Ferry Ride & Hike at Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park


There is not, perhaps, a more dramatic mountain range in America than the Tetons.  The jagged peaks rise abruptly out of the surrounding flat terrain, separating the rolling potato farmland of Idaho from the hills and plains of Wyoming.  And thanks to the absence of foothills, you can truly appreciate the majesty of these mountains.

The tall range of rocky peaks would only be half as impressive, though, if they didn’t have a chain of crystal-clear, shimmering lakes at their base.  They line up, one after the other in Grand Teton National Park: Taggart, Bradley, Jenny, String, Leigh.  Best of all, each one is easy to hike, either part-way or all the way around.

The most popular of the small lakes at the foot of the Tetons is Jenny Lake.  This is where everyone who has just one day, or even just one afternoon in the Tetons, goes.  This is not only because it’s beautiful, but also because it’s convenient: you don’t even have to hike around the lake, to access the trails on the other side.

If you don’t want to walk, you can catch a ferry across Jenny Lake.  During the summer months, the boats run every 15 minutes.  On the ride over, you’re not allowed to stand or walk around, so plan ahead and get a good seat for taking pictures.

Ferry rides cost $9 round trip, or $5 one-way for adults.  If you buy a one-way fare, then decide you don’t want to walk back, you’ll have to pay another $5 as you get off the boat, after the return trip.  Round-trip customers receive a hand stamp.  You can learn more about the ferry service here.

The best time to visit Jenny Lake, or any of the other lakes at the foot of the Tetons, is early morning.  The water is calmer, and you’ll notice a better reflection, just after sun-up.  Also, the sun lights the east side of the Tetons best before midday.  By late afternoon, the sun will set behind these big mountains, and you’ll be in the dark.

On the ride over, you’ll enjoy a great view of the mountains.

The ferry pulls into port at the foot of Cascade Canyon–a surprisingly low pass between the mountain peaks.  From here, there are two attractions that are just a short hike away: Hidden Falls (about 1/2 mile, one way) and Inspiration Point (another 1/2 mile from Hidden Falls).

I’m not gonna lie to you, you do have to do some climbing to reach both Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.  The path is easy and wide, but if you’re not in great shape (and who is!), you’ll need to stop a few places along the way to catch your breath.  It’s a good thing that almost any place you choose is beautiful–everyone else will just think you stopped to take a picture!

The trail crosses Cascade Creek, about halfway to Hidden Falls. Don’t be fooled…

… this spot may be beautiful, and may have water rushing downhill over a series of cascades, but this definitely is not Hidden Falls.  Go a little further, it’s worth it.  When you’re almost there, the trail splits.  A dead-end path takes you up to Hidden Falls, while another continues on to Inspiration Point.

At the end of that dead-end trail, you see this!  Hidden Falls is indeed fairly well hidden.  There’s only one good spot from which to view it.

Once you’ve spent a few minutes enjoying the peace and tranquility of Hidden Falls, along with several dozen other park visitors, head back to the fork in the trail, and turn towards Inspiration Point.

Yes, this means climbing some more.  This part of the trail is steeper than the approach to Hidden Falls, but it’s worth the effort (even if you don’t make it all the way to Inspiration Point).

There are a couple of places where the trail leads out to a viewpoint, then switches back, continuing its uphill journey.  Each is better than the last.  If you decide you just can’t climb any farther, go ahead and stop here.  Anyone else who’s with you can pick you up on the return trip.

As you stare out at the lake, don’t forget to turn around and check out the view directly behind you.  The Tetons are right there!  It feels like you could almost touch them.

This is, perhaps, an even better view than the view of the lake.

The trail continues…

… until you finally reach Inspiration Point, elevation 7,200 feet.  Jenny Lake’s surface is at 6,783 feet, so at this point you’ve climbed 417 vertical feet–not bad for a mile or so of hiking.

Up here, you can see much more of the lake than at the previous viewpoints.  In fact, you can see the whole thing at once.

Jenny Lake is 2.2 miles long, 1.2 miles wide, and estimated at 260 feet deep.

After spending a little while here, chances are you’ll forget about how tired you thought you were on the climb up, and want to go further.  Well, good news!  You can go further, much further if you really want to.

Beyond Inspiration Point, the trail continues through Cascade Canyon.  The trail remains in good condition, and the hike is fairly level, but the next destinations are really too far for a casual hike.  If you started very early in the day, you could make a day hike to Forks of Cascade Canyon (about 4 miles, one way, from Inspiration Point) or Lake Solitude (another 6 1/2 miles, one way, from Inspiration Point).  I had no intention of going that far, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready to turn around and head downhill.  So, I hiked about a mile or so further into the canyon.

The further you go, the better it gets.  Deeper into Cascade Canyon, the mountains start to close in around you.  I hiked this trail in September, but I’d bet it would be beautiful in late spring or early summer, after the last of the snow melts away and wildflowers start to bloom.

When you’re finally ready to turn around, head back to Inspiration Point, then downhill.  If you bought the round-trip ticket, hop aboard the ferry for the ride back to the car.  I decided to save $4, and hike back. I’ll cover that part of the trip on the next page.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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