Stay Awhile at Grand Teton National Park

The rain poured down all night as if it would never stop. The lightning flashed and the thunder crashed. We didn't mind, not even when the power went out.

We were snug in our log cabin the middle of Grand Teton National Park wondering how all of the animals -- not to mention the campers -- were faring in the storm. Even the kids were glad we'd opted for a cabin that night rather than a tent.

The next morning, with the rain gone, they couldn't get outside fast enough. The hardest decision was what to do: hike, canoe or fish? Laze by a lake, horseback ride or take the camera and look for wildlife?

Grand Teton National Park offers all that and more, against a backdrop of some of the most spectacular country anywhere -- from the jagged snowcapped Teton mountain range more than 12,000 feet above sea level to the fields of wildflowers to the animals everywhere.

Did you know moose shed their antlers annually and grow a new set every spring -- in time for mating season? Nearly 3,000 elk summer in the park and there are plenty of opportunities too to spot moose, bison, pronghorn antelope and maybe even a bear. (Here's a hint: look for wildlife early in the morning and evenings near where they feed. Rangers can steer you in the right direction.)

This is the place to see a bald eagle, a trumpeter swan, an osprey. There are nearly 300 species of birds in this park.

If solitude is what your family craves, lace up the hiking boots and hike to a mountain lake. There are 100 in the park. The vibrant hues of the wildflowers -- blue Alpine forget-me-nots, red Indian Paintbrush, yellow violets and purple larkspur -- will make you want to grab the kids' markers and paper and start sketching. The park boasts more than 900 kinds of flowering plants.

With all there is to see and do, most families visit Grand Teton National Park only briefly, park officials say. They stop in as they make their way north along the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (he gave 33,000 acres to the park) Memorial Parkway, the 54 scenic miles from the cowboy cum tourist town of Jackson to Yellowstone National Park's south gate. "They think if they've seen the mountains they've seen the park," laments park spokesman Linda Olson, who is co-author of "A Guide to Exploring Grand Teton National Park" ($10.95; RNM Press).

Certainly Yellowstone is far larger -- Grand Teton, with 310,000 acres is less than a fifth Yellowstone's size. And Jackson is a great place to souvenir shop as well as hobnob with cowboys and cowgirls of all ages at the summer rodeo on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

(Call Yellowstone National Park at 307-344-7311. Call the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce at 307-733-3316.)

Grand Teton National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the nation, but families are missing a lot if they don't linger awhile. "We'd love to see more people get out of their cars," says Olson.

If the weather's good, pitch a tent or opt for one of the tent cabins maintained by the Grand Teton Lodge Company. (Arrive early! The National Park Service campgrounds here are operated on a first-come, first-served basis. Insiders say during summer, you'll have the most success securing a spot if you arrive no later than noon. Besides the cabins where we stayed and tent cabins, there are a range of lodges in the park including the four-star Jackson Lake Lodge. Grand Teton Lodge Company (307-543-2811) is the major lodge provider in the park, though there are others.)

If you can find a place to sleep and stop and stay awhile, it's not necessary to race around seeing "important" sites. Rather, this is an ideal place to try some things you wouldn't get to do at home: cast a line for cutthroat trout, watch a moose eat his lunch, raft a river -- the Snake is famous for its raft and float trips -- or hike to a waterfall.

For those staying longer, The Grand Teton Science School, headquartered in the park, offers a range of outdoor science programs for children and adults alike.

Linda Olson's book and others to help you get acquainted with the park, including the $5.95 "Grand Teton Official Handbook" and the 15-page "Short Hikes and Easy Walks in Grand Teton" that costs just $1 and a $3.95 "Discover Grand Teton" activity book for kids can be ordered from the Grand Teton National History Association before your visit. Call 307-739- 3403.

We started out one day to take the most popular hike in the park, to Hidden Falls, an easy four-mile round-trip walk along the lake shore. But we never made it. After a picnic alongside String Lake, the kids opted to spend the afternoon swimming and casting their fishing lines, albeit unsuccessfully.

(Remember: to fish in the park, an adult must have a valid Wyoming fishing license. It's possible to get one inside the park for as little as $5 a day.)

One of the attractions of this place, we realized that day, is that despite nearly 4 million visitors a year, we didn't feel the press of the crowd, even in the height of summer, even not far off the beaten track.

Later that evening, we tried another short family hike from the Colter Bay Visitor Center to Swan Lake in search of swans.

We didn't find the swans. We did have the trail entirely to ourselves. Too bad I forgot the camera.

(c) 1996, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate Document ID: og040796

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