Our Visit to Grand Teton National Park:
Much more than a majestic mountain
Grand Teton National Park is dominated by the Teton Range, but it is so much more than just a beautiful mountain! Sure, the mountains are majestic and iconic, but what else is there to do besides just admiring the scenery? If all you do is to drive by, stop at a turnout or two, you would have missed one of the most enjoyable and scenic places for activities!
Dramatic rise from the plains
Grand Teton and the Teton range are not the tallest mountains but it is the most dramatic. Because Grand Teton Peak, unlike Denali or some of the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, does not have shorter peaks on its eastern side, the peak rises dramatically from a plain and soars some 7,000 feet into the air.
The pristine lakes at the foot of the mountain accentuate the beauty of this landscape. Snake River meanders along the plain at the foot of the Teton range. The mountain, lake, and river combine to provide outstanding scenic beauty and abundant activities.
Hiking, of course, is one of those activities and Grand Teton National Park provides plenty to choose from. The most popular is the hike to Hidden Falls near Jenny Lake. Jenny Lake is a gorgeous clear lake at the foot of Cascade Canyon. You can walk along the lake, or take a boat shuttle across the lake to save a couple of miles of walking. The ride on the shuttle is short and beautiful. Hidden Fall is a nice waterfall and Inspiration Point provides a dramatic view of Jenny Lake.
Taggart Lake is another beautiful hike to a lake that is smaller than Jenny Lake but no less beautiful against the backdrop of the tall peaks. This 3-mile round trip hike can be extended to Bradley Lake, another lakeside trail. The Lake Shore Trail around Colter Bay goes out to a point on Jackson Lake, directly across Moran Peak for a gorgeous view of water and mountain. By now, do you see the pattern? Lots of trails around the various lakes all at the foot of the majestic Teton Range.
For those who want longer hikes, there are numerous hikes into various canyons like Cascade Canyon, Death Canyon, Paintbrush Canyon, and Garnet Canyon. Many climb Grand Teton Peak by using their rock climbing skills.
Horses, floats, and pedals
Floating down the Snake River is a popular activity with outfitters in and near the park. The scenery along the river with the tall peaks as the background is stunning. Just imagine laying back on a raft, floating along the gently moving Snake River, with the babbling sound of the water, dramatic mountain peaks, and wildlife at the foot of the hills, on the plains, and in the air. It is the most relaxing and serene experience.
Horseback riding is another popular activity at Grand Teton. There are corrals at Colter Bay with horseback riding trips that take you into the hills. This is one way to see the park without having to hike and it quickly gets you away from the crowd.
Bicycling is another great activity in the park. There are bike paths along a large portion of the park road, separate from the main road so it’s safe but with equally beautiful scenery. On a bicycle, you are much closer to nature and can feel the grandness and timelessness of these majestic mountains. The bike paths are surprisingly flat.
Cruising the Tetons
There are scenic cruises from Colter Bay, Signal Mountain, and Jenny Lake that gives you a chance to enjoy the pristine lakes and majestic mountains. If fishing is your thing, you can go on guided fishing trips from these marinas or go fly fishing on the Snake River. There are plenty of outfitters who will gladly take you on these trips.
If you have your own boat, you can put it in at Colter Bay and stay on the lake overnight if you have a houseboat. Mooring spots are for rent on Jackson Lake.
Do you get the pattern now? The Teton Range, the lakes at her foot, and the plain by her eastern side, offer a wide range of activities in heavenly beauty.
Animals and history
Is history your passion? There are several historical sites in Teton. The Mormon settlement on the southeast side of the park gives you the historical context of early settlers into the 20th century. In the fall, the golden leaves are spectacular in the brilliant afternoon sun. If you are at all interested in the history of preservation, you must go to the Murie Ranch Historical Site where we heard the fascinating story of Olaf and Margaret Murie and their role in preserving the Alaskan wilderness and the creation of Grand Teton National Park, helped by the Rockefellers.
How about wildlife? If that is your passion, Grand Teton has that to offer as well. At Oxbow Bend, where the forest meets the river, ducks, blue heron, elk, and the occasional trout that jumps out of the water abound. The scene of early morning fog hovering over Snake River, with ducks and geese swimming around, elks bugling calling for their mates, as the sun rises to illuminate the Grand Teton Range with an orange glow is just mesmerizing! There were plenty of bears, pronghorn, mule deer, and the occasional moose sightings in the park while we were there.
Easy auto touring and an airport
Of course, auto touring is a big part of visiting Grand Teton. Teton Parkway goes from north to south along a series of lakes by the Teton Range. It starts just south of Yellowstone National Park and ends near the town of Jackson. There is actually an airport – Jackson Hole Airport – inside the Grand Teton National Park boundary. Why you may ask, is there an airport inside a national park? Because the airport was there first! While Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929, and the Jackson Hole Airport was built in the 1930s, the area of the airport was added to Grand Teton National Park in 1950. The airport stays! Jackson Hole Airport is the busiest airport in Wyoming by far!
