Tetons Part 1: Paddling with Bears, Colter Bay, and Grizzly 399

Grand Teton National Park here we come! We had heard that all the walk in campgrounds in the Tetons can fill up quickly so we continued the break of dawn wake up call and headed south out of Yellowstone. Another scenic drive with a few elk, rabbits and fox to watch us go. We arrived at Colter Bay campground by 7:45 AM and there was already a line waiting for spots. They have an efficient team and by 8:30 AM we were already on our site on a nice quiet, generator free loop down near Jackson Lake. We were able to set up immediately so we were down exploring the marina and lakefront by 9 AM. As we were getting the canoe ready for launch we saw another fox. He must have been hunting for mice near the trash cans because he slunk into the marina area for a while then caught something and darted right back out into the moods and trails.

We had dragged our canoe around and had yet to use it but we finally got it out and had our first adventure in the Tetons by paddling out to Half Moon Bay. On our way we heard crashing in the brush and what sounded like stumps being torn apart. Dave caught a glimpse of a bear and then we hear calling noises. I saw a couple of cubs in the woods and more crashing continued. We looked back and there was a black bear mom and three cubs coming down to the waters edge. The cubs were messing around, standing on hind legs and one jumped into a tree. What excitement! very glad to be safely viewing from the canoe. After nosing around a bit the bears headed back into the forest.

We continued to paddle and explore the bay area. Stops included lunch on Half Moon Island followed by a swim on another beach before heading back into Colter Bay. There was plenty of avian action including a bald eagle, osprey and heron. We headed back to settle into our camp site a little more and have an early dinner and some down time. Nathanael was so tired he fell asleep at the dinner table! So for our evening activity we decided on an easy cruise in the car. There were lots of cars down by the Snake River and as we stopped to check it out we saw a beaver swimming just below the Jackson Lake dam. We found out that most people were there hoping to get a glimpse of a famous brown bear known as Grizzly 399. She is a 24 year old brown bear that currently has 4 healthy cubs and is one of the oldest recorded. She had been spending a lot of time down in the willows and meadows by the river and came out more in the evening. So we joined in and waited also hoping to see her. After about 45 minutes she did quickly cross the road with the cubs before disappearing into the brush again. I got a quick glimpse even though the boys didn’t. After that we were hooked and stayed even longer. Eventually she and the cubs did make their way out into the meadows and we were all able to watch the cubs play and appreciate the size and maturity of the mom. The rangers were doing a great job of crowd control and protecting the area for the bear while still engaging and allowing people to view the bears. One ranger informed us that Grizzly 399 is very efficient at killing elk calves. He also told us more about her personality and habits. You could tell he had spent a lot of time observing the bear and was invested in her well being.

A total of 9 bears in one day! 4 black and 5 brown. One viewing from a canoe totally by ourselves and the other from our car in the midst of a crowd of people. Both unforgettable. What a welcome to the Tetons.