Grand Teton: Tour the park, avoid the crowds

Road Journals Blog—While researching the Grand Tetons article I wrote for VIA (published in the Spring 2011 Mountain West edition), I found myself at Jackson Lake Lodge on a Sunday afternoon. About a dozen of us were there for Grand Teton Lodge Company Historian Mary McKinney’s weekly tour of the lodge’s art collection. (Read more about it in the story.)

The Jackson Lake Lodge tour isn’t the only one McKinney does. And the print article keeps those tours a secret.

At 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, she takes people around the cabins at Colter Bay. This might not sound exciting, but let Mary talk. One-hundred-sixty-six cabins, built mostly in the early 1900s through the 1940s, were collected from homesteads and ranches around Jackson Hole and brought to Colter Bay, where they were restored and are now available for nightly rental. Mary discusses architecture and the cabins’ histories at length.

Cabin 471, thought to be the oldest building in the northern part of Jackson Hole (built in 1897 or 1898), came to Colter Bay from where Jackson Lake Dam now sits.  Five cabins now at Colter Bay were originally built in Old Moran as the backdrop for the 1930 movie The Big Trail—John Wayne’s first starring role. The 22 original cabins from Jackson Lake Lodge—built in 1922, they were the first structures in the valley to have indoor plumbing—are also now all at Colter Bay. Mary gets into all this and more. (The man who built cabin 471, Frank Lovell, was quite the character.)

On Saturdays at 5 p.m., Mary is at Jenny Lake Lodge (which I recommend in the print article for its elegant $22 all-you-can-eat breakfast), discussing the place’s history. The Lodge is the park’s poshest property (rates start at $550 per night), and its most historic, welcoming guests since before Grand Teton was a park. The main lodge dates from the 1920s and some of the cabins are even older. Over the years, some pretty famous people have stayed here – Princess Grace, Angie Dickinson (evidently she sat at the same table every time she was here), Normal Rockwell, and Walt Disney, to name just a few.

The Saturday evening I did Mary’s Jenny Lake Lodge tour, I decided to splurge and stay for its prix-fix five-course dinner. It’s not the bargain breakfast is (it costs $125), but I think it’s worth it: some of the best food in the valley (paired with wine), eaten from fine china on a white linen covered table in a historic log lodge. Post-dinner, the lobby has a ginormous fireplace accented by swallowing-ly soft chairs to enjoy.

Do you have any favorite historic tours in Wyoming or beyond?

Dina Mishev's article, "An Insider's Guide to Grand Teton National Park," can be found in Via's 2011 spring edition in the Mountain West region, comprising Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.

This blog post was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.