Colter Bay Village
is the main access point for Jackson Lake
, towards the north of Grand Teton National Park
, and a network of trails provide easy hiking nearby, crossing forest and meadowland with views of the lake and of several smaller ponds. The 1.8 mile Lakeshore Trail
is the shortest, while the longest is the 9.5 mile loop to Hermitage Point
, a wooded peninsula that ends at an isolated pebbly beach surrounded on three sides by the clear waters of the lake, giving great views across to the Tetons, and of several nearby islands. Other paths branch off en route allowing for shorter loop hikes, two closer destinations being lily pad-covered Heron Pond
and the similar but larger Swan Lake
, and the mixed terrain of forest, water, marshland and meadows means that a good variety of animals may be seen, in particular moose and bear, though if wildlife is not present then the full loop can be a little tedious - although close to Jackson Lake, most of the journey is through thick woods out of sight of the water, and so the only views are of trees and undergrowth.
Colter Bay to Heron Pond
The side road to Colter Bay Village forks off US 191/89
5.5 miles north of Jackson Lake Junction
, passing plenty of parking and soon reaching a T-junction near the lake; the Hermitage Point trailhead is at the south end of the left fork, an area also used by boaters at the nearby marina so all spaces may be taken, in which case hikers have to leave vehicles a little further away. There are several paths and tracks through the surrounding forest, but the main route follows close to the edge of the lake (Colter Bay), past the marina and on to a narrow, log-filled inlet at the south edge of the bay. The land on the far side opens out briefly, giving a clear line of sight over Jackson Lake towards Mount Moran
, 8 miles southwest, soon after which the path turns inland and after half a mile reaches the first of many junctions. The left branch returns to the parking area, and straight on is to Swan Lake, while the main trail bears right, and splits again just beyond - the right fork here climbs a ridge to another viewpoint of the lake, partially obscured by the forest, then rejoins the other route, after it descends slightly through a cool, shady ravine filled with tall, well-separated pine trees. This next junction is at the north end of Heron Pond
- a long, narrow and shallow body of water that is about half covered with large green lily pads, and also has a small gap in the shore on the far side, where the view extends all across Jackson Lake, past several islands in Half Moon Bay
, towards Mount Moran and Rockchuck Peak.
Heron Pond to Hermitage Point
The trail runs all along the east side of Heron Pond, over grassy, mostly treeless ground, then re-enters the forest and arrives at the next (4-way) intersection, 1.5 miles from the start. The path on the left leads northwards to Swan Lake, returning to Colter Bay after a total trip of 2.9 miles, while the other two paths both head south, forming the two halves of the Hermitage Point loop, reaching the far end after 3 miles (west) or 3.5 miles (east). Both are narrower and much less used than the trail to pond and lake. The west branch climbs gently into thick woodland then is fairly level for nearly 2 miles, with just a few steep sections up and down gullies, staying away from the convoluted Jackson Lake shoreline of bays and promontories, so there isn't much to see. Eventually, the path moves closer to the edge of the promontory and the lake comes into view, though it isn't easily reached as the land is quite steep, sloping down to narrow beaches and short cliffs. The woodland is gradually replaced by sagebrush and grassland, and the southernmost part of the trail runs right beside the beaches, now wider and partly sandy, dotted with large pieces of driftwood. Here the views are much better, across the lake to the islands and the largely inaccessible mountains on the west side; as with most parts of the Tetons, photography is better in the morning.
Return Part of the Loop
The return part of the loop, on the east side of Hermitage Point, remains close to the shoreline for a while, passing a spur path to a primitive waterside campsite, before climbing a hillside into the forest, veering inland across a big grassy area, winding through some small hills (where a connecting path forks off to the west) and traversing flatter, more densely wooded land. At yet another intersection, a path forks off eastwards, along the east side of Swan Lake and providing an alternative route back to Colter Bay, as well as linking with a trail over Willow Flats to Jackson Lake Lodge on US 191/89. Another short spur reaches a viewpoint on the west side of Swan Lake - like Heron Pond this is quite pretty, partly enveloped by lilies and a good place for birdwatching - while the principal route soon arrives back at the 4-way junction at the south edge of Heron Pond, from where the trailhead at Colter Bay is 1.5 miles further north.