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 > Grand Teton NP - winter camping trip report

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insp1505

Oregon

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:02pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

A few weeks ago I took a day trip to Grand Teton NP with my car for some photography. I am not a morning person so when ever I do this I always get late afternoon and evening photographs of the mountain scenery. While these are nice, like this one I took last month, I have always wanted to get some winter sunrise photos of the Tetons.

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This desire for some early morning photography led me to plan a winter camping trip to the park with the Arctic Fox. This way I could wake up shortly before sunrise and start clicking away. Then I could go back to the camper a few hours later after filling my SD card with all the beautiful scenery, make some breakfast and take a nap.

I started planning my trip by calling local RV parks in the Jackson Hole area near Grand Teton Park. The only one I could find open was 36 miles north of Jackson, not bad since I was going to this area anyway. It was only $25 per night (winter rate) this included a spot to park & electric only. I also had to call before the day of my arrival so they could make sure they had a pad plowed out when I got there. They would fill my fresh tank at one of their buildings but I could not dump my sewer as it was closed and winterized for the season.

Usually I don’t like to stay at RV parks but during the winter but I thought it would be nice to have electric hook up and the ability to get water so I wouldn’t have to carry a full fresh tank to keep the weight down in case the roads were bad. The original plan was to visit Jackson later in the day (after the early morning photography & nap time) to see some galleries and other places of interest. Not wanting to pack the camper back and forth 36 miles I asked the campground if I could drop my TC for the weekend so I could run around the area without it weighing me down. Unfortunately for them their answer was NO. I said thanks anyway and hung up the phone. Turns out that worked out better anyway as I found a way better place to stay. So for anyone wanting to do some great winter dry camping in the Grand Teton National Park here is what I discovered delivered to you in traditional TC forum trip report format.

I called the NP headquarters and asked them where one could park an RV overnight in the area. They thought I was crazy for wanting to tow an RV there in the winter but once I explained it was a TC their attitude changed a bit. They said the temps have been very cold & below 0 lately. I said that’s OK it’s an Arctic Fox. I don’t know if they really understood or not but they did stop trying to discourage me. Anyway it turns out there is only one spot to stay overnight during the winter in the national park with an RV according to the ranger I talked to on the phone.

At the Colter Bay visitor center at Jackson Lake they keep the area plowed open during the winter for recreation purposes. The ranger said I could stay in the parking lot for free other than the $5 park entrance fee that apparently doesn’t apply after 5 pm when I entered the park because no one was there to take my money. I didn’t ask if I could drop the camper but it turned out I didn’t need to this weekend. Maybe for future trips it would be nice to know. I’ll have to call them back someday about that. Anyways I had been to Jackson Lake and Colter Bay in the summer and I knew the scenery would be beautiful right there so that was the destination!

The plan was to leave Friday morning and stay Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, returning Sunday evening. I took my good friend and she had to be back to work on Monday or I would have stayed till Monday or Tuesday since I don’t work again till Wednesday. We went to the local RV store to top off on propane and fresh water for the trip. Yes we used our toilet, washed dishes and took showers. Fuel seems to be cheaper here than other places in the country but it’s on the rise. $3.89 for diesel $3.05 for regular but it jumped 10 cents over the weekend. It only took ¾’s of a tank to go there and back. About 350 miles round trip. I told them to squeeze in as much propane as they could knowing it would be cold there.

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We completely used one of my 30 lb. tanks and it auto switched to the other tank sometime during Saturday night. I have never used enough propane to see the auto-switch over work so I am glad it did. My friend doesn’t enjoy the cold snowy wind so she stayed inside and read books, watched movies and napped. She said it was a very nice relaxing weekend. I kept it nice and warm inside the whole time for her otherwise I would have turned the heat way down as I was out exploring. I think the second propane tank is still over half full but I know I should bring extra propane tanks for winter trips longer than 3-4 days. 3-4 days is long enough to winter camp though. I'd have to take a trailer to have enough supplies to stay longer. I did use the onboard Onan for a couple of hours just to exercise it but I mainly used the Honda 2000 the rest of the time (much quieter). I went through 3 gallons of gasoline in that over the weekend. It was shut off at night about 11 pm and turned on during the day to recharge the batteries from the over night use and to do other things.

Overnight temperatures only got down near 0 F one night. This was much warmer than I was expecting. It was 3 degrees F on Friday night and 12 degrees on Saturday night. Daytime temps were in the low 20’s. It was windy this weekend too.

As you can see from the propane station picture we are having a mild winter with no snow in town. As I got into the mountains there was more but the roads were fairly dry all the way to Jackson. There were some wet and icy spots in the shade along the Snake River canyon east of Alpine WY. This next picture is just south of Jackson looking north. And no, I didn’t take Teton pass with my big heavy camper not wanting to risk any icy downhill runaways.

