Grand Teton National Park: The Complete Guide

Grand Teton National Park

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

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Grand Teton National Park

Address
Wyoming, USA
Phone +1 307-739-3300

There are few parks in the country as geologically dramatic as Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. This spectacular slice of land with jagged granite peaks and golden-green grasses feels like it was tailor-made to be a national park. It may not get as much recognition as Yellowstone National Park, which is just 10 miles away, but this under-the-radar neighbor offers the same breathtaking landscapes.

Established in 1929 as a national park by President Calvin Coolidge, Grand Teton sprawls across 96,000 acres. The park gets its name from the French trappers who came through the region in the early 19th century and called the towering mountains tétons, although Indigenous groups had been living in the area for at least 10,000 years before that. Astoundingly, the Teton peaks themselves have been around for as long as 10 million years by some estimates. Today, millions of visitors come here every year to take advantage of the natural splendor that’s inspired people for centuries.

May to September see the best weather in the park as the days are sunny and the snow has typically melted by then, although this is also the busiest time to visit Grand Teton and the trails are likely to be crowded. Winters are long and cold, but they also offer a chance to see a part of the park that few visitors experience.

Things to Do

Despite the park’s relatively small size (just 26 miles wide and 45 miles long), the landscape is teeming with wildlife. At Schwabacher Landing on the Snake River, you may peep otters, moose, and beaver. On the north side of the river, keep an eye out for the bison, elk, and antelope that congregate here. Other possible animal sightings include grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, gray wolves, marmots, and muskrats.

Other than spotting wildlife, the best thing to do at Grand Teton is to take in the landscape, whether it's on a backcountry hike, on a scenic drive through the park, or from the water. There are only a few roads that cross through the park and all of them offer turnouts where you can safely park and take in the majesty around you. The alpine lakes within the park are some of the highlights of Grand Teton, so you should plan to spend at least part of your time on the water. You can book a boat tour if you want to just sit back and relax, or consider renting your own vessel for even more freedom.

Best Hikes and Trails

Grand Teton is on the smaller side compared to other national parks, but there are still enough hiking trails that could keep you occupied for a lifetime.

  • Cascade Canyon: This family-friendly 9-mile round-trip trail starts with a lovely boat ride across Jenny Lake, then takes you through the lush forests and roaring waterfalls of the canyon. It's one of the most popular hikes in the park and can get pretty busy in the summertime.
  • Death Canyon: If you want something a little more under-the-radar but that still offers a great introduction to the park’s geology, the Death Canyon Trailhead is a backcountry hike through the impressive mountain range. It's a strenuous hike that takes about four to six hours, so make sure you're wholly prepared.
  • Amphitheater/Delta Lake: This may be a tough climb with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views of pristine alpine lakes rimmed by the Teton peaks are well worth the effort. Plan a full day for this six to eight-hour journey.
  • Hermitage Point: Get sweeping views of Jackson Lake and the surrounding mountains on this front country hike to Hermitage Point. The trail starts at Colter Bay and takes about four to five hours, but it's considered an easy to moderate hike.

Water Sports

For those itching to get on the water (and who wouldn’t, once you see those shimmering alpine lakes?), Jackson Lake is the water sports highlight of Grand Teton. Other aquatic must-dos include floating the Snake River and paddling around the impossibly scenic Leigh Lake. You can rent a boat, kayak, canoe, inflatable rafts, and even stand-up paddleboards to enjoy on the lake. However, anyone using any type of watercraft in Grand Teton is required to obtain a permit, which can be purchased online or from one of the visitor centers.

Where to Camp

There over 1,000 campsites spread across seven different campgrounds at Grand Teton. While the campsites at the national park were once first-come, first-served, they all moved to a reservation system beginning in 2021 so visitors no longer have to worry about where to sleep. However, reservations do fill up fast throughout the camping season, which generally lasts from May to September and varies by campground.

