We left West Yellowstone and entered Yellowstone National Park heading for Colter Bay, it was going to be an easy 80 mile drive. We headed east to Madison Junction and then south towards Old Faithful. When we got to Old Faithful the road was blocked and signs said Road Closed due to Wild Fire. A lightning strike started a fire west of the road between Old Faithful and the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. We immediately thought of a long detour through Idaho but the rest of the southern Grand Loop was open. So back to Madison Junction and then Norris. Going clockwise to Canyon Village then south to Fishing Bridge and along Yellowstone Lake to the West Thumb Junction and south to Grant Junction. It was an 80 mile detour through some nice scenery. Surprisingly the traffic was only congested in a few locations. And we saved going over the continental divide twice going this way. Then south towards the South Entrance of Yellowstone Park and into the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. Twenty seven miles to Grand Teton National Park.
Grand Teton National Park starts near the north end of Jackson Lake where the Snake River enters the lake. The Snake River begins in Yellowstone and is joined by the Lewis River. Together they flow south through the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway cutting some amazing deep canyons. The road generally follows the Snake River to where it heads off to Jackson Lake and the highway enters Teton National Park.
Jackson Lake is about 15 miles long and 7 miles wide. At 6700 ft elevation it is one of the largest high altitude lakes in the US. It is a natural lake which was made bigger by a dam in 1911. The dam was enlarged in 1916 and completely rebuilt in 1989. Part of the lake water is used by farmers in Idaho under water rights legislation that preceeded the park. The Snake River exits the lake at the dam near Signal Mountain Lodge.
Colter Bay Village
About half way down Jackson Lake you get to Colter Bay Village, our first destination. The Village has a gas station, a campground, an RV Park, a gift shop and grocery store, a laundry (the first laundry in any National Park), a Visitor’s Center, a marina, rustic historic log cabins and even more rustic tent cabins. You can even sign up to go on a horse back ride, a guided fishing activity or a river rafting adventure.
At the marina there are docks and moorings for private power boats and sail boats. You can get what you might need in the marina store including fishing tackle and fishing licenses. You can rent a kayak or a canoe or a small motor boat. You can get tickets for a mid-day narrated boat tour or a cruise for breakfast or dinner on Elk Island. You can bring your own boat, there is a nice boat launch.
The Visitor’s Center has orientation and history movies, Park Rangers dispensing information, a back country permit window and a nice book shop. They also have an area where Native American artists show and sell their work.
The grocery store is pretty well stocked with just about anything you might want. The ice cream counter always had a line. You can get your favorite adult beverages too. It wasn’t cheap, a bag of Starbucks coffee that we rarely pay more than $6 for at home was $15.99. And Bear Spray for the exorbitant price of $49. You cannot return it and you cannot take it home with you on the airplane. But for any hiking on trails it is a must have accessory hanging on your belt.
The laundry is the first of its kind in any National Park. Surprisingly not too over priced and quite convenient. There were also pay showers there too. $5 or a group of up to 5 for $15. I suspect that was for a family not just 5 of your best friends. You could even rent a towel and buy a bar of soap and some shampoo.
There is WiFi available outside the grocery and laundry. There is very limited cell phone service in this area but in some places it works.
The gift shop is quite nice, we bought nothing, but it does have a wide range of memorabilia, clothes, fishing gear and camping supplies. We looked but didn’t see anything that we just had to have. The last time we were here it was in the last week or ten days before everything closed for the season and most of the things you just had to have were half off. Who can resist a bargain.
And there are two restaurants, one is more of a cafeteria/fast food style and the other is a sit down order from a menu sort of place. The sit down place is probably a better value for what you get. We have eaten at both places and think it is better.
The historic rustic cabins are smaller log cabins with a bathroom. They come in a variety of sizes depending on how many people there are. As far as we could tell there is no cooking facilities or refrigerators. There is no TV, no Phone, no coffee maker nor WiFi. Like a motel, someone comes in every day to cleanup after you.
There are even more rustic tent cabins to rent. 66 of them. They have a nice wood burning stove inside and bunk beds. There is an outdoor fire pit and a place for your cooler and cook stove. They also have bear proof food enclosures to store everything while not in use.
Each has a broom for you to cleanup after yourself.
If you like great pizza, the Leeks Marina about a mile north up the lake has just what you want. It is not over priced and rates very high on the great pizza scale. Beer too.
If hiking is what you want then there are several trail heads starting in the village and give you choices of maybe 20 miles of trails to hike. We have been on all of them. None are too hard but you are at nearly 7,000 ft and those first few days you think you might need some oxygen. And yes, they sell bottled oxygen in the grocery store. After a few days you get used to the altitude and just pant like a dog after twenty steps.
The National Park campground has 330 sites at Colter Bay. They can accommodate everything from tents to a motorhome bigger than ours. There are about 20 sites with electric hookups. It is first come, first served. No reservations. It fills up most days by mid afternoon. Every morning by 9 or 10 there is a line of campers waiting to get in. Sites have a bear proof food storage box and a fire pit. Water is available nearby.