You can make a complete loop by returning via highway 191 on the eastern side of the park, with the historical sites and a further, more panoramic view of the Teton Range with the flat meadow in the foreground. There are plenty of pullouts along the way to stop and soak in the mountain and lake views. The scenery changes from mountain roads meandering through the conifer forest to flat valley with aspens and willows. The fall colors are outstanding, especially as it juxtaposed with the evergreens.
Best cell signal in the park
Signal Mountain Drive takes you up eight hundred feet to a fantastic view of the valley and the Snake River. Go in the afternoon when the sun lights up the valley from the west for a beautiful view, especially a couple of hours before sunset.
Winter brings its own set of activities, from cross-country skiing to snowshoeing as the park quiets down for the winter. There are groomed cross-country skiing trails for winter sports enthusiasts. Wildlife is also easier to spot against the white snowy background.
Impressions of Grand Teton National Park:
While dominated by the impressive Teton Mountains that rises dramatically from meadows and lakes, Grand Teton National Park offers not just beautiful scenery, but a ton of outdoor activities. Hiking, mountain climbing, boating, rafting, fishing, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, cycling, wildlife viewing, and historical sites are all the activities you can do at this park, and all in jaw-dropping majestic scenery. Grand Teton National Park is worth spending some time to enjoy it to the fullest.
Grand Teton National Park Rating:
(Note: Ratings are on a bell curve, which means there are as many 5-star ratings as 1-star ratings. All National Parks are wonderful, which makes this a very strict rating scale)
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Guide to Grand Teton National Park:
Top Attractions at Grand Teton National Park:
- Teton Range
- Teton Parkway
- Jenny Lake
- Colter Bay
- Oxbow Bend
- Snake River
- Signal Mountain
- Murie Ranch
- Jackson Lake
- Taggart Lake
- Hidden Falls
One Day Visit Plan:
- If you really only have one day, drive the length of Teton Parkway from south to north. Stop at various pullouts to enjoy the scenery.
- Stop at either Taggart Lake trailhead or Jenny Lake area and hike to Taggart Lake or Hidden Falls. Take the shuttle boat across Jenny Lake if you want to shorten the hike to Hidden Falls.
- Stop by Jackson Lodge and enjoy the scenery from the big picture window if the weather is bad.
- Drive up Signal Mountain if the weather is clear and view the valley below.
- Make a right turn at Jackson Junction and stop at Oxbow Bend in later afternoon for a chance to spot wildlife in the meadow by the tree line.
Spend three or more days to really enjoy the park. Take several hikes, perhaps one each at Taggart Lake, Jenny Lake and Colter Bay. Go on ranger-led activities such as the naturalist-guided hike to Taggart Lake or a guided hike to Hidden Falls. Stop by the Murie Ranch and listen to the fascinating story of the Muries at 2:30 each day. Enjoy the stars if the sky is clear by going just slightly out of the lodging areas to any of the pullouts along the road. Go to Oxbow Bend or Willow Flats at sunrise to see the wildlife and the changing light on the Teton Range as the sun comes up.
Practical Info for Visiting Grand Teton National Park:
- The distances within Grand Teton National Park is manageable, so while its’ good to lodge in the park, it’s not required.
- Get to the hot spots like Jenny Lake and Taggart Lake early! Before 9 am to avoid the crowd and parking problems.
- Go on hikes. Except for Hidden Fall Trail, once you get 1/4 mile into the trail, the crowd dissipates.
- Colter Bay has log cabins that are beautiful and comfortable.
- Jackson Lodge is the classic national park lodge.
- Plan ahead – reserve at nine months to a year ahead of time, for lodging or campsites, especially RV sites.
- Jackson is a very quint town with all the services and a ski resort for the winter. It is a good place to stay and explore Grand Teton National Park.
- Costs are higher, both inside the park and at Jackson, so be prepared.
- There are plenty of outfitters for Snake River float trips inside and outside of the park. Take advantage of them.
- The activities such as horseback riding and scenic lake cruises start to close for the season in mid-September so check the schedule before you go.
- Fire can be a problem in mid to late summer. Even if they are far away, the smoke from the fire can create a haze that obscures the grand view of the mountain.
- Be patient on park roads, especially Teton Parkway. Slow down and enjoy the view.
Grand Teton National Park Facts:
- Size: 2,791,392 acres, ranked 25th
- Visitors: 3,317,000 in 2017, ranked 9th. 2017 was a record year.
- Peak Month in 2017: 739,046 visitors in July
- Low Month in 2017: 44,397 visitors in February
- Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle, good for 7 days and both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks
Date Visited: September 15 – 18, 2018