  • Jenny Lake: One of the highest demand campsites at Grand Teton, Jenny Lake is a tent-only campsite (so no RVs allowed). It's right on the shore of the eponymous lake, making it a great base for water sporting activities.
  • Signal Mountain: This campground near Jackson Lake is another popular option and offers the most amenities, including RV hookups, a restaurant, a convenience store, laundry, and even other lodging options for those who don't want to camp.
  • Colter Bay: This is the largest of the Grand Teton campgrounds, with over 400 individual campsites for tent or RV camping. It also offers many amenities and even includes a visitor's center, plus convenient access to the Hermitage Point trailhead.
  • Headwaters: For visitors who want the most convenient access to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, Headwaters is conveniently located right between the two. It's also completely surrounded by wilderness and has the fewest campsites, making it a favorite for visitors who want to disconnect.

Where to Stay Nearby

Not up for sleeping on the ground? Signal Mountain Lodge has several cabins with picturesque views of Jackson Lake, and the nearest town of Jackson, Wyoming, offers plenty of five-star lodging and glamping—or "glamorous camping"—options, if that’s more your speed. Select the “Glamping” option on Hipcamp when searching for sites in and around Jackson for listings of vintage trailers, teepees, and cabins in the area.

  • Wort Hotel: Each one of the 55 luxurious guestrooms at the Wort Hotel is uniquely decorated and all of them include plush amenities. If you're looking for the ritziest option near Grand Teton, then the Wort Hotel is your hotel of choice.
  • Snake River Lodge and Spa: The cedar building gives this lodge a very cabin-like feel, so it fits right in with the surrounding environment. Choose from guestrooms in the hotel or one of the full residence options with up to four bedrooms and a kitchen for larger groups.
  • Fireside Resort: This resort is actually a group of 25 individual cabins that all have full kitchens, fireplaces, private decks, and an outdoor fire pit for enjoying the warm evenings under the stars.

How to Get There

Grand Teton National Park is located in northwestern Wyoming, just a few miles north of the town of Jackson and a few miles south of Yellowstone National Park. The closest airport to the park is Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), followed by Idaho Falls Regional Airport in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The nearest major airport is five hours away in Salt Lake City.

There are three official entrances for getting into the park: the Moose entrance coming up from Jackson, the Moran entrance for visitors coming from Denver, or the Granite Canyon entrance, which is the slowest but scenic. If you're driving down from Yellowstone and into Grand Teton, there's no official entrance but you can drive straight into the park (just make sure you purchase your entrance pass in advance).

Accessibility

The visitor centers and restaurants in the park are all accessible, and all of the campgrounds and lodging options include accessible options. Around Jenny Lake, there is a network of paved trails that are ADA-compliant including accessible boat docks with ramps. The park also provides a list of suggested trails for visitors with mobility challenges. Many of the ranger-led programs are adaptable to visitors with special needs, so call the park in advance to ask about complimentary services like ASL interpretation, borrowing a wheelchair, tactile exhibits, and more. Visitors with disabilities can also apply for free lifetime entrance to Grand Teton and all other national parks with the Access Pass.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Many visitors to Grand Teton also make a trip to nearby Yellowstone National Park, but you have to pay a separate admission fee for each park. If you plan to visit both, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful annual pass. The price for an annual pass is nearly the same as the two individual entrances and allows holders to visit over 2,000 recreation areas across the country.
  • Be prepared for bear country, especially if you're hiking on remote backcountry trails. Encounters with bears are rare and they're usually more afraid of you than you are of them, but keep in mind bear safety tips in case you come across one.
  • Don't rush your trip through Grand Teton. Too many visitors focus their trip in Wyoming on Yellowstone and just make a quick pass through Grand Teton. Both parks are breathtaking and worthwhile, and you could easily devote a full three or four nights in Grand Teton (or more if you have the time!).
  • Stop and enjoy the view. In a park as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Grand Teton, it’s no