The Mountain Goat Gallery

Lunch Tree Hill

Posted by Jim Steele on July 22nd, 2008 filed in Grand Teton National Park

If you’re in the Jackson Lake Lodge area and are looking for a short and sweet hike, the Lunch Tree Hill trail is a great option. If you’re in the area for dinner, this is a great evening jaunt and if you’re at the lodge for a wedding reception and the party gets too boring, Lunch Tree Hill could be your escape.

The Teton Range, Jackson Lake and Willow Flats, viewed from Lunch Tree Hill. Photographed June 28, 2008.

The trail’s not that long – it starts to peter out after a half mile or so – but the views of the Willow Flats, Jackson Lake and the Teton Range are very cool. And you have a good chance of seeing wildlife. Moose, bears and birds love the Willow Flats area, and some of the nearby trails close periodically for animal (and hiker) protection.

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The trailhead is easy to find. Go out the back door of the Jackson Lake Lodge near the 60-foot picture window that frames the Tetons. There’s a large porch and sidewalk so that you can take advantage of the Teton views from this historic building. The trailhead is on the north end and is marked by a sign.

Sunset from behind Jackson Lake Lodge, after a light snowstorm. Photographed June 7, 2008.

From here, you walk along a bench, gaining elevation gradually as you pass through sagebrush. You’ll overlook the Willow Flats, which comprise the zone between Jackson Lake Lodge and Jackson Lake. This is an interesting area to see the contrast between a sagebrush environment and the Willow Flats below. You’ll also take in sweeping views of Jackson Lake and the Tetons. Mount Moran dominates the landscape but you’ll see the rest of the range as well. As you rise above Jackson Lake Lodge, you’ll see Signal Mountain to the south. Below the bench, you may see the trail that hikers use to walk from Jackson Lake Lodge to the Colter Bay area.

The Tetons from Lunch Tree Hill. A thin layer of snow is on the ground after a late spring snowstorm. Photographed June 7, 2008.

Along the way, several interpretive signs discuss the history and geology of the area, including information about the Willow Flats, the Teton Range, Jackson Hole, and wildlife in the area. Depending on the season, you could also be treated to a wildflower show among the sagebrush.

Wildflowers along the Lunch Tree Hill trail. Photographed June 28, 2008.

After just a quarter mile, you’ll come to an area with a small overlook. This is Lunch Tree Hill. John D. Rockefeller Jr. enjoyed this space as a picnic stop in 1926 during a vacation with Horace Albright, who was the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park at the time. Rockefeller was smitten with the landscape, and that stop contributed to his decision to assist in the creation of Grand Teton National Park. Rockefeller was crucially instrumental to the preservation of so much of the park in a pristine state. He bought up much of the land and then contributed it to the United States so that it could remain the majestic, generally unspoiled playground that it is today. It’s interesting to note that there was significant local opposition to the creation of the park and that without Rockefeller’s work, the area would have a dramatically different complexion.

Accordingly, a memorial to Rockefeller has been established on Lunch Tree Hill. A plaque on the site says “This tablet is placed here in tribute to Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whose vision, generosity, and love of country have made possible the preservation of this region in its pristine beauty and grandeur. Here the spell of the magnificent Teton Mountains and the beautiful valley they guard first captivated him. He has since come often to this hilltop for renewed inspiration. June, 1953.”

Given this history, Lunch Tree Hill is an appropriate place to give a moment of thanks to Rockefeller. Without his work, Grand Teton National Park might consist only of the mountain range itself, which was protected in 1929. It was Rockefeller’s donation that led to the expansion of the park to much of Jackson Hole.

From this point, you can continue walking along the bench along an unofficial trail for roughly a third of a mile. If you do, you’ll enjoy more Teton views and walk in and out of forests before the trail gradually peters out. Otherwise, simply return to Jackson Lake Lodge.

If you’re looking for a secluded wilderness experience, this is the wrong trip for you – Lunch Tree Hill is a popular trail for guests of the Jackson Lake Lodge. But if you’re in the mood for a half hour outside under the Tetons, Lunch Tree Hill is a great choice.

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