While it will be a while before high mountain trails and passes are clear to hike without full winter gear, many lowland trails in Jackson Hole are finally starting to thaw out. Every year is different, but you can often start to find trails almost clear of snow (in the sunny spots at least) this time of year. Be aware that you're likely to encounter slippery spots of snow and ice, as well as mud and ice-melt puddles, so keep footwear in mind and be prepared to turn around if you can't continue safely.
Head out to the lakeshore trails in Grand Teton National Park to get your legs moving and take in some spectacular scenery. These are good warm-up trails for the summer as they mostly stick to lowland areas and don't have a huge amount of uphill hiking or elevation gain. Plus, they're absolutely gorgeous. An added bonus is getting to enjoy these trails in the spring before three million summer visitors hit the park. But be sure to be “bear aware” (see tips below).
To hike Jenny Lake's stunning shoreline, drive up the Teton Park Road (which opens to cars on May 1) for about eight miles, and turn left at South Jenny Lake Junction. Alternately, you can head a little bit further up Teton Park Road and turn at North Jenny Lake Junction and park there to complete this hike. The trail encircling the lake is about seven miles long. From mid-May to late September, you can also take a shuttle boat across the lake. Reservations aren't required for this service, and shuttles typically run every 10-15 minutes. Tickets are $15 for an adult roundtrip or $9 for a one-way ride.
String Lake / Leigh Lake
To reach the String Lake parking area, travel north on the Teton Park Road and turn left at the North Jenny Lake Junction. Follow the signs to the String Lake Parking area. From here, you'll have your choice of lakes to select from. String Lake is right next to the trailhead and makes for a very pleasant 3.7-mile hike around the lake. Or, opt for a partial lakeshore hike. Many families enjoy playing on the small beach near the parking area and people often practice their stand-up-paddleboarding skills in this calm lake. It'll be pretty chilly in spring, though, so it's likely you won't have too much company in the water. Another option from the String Lake parking area is to head north to the larger Leigh Lake. You can hike all the way to the northern end of Leigh Lake for a 7.4-mile roundtrip out-and-back hike that is relatively flat.
Park at the Taggart Lake Trailhead just a few miles down Teton Park Road, and enjoy this classic lowland Tetons hike. The Taggart Lake hike is about 2.5 miles each way, with minimal elevation change. The trail is well-used and typically in good shape. Expect a few rolling hills to accompany breathtaking views of the jagged teeth-like Tetons.
Two Ocean Lake
Head up to the northeastern part of Grand Teton National Park to explore a lesser-used region of this incredible recreation area. Two Ocean Lake is a six to seven mile hike over gently rolling terrain. The hike around the lake is about six miles, but you can add an optional spur up to Grand View Point on the lake's western side to add an extra mile and some fantastic views to your journey. To reach Two Ocean Lake, enter the park's Moran entrance and take a right onto Pacific Creek Road. following the signs until you reach the trailhead.
Be Bear Aware
While you're exploring the trails around Jackson Hole and soaking up gorgeous late spring and early summer weather, be aware that bears are also around. The Jackson Hole area, including Grand Teton National Park, is home to plenty of grizzly and black bears . Be prepared to encounter a bear at any time. Grand Teton National Park recommends taking certain precautions while hiking, picnicking, or otherwise enjoying your time in bear country.
1. Make noise. Be sure to make noise when you're away from your vehicle so you don't surprise a bear. Call out “Hey Bear!” once in a while and clap your hands while hiking. According to NPS, “Bear bells are not sufficient.” Be especially cautious near streams, in dense vegetation, on windy days, and when you can't see very far (such as when going around blind corners on trails).
2. Hike in groups. Don't hike alone. NPS recommends hiking in groups with three or more people. Stay together and make sure children stay close.
3. Bring bear spray. And keep it immediately available. It won't do you any good buried in your pack. Have it readily accessible on your belt or the waist strap of your backpack. Do not use self-defense pepper spray; you need bear spray. Make sure you know how to safely use it.
4. Take precautions with your food. Do not let bears access any scented items (such as food), and never leave food, trash, or other such items unattended for any length of time. If bears access these items, it can lead to very dangerous encounters.
5. Be prepared. Know what to do if you encounter a bear, and be sure to never run from a bear.