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Wildlife, majestic peaks and pristine waters are the signature attributes of the Grand Teton Lakes. Snuggled within Grand Teton National Park, three lakes in particular offer scenery, easy trail hikes and opportunities for lakeshore camping: Jenny Lake, String Lake and Leigh Lake lie in a row just south of larger Jackson Lake. Jenny Lake is the southernmost of the three and, at 423 feet, the deepest lake of the trio. A concessionaire offers scenic boat tours which give spectacular views of the surrounding Grand Tetons. Jenny Lake allows motorized boats while the others are limited to canoes and kayaks. The tour boats use efficient and environmentally-friendly motors to circle the 1200-acre lake. The scenic boat tours are a perfect way for less mobile visitors and those with small children to view the mountains with the friendly and informative assistance of the tour guides. The tour boats offer a second service to hikers: the 15-minute boat ride across the lake takes miles off the hike to the Cascade Canyon Trailhead and its scenic waterfalls.
Hikers and relatively fit walkers can take one of the many easier trails around Jenny Lake. The Jenny Lake Loop is a little over seven miles of relatively level walking, with many side trails that lead to scenic views and sights nearby. Altitudes on the Loop remain about 6800 feet, but hikers veering off onto the Cascade Canyon trail soon face some steep altitude gains and more difficult walking. Many visitors take the shuttle boat to the landing near Hidden Falls; the tour company even lends people walking sticks to facilitate their climb.
From the Jenny Lake Trailhead, more adventurous hikers can head toward Lupine Meadows south of the lake, or north past Jenny Lake to the String Lake Trail. Midway on the String Lake Trail near the Visitors Center, a fork indicates the Leigh Lake Trail. The 3.5-mile Leigh Lake Trail follows the shorelines of String Lake and Leigh Lake past the larger lakes to tiny Trapper Lake and Bearpaw Lake. The String Lake Trail offers the option of circling around String Lake to rejoin the Jenny Lake Loop or heading farther afield through Paintbrush Canyon and past Holly Lake. This trail is part of the Paintbrush-Cascade Canyon Loop leading back to the Jenny Lake Loop. Grand Teton Lakes are one of the most popular destinations in the Jackson Hole area for hiking and back-country camping.
The only road access to the lakes is via Teton Park Road skirting the east side of the lakes. A spur leads to the String Lake access point, a popular spot for launching kayaks and canoes and the beginning of many canoe-camping adventures. Long and narrow, String Lake is very different from most lakes in the Grand Tetons: most are quite deep, having been formed by glaciers receding from the valleys. String Lake is very shallow, only a few inches deep in many areas and, other than a couple of deeper holes, less than four feet deep. The sparkling clear water makes the gravel bottom look close enough to reach out and touch. The shallow waters warm quickly, and String Lake is everyone's favorite swimming hole.
The long String Lake shoreline offers many opportunities to watch for wildlife common to the area such as black bears, moose, elk, bald eagles, grizzly bears, pronghorn, bison, grey wolves and coyotes. As with wildlife everywhere, these animals are to be admired at a distance, and all warnings of bear activity posted within the Grand Teton National Park must be heeded. Reaching Leigh Lake requires a short 100-yard portage from the north end of String Lake before paddlers reach the largest lake in the group.
A number of boat-accessible campsites can be reached along the shore of Leigh Lake. With nearly 1800 acres, the large lake offers plenty of shoreline for fishing or nature photography. Lying in the shadow of magnificent Mount Moran, Leigh Lake is a photographer's dream: several active glaciers can be seen on the mountain's face. Although a few intrepid climbers do occasionally attempt Mount Moran's 12,605-foot summit, the mountain is difficult to access and no trails lead to the climbing faces. At depths of up to 250 feet, the lake tends to remain quite cold until late in the summer season. Permits are required for access to Grand Teton National Park by vehicles, and hikers pay a fee to obtain a permit for hiking, camping or launching private canoes and kayaks . All permits are issued for seven days, but an annual pass that allows access to all of the nation's parks and monuments is also available. The park remains open year-round for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and hiking, but most facilities and some roads are closed for the winter months.
A small campground is located near the boat tour docks on Jenny Lake but fills up quickly. Luckily, the area has a number of commercial campgrounds and other lodgings such as dude ranches, guest cabins and bed & breakfasts near the park boundaries. The concessionaire that operates the tour boats also rents canoes and kayaks for enjoying Jenny Lake and for fishing the deep waters. All three lakes are known for excellent fly fishing for cutthroat trout, brook trout and mackinaw, or lake trout. A Wyoming fishing license is required and all regulations must be observed. Also located near Jenny Lake are the main facilities for park staff, housed in a series of older buildings that have been designated the Jenny Lake Ranger Station Historic District. The Visitors Center was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and still houses park facilities.
Sometimes overshadowed in public awareness next to Yellowstone National Park immediately to the north, Grand Teton National Park and the Grand Teton Lakes deserve a closer look by those visiting Wyoming. National Park status took over 20 years to develop. Although the park was designated by Congress in 1929, land acquisitions continued until 1950 to make the park its larger current size. The history of the Grand Teton area goes back much farther in time. It is believed that John Coulter traveled through here in 1808 after he left the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jenny and Leigh Lakes are both named for the Leigh family who settled here early: Jenny was the Shoshone mother of the family-all of whom died of smallpox before anyone but the occasional trapper frequented the area. Over the years leading up to the national park designation, a number of well-heeled Easterners visited and several stayed to try to preserve what they recognized as a valuable national resource and pristine wilderness.
Although nearby recreational favorite Jackson Hole is well-known for ski slopes and winter sports, many do not know that the Grand Teton Lakes have so much to offer the outdoor enthusiast. Summer visitors to the Jackson Hole area in particular need to take a day or so from whitewater rafting, horseback riding and golfing to enjoy the pristine wild surroundings at the Grand Teton Lakes. Real estate is still available in this popular area, with a very few lease parcels available within the park itself for building. So come and indulge your 'inner mountain spirit' at the Grand Teton Lakes. Your life will never be the same.
*Statistics listed are for Leigh Lake only.
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