Colter Bay at Grand Teton National Park and COVID-19

The Toomer’s boat called the Green Minnow, on Jackson Lake. // By Karla Toomer, Gazette Reporter

Our family spent four nights and five days at Grand Teton National Park this past week. We had originally planned to go in May and had booked a cabin at Colter Bay on Jackson Lake early in 2020, but our reservation was cancelled and money refunded after the initial shutdowns for COVID-19 happened.  We were so bummed out when that happened. For almost six years in a row, when our four children were growing up, we would head up to Colter Bay the week school got out and have a little family trip. It would be cold, usually the snow was just melting off the edge of the lake and there was still plenty on Mount Moran. There were few tourists and visitors from anywhere other than Wyoming because most schools were still in session. We would have this beautiful park to enjoy. Grand Teton is our favorite national park. The abundance of scenery, wildlife, fishing, and natural beauty is beyond compare. As our children got older, it got more difficult to fit the trip in because of trips to Washington D.C. as juniors in high school or summer sports camps or summer jobs. There were also church missions to prepare for, and before we knew it, there were many years between us and our last family trip to our beloved Grand Teton National Park. 

However, our daughter-in-law requested to continue the family tradition she had heard so much about. She wanted to be a part of it. We all looked at our schedule and found a week that would work in May. So, to have our trip canceled was certainly a disappointment, although an understandable one. 

And then we waited. We stalked the website watching for a possible opening date and to see if overnight cabins were going to be allowed. We jumped at the opportunity to go together when the park allowed reservations. We even had the added benefit of a fiancée joining our group, as our second son had gotten engaged between our initial trip and the one we were able to go on. Our little family trip for six from years ago was now up to eight. We all trickled in at different times over a 24- hour period and by Friday night, we were gathered in a two-room, four-bed cabin at Colter Bay on Jackson Lake. We had a little piece of heaven on earth, all gathered together in such beauty.

Things were a little different in the park with COVID-19. Certainly, all the park workers wore masks and other workers were counting people going in and out of gift shops. Sometimes you had to wait a few minutes to go into a building. The little museum wasn’t open, and I was disappointed to learn that sometime between our last visit and now, the bottom section had been completely closed off. If I remember correctly, the game and fish people going out on the lake didn’t have masks on, but they were the only “paid people” that I noticed without  masks. To reduce the risk of COVID exposure to employees, there were plexiglass sheets and there was less housekeeping. The restaurants were closed for dine-in. One addition from years ago was pizza. We had enjoyed our annual trip to the pizzeria at Leeks Marina and apparently in the past five years, Colter Bay decided to get in on the action. Good thing, because the pizzeria is closed for the season and the pizza at Colter Bay was delicious. 

We normally go to Grand Teton Lodge and enjoying the spectacular view, and that was also closed for the season. However, all the activities that make our trip wonderful — family time, pine-smelling air, beautiful scenery, glimpses of wildlife (we saw both a cub grizzly bear and a cub black bear), and fishing — were available. We have a small little boat that we bought years and years ago that my husband takes out fishing, although he says it is now past retirement age. We call the boat the Green Minnow and it has served us well.

I highly recommend Grand Teton National Park to my Wyoming friends. We are fortunate to be so dang close to this spectacular park. There is no way I could afford to take my family if we had to pay for airline tickets. But to be able to get in our cars and each of us drive from our locations and meet up for a few days was a wonderful experience. 

The memories are priceless. I am so grateful to live in this beautiful state called Wyoming and I’m grateful that, at least for now, we are able to travel into the parks.