The RV park is a reservation only park with about 110 full hook up sites. This year all sites were sold out for the entire season by mid January. The sites are generous by RV park standards and in a well shaded forest of lodge pole pines. From most sites it is a very short walk (a couple hundred yards) to the swimming beach on Jackson Lake. It is called a swimming beach because people go swimming there. Rocks replace sand as the beach part. Some parts of the RV park have a cell phone signal and others do not. And it can be OK for part of the day and poor most of the day. We never did figure out where the cell phone signal comes from.
They are in the process of running fiber optic cable from one end of the park to the other. When it is done there should be good or better cell phone access almost everywhere. We can’t even get that at home.
That’s Colter Bay Village in a nutshell. This is the fourth time we have been here and it is a favorite.
The Village in a Time of Pandemic
So most of everything is open. One restaurant is closed, the other is carry out only. Sadly, Leeks Pizza is closed for the season. The Marina store is closed but you can still rent a kayak or canoe but no motor boats. No lake cruises. There are very limited Park Ranger activities. Most things are open and visitor counts are up 20% from last year. Even still Colter Bay never seems too busy.
Masks were required everywhere. And people were very good about it. They are from all over the country, not everywhere has the same rules but here they had people checking on masks and counting the number of people in and out. There was a maximum number inside and occasionally we had to wait for a minute or two for someone to exit.
We were here for five days. Then down to Gros Ventre campground for a week and then came back here for another week. We started with two nights reserved on our return trip from BC but when that got canceled we quickly started to try to add more time.
We drove down to Signal Mountain Lodge to get a fishing license. This is the only place in the park to get one face to face. Once you are in the Wyoming system it is easier to get one on line but wifi at Colter Bay made that tough. The Signal Mountain Lodge and its dining room are closed other than to check people into the campground and to sell fishing licenses. The two gift shops were open, what did you expect?
We drove up to the top of Signal Mountain, a narrow winding road that says “No RVs”. No matter at the top was one of those Cruise America RVs taking up half of the parking spaces and a good portion of the road. A bit further on to the summit there is more parking and great views in almost every direction. And a small forest of antennae for the Park Service and cell phones. Four bars here.
I need a haircut.
Fishing, First Try
You need a license to fish and the Wyoming State Fishing Licenses are good for one specific day or five consecutive days or all year. If you were here long enough to fish for 7 days it is cost effective to buy an annual tag. Since I had no idea when or where I was going to try fishing I bought a one day tag. I packed up my gear and we drove down to an access point on the Snake River about 1/4 mile below the dam. It looked good to me. Some swirling water on a curve in the river with calm areas at the edge of the current.
The people in the boat caught a fish.
As did the wading people.
My entire stream fishing knowledge comes from watching Mr. Foyle fly fishing on a pastoral stretch of stream in Hastings on the southern coast of England during WWII. (Please watch “Foyle’s War”, a Masterpiece Mystery Series from some years back. It is worth your time.) He always wore some cumbersome looking rubber waders, a shirt and tie, a vest and a Fedora. He had all the trappings of a true fisherman or so it seemed. I had my prized net, a Walmart plastic bag at the ready, a small scissors, and a plastic box with snap swivels and three lures that the guy in Minnesota assured me would work in Wyoming.
Susan brought a chair to sit in and wait. I worked my way along the river to a place where I could get down to the rocky edge. I snapped on a lure, got all my stuff organized and was ready to go. My first cast meant to tempt even the most reluctant fish went about two feet in front of me. Clearly I needed to review the YouTube lessons and try again. After a few more goes at it I had the lure out in the stream and started cranking in on the line. Suddenly the crank stopped and I was sure I had a whopper on the line. Actually the lure had cranked up to the end of the rod and wouldn’t go any further. Silly me. I spent several hours (it seemed) at it, Susan was very patient. I moved to several different spots trying to out think a fish. Who was I kidding. I saw lots of fish. They came right up to the surface and splashed water in my general direction. As I looked closer there was a bazillion bug bits in the water, an insect hatch of some sort. Some shiny lure offered nothing when fresh bugs were everywhere. Next time!
Every day here in Colter Bay we went for a walk, some days two. More than anything we wanted to just relish in the feeling of being there. We took our chairs to the beach to enjoy a pleasant late afternoon.
The first three days had the beach closed because of bears taking their turn. We did laundry, checked out the gift shop and grocery. Visited the Visitor’s Center and Book Shop. Went to the Marina and sat on a bench to watch the canoers and kayakers depart and return. We got an ice cream treat and sat out on the picnic tables to eat it as slowly as possible and use the WiFi from the laundry.
I was in the middle of rereading a newly released version of Steven King’s “The Stand”. We both read it while traveling in 1980 when it was first published. It is about a world wide deadly pandemic and the ensuing struggle between good and evil. Fiction then. Pretty close to reality today. The original book left out over 150,000 words from the original manuscript. Mr. King can run on a bit. The newest Kindle version has most of the original work restored and other updates. It was 1500+ Kindle pages. It took me a week to read it, every word. In the end very few survive the pandemic, good triumphs over evil, truth overcomes lies and evil is suppressed but as it is with human nature it does not go away.
Five days flew by, the high mountain air was intoxicating, warm pine smells, the sound of the lake, the majestic mountains rising right up out if the lake just a few miles away. We saw bison, no bears and no elk. We also saw deer. We were just very glad to be back.
We are heading for Gros Ventre, a big campground at the southern end of the park for a week.
More Later, Much Love,
Roger and Susan