Jackson, Wyoming
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Three generations, two guides and one amazing Wyoming vacation

A wild and scenic rafting trip with Grand Teton Lodge Company

By Katie Jackson

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A server holds a huckleberry sundae at the Pioneer Grill at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park in Moran, Wyoming

There’s stress in numbers. That’s my motto every time my husband, Steve, tries to invite everyone and their mom to our dinner parties. It’s what I said when he invited his mom (and dad) along on our vacation to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming last summer. Between the two of us, our kids and the in-laws—8 people in total—I was sure he’d bitten off more than he could chew. “It will be fine,” he reassured me. “Grand Teton Lodge Company will take great care of us.”

A server holds a huckleberry sundae at the Pioneer Grill at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park in Moran, Wyoming

To-die-for views and fare

A man and a woman kayak on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

“Welcome to Jackson Lake Lodge!”

My mother-in-law, Nancy, and I appreciated the warm welcome we received upon arriving at Jackson Lake Lodge, our new home base for exploring the park. Steve and my father-in-law, Tom, checked in while the rest of us explored the entrance of the main lodge. We headed up the grand staircase to the upper lobby, and upon reaching the top, we all stopped in our tracks, stunned by the magnificent view that greeted us from a massive wall of 60-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the spectacular Teton Range. The kids made a beeline for the windows to get a closer look. Peering at Jackson Lake in the distance, the younger kids, Abby, 7, and James, 9, decided on the setting for their next swim, and the older two, Rebecca, 12, and Emma, 14, were most likely mapping out the route for a canoe race obstacle course.

A man and a woman kayak on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

After settling into our cottages, we boarded a shuttle van bound for a raft trip on the Snake River. Nancy and Tom were as nervous about being baptized with river water as the kids were excited and as I was hungry. In fact, I was so ready to eat I didn’t care that our river guide said we’d be dining at Deadman’s Bar—a site along the Snake River that was home to one of Wyoming’s most historic homicides in the late 19th century.

“I don’t know how I can go back to regular surf and turf after this,” Tom remarked before heading back up to the BBQ for seconds. The steak and rainbow trout grilled and served riverside were phenomenal.

“There’s so much to do here,” Steve said in between bites of baked beans with a generous bacon-to-bean ratio. “Tomorrow morning, I want to take James on a guided fly-fishing excursion.”

“I have an idea, too,” I said. “Tomorrow afternoon, how about we trade rods for reigns?”

Our daughters’ ears perked up and Nancy’s eyes widened. The girls love horses so much they’ll clean stables just to be around them; their grandma grew up on a farm. “I think the last time I was on a horse was with my father,” she said, looking at our son James, who is named for his late great-grandfather.  

“You’re all gonna get soaked on the raft trip!” James teased his sisters.

“You’re not going to get wet,” Steve insisted. “This isn’t white water rafting. It’s a scenic rafting trip.”

A different and dynamic perspective

A view of the Teton Mountain Range behind dining tables in the Mural Room restaurant at Jackson Lake Lodge in Moran, WY

“Welcome aboard!” exclaimed one of our guides as he helped us all into the large raft. “For the next 10 miles, home is this replica of a WWII bridging pontoon boat.” We learned the troops used the rafts as bridges since most of Europe’s bridges were bombed during the war. Tom and Steve, huge history buffs, kept one of our guides busy with history questions while the other guide entertained Nancy’s curiosity—mostly a collection of how-to questions.

“We spend our first season as a trainee, gaining knowledge and skills from senior guides,” he told us. The Snake River isn’t very fast, but I felt reassured knowing we were with experts. We floated downstream at a comfortable speed, allowing us to take photos without worrying about a rapid ruining an expensive camera.

A view of the Teton Mountain Range behind dining tables in the Mural Room restaurant at Jackson Lake Lodge in Moran, WY

The Snake River was so clear that we could see the bottom and even shadows of fish scurrying by. “The mountain snow runoff ended in late June, so we’re not getting any new sediment clouding the river,” explained one guide. The scenic science lesson continued when we glided by the remnants of Pinedale Glacier—a sight that most park visitors never lay eyes on. Thanks to its remoteness, this section of river offers countless views that can’t be seen from the park’s roads. It also gave us front row seats for some incredible wildlife watching.

After spotting a family of moose grazing in between the trees along the river bank, our first close-up encounter was with a seriously eager beaver who seemed to be putting the finishing touches on a new dam. With a splash of his tail, he disappeared—likely returning to his underwater lodge, according to our guides, who also pointed out a pair of bald eagles soaring overhead. The guides’ knack for navigating and narrating simultaneously was remarkable—they did all the paddling, routinely turned the boat around so we got to take turns being in the front and in the back, and tackled all our questions covering park history, science and sustainability. But it was their uncanny ability to keep the kids engaged and develop a rapport with each of us that really impressed us.

A welcome change

A scenic cruise boat passes in front of Mount Moran on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park in Moran, Wyoming

“Well, what did you think?” Steve asked later that night. My in-laws were having a nightcap in the lodge—probably still talking about the delicious, grilled rainbow trout we’d devoured—and the kids were tucked in—probably already dreaming about the next day’s promised adventures.

A scenic cruise boat passes in front of Mount Moran on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park in Moran, Wyoming

“I think for the next few days I can change my motto to ‘The more the merrier,’” I admitted.

Make the most out of your family vacation with the help of Grand Teton Lodge Company.