America the Beautiful II

This is the second in a series of posts about my LA to Chicago road trip, Aug 20-29. 


From Salt Lake City, we drove north to Idaho Falls. Our first stop in Idaho was Lava Hot Springs, a small town just north of the Utah border that consists of a water park and a single street of motels and restaurants. We bought combo passes to the swimming pool and mineral baths, on either end of the main street, and spent the afternoon splashing around in the pool and soaking in the hot springs.

From Lava Hot Springs, we drove to Idaho Falls. We found a pretty generic “American (traditional)” restaurant on Yelp that had good reviews. I wasn’t excited about another boring meal, but I was surprised to find that Jaker’s is classic American done right. They put a huge emphasis on local ingredients and the wait staff are outrageously friendly. At most casual American restaurants, I feel like the waitress is looking for an excuse to hate me. At Jaker’s, I felt like they genuinely cared if I enjoyed my meal and would have been happy to accommodate reasonable requests. Everything we ordered was generous in portion and delicious, especially the “scones,” fried dough with honey butter served in place of bread before the meal. We ordered seconds and thirds and they were happy to keep bringing it out.

We went to bed early in Idaho Falls and set out at 5am the next morning for Grand Teton National Park. As I drove over Teton Pass into Wyoming, the early morning light reflecting off the mountains, I knew I was going to love this place.

When we arrived in the park, we immediately went to the Jenny Lake campground to snag a site – Jenny Lake fills up fast in the summer. After claiming our tent pad, we did the scenic loop around the southern part of the park, checking out all the vistas and learning about the Tetons, glaciers, and prairies. Grand Teton is directly adjacent to Yellowstone but much smaller and less crowded. I loved the parks more intimate vibe – I felt like I could enjoy the park in one day, but also could come back and spend much more time there. Jay loved all the lakeside stops along the scenic route – perfect for skipping rocks.

Skipping rocks on Jackson Lake.

After the drive, we set up our brand new tent, our home away from home. This was our first time camping without more outdoorsy friends, so we stuck to the basics: tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, flashlights. We weren’t quite bold enough to build a fire and cook.

After setting up the tent, we went to the Jenny Lake trail. Jay and I did the 2 mile hike from the east boat dock to Hidden Falls together, then walked down to the west boat dock. From there, Jay took the boat back to the campsite and I decided to run the rest of the 5 mile loop around the lake. I had initially planned this as a training run, and I was going to bring my CamelBak and energy chews and all that stuff. I ended up just taking off down the trail with only my running watch to track my distance. It was incredibly liberating.

Cairn marking the way from the campsite to Jenny Lake.

The trail run was beautiful, rolling hills along the lake front through the pine forest, in the shadow of Grand Teton. My favorite stretch of the trail was the part between the String Lakes parking lot and the Jenny Lake lodge. Most hikers leave at either of those points, so I had this bit of the woods to myself. Just me and a deer that leapt up into the trail from an adjacent stream when I sprinted past. I could definitely feel the elevation and my pace was slower than normal, but it felt wonderful.

We met back up at the campsite and hung out for a bit before going to dinner in Jackson, a pretty big tourist town on the main road to the park. We went to Lotus Cafe, a pretty cute restaurant that offers healthier vegetarian and vegan fare than what we’d been eating recently. My Bombay Bowl with brown rice and shredded veggies was exactly what I needed. Then we went back to the park and went to bed early – resting up for a big day in Yellowstone.

Our evening in Idaho Falls and day in Grand Teton was by far my favorite part of the trip. Everything worked out perfectly: the food, the hike, the run, and camping. I really hope I have the chance to go back soon.

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