Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Alpine lakes beneath Tetons await hikers

Mount Moran rises over Straight Lake. Photo courtesy of Grand Teton NPS.
Topo map, Leigh Lake Trail segment.

Leigh Lake Trail segment runs 2 miles round-trip

Families can day hike alongside two alpine lakes on the Leigh Lake Trail at Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.

The 2-miles round trip segment described here heads past crystal blue lakes through green pines with gray Mount Moran soaring in the background. Most of the segment passes String Lake, but the trail ultimately ends at its namesake, Leigh Lake.

To reach the trailhead, from Jackson Hole, Wyo., take U.S. Hwy. 191 north. Turn left/west onto Teton Park Road then left/west onto Jenny Lake Road, following it to the String Lake Picnic Area. For the final turn, go left/west onto String Lake Road. Park in the lot at the road's end. The trailhead leaves from the lot's northwest corner at the 11 o'clock position with 12 o'clock due north.

The wide, paved access trail heads through a grassy area to the north end of the beach on String Lake. This is the route's lowest point at 6,880 feet, but the elevation gain on the segment is minimal.

Curving northeast and heading into a fragrant wooded area, the trail gradually comes alongside east side of String Lake.

String, Leigh and other alpine lakes in the area formed during the last ice age. At that time, glaciers spread down from the mountains, leveling the valley floor and gouging out the lake beds. Meltwater from the glacier then filled those vast depressions.

String Lake soon narrows to what appears to be a thin river to the east. You’re then at its northern tip which connects to Leigh Lake.

Sometimes moose and mule dear can be spotted along walk. Bears also have been spotted on the trail along String Lake’s north side, so exercise caution.

At 0.9-miles from trailhead, you’ll reach a four-way trail intersection; go straight/north. This spur trail takes you to southern shore of Leigh Lake. Boulder Island rises before you.

Views of the Tetons towering over Leigh Lake are impressive to say the least. The lakes and narrow valley sits below 12, 605-foot Mount Moran – Falling Ice Glacier will be visible on its face – and 11,590-foot Mount Woodring.

Upon taking in the views on Leigh Lake’s southern shore, return the way you came. Alternately, if you have some extra energy, you can continue up Leigh Lake’s east side. Upon re-reaching the four-way trail intersection, go left/east. The entire trail actually is 5 miles long one-way and ends at Trapper Lake.

Once back at String Lake, enjoy a picnic on the beach and then a swim in the cool waters. Be forewarned: Even on a hot day, the water will be chilly!

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.