After leaving our hotel around 9:00 a.m., we swung through the “town” of Jackson in the morning to stop at a grocery store we had seen the night before on the way from the airport to the hotel. We figured we needed some bottled water for hiking and some doughnuts for breakfast. Then we were ready to tackle the park and give our new hiking boots a workout. We stopped at the visitors center near the south end of the park and spent a few minutes examining their exhibits and getting some recommendations for some hikes. The two that the ranger recommended were a trail to Taggart Lake and a trail along the north and west sides of Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls.
The trail to Taggart Lake was 1.6 miles each way, but it wasn’t too bad a hike and the weather was pretty nice (50s/60s). There were a couple of places where the trail cut through deep stands of trees and that meant that there was still a fair amount of snow in the center of the path, though. Slip-sliding across the tops of the melting snow made the trip a bit more tiring, but our effort was rewarded at the halfway point by our arrival at Taggart Lake. We had seen several people on our way up, but we ended up having the lake to ourselves. After a quick vote, we decided to head back to the van the way we had come instead of taking the longer (and unknown) rest of the trail loop back.
Our next stop was the visitors center at the south end of Jenny Lake. From here there is a boat that will take you across the lake to a .5 mile trail up to Hidden Falls. You can take the boat one way (either direction) and hike the other direction, or you can hike the full way (either from the south trailhead) or from the north trailhead (which is what had been recommended to us earlier. Rich double checked with the ranger at the South Jenny Lake visitors center on whether the 2.2 mile (each way) hike from the north trailhead was feasible and despite innocent comments about “a few trees down” and “some snow patches” and “we really haven’t had anyone from the Park Service hike it yet this season”, we decided to stick with our original plan of hiking both directions, so off we went.
We hadn’t gotten very far when we started encountering fallen trees laying across the path. Apparently there had been a fire in the area in the past few years and there were plenty of dead trees. Most of the fallen trees were small enough or low enough or devoid of branches, that it wasn’t that hard to step over them. Unfortunately, some were large, with lots of prickly branches, and lying almost straight down the narrow trail, making them much harder to navigate around. The girls ended up counting 46 trees that we needed to either go over, under, or around. There was also a fair amount of elevation changes, and lot of snow patches. But we pressed on.
It took us about two hours to get to the boat dock (about 1.7 miles), just in time to see the last boat of the day pull into the dock. Along the way we got to see several marmots, but thankfully no large animals. Our biggest obstacle was a rock walled creek that cut directly across the path. There were 3 obvious stepping stones for getting across the 4 foot wide (and 1 foot deep) quickly rushing water, but unfortunately, they were about 3 inches under water. Karen rolled a fourth rock in near the near edge to make the gap a bit smaller, and we managed to get across without getting wet.
Rich was starting to get a little concerned about being stuck out in the wilderness with darkness falling (we were on the east side of mountains after all and had seen less than a dozen people total on the trail), but we decided to make the hike worthwhile by going the last .5 mile up to Hidden Falls. Unfortunately, that last .5 miles was almost all uphill and snow covered. Most of the time you could just walk on top of the snow in someone’s footprints, but every once in a while you’d end up knee deep in icy snow.
Now 2.5 hours into our second hike of the day (and second hike of the year), it was time to hurry back down from the falls and back around the lake. We had enjoyed the scenery and wildlife on the way up, but heading back to the van, we were all business. Things went fine until we reached the creek we had crossed earlier in the day. Karen went across first and helped Amber and Ashley safely to the other side. Unfortunately, with the far side being a rock instead of the bank as it had been crossing in the other direction, Alyssa didn’t quite land on the rock and put her right foot down into the creek instead (almost pulling Karen in with her). Alyssa was a trooper though and hiked the rest of the way back without complaining.
2 hours later, we made it back to the van. Rich wasn’t sure he could have hiked another hundred yards at that point. All the elevation changes and slipping and sliding on the icy snow had him exhausted.
We’d definitely had enough for the day, so we started back to the hotel. On the way we saw a couple hundred elk (they apparently come out of the forests around dawn and dusk to graze) and a dozen buffalo (right after dark and right next to the road). Rich had toyed earlier in the day with the idea of stopping somewhere for a nice sit down dinner, but we were so exhausted we opted for drive-thru burgers, a quick soak in the hot tub, and bed instead.