly 200 feet in a series of stone steps. It also has the distinction of being the only major waterfall in the park to run “wet” year-round.
1. Watch for mountain reflections on the water.
2. Have a polarizing filter handy to reduce glare, create deep blue skies and saturate the colors.
3. Carry a tripod if possible (or find a means of stabilizing the camera) and neutral density filters in your pack so you can turn the water of the falls to silk during long exposures.
Beyond the falls the trail continues by ascending a fairly steep ledge to reach Inspiration Point. Inexperienced hikers will definitely want to proceed with care along this stretch of the route. This segment of trail, carved into granite rock by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the 1930s, has sharp drop-offs that may make some with a fear of heights a little nervous. If at all possible, try not to let this stop you, as the views from Inspiration Point are simply amazing.
Rock Ledge at Inspiration Point
Mt. Owen from Cascade Canyon
PHOTO TIP: Carry a 200 to 300mm telephoto lens in order to bring the details of those peaks in close.
As a result of its stunning views of Jackson Hole and Jenny Lake roughly 450 feet below, Inspiration Point is one the most popular destinations in the Grand Tetons. Although you’ll have the opportunity to go home with some great photographs of the morning sun rising above the lake, late mornings and early afternoons will likely present a challenge due to the lake facing towards the east. Visitors opting to wait until after the early morning hours, however, will likely have to contend with extreme crowds.
Jenny Lake View from Inspiration Point
PHOTO TIP: A wide-angle lens will bring those spectacular panoramic images home with you.
The focal point of the hike is the walk through Cascade Canyon itself. Photographers will enjoy absolutely outstanding views of the “Cathedral Group” towering more than a mile above the canyon. This group of mountains includes 12,325-foot Teewinot Mountain, 12,928-foot Mt. Owen and 13,770-foot Grand Teton, the highest mountain in the park. Abundant photo opportunities are just awaiting your arrival.
In addition to stunning scenery, photographers will also have excellent opportunities for spotting a variety of wildlife in Cascade Canyon, including moose, black bears, Harlequin Ducks, Common Mergansers, and Pikas. During the late spring and early summer time period – after the winter snows have melted – hikers will enjoy a wide variety of wildflowers, including Indian Paintbrush, Penstemon, Monkshood, Silky Phacelia, and Columbine.
1. Be sure to keep focus on the eyes of animals – the viewer of your image will look there first.
2. If you have the room and can carry a little extra weight, have a macro lens in your camera backpack. You’ll want to get every small detail of the wildflowers and plants.
If your preference is to go home with some spectacular images of the Teton Range, I highly recommend taking the Jenny Lake loop Trail over to the eastern side of Jenny Lake. Early morning hikers will be rewarded with some of the best views of the mountains against the lake. From this side of the lake you’ll have a commanding view of Cascade Canyon, which is framed by the Cathedral Group on the left, and Storm Point on the right.
View of Cathedral Group and Storm Point from Jenny Lake Loop Trail
Although most park visitors tend to gravitate towards the Jenny Lake area, the Grand Tetons offer many other photographic opportunities from the road side, such as Mormon Row, Oxbow Bend and Schwabachers Landing, as well as in backcountry settings that aren’t quite as crowded.
Oxbow Bend – Grand Tetons
Some of the best hiking destinations in the park include Holly Lake, Marion Lake, Death Canyon, Teton Crest Trail, and the Alaska Basin. In addition to stunning mountain scenery, wildlife and wildflowers, photographers and hikers will also find a degree of solitude on these trails, where one can just sit for a spell and take in all the beauty around them.
Teton Crest Trail – Southwest of Jenny Lake
Marion Lake – As the crow flies, approximately 16 miles Southwest of Jenny Lake
So pack up the camera gear and head to the Grand Tetons on the western side of Wyoming. You won’t be disappointed.
by Jeff Doran
Text & photos: © 2015 Jeff Doran. All rights reserved.