7:56 PM EDT, March 26, 2013
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — My cabin was the ultimate in location, location, location.
Don't misunderstand; it was a perfectly pleasant little cabin, if not a bit small (some might say cozy), with log walls, matching wood furniture and a spotlessly clean, modern bathroom. The maroon tartan chairs, more appropriate for a lost great-aunt somewhere, were a bit less impressive, but no matter. This cabin was all about the front yard.
And that front yard was the reason that a modest cabin at Jenny Lake Lodge rents for $645 per night. Swing open the front door and there stand some of the most beautiful mountains you will ever see: the soaring, jagged Grand Tetons, sprouting like teeth from the earth as if to take a bite out of the heavens. It's the best front yard in America.
The cabin's most crucial amenity is the pair of wood rocking chairs on the slab out front, and the smartest thing a visitor can do is give them a good rocking. Reading in those chairs is a waste of time. Better to just look ahead at those grand teeth. Bring music. Or a drink. Or — why not? — music and a drink. Just make sure you're looking ahead. Your eyes won't want to leave.
Jenny Lake Lodge is one of the few four-diamond hotels (as designated by AAA) housed in a national park (others are in Death Valley and Yosemite), and for that four-diamond cost, the service was, as it should be, impeccable. Within five minutes, the front desk called to ask whether things were "up to your standards." They were. I had already taken note of the king-size bed, the impossibly soft bathrobe and the complimentary purified water stashed in a corner.
Minutes later, a kindly white-haired gentleman working at Jenny Lake in his retirement (smart guy) stopped by to acquaint me with my cabin. The ice and purified water would be replaced twice daily, he said. The day's newspapers would be in the main lodge by 7 each morning, should I want to start my day by the warmth of the stone fireplace. The manager's reception, including champagne and hors d'oeuvres, would begin at 5 that night.
I thanked him, then sat in one of those rocking chairs for a bit. And though mingling with other guests and long-stemmed glasses sounded posh, I had sweatier work to do. I had to start exploring those Tetons.
Sun fleeing quickly, I grabbed my bear spray — essential in these parts — and headed out for a walk on the trail along Jenny Lake. The path traced the edge of the broad, glassy water, afternoon sunlight twinkling off its face and thick stands of pines hugging its shores. Rising above the lake, staring back at me, were those teeth.
There are many stunning peaks in this world, but the Tetons possess their own kind of magic. They climb so sharply and suddenly above the lakes and the pines — perfect jagged point after perfect jagged point — that they turn ominous even in their stillness. On the quiet shores of Jenny Lake, you not only stand toe to toe with that perfection, you stand in the heart of the 310,000-acre park; those peaks, and the lakes below, including Jenny, were the first part of the Tetons set aside for preservation by Congress in 1929.
About the time the stars starting glimmering above, I headed back to the lodge to reacquaint myself with the magic of four diamonds — and five courses. Stays at Jenny Lake Lodge include leisurely dinners with plenty of difficult choices: wild mushroom tempura or local buffalo carpaccio for an appetizer? Braised lamb shank with parsnip puree or seared ruby trout with tomato mushroom ragout as an entree? Plus soup, salad and a dessert that, this night, included the option of fried Snickers. As I munched on mine, I pitied anyone laboring over a camp stove in the dark.
Sleeping early is essential at Jenny Lake Lodge in order to wake early and see those mountains bathed in warm morning light. And sure enough, as the sun began its climb the next day, I rubbed my eyes to find them painted pinkish-orange, their high snowy patches aglow. There was nothing to do but find a mug of coffee and sit back.
But then it was time to explore again. After a guided 90-minute horseback ride atop Victor — because that also is included with a Jenny Lake Lodge stay — a staff member drove me in a black Cadillac Escalade ("The official vehicle of Jenny Lake Lodge" — sorry, Victor) to a boat launch from which I would be carried across the lake to one of the park's most-trafficked trails: the steep half-mile climb to Inspiration Point.
Inspiration Point affords some marvelously broad views of the lake, but that is as far as many people go. And if you keep walking, you wind deeper into the heart of the Tetons, on the twisting path through Cascade Canyon, where those craggy peaks are demystified a bit; they don't just shoot up into the sky, of course — they bleed into each other and slope down to the earth.
I shared the late summer walk with three young Israeli women who had just finished working at a summer camp in Pennsylvania, then with a couple from Ohio who had happened upon a black bear that morning and discharged their bear spray. The cloud of repellent blew back into their faces, leaving them blinded and coughing while the bear sauntered off. I kept the glory of the fried Snickers to myself.
Gladly, I made it back to my cabin without a bear encounter. Instead I readied myself for a beer encounter, which, yes, I sipped on the front porch of my cabin. I sat there until the sun went down before finding my way to another five-course dinner.
It wasn't until the next morning, as I prepared to leave, that I realized, or even thought to care, that my cabin didn't have a television.
If you go
Many people drive to Grand Teton National Park (nps.gov/grte) as part of a great Western road trip, incorporating a visit with stops at Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyo., among other nearby attractions.
If you're flying to the area and renting a car, the closest airport is Jackson Hole Airport, about 5 miles away, which is serviced by American, Delta, Frontier, Skywest and United airlines. Direct flights are available from Denver, Salt Lake City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis, Chicago, Newark, N.J., Atlanta, San Francisco, Houston and Los Angeles.
Where to stay
A less costly option is Colter Bay (about $100 per night plus tax); a midtier option is the 385-room Jackson Lake Lodge (cottages rent for about $249 per night plus tax).
Among the best views are at Jenny Lake Lodge, which offers duplex cabins ($625 per night plus tax), free-standing cabins ($645) and suite cabins that include a living room but no kitchen ($820 to $899 depending on time of the year). Cost includes breakfast, a five-course dinner, bike rental and a horseback riding tour. (Information for all can be found at gtlc.com, 307-543-2811.)
Most inexpensive is tent camping. Campsites open in early May and cost about $20 per night, depending on the site. Tent camping is first come, first served.
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