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First stop was New York City Sub Shop in Jackson to pick up lunch, which we ate at the National Park Headquarters north of town. This is the view out the TC dinette window at lunch.

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Some other pictures from the Moose visitor center near the park headquarters.

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View towards the visitor center which is in the background.

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After lunch and spending some time in the visitor center we headed north, stopping at some of the scenic overlooks that they keep plowed open during the winter.

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This is the Snake River overlook parking area where Ansel Adams took his famous B&W photo of the Tetons back in 1942. Normally I would stay in a place like this and wait for the sun to set and get some images. Unfortunately we were still 25 miles or so from where we were going to camp and I didn’t want to get there after dark. I would have to wait till morning for the real photography session to begin.

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When we reached the Colter Bay visitor center we discovered an interesting sight. Another Arctic Fox sitting in the parking lot! The only other RV we saw in the whole park and it was a TC similar to mine. Their slide wasn’t out but I knew they had an Onan like mine because when I rolled down my window to snap this shot I could hear it running even at a distance and over my diesel motor running. I don’t know if they stayed the night as they were gone the next morning and I parked way down the road and around the corner so I didn’t have to listen to their generator if they decided to run it all night.

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This is where we set up camp, less than 100 yards from the frozen shores of Jackson Lake. It was a clear night and the temps were dropping quickly. I made good time getting camp set, shot a few quick pictures then went inside to make dinner and watch a movie before bed.

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I set my alarm for 6:30 am to get some pictures. Disappointingly I woke to cloudy skies that blocked the mountain views and it was starting to snow. Note the amount of snow on the truck of this picture taken at 6:54 am to compare to later in the day.


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A trip report wouldn’t be complete without discussing the area features and amenities a bit so others can decide if they might want to enjoy the area. There is trash service available at the visitor center and at the fishing access point to the lake. It was very nice not to have to manage garbage and haul it out after three days.

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Not sure why they went to all the expense and trouble of having bear proof trash receptacles and all the signs around about being bear aware, I never saw any bears [emoticon]

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There was plenty of snow piled up at the visitor center, which was closed for the winter. They did however leave the restroom facilities open for the winter. They are heated bathrooms with running water for those who don’t like using their onboard systems. It would also make a nice shelter area for someone who became stranded or ran out of propane for heat and couldn’t leave.

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For anyone that thinks that becoming stranded here couldn’t happen, it is a real possibility so always check the weather before you come. I knew we had some weather coming on Saturday but Sunday was supposed to be clearing. On Saturday they closed the highway between Jackson and Moran Junction due to heavy snow and high winds. So I wouldn’t have been able to go to Jackson anyway like we planned. But imagine if it closed for days and no snowplows ran up to Colter Bay. Being stranded is possible. It’s nice to know there is at least a warm bathroom facility to hang out in if the small amount of propane we can carry in our TC’s runs out. There were also some other buildings and lodges in the area that looked like they had people in them for whatever reason so if things got bad one could hopefully get help.

Another interesting sighting at the visitor center was this piece of ancient technology, which rarely seen now days. For the younger generation seeing one of these for the first time could be a little shocking. It is called a pay phone. It is permanently attached to the wall so you had to stand in one place to talk. You could not get on the Internet with it and you certainly could not send text messages. I know it's crazy huh? I dropped a quarter for old time nostalgic fun to see if I could call myself with it but it didn’t work. No dial tone. Guess it really is just a showpiece of our distant past. Look there is even a phone book hanging off it. Wow, this is really a pristine example of how we use to do things!

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No worries that it didn’t work, as there is decent Verizon 3G service in the whole area. I was able to post on RV.net over the weekend and I even used my PDA.net app to work and play on the Internet with my I-Mac.


Over near the lake where I made camp there are a couple of signs at the Jackson Lake winter recreation access point.

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This is just a zoomed in shot of the second sign for those interested in reading it.

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Apparently the only place you can snowmobile in Grand Teton NP is on the frozen surface of Jackson Lake and only with a certain kind of snowmobile listed on the right. No guide is needed on Jackson Lake like they require in Yellowstone though. There is a beacon on the shore to show you where to come back into the parking area. I like snowmobiling but no longer can afford to own them so it doesn’t concern me as much now days. What I was really happy to see though was the camera sign on the first picture so I knew I was safe pulling mine out without having to worry about what laws I may be breaking with my equipment.

By the time I got back from my morning exploration of the area it was snowing very hard. We made breakfast and took a nap.

