Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Grand Tetons' Jenny Lake
One of the most popular hikes in the Grand Tetons National Park is the Jenny Lake hike—and for many reasons. Located south of Colter Bay Village and north of Teton Village off Teton Park Road, Jenny Lake is a 1,191-acre lake formed by glaciers, which gives the lake crystal clear, icy cold waters. This pristine lake is nestled at the foot of the Teton Range, providing visitors an exquisite view of the often snowcapped Teewinot Mountain, Mount Saint John and Cascade Canyon. The Jenny Lake hike begins behind the Jenny Lake visitor center. It circumvents the lake for about 7 miles through gorgeous pine forests offering hikers genuinely stunning views of the lake, mountains and waterfalls. Hikers beware; this is a heavily trafficked trail, so don't expect much quiet and solitude.
We recommend starting the hike early because this destination is incredibly popular, causing parking to become challenging as the day goes on. We started the hike around 9:30 a.m., and most of the parking lot was full. By the time we left around 12:30, there was a line to get into the parking area, and vehicles filled every available space. We'd read online to start the hike counterclockwise but struggled to find the trailhead. We ended up starting clockwise around the south side of the lake, picking up the trail behind the east boat dock after passing over the small inlet where you can locate the dock. Looking at Google Maps, you can see why it would be challenging to find the trailhead, as paths snake together and zig-zag across the property behind the visitor center. Signage wasn't clear on defining where the trailhead started. To start the trail counterclockwise, walk behind the visitor center toward the ranger station and keep on the path until it ends at the lake, then turn right. This starts the hike along the trail behind the campground and runs the length of the scenic drive of Jenny Lake Road before splitting off and following the lake's shoreline.
There are several reasons we recommend starting the hike counterclockwise, having done the opposite. There are multiple points of interest that hikers seek on the Jenny Lake Trail, and the two quickest ways to get there is either by hiking the trail clockwise or by hopping on the boat shuttle to the west dock. The hike is approximately 3 miles to reach Cascade Canyon, Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, causing this part of the walk to be very busy, plus it doesn't offer the typical stunning views or glimpses of the lake. Trails are wide, well-worn and easy to follow. The closer you get to the west side of the lake, the busier the path becomes. We walked back to Hidden Falls and discovered a hole between other visitors to snap a few pictures of this powerful waterfall that snakes its way in between pine trees, cascading and crashing over large rocks and boulders tumbling to the lake below. Inspiration Point is worthy of the thigh-burning climb up the hill to the top. Though we opted to go only halfway, we still witnessed incredible views of Jenny Lake below. The west dock is located in this same area, and we found a lot of visitors either taking the boat shuttle both ways or doing a combo of the boat shuttle and the 3-mile hike on the south side of the lake. After enjoying this area, we continued past the west boat dock around the lake. As on the other side of the lake, signage isn't clear where the Jenny Lake trail continues; proceed past the west dock toward the north.
This side of the lake is gorgeous. As hikers spread out more, we found ourselves hiking alone several times through the tall pine tree forest, rocky outcroppings and small meadows that grace this part of the lake trail. Clear streams babble along the path in several places, and the rebel in me found myself reaching in the water for a handful of clean mountain water to drink. The hike opens up to views of Jenny Lake, which glistened in the afternoon sun. The further north we hiked, Teton Range loomed behind us, providing incredible views. The beautifully painted landscape is in front of the hiker on this portion of the hike, attesting to the importance of hiking this trail counterclockwise; no unnecessary stops to look behind. This portion of the hike truly is beautiful, and far more scenic than the walk on the south side.
Arriving at our vehicle, GPS stated we hiked a moderate 8.33 miles in just under 4 hours. There isn't a substantial elevation change on this hike outside of hiking up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. The path is well maintained and easy to follow around the entire lake. Our biggest challenge was the signage, which wasn't clear in defining where the trail was located on the west and east shores and around String Lake, where several pathways converge. We recommend downloading the map from AllTrails or checking them out on Google Maps, which does a decent job of outlining trails.
Overall, this is a beautiful hike. Expect it to be busy, especially around the south and west sides of the lake. The scenery is pretty along the south side. Still, the views and scenery are genuinely stunning along the north side of the lake, and we, like others, recommend starting the trail counterclockwise to truly enjoy the views from this direction. Take your time, enjoy stopping along the way to frame Jenny Lake at the foot of Teewinot Mountain, Mount St. John and Cascade Canyon, and you'll be sure to walk away from this hike with some stunning images to hang on your walls.