The Mountain Goat Gallery

Hermitage Point: Great Views of Mt. Moran and Jackson Lake

Posted by Jim Steele on June 11th, 2008 filed in Grand Teton National Park

The Hermitage Point loop near Colter Bay offers just about everything you could ask for in a hiking adventure – spectacular views of Mount Moran and Jackson Lake, the chance to see both birds and mammals, a variety of vegetation, a couple of lakes, and a cool backcountry campsite.

Mount Moran casts a reflection in Heron Pond on July 8, 2006.

The hike isn’t even that difficult. If you do the full loop, you’ll clock in at just under 10 miles, but it’s flat the majority of the way, as you spend much of the hike close to the shore of Jackson Lake.

This area is popular for hiking and horseback riding. In the winter, you can ski out to Hermitage Point, although you’ll probably be blazing your own trail for part of your journey. The trail network is almost grid-like, so there are plenty of loop options. This hike is a great introduction to the Tetons for your out-of-town friends, since it’s flat, has several options for shortening the trip, and is incredibly scenic. Don’t forget your camera. I have taken some incredible pictures while on this hike, both in the winter and the summer.

Mount Moran rises over Jackson Lake near Colter Bay late in the day on February 16, 2008.

I’ve never had much luck seeing mammals along this trail, but I’ve always hiked it in the middle of the day. With the lakes, forests and wetlands in the area, you’re walking through prime moose, elk and bear habitat, and the scat and prints you’ll see along the trail attest to their presence. And I can confirm that this is a great area to see birds, including two bald eagles on my most recent trip.

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The trailhead is near the Colter Bay visitor center. From the highway that links Moran and Flagg Ranch, turn west at the Colter Bay Convenience Store, 10 miles north of Moran Junction. Follow this road past a stop sign, past the grocery store and gift shop, and turn left near the visitor center. A large map marks the trailhead, where a guide is available for 50 cents. This is a good investment, as there are a lot of trails in this area and it is easy to get confused. From the sign, you cross a road up to a small utility building. The trail begins here.

There is an extensive trail system in this area, so it’s easy to construct your own adventure. This article describes the Hermitage Point loop, going counterclockwise.

For the first 0.4 miles, you’ll follow a service road, paralleling the shore of Colter Bay. The views of the lake and Mount Moran through this section are superb. You’ll see the Colter Bay Marina and plenty of boats in Jackson Lake. You’re slightly above the shoreline, making the view even better, whether it’s summer or winter.

After 0.4 miles, you will pass a small utility building. The trail narrows and you come to the first of many junctions. Turn right here; you’re about a mile from Heron Pond. After a few more minutes, you will come to another junction, where you can go right to a small overlook of Jackson Lake or left to avoid the overlook. Both trails will lead you to Heron Pond and essentially parallel each other. There isn’t a major distance difference between the two trails, but you do gain some elevation climbing up to the overlook. The view from the top is blocked by a forest so you won’t enjoy a panoramic view, but this overlook is still worth the short climb.

If you come off the overlook, the trail will come out on the northwest corner of Heron Pond. The end of this trail is confusing. To get back to the main trail, go around the north end of the pond, crossing a small bridge, to rejoin the main trail on the eastern shore. At a junction on the northeast side of the lake, you will reconnect with the main trail.

If you don’t have time to hike to Hermitage Point, Heron Pond itself is a worthwhile hike. You could see a wide variety of birds – on my most recent hike through the area, a bald eagle was flying around and a pelican was on the lake. You might also see moose in the area. And on the south end of the pond, you have an unobstructed view of Mount Moran, creating a spectacular landscape and snapshot opportunity. In good weather, you’ll get a reflection of Mount Moran in Heron Pond.

Near the south end of Heron Pond, you’ll come to what seems like a five-way junction. The trail on the far west is just a small social trail to the shore of Heron Pond. The trails to your left (east) lead to Swan Lake and to the east side of the Hermitage Point Loop. You want to take the trail that leads south, which is the trail to the right.

From here, you are 3.0 miles from Hermitage Point. After 0.8 miles, you’ll come to a junction; take the trail on the right, which leads south. And 2.2 miles from that junction, you’re at Hermitage Point. You’ll spend much of thee last three miles in forest or sagebrush, and although you’re going to follow the shoreline, you’ll be far enough inland that you won’t see much of the lake until you get close to Hermitage Point.

But the view of Jackson Lake from Hermitage Point is worth the trek through the forest! The view of Mount Moran rising from the waters of Jackson Lake is spectacular. You’ll see a few islands in the lake and plenty of boaters out enjoying the area. Bring your lunch; this is a great place for a picnic, although mosquitoes can sometimes be a nuisance. Ironically, Hermitage Point itself is fairly forgettable. The vegetation is primarily sagebrush, although there are a few small trees and you could see some wildflowers.

A sign at Hermitage Point shows that you are 4.4 miles from Colter Bay if you retrace your steps or 4.8 miles if you follow the eastern half of the loop. Unless you’re in a hurry, take the eastern half of the loop.

You’re 2.2 miles from the next junction. After about a half mile from Hermitage Point, you’ll come to a backcountry campsite. I’ve never camped there, but this would be a great place to spend the night. Once you pass the campsite area, you’ll climb a modest hill.

From this area of the hike, you will be able to look to the east and, intermittently, see the Willow Flats and Jackson Lake Lodge, including its enormous viewing windows. Once the trail leaves the shores of Jackson Lake, about two miles from Hermitage Point, you will look out over Third Creek, Second Creek and Pilgrim Creek. This is another great area to watch for birds – I saw another bald eagle flying through the area on my last trip and other birds in the creeks.

2.2 miles from Hermitage Point, you will come to a junction where you can go west for 0.4 miles and rejoin the western half of the loop. Continue straight here. Over the next 0.7 miles before the next junction, the trail skirts Third Creek, which gives you a view of yet another ecological zone on this hike. This is another great area to watch for mammals.

After 0.7 miles, you will come to another junction. You will have the option of going straight north or turning west. A bridge to the north used to allow a larger loop option, but the bridge is out. You could also continue north and hike to Jackson Lake Lodge; from this junction, you are 4.5 miles away. Since the bridge is out, you need to turn west here unless you want to take a very long detour to the east. After 0.5 miles, you’ll come to the five-way junction at the south end of Heron Pond. Again, you can rejoin the western portion of the Hermitage Point for the fastest route to the trailhead. However, if you turn northeast, which will be the first trail to your right at this five-way junction, you hike to Swan Lake, which adds only nominal distance to your trip.

After a few minutes, watch for Swan Lake. The trail skirts the western shore fairly closely, but it’s easy to miss the lake through the trees. You have to leave the main trail to get to the shore. This is another great place to watch for birds and mammals.

And from here, you’re almost back to the trailhead. After you leave the shores of Swan Lake, continue along the trail for a few minutes back to the shores of Colter Bay. You’ll pass one junction along the way. Once you get back to the trail above the shore, you’re only 0.4 miles from the trailhead. On your way out, enjoy again the views of the Teton Range rising behind Jackson Lake.

Trail conditions: I hiked to Hermitage Point on June 7. The trail was clear of snow, although there were a few small piles scattered around the area – and some snow remained around the Colter Bay parking lot.

Grand Teton National Park trail guide (PDF)

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