My Park, My Story tells the stories of people who are passionate about Grand Teton National Park and are committed to protecting it for the enjoyment of future generations. In our second edition, Barbara and Jerry Carlson from Austin, Texas share details about their connection to Grand Teton and years of adventuring in the park with their grandchildren.
For the past fifteen years, Barbara and Jerry Carlson have shared incredible adventures with their family in Grand Teton National Park. From climbing the Tetons’ highest peaks to watching the wildlife that frequents their front yard, the Carlson family has been inspired by every moment they have spent in the park. “Grand Teton has been a perfect place to introduce our grandchildren to the beauty of nature, appreciation of the outdoors, and to show them how nature brings you peace and renews your spirit. It’s everything we ever imagined it might be and more,” Barbara said.
The Carlsons have always loved being in the mountains and made it a priority to share their passion for nature and the environment with their grandchildren. In 1997, Jerry retired and the Carlsons set out on a road trip across the west to find a home in the mountains. Although Jackson was not on their radar, they distinctly remember the moment when they came over the rise on Highway 89 and saw the Tetons. “We thought it was the most beautiful place we had ever seen,” Barbara said. The iconic view reminded them of a family vacation they had taken in 1974 to the Tetons where Jerry and his oldest son Chris, who was eleven at the time, climbed Cube Point. That trip sparked the family’s passion for the outdoors and nearly twenty-five years later they finally called the Jackson Hole valley home. Every summer since then all six of their grandchildren have made the journey to stay with Barbara and Jerry at the foot of the Tetons.
With the desire to share the wonders and benefits of spending time in the outdoors, the Carlsons began exploring Grand Teton with their grandchildren when they were very young. Barbara remembers waking them up before dawn to drive through the park to look for wildlife. She would pack breakfast to go and the kids would anxiously hop in the car in their pajamas, eager with the thought of seeing a bear or moose on their journey. “Even when our grandchildren were small, the first place they explored was Jenny Lake. Taking the boat across and hiking to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point was their first wilderness experience in Grand Teton,” Barbara said.
As their grandchildren grew, the focus went from wildlife drives and short hikes to more adventurous pursuits—climbing the high peaks and floating the mighty Snake River. “It has been incredibly special to watch our grandchildren grow up here and appreciate this place more and more. They know the park like the back of their hands,” Barbara said. For high school graduation, Barbara and Jerry gifted each of their grandkids a climb up the Grand Teton with Exum Mountain Guides. The Carlsons grandkids are now young adults and have started successful lives of their own. Regardless of how busy they are in their personal lives, they continue to make their annual journey to Grand Teton to spend time with their grandparents and absorb the peaceful feeling that being in this mountain environment provides.
While not keeping up with their visiting family, Barbara and Jerry take advantage of all the park has to offer. Barbara started a Thursday hiking group that tackles hikes ranging from six to fourteen miles each week. Throughout the last fifteen years, the Carlsons have visited most of Grand Teton’s iconic backcountry destinations at least once. It is obvious when speaking with Barbara and Jerry that the wildness of Grand Teton National Park is what has driven their passion to protect this place. “I was delighted when the Foundation decided to do the Jenny Lake project and focus their efforts on trail restoration. Exploring the extensive trail system and wilderness of the park is what we love most about this place,” Barbara said.