BoondockingThe practice of camping at a free location, usually off-the-grid, with zero or limited facilities.
We had our very first boondocking experience in August at Grand Teton National Park. We pulled up to our spot on the most clear, beautiful day, and we had a magnificent view. The boondocking spot we chose was at Toppings Lake inside the park. The road to get to the disbursed camping spots is rocky and rough, and our BasecampX is 16ft, but bigger rigs can make it up too. I would suggest though scoping out a spot before bringing your rig all the way up, because it can get crowded during peak season.
We arrived at our spot around 1pm on a Tuesday, and we were honestly lucky to get the spot we did, because as the days passed, we realized people were setting up their rigs much earlier to guarantee a good spot. Because of that, we stayed as long as possible, and the longest they allow is 5 nights. We were thankful to arrive at Toppings Lake when we did, because 2 days into our stay, smoke rolled in and though it was still amazing, our view wasn’t quite the same for the remainder of our time.
The spot we snagged was in a group camping parking lot type set up, so we had plenty of neighbors and met some neat people, including solo female traveler, Kate. Similar to us, she quit her corporate job and is spending 6 months traveling the country in her renovated travel van. We enjoy meeting new people, so it wasn’t a problem for us to be surrounded by fellow campers, but if you are looking for a more secluded camping experience, there are sites that are more private along Toppings Lake Road.
As “boondocking” implies, there are no hook-ups, bathrooms, or services at all provided at the designated camping areas along Toppings Lake, but at the very bottom of the road, there are portable toilets if needed.
We found Toppings Lake by word of mouth, our friends on Instagram, Kendal and Collin are also traveling the country in their Airstream, and they were at Grand Teton National Park just a few weeks before us so they recommended it, but there many different avenues to find boondocking spots. One popular way is through an app and website called Campendium.
Day 1 Adventures
The day we arrived at Grand Teton National Park, after claiming our space at Toppings Lake, we had a day of exploration. We started with a visit at Snake River, which runs through Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The river offers swimming, guided fishing trips, scenic floats, and whitewater kayaking and rafting.
Next, we went to Cunningham Cabin. The cabin was built by John Cunningham in 1888 as a home for him and his wife. Mr. Cunningham was one of the original county commissioners chosen when Teton County was organized in 1923. John and his wife left the valley for Idaho in 1928, when land was being acquired for the future Grand Teton National Park.
We were on our way back to Toppings Lake at dusk, and we were lucky to see a herd of bison. We pulled over on the side of the road along with MANY other vehicles, and the bison got so close to the Gladiator I could have reached my arm out and touched them (check out the cover photo for this section). David had just told me a story about a women getting attacked by bison because she was too close though, so I had him move the Gladiator before they got TOO close to us. It was quite the sight to see.
Bear JamA traffic jam caused by tourists stopping to look at bears near the road.
After our encounter with the bison, we got ourselves into a bear jam. There was a ton of traffic, vehicles pulled over on the side of the road, and animal control was even there. We pulled over and saw a black bear off in the distance. If you’re hoping to see wildlife in Grand Teton National Park, I would 10/10 recommend venturing out around dusk.
We spent some time at Jenny Lake almost every day of our stay. There was a beach area that seemed to be a well kept secret. It was off the beaten path right behind Wort Boathouse. Wort Boathouse was built by Charles Wort, who held the original U.S. Forest Service permit from the time before the establishment of Grand Teton National Park, when the lands and lake were under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. Wort would rent boats to patrons before the national park was established.
We would wear our bathing suits, go for a swim, bring our chairs, and have a picnic on what felt like our own secluded and private beach!
Jenny Lake Trail
On our 4th day at Grand Teton National Park, we hiked Cascade Canyon Trail, around Jenny Lake. The trail is 7.6 miles round-trip, taking about 3-5 hours to hike the whole trail, and providing breathtaking views of Cascade Canyon, The Cathedral Group (Mount Owen, The Grand Teton, and Teewinot).
Jenny Lake also offers a shuttle service, departing from South Jenny Lake roughly every 15 minutes to carry you across the lake to and from Cascade Canyon Trailhead. The ferry cuts off roughly 2.4 miles of walking each way, and cost $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for seniors round trip, and $10 for adults and $8 for children for a one-way ticket.
We started the trail at the South end of Jenny Lake and hiked to Hidden Falls, and took the ferry back. It took us roughly 2 hours from the time we began the hike until we were dropped off by the ferry back at South Jenny Lake.
Around the southern shore of the trail, about a mile in, you will pass Moose Ponds, where a short spur trail leads to an overlook. Moose and beaver are frequently spotted here, and on the day we hiked, we saw many moose! Taking the spur trail to observe the wildlife will only add roughly 10-15 minutes to your hike, and it’s well worth the experience!
We continued hiking towards Hidden Falls, and along the way, we had high hopes of spotting a bear! We kept coming across people walking the opposite way on the trail warning us of bears being spotted right ahead from where we were, but each time the bear was gone by the time we got there.
We made it to Hidden Falls, and without any bear sightings, we thought it was the highlight of our hike. Hidden Falls is a majestic waterfall, dropping approximately 100ft, and fed by Cascade Creek. A unique feature of the waterfall is that kids (or adults) can splash around on the rocks in the water below the waterfall.
As we were leaving Hidden Falls and walking towards the boat dock to catch a ferry and ride back to the southern shore of the lake, we were surprised by… you guessed it! An unexpected BEAR sighting. Not only did we see a brown bear, but we saw him up close and personal. He even walked right across the trail in front of us.
THIS was certainly the highlight of our hike that day. We didn’t have bear spray, but surprisingly I wasn’t scared at all. I think it’s because many people were around us, and the bear was so focused on a food source, I don’t think he even noticed us all standing around watching him.
On our fifth and final day at Grand Teton National Park, we went kayaking on Jackson Lake. We rented a 2 person kayak from Signal Mountain Lodge. It cost us $27/hr. Signal Mountain Lodge also rents pontoon boats, runabouts, fishing boats, canoes, buoys, and a deck cruiser. We had a blast kayaking, but even more fun than that was swimming in the lake and playing with David’s GoPro. The girl who set us up in our kayak told us about a sandy spot straight across the lake, so we went straight there, beached our kayak, and played until it was time to paddle back.
Kayaking on Jackson Lake is a must-do, and if you are going as a couple, I would recommend renting a 2 person kayak like we did. It was so much fun and it saved us money. A 1 person kayak cost $22/hr so it would have cost us almost twice what we payed if we had both rented one.
On departure day, we said farewell to our boondocking spot at Toppings Lake, and we were off to our next destination; Cody, Wyoming.
Throughout Grand Teton National Park, we saw many horses roaming free, and people were always stopped on the side of the road petting them. We finally stopped on our way out, and the horses were loving the human interaction and just waiting to be pet! It was an awesome experience.
Don’t pass through the park without stopping for the horses. The bison, bears, and moose are amazing to see, but don’t overlook the horses. Not only do you get to see them, but you get to pet them and they are so friendly and happy to see you!
That’s a Wrap!
From boondocking at Toppings Lake to visiting Snake River and Cunningham Cabin, to hiking Jenny Lake Trail and kayaking in Jackson Lake, we saw so much of Grand Teton National Park and enjoyed it to the fullest. The beauty in this park is immeasurable and there is something for everybody. It has truly been one of the highlights of our trip thus far.
As always, if you have been to Grand Teton National Park, I want to hear the highlights of your trip! Did you see a bear up close? Did you spend your days fly fishing, or what was your favorite hike? I want to hear what you have to say! If you are planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park, I hope this has given you some inspiration. I would love to hear feedback from YOU!