To fully get the experience of the Teton mountain range, plan to spend more than one day at Grand Teton National Park. However, if like me you have only a limited amount of time, hike the Colter Bay Hermitage Point Loop hike. This 9.6-mile trail is relatively flat with a few hills and one short but steep climb. It also offers some of the best panoramic views of the Teton range, views of Jackson Lake, opportunities to dip your feet in the water, and sightings of wildlife.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Although I saw amazing views of the Teton range as I drove into the park from the Bridger-Teton National Forest (perhaps because I was at a higher elevation), the haze from the wildfires that consumed the west coast in the summer of 2018 practically obscured all views of the mountains inside the park. I delayed the start of my hike with the hope a later start would give the haze sometime to clear. Since I arrived at the park by 7 AM, I drove through parts of the Teton Park Scenic Drive. Even with the obscured views, the haze gave a mysterious feel to the area.
I eventually made my way to the trailhead to start the hike. The trailhead is near a boat launch into Jackson Lake. Even if you miss it initially, like I did, it’s easy to realize the mistake and backtrack a few steps back. I was prepared for an easy stroll, so I was a little surprised by the constant small ups and downs through the first part of the hike then emerging into sagebrush.
It was a pleasant hike through the sagebrush with forest to one side and gorgeous views of the water and Tetons on the other side. As I made my way through the trail, the haze started to lift just enough for me to get great views of the entire Teton range. I stopped for snacks at the rocky beach about a half-mile past Hermitage Point, Lakeshore 9. There are several picnic tables and camping spots (permits are needed for camping). I also took the chance to dip my toes into the water (it was frigid). It would be a great swimming spot on a warm day. It was a windy day and I could hear the distant crashing of waves against rocks.
I started the second half of the loop after the serene and relaxing break with the only big climb on the trail. I wasn’t quite prepared to huff and puff my way up but it was short and over before I could really feel it in my legs. This is the last view of the Tetons and the lake. The trail emerges back into the forest after this point and remains flat. In the last mile of the hike, I arrived at Swan Lake which was covered by lilies and grass and had the best views of the day.
For an easy trail with amazing views, the Hermitage Point Trail does not attract big crowds and offers lots of solitude. My hiking partner and I had the trail to ourselves during the majority of the hike. It is also a great option on days that have inclement weather that prevents trekking in higher elevations.
The Hermitage Point Trailhead is located on the paved road at the end of the parking area and leads towards a boat landing. Although the sign at the trailhead doesn’t indicate the trail name, it will say “foot trail only – no road.” The trail starts on an old service road that circles the Colter Bay Marina and provides immediate views of two Teton mountains.
The trail splits at nearly the half-mile mark. Veer to the right toward Heron Pond and Hermitage Point. It’s no big deal if you head to the left towards Swan Lake, you’ll just complete the loop in the opposite direction. As you head towards Heron Pond, the trail switches to a dirt footpath and splits again at an unmarked junction. Veer to the right again to stay on course for Hermitage Point. Just under a mile into the hike, there’s a side trail to the Jackson Lake Overlook which provides remarkable views of the Grand Tetons. At just over a mile, there’ll be another side trail that goes to a lily pond. I saw a blue heron at the pond but no moose, although many others have sighted them here. There’ll be another trail split in just over a half-mile. Take the trail on the right. The trail circle Heron Pond and at the two-mile mark there’ll be views of Half Moon Bay as well as the northern Tetons.
The trail splits again at the 2.5-mile mark. Head to the right towards the forest which in a short while will open up to offer views of the Tetons again. The trail emerges from the forest into sagebrush in the last half-mile before Hermitage Point. The entire range of Tetons are on full display at this point. The peninsula ends at about the 4.5 mile-mark which is Hermitage Point. There’s a rocky beach that provides some of the best views of the Tetons in the entire park.
The trail briefly returns to forest after Hermitage Point but quickly emerges into sagebrush meadow again and Hermitage Point Backcountry Campsites by the beach (Lakeshore 9). The trail will start going uphill just a bit near the 6.5-mile mark and offer incredible views of several creeks and Jackson Lake Dam in the distance. Veer to the when the trail splits again at the 7-mile mark. There’ll be views of Third Creek and overgrown willows. Just under a mile later, veer to the left at the next trail junction towards Swan Lake for the only steep climb on the trail (1,000 feet of elevation).
The trail loops around to the Heron Pond/Swan Lake split at just under the 8.5-mile mark. Veer right towards Swan Lake this time. A short while after the split is Swan Lake, a beautiful pond covered in grass and lilies with the Teton mounts in the background. Trumpeter swans frequent this area and you may catch a glimpse of one during your hike. As you approach the end of the hike, the trail splits one last time. Both trails will end at the trailhead. The trail to the right is a horse trail and the trail to the left follows the Colter Bay Marina which provides one last look at the expansive lake.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Keep your eye open for wildlife. This trail offers numerous opportunities to see wildlife but it also requires caution to ensure you’re keeping the appropriate distance from them. Do not feed the animals or take pictures too closely. Wildlife can be unpredictable and dangerous.
- There is a network of trails that connect to the Hermitage Loop Trail. Carry a map and pay attention at trail junctions.
- The two miles approaching Hermitage Point is exposed and does not offer any protection from the sun or other elements.
- Although there isn’t a lot of elevation gain during the hike, the trail sits at nearly 6,800 feet. If you are not used to that elevation, be sure to bring plenty of water for the hike.
GEAR FOR THE HIKE
- 10 essentials (always!)
- Sturdy shoes (comfortable, regular athletic shoes will do the trick)
- Plenty of hydration and snacks, especially if you are not used to the elevation
- Map to help navigate the network of trails
The trailhead (coordinates: 43.90115, -110.64209) is located near the south end of the Colter Bay Visitor Center (5 miles from the Jackson Lake Junction on the Scenic Drive). Once at the end of the road, turn left away from the visitor center and head to the far end of the parking area. Follow the paved road towards the boat landing. Before reaching the launch area, there’ll be a “foot trail only – no road” sign indicating the start of the trail.
When open, the visitor center provides a range of amenities. There are no additional services at the trailhead.
The visitor center gets crowded later in the afternoon, so arrive early enough to find a parking spot.