Signal Mountain (Jackson Point Overlook) -- 7,593'

Grand Teton National Park - Bradley Lake/Taggart Lake Loop

"The Teton Mountains are, to my way of thinking, quite the grandest and most spectacular mountains I have ever seen.. .When viewed over the vast expanse of sagebrush which covers the valley, or with Jackson Lake and the marshes in the foreground, they present a picture of ever-changing beauty which is to me beyond compare."  -- John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Just north of Jackson Hole, Wyoming I found myself pulled off to the side of the road simply staring...speechless...across a wide grassy plain. It wasn’t the breeze blowing delicate waves through the grainy fields that had me dumbfounded...rather, it was what lay beyond. Upward my gaze drifted, barely comprehending the seven thousand foot high wall of Precambrian rock erupting from the landscape to my west. Snow-capped and impossibly steep, these were the Tetons. Relative babes from a geologic standpoint, the Teton Range only began to rise some 9-million years ago. This means the slow forces of erosion have yet to wear down their slopes to a point where much in the way of foothills have formed at their base…allowing one to behold their immense stature, all but unimpeded, from valley to summit.  There should have been no doubt in 1929, when Grand Teton National Park was designated, that this landscape would become one of the most iconic in the entire park system.  We unfortunately had only given ourselves one day to explore as much of Grand Teton as possible.  This meant, at best, a road tour and a quick hike.  The road tour was straight forward...we'd drive the park road south to north (stopping at the incredible viewpoint of Signal Mountain along the way).  The hike took some effort to pin down.  Eventually, however, we zeroed in on a couple of pristine glacial lakes lying right at the base of the Tetons highest peaks...named Taggart Lake and Bradley Lake.  A nice little trail system surrounds the two bodies of water allowing for a pleasant, moderately difficult, lollipop-style (half)dayhike to be enjoyed among them.  Forests, streams, lakes, and ever-present views of the Tetons would be enjoyed on this short short, a nice mini-sampler of what Grand Teton National Park has to offer.

Entering through the south entrance of the park we first stopped by the Moose Visitor Center to get oriented.  After this we drove a few more miles up the road to the large parking area located at the Taggart Lake Trailhead.  I was surprised at the number of cars already parked there despite our early arrival time...first suggestion then, get on the trail as early as possible.  A large kiosk provides information on the trail system as well as illustrating the major natural features you'll see along the way.  The trail heads west beyond the kiosk.  Open fields surround you here, with the towering pinnacles of the Teton Range dominating the sky ahead.  The first quarter-mile is completely flat until you reach the junction with the Beaver Creek Trail and the Taggart Lake Trail turns right to follow a gravel road. A tenth-of-a-mile later it veers right once again just before a metal gate and enters the forest as a traditional-style footpath.  Within a few minutes of entering the forest you'll arrive at a footbridge over the crashing waters of Taggart Creek, with an impressive series of steep cascades immediately upstream.  Curving to the north the trail then passes alongside a ranch before turning northwest to climb to the ridge above.  The grade is moderately steep but nothing too terrible.  Much of the way you're along a bubbling mountain stream and among beautiful stands of aspen so it's a scenic climb as well.   At 1.2 the Bradley Lake Trail splits right and the loop portion of the hike begins.

The first thing you'll notice stepping onto the Bradley Lake Trail is that it's far less traveled.  That and, of course, the towering peaks above which are drawing ever closer.  Beyond the junction the climb resumes as the route now sets about climbing over the ridge separating the valleys containing the two lakes.  Again the route becomes moderately steep as the trail wanders in and out of stands of pine an spruce, with increasing views to the south as it gains elevation.  Just before turning to cross the crest of the ridge you'll pass a fantastic overlook of Taggart Lake itself, some 300 vertical feet below you at this point.  After crossing the ridge the trail begins a winding and much more wooded descent before reaching the junction with the Valley Trail, at about the 2.5-mile mark, just above the shore of Bradley Lake.  There are numerous spur paths down to the shore but some of the nicest are just to the right (north) of the junction.  The sight before your eyes from the shore of Bradley Lake is nothing short of majestic.  Three miles away and 6,000-feet above you the glacier-draped high peaks of the Tetons...Mount Wister (11,490'), Nez Perce (11,901), Middle Teton (12,804'), Grand Teton (13,770'), Mount Owen (12,928'), and Teewinot Mountain (12,325')...pierce the heavens.  Words and even pictures fail to adequately express the grandeur of the scene.  Sit down, drink it all in, and enjoy spending a brief time in mountain paradise.

When you eventually tear yourself away from Bradley Lake, return to the Valley Trail and follow it southbound past the Bradley Lake Trail junction to continue the loop.  The trail climbs gently at first but then steepens considerably for a short time to re-cross the ridge between the lakes.  The trail tops out in a small meadow before beginning an extended, moderately steep descent to the valley floor where Taggart Lake is found.  The views from higher up the ridge are beautiful once again, with frequent views of the lake below and the mountains beyond.  Once lower down the forest thickens again, becoming as dense as it has been at any point on the hike thus far.  A mile-and-a-half after departing Bradley Lake the trail begins to bounce along the east shore of Taggart where numerous spur paths once again lead down to the shore.  The beauty here rivals what you saw earlier at Bradley Lake, though Taggart provides a slightly different angle of view up to the peaks above.  The southern portion of Teton high peaks are more clearly visible here...a no less stunning sight.  After a half-mile meandering  along the lake shore you'll reach the upper end of the Taggart Lake Trail.  A left turn here takes you a uneventful and easy half-mile to the Bradley Lake Trail at which point, continuing straight, you'll then retrace the route you arrived via earlier for the remaining walk (mostly) downhill to the parking lot.

This is unquestionably one of the most visually spectacular hikes I've ever experienced.  Rarely are your eyes not drawn to some wondrous view of forest, stream, or mountain on the entirety of this walk.  Then there's the views across the lakes.  Majestic doesn't even describe the experience.  Needless to say then, this is a hike that simply shouldn't be missed if ever you find yourself at Grand Teton National Park.  It is a bit of a leg-stretcher, and the terrain can be a bit rough in spots, but for most people it's a very much doable hike.  If you get as far as the Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake split and you've had enough...make the left turn and just go to Taggart Lake.  The views are spectacular enough to just visit there and the stretch of trail between the junction and the lake is all but flat.  Whichever route you decide on you won't regret it, I assure you of that.  So, it's with great pleasure that I'd now like to share our hike of the Bradley Lake/Taggart Lake Loop at Grand Teton National Park...with a few bonus shots from Signal Mountain and few other stops thrown in for good measure.  Hope you're in the mood for some eye candy and, as always, I hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  43.692951, -110.732783

Route Type:  Lollipop                 Difficulty:  CHALLENGING  (Petzoldt Rating:  6.60 )

Hike Length:  5.3 miles                Hike Duration:  2:45

Trailhead Temp:  60'F                 Trail Traffic:  100+ people

Min. Elevation:  6,620'                  Max. Elevation:  7,180'

Total Vertical Gain:  650'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  123'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Bradley Lake (unblazed), Taggart Lake (unblazed), Valley (unblazed)


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