Day 17: Grassy Lake Reservoir to Falls Campground (78 miles, 4,733ft)
From Grassy Lake Reservoir, we headed east on a dirt road past several meadows, some sections of burned-out forest, and a number of secluded national forest primitive campsites.
Shortly, we reached the Snake River and followed it to the J.D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, which took us south through the Grand Teton National Park and past some fantastic views of the Tetons to our southwest. (For those interested in spending more time in the Tetons, a route alternative spur continues south to Jackson instead of going east over the Togwotee Pass.)
We met up with Anna, Silas, and Eleanor for lunch at Coutler Bay, where there are restaurants, campsites, visitor’s center, and grocery store—an ideal spot for a lunch break. From Coulter Bay, we continued on the parkway to US26/287, where we turned east and began to climb slowly.
A few miles up the road, we left the highway, turning left onto Buffalo Valley Road, a smaller paved road that followed the South Buffalo Fork uphill.
Along the way, Dave had the first grizzly encounter of the trip—a medium-sized grizzly bolted out onto the road ahead of him (a little ways ahead trying to gain some distance before our day’s major climb, I missed the sighting.) This was the first, and only, grizzly sighting of the trip.
Ahead, we passed the Turpin Meadow Ranch and continued onto a dirt road, which began to ascend more steeply. Behind us, the early afternoon thunderheads built us ominously. Thankfully, the thunderstorm petered out before it reached us—the second time we’ve been lucky on this trip—and we continued along the dirt road as the cloudy sky became sunny.
Eventually, the dirt road led back to the highway, where we had a quick break at a convenience store; from there wen climbed the rest of the way to Togwotee Pass—at 9,658 feet, easily our highest elevation, to date, of the trip.
(There was also a great picnic/rest area at the pass.)
From here the route took us onto a dirt road, numbered 515 and labeled with warnings against travel in wet conditions.
We were planning to camp at the Pinnacle Campground, 4.5 miles down the road, but Anna had tried to drive the road earlier in the day (from the pass) but found it impassable; instead she drove to Falls Campground (near the intersection of 515 and US 26/Wyoming 287). As we rode down the heavily rutted road—fine for a bike, but likely rough for most cars—we enjoyed the amazing views but were glad that Anna had turned around. (We later realized that car access was easily possible from the eastern terminus of 515 at US 26/287.)
In the end, we found out that we wouldn’t have been able to camp at Pinnacle Campground even if Anna had arrived. Only hard-sided vehicles/RVs were allowed at the campground—certainly not a campground suitable for cycle tourists.
After a final descent, we arrived at Falls Campground, 0.4 miles west from the point where 515 reached US 26/287. A wonderful site, and the few extra miles saved us a portion of the cold early morning descent the following day.