A week off of work for most people is a very rare thing. I wouldn’t know. As a professional writer, it’s more rare for me to have a full week on work. Even so, since my traditionally-employed girlfriend had a week off from her job and my forthcoming book, titled Mounting Aconcagua: A Mostly Serious Guide (please buy it when it comes out), is still being edited, we decided to visit some places we’ve always wanted to go.

Our list of places to visit was simple: Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park. Mind you, any one of those three places is amazing enough that you could spend every day there and still never experience everything it has to offer. We live in Atlanta, GA, though, so we don’t have easy access to these parks. It’s sad to say this, but if I’m being entirely practical, I don’t know if we’ll ever get out that way again. Life is short, and there’s lots to see in the world. With that in mind, it seemed prudent to lay eyeballs on as much as we could while we were there.

We started by flying into Jackson Hole, WY, where we rented ourselves that most American of vehicles, the Kia Rio. Actually Kia does manufacture some car models in the US–in my home state of Georgia, no less–but not the Rio. We then drove to our lodging at the Motel 6 in Jackson Hole.

As a budget-minded (read: poor) traveler, I have had occasion to book lodging at a few Motel 6 locations in my day, and none have been nearly so well appointed as the one in Jackson Hole. It might be the nicest Motel 6 there is. I even got my photo taken with a bear on the hotel grounds.

Just a couple of badass animals, hanging out.

We’d been told two things about camping in Grand Teton National Park: first, that we definitely wanted to stay at the Jenny Lake campground, and second, that the campgrounds fill up very early in the morning. By the time we stopped by a store to buy some fuel for our stove and other items and got over to the park, every camp site at Jenny Lake was indeed taken.

Camp site reservation works by way of slips of paper clipped to a post next to each site’s parking spot. If the post has a piece of paper on it, that site is already reserved. I am told that the Jenny Lake site has a line of cars that forms as early as 8:00am waiting for people to leave so spots can be grabbed. I didn’t witness this phenomenon, but given how busy the park was when we were there in June, which isn’t even the busy season, I could see it being true.

With Jenny Lake full, we traveled a few miles down the road to the Signal Mountain campground instead, where we found a spot a couple dozen yards from a bluff which overlooked Lake Jackson and the Teton Range in the distance. When we first arrived, I wished the site was a bit closer to the bluff so we could look out over the lake at the Tetons, but when the wind picked up a bit later I was glad for the trees sheltering us.

Now, Jenny Lake is beautiful, and the hiking we got up to was definitely convenient to that Jenny Lake campground had we been able to grab a spot, but our Signal Mountain campground was just amazing. Check out this panorama I took with my iPhone that afternoon.

If that ain't scenery, I don't know what is.

We stayed overnight with very quiet neighbors and no problems at all. It did rain a bit, but nothing our tent couldn’t handle.

One thing we weren’t really prepared for was how cold it could still be in mid June. That probably sounds dumb to anyone who lives in the area, but where we’re from you start wearing shorts in late March or you’ll spontaneously burst into flame. We both brought 20 degree sleeping bags. I was okay in my bag, but I am a human furnace who has been known to sweat a bit during cold showers. My girlfriend was a bit cold during the night.

Once we got up and made some breakfast, we headed back down to Jenny Lake to do a bit of hiking. We took a ferry from the visitor’s center area across the lake to a drop-off point near Hidden Falls. It was a short hike from there to the falls themselves, which were gorgeous.

Now that's what I call a falls.

On up the trail a bit from the falls is an outcropping that overlooks Jenny Lake called Inspiration Point. It’s a pretty popular point for stopping and reflecting over some snacks. It’s also where we saw the fattest and bravest chipmunks I have ever laid eyes upon. These suckers were brazen. Were I not a fast and ferocious eater, I bet one of them would have ripped my apple right out of my hands.

From there, we headed into Cascade Canyon along the Cascade Canyon trail, which follows Cascade Creek. That’s a cascade of Cascades right there. The trail was pretty well populated with other hikers, but even so we saw three or four moose only 25 yards away.

In addition to the wildlife, the canyon itself is absolutely stunning.

Cascade Canyon

We headed a few miles into the canyon, then turned around and backtracked down to the falls again. From there we branched off and hiked back around Jenny Lake to the boat house. We spotted what we think was a badger on the way back, but it didn’t hang around long enough to be properly identified or photographed.

We ended up with around 8 miles in 3 hours and 45 minutes, which was plenty for me. Then we piled into the Kia Rio, got ourselves a bite to eat, and headed off to Yellowstone. It was kind of tough to leave because the Tetons were so beautiful, but we also knew we had a lot of amazing stuff to look at in the coming days.

Click here to read Part 2: Yellowstone.

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