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We stayed inside most of the day watching it snow and blow in the warm cozy comfort of the Arctic Fox. Reading, watching movies and the Internet kept us well entertained. Later that evening I ventured out to get some shots of the snow and to refuel the Honda generator. Compare this shot taken at 8 pm to the one earlier. Nothing like some of you guys in the Sierra's get on your TC posts but still a decent amount, maybe about 6".

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This is what my little Honda looked like after running all day. The big hole was made by the exhaust and it almost slid down into it if it hadn’t been locked to my ladder as a precautionary measure to discourage someone from steeling it while I was napping. My microwave beeps really loud when the power stops to wake me up but the ladder hooked to a generator might be cumbersome enough for someone to give me enough time to get to the door to get a license plate and description before they were able to load it up. Really though no one even came around as I said earlier the roads were closed so no worries. I lock the generator in the truck cab at night.

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Sunday morning I woke early again to more cloudiness, obscuring the sunrise views of the Tetons that I had come for. So I did what I enjoy most on a Sunday. I went back to bed and slept in for a few more hours. When I awoke and pulled open the curtains I was met by a nice surprise. The clouds were thinning and the sun was peaking out occasionally. I got dressed grabbed my camera and went outside. The snowplow had been by a little while earlier.

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I walked out onto Jackson Lake hoping the clouds would lift off the mountains but they never did. I still got a few scenery shots looking over the lake.

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There were a couple of guys that showed up Sunday morning, put on their snowshoes and towed their fishing trailers out on the lake to do some ice fishing. I talked to them later in the day before we left and they said they did ok and kept a few nice ones. It was cold and windy out there all day and they didn’t use any fishing tents, they just stood out in it for hours. [emoticon]

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One more picture looking back at camp from out on the lake.

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We left later than expected due to dead truck batteries. I didn’t think I needed to unplug the umbilical like I do in the summer because I had the generator running so much. Apparently I do. That cost two hours of our day waiting for the Honda and the battery charger to get us going. I gave my Honda 2000 the MVP award for this trip. It sure made winter camping much more enjoyable to have it. I am sure I wouldn’t have had enough propane to stay warm and recharge the batteries and watch all the movies and play on the computer for so long with just the Onan. The storage requirement for gasoline is much smaller too. 4 gallons fits nicely in the left side rear compartment. I don’t have any more room left anywhere for another large propane tank.

One other observation I made on this trip was about my bathroom. I have recently been inside an 1150 wet-bath at the dealership. I was actually contemplating it’s purchase to get my interest rate down but not sure I’d like it. When we come back in from outside all covered with snow we just put everything in my dry bath shower, coats, boots, snow-pants, hats, gloves etc. and let them dry. I don’t think I could put all that stuff in a wet bath and not have it be a serious inconvenience when someone needed to use the toilet. In mine I still have unobstructed toilet and sink access while the snow melts off the clothing. I think I will stick with the dry bath for sure now.


One last problem with winter driving on wet slushy roads. . . . . getting the cap off to dump the tanks [emoticon]

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So, in similar fashion to the trip I took to the Sawtooth Mountains around Stanley Idaho last spring, the weather was against me most of the trip and I didn’t get the awesome sunrise photo’s I was hoping for. But yet again it gives me another good reason to return there in the future.

Hope you enjoyed. Have a nice day!

dbrojr

upstate ny

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:24pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

nice report and great photos...glad you had a great time....


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Eugarps

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:28pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Wow! The Tetons are beautiful in winter! Thanks for sharing them with us.

Bill

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:29pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

AWESOME


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fast.5

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:43pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great trip report, excellent pictures, when you have snow you might as well enjoy it....
Mike


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whazoo

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:45pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Holy Jack Frost! Those are some incredible pictures you have there and I'm sitting here pretty darn envious...in 80º weather. Being in your camper all day with no demands on your time was so relaxing I bet.
Fantastic trip report!!

tktplz

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:47pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks, nice pix and report! [emoticon]


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FreeLanceing

Grand Haven Mi

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Posted: 02/27/12 07:57pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I guess the bears were hibernating? What is that little tripod unit under the tiedown frame, some sort of stabiliser? I don't think I could ever remember to remove something like that without driving over it first. Thanks for writeup. I would never dream someone wold be up there in the winter much less camp and fish. Then again we don't just vacate the great state of Mi we deal with it.

Camper_Jeff_&_Kelli

Seattle

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Posted: 02/27/12 08:55pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That's pretty cool camping. Beautiful scenery. I would bet the snow stuck to the TC helped keep it warmer as insulation. Thanks for the post.
J


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fatmanobx

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Posted: 02/27/12 09:02pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Good stuff...thanks


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