Since its very beginning, the only lakefront accommodation in spectacular Grand Teton National Park—one of the top five things to see in Wyoming—has been the obvious choice of travelers who cherish nature at its finest.
Signal Mountain Lodge traces its roots to the late 1920s, when it provided accommodations for wealthy outdoorsmen. By the 1930s, it hadn’t evolved much beyond a trio of small log cabins without plumbing. Over the next 40 years, however, the private owners constructed more guest cabins, a general store, two restaurants, a comfortable lobby, and a gift store building that compose the lodge today.
I was spending four days here, savoring the unparalleled scenery right outside my door. I was occupying the comfortably rustic central room of a three-unit stand-alone cabin. Every day I would retreat to my private little porch to take in magnificent views, marvel at the mercurial weather, and await visiting fauna, from chipmunks to white-tailed deer to blue dragonflies.
Scattered along the shore of Jackson Lake, the campgrounds and cabins of Signal Mountain Lodge take full advantage of their setting. The lodge also runs a marina, from which you can explore the lake, float down the Snake River, or do some fishing. Across the water, the serrated northern peaks of the Teton Range saw into the unobscured sky, especially Mt. Moran. Named for western frontier landscape artist Thomas Moran, this massive mountain rises more than 12,600’ above sea level and commands attention with its glaciers and gray face.
The lodge’s location also positions it within striking distance of the park’s highlights. It’s less than a mile to the charming Chapel of the Sacred Heart and under two miles to Jackson Lake Dam, completed in 1906. Only four and a half miles away, Oxbow Bend is an artist’s dream. Mt. Moran and its early-morning reflection in the Snake River lures professional and amateur photographers and painters alike to capture this iconic view, especially beautiful in the autumn, when brilliant foliage blazes in the foreground across the water.
Hiking opportunities in the park abound, all within easy reach from the lodge. A couple of my favorites are the Taggart Lake Trail, which led me through woods and fields to the shore of this unspoiled lake, with jagged, snow-topped mountains beautifully reflected in its pristine water and an unbeatable view of Grand Teton (13,770’), and the Jenny Lake Trail, which loops around the park’s second-largest lake, with a depth of more than 400′.
Driving around the park is pure pleasure, especially Teton Park Road, which boasts views of the mountains from base to peak and leads to Mormon Row, one of the world’s best ghost towns. Another unforgettable stretch is just a few miles from the lodge. I drove up the narrow, winding, five-mile Mt. Signal Road that climbs 800’ to its climactic ending—the top of the mountain and great views at 7,720’. The unending glacial plain with the Snake River coursing through it is mesmerizing, especially as the sun sets behind mountains and the moon rises from behind pink-hued clouds. A gentleman with a telescope was checking out the wildlife, and during the course of our colloquy we discovered that he had lived not far from me in New York for a year. Our common Brooklyn bond prompted him to generously let me take a few looks at the bison and the elk below, including two bulls in a tussle. Occasionally, I’d hear an elk bugling—a haunting sound I’m unlikely to ever forget.
Fewer than 40 miles away, Jackson offers a microcosm of the mountain small-town urbanism, with lots of restaurants, cafés, shops, and art galleries. The National Museum of Wildlife Art is one of the best things to see in Wyoming, and one of the world’s best bike rides wends its way for 35 miles from Jackson into the park.
No matter what I did during the day, I adhered to my inveterate routine of beginning and ending it at the lodge with a terrific meal. Breakfast at the Trapper Grill could be an omelet with buffalo sausage, vegetables, and cheeses with hash browns and a biscuit; French toast—sourdough stuffed with blackberry sauce and cream cheese; or scrambled eggs served in a skillet with mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, hash browns, and feta and jack/cheddar cheeses. The Trapper Grill also serves dinner, as does The Peaks. I alternated between the two, one night with roasted garlic soup with shaved grana padano cheese and ciabatta crostini, burgundy wine–braised bison with button mushrooms, carrots, pearl onions, and baby potatoes, and Kentucky bourbon chocolate pecan pie; the next with Idaho trout cakes and macaroni and cheese; the next with a blackberry margarita and sautéed Alaskan salmon piccata with asparagus, lemon, capers, and parsley over linguine; and the last with potato and bean soup, pork tenderloin with pecan molasses crust, whipped maple bourbon sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
On my way to one of these wonderful breakfasts one morning, a sudden downpour caught me by surprise. I hurried inside and looked out the picture window at the violent weather that came out of nowhere, thunder ricocheting off the walls of the mountains and rumbling all around me. Just as soon as it arrived, the forceful storm passed, and calm and clear skies returned. The capricious weather keeps it all interesting here and may just tempt you into becoming a meteorologist. Fine weather encouraged me to stroll along the rocky shore of the lake and revel in the dazzling views of the mountains. I woke up one morning to the thickest fog I had ever seen, completely covering the lake and obliterating the mountains. Throughout the day, clouds present an ongoing show: Docile clouds floating in long ribbons halfway up the faces of the mountains seem to separate the tops into floating islands, while fierce clouds cast the mountains in mysterious shadows and produce highly localized rainstorms. Rainbows follow storms. At sunset, against a peach and mauve sky, puffy clouds may scrape the peaks, remaining stagnant for seemingly endless amounts of time, anchored to the mountaintop and looking like the commencement of a volcanic plume. And, of course, if you’re in the park in the winter, snow completely transforms the landscapes into a white wonderland.
Regardless of the season, Signal Mountain Lodge remains a prime accommodation for soaking in some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. You’ll create an unforgettable experience for yourself by staying here, and you’ll be acknowledging the park’s environmental commitments—thanks to its sustainability efforts, the lodge has received the Environmental Achievement Award from both the Department of Interior’s and the National Park Service.
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