Marion Lake and Granite Canyon

A great way to explore the alpine areas of Grand Teton National Park is to take the tram ride up from Jackson Hole Resort in Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. From there, traverse across the sublime landscape to Marion Lake, then back down through Granite Canyon and loop back to the village.

The views are amazing, wildflowers are everywhere, and there’s a great chance to see a wide array of animals. There still is some uphill, but a ton of downhill, so not super great for those with bad knees.

We pulled up to Teton Village a little later than we wanted to (but that’s not unusual). We located the ticket office for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and paid for our tram ride up. Wow! The tram ride was super sweet. Even if all you did was take the ride up, you have exceptional views along the way to the top. Of course, the views from the summit of Rendezvous Mountain are exceptional as well.

In the 360-degree panorama, you have a sea of summits from the north (including Grand Teton) to the west, and to the south. To the east, the wonderful Jackson Hole valley spreads out with the Snake River meandering through. This was only the beginning of our journey, however, so we started down the ridge.

The summit and ridge are very exposed and can be really cold, even for an August day. Thankfully we had gloves and jackets as we worked our way south along the ridge. Delicious views abounded every direction our head turned. As we descended Rendezvous Mountain, the rocky (and confusingly named) Rendezvous Peak stood before us.

We found the trail junction that left the resort boundary and dropped into Grand Teton National Park. The first stretch was on the protected north facing slope, so there were more trees and flowers. Mule Deer foraged along the trail and we found a few American Pikas along the way. We dropped down to the bottom of this wonderful cirque before climbing back up on the south facing side that was a dryer, grassy meadow.

Once up on that ridge, we once again descended into the trees before traversing below a fantastic ridgeline through open, alpine meadows. We were surprised at the amount of wildflowers still blooming in the fourth week of August, but we weren’t complaining.

We dropped down first to the South Fork Granite Creek and climbed up onto the ridge separating it from the Middle Fork Granite Creek. For those looking to make a shorter day, you can follow the trail at the junction down into Granite Creek. We wanted to head over to Marion Lake, so we continued down to the middle fork.

The Middle Fork was the bigger of the three branches and had a lot more shrubs growing in a marshy section upstream from the crossing. Thankfully, we were able to easily cross and begin the steep climb to the top of the ridge. It was short and strenuous, but the views of the rocky ridges and open meadows interspersed with trees were perfect as we caught our breath.

Once at the top of the steep ascent, an carpet of yellow flowers awaited us on the other side and welcomed us on a steep descent… but not before enjoying another panoramic vista.

This hill steeply switchbacked down to the creek, passing a field of enormous limestone boulders with lazy Yellow-bellied Marmots soaking in the sun’s rays. Once at the creek, we once again climbed up through a meadow to the basin where Marion Lake sits. Upon entering the trees, we jumped three Bighorn Sheep which was sweet! They are monitoring the sheep to see the affect the (non-native) Mountain Goats are having on them. They asked for any reports and I was more than happy to see them and report them!

Marion Lake is a small lake tucked below a rock wall. The shoreline access is easy and meadows are all around. Numerous tents were set up amongst the trees from backpackers. We heard that there was a moose in the lake, but we were unable to find it… which is funny because the lake is small and you’d think it would be hard for a moose to hide.

I wanted to see just beyond the lake and so we continued past the lake to get views into Idaho and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. I love these big mountains. They stretch out forever.

After enjoying the view, we turned back down to the lake. We met another hiker who told us that the moose was still in the lake and was bedded down in the reeds at the head of the lake. A Prairie Falcon soared overhead to which I got my usual excited self.

We reached the lake again and, after a bit of looking, finally spotted the top of the moose’s head and her ears. Not a bad day for animals.

From there, we dropped back down to the limestone boulders and started working our way out Granite Canyon. I looked to see if we could see those Bighorn Sheep again and did! This time we saw the larger herd which was six in all.

The top stretch of Granite Canyon tends to be open, grassy meadows with trees interspersed. As we descended the trees became more prominent and the creek got larger as more feeder streams and other forks merged with it. Sections of the trail went through willows and we kept our eyes out for more moose, but didn’t see any more.

We passed the patrol cabin and the stream below was a slow moving affair which picked up as we went through the trees further down. The great thing about this trail is that you’re never very far from the creek. Along the way through the wonderful forest, you get views of the ever changing creek, small meadows, and looks up at Apres Vous Peak and it’s massive crumbling hillside.

Eventually, we came down to where the canyon narrowed and we came along the vast boulder fields. We got our first glimpse of Jackson Hole and tall willows lined the trail. This section was a bit spooky as we passed berries and a lot of bear scat. The trail got a bit steeper as it worked its way down to the valley bottom and the creek, in turn, got more lively.

The trail finally reached the valley bottom through the trees and we cruised along a fairly level trail back to the resort. The sun was setting and things were getting darker, but we finally made it out of the park boundary and back onto the resort boundary. We followed the signs to a ski run and worked our way down the run to the base of the tram ride, then our car.

The great thing about taking the tram up from Teton Village in the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is that you have so many options. For those that are interested in sweeping views, but not much mileage, the trip up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain and wandering around is spectacular. If you want to travel down into the park a ways and turn back, you’ll get a little bit of elevation, but not much.

A popular hike is to go to Marion Lake, then come back. You’ll definitely get some elevation change, but not the long hike down into the canyon and will spend all of your day in the alpine meadows. Of course, you can always take the tram up to Rendezvous Mountain, across to Marion Lake and loop through Granite Canyon back to Teton Village like we did. It’s a long, epic day in Grand Teton National Park, but one you’ll be glad you did.

Looking north from Rendezvous Mountain

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