Jenny Lake, the breathtaking centerpiece of Grand Teton National Park, gets a refresh

Named after Jenny Leigh, the Shoshone wife of British fur trapper Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh, Jenny Lake is a hole formed about 12,000 years ago by glaciers pushing rock and debris out of Cascade Canyon. The many cascades and creeks in this canyon filled the hole, which is about 420 feet deep, with water. When Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) was founded in 1929 it was only about one-third the size it is today, and Jenny Lake was one of only six lakes included in it.

For the first time since the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the earliest official trails around the lake in the 1930s, its built environment is worthy of its natural environment. Jenny Lake has long been the park’s flagship attraction — more than half of its visitors stop here — but this was despite the man-made improvements to the area.

Previously, Jenny Lake visitors suffered crumbling retaining walls, excessive and buckling paved pathways, a lack of signs and confusing visitor-created shortcuts. Once they reached the lake — it’s several hundred feet from the parking lot — it took away their breath: Jenny Lake sits at the mouth of Cascade Canyon, in the perfect spot to reflect the snaggiest of the snow-capped Teton peaks to the west, which rise more than 6,000 feet.

When the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails around Jenny Lake in the 1930s, only several thousand people visited the park annually. Since then, the number of visitors to the park has grown; in 2017 the park got 4.9 million visitors, which is less than half of what the country’s most-visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains, got, but enough to land Grand Teton in the Top 10. Over the decades new trails were hastily added around the lake. Also, visitors looking for shortcuts created “pirate” trails that were used enough they came to look like real trails. The South Jenny Lake area was a mess.

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