Jenny on the Rocks

A five-year project making the busiest spot in Grand Teton National Park more visitor-friendly is almost finished.

Jenny on the Rocks

A five-year project making the busiest spot in Grand Teton National Park more visitor-friendly is almost finished.

By Geraldine Stal
Photography by Bradly J. Boner

Jenny Lake is the most popular area for visitors in Grand Teton National Park. A five-year project (now in its final year) is improving trails and interpretive elements around the lake.

IN THE 1930s, when the first trails were designed and built around Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), thousands of visitors used them each year. Today, more than 1 million people visit Jenny Lake; it is the single most visited spot in the park. But, “It is confusing,” says GTNP landscape architect Matt Hazard. Proof of this is in the two most frequently asked questions at Jenny Lake’s small visitor center: (1) Where are the bathrooms?; and (2) Where is the lake? Leslie Mattson, president of the nonprofit Grand Teton National Park Foundation (GTNPF), which exists to support the park, says, “We can do so much better.”

For four years, the park, in conjunction with the GTNPF, has been working on doing better. Last August, the foundation’s “Inspiring Journeys: A Campaign for Jenny Lake” initiative hit its goal of raising $14 million. Combined with $4 million from GTNP, this is enough to give Jenny Lake the biggest face-lift it’s ever had, including improved trails, new overlooks, new interpretive areas, a beautifully designed beach, and over 1,000 linear feet of new dry stone wall. While there is still major work being done this summer, and descriptive elements will be added in early summer 2018, visitors can already enjoy some of the big improvements. The following pages offer a guide to the new Jenny Lake, along with a few reasons to come back when everything’s finished.

East Shore

The eastern shore of Jenny Lake is the single busiest area in GTNP. But, “There was no real focal point when you arrived,” Hazard says. “Or even signs saying ‘Jenny Lake.’ ” Kim Mills, GTNPF’s director of communications, corporate relations, and estate planning, says, “People would walk in circles trying to find the lake and the boat dock. It was a spider web of trails with many of them being redundant.” Areas, especially along the lakeshore, were severely damaged. But, thankfully, all this has changed (except for the part about Jenny Lake being the most popular place in the park).

West Shore

The western shore of Jenny Lake is designated “recommended wilderness,” which means there are no interpretive elements or pavement here. Also, no mechanized/motorized tools are allowed; the trail crew has done all of the work on this side using only hand tools.

Ray Haas, left, with the Dry Stone Conservancy, works with Grand Teton National Park trail crew member Justin Williams on one of two stone parapet overlooks under construction on the southeast shore of Jenny Lake last year.
Bridges over Cascade Creek have been rebuilt with a stouter, more robust construction that is meant to last decades.
Stones are the earliest known building material, and dry stone construction has been around for millennia. The Egyptian pyramids and Peruvian temples were built without the use of mortar. And now retaining walls around Jenny Lake are, too.
Trail designers wanted to retain the wilderness look and feel of the trail leading to Inspiration Point, and opted against installing a handrail or via ferrata on the most exposed section of the trail.
This summer, Grand Teton National Park plans on upgrading the Inspiration Point overlook as part of the final phase of renovations in the area.
Descending from Inspiration Point (or hiking up to the viewpoint), the trail passes a retaining wall first built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and rebuilt as part of the current restoration project.
By the time this project is finished, more than 5,000 linear feet of dry stonework will have been done at Jenny Lake.

Receive Published Stories In Your Inbox

Enter your email address below to subscribe to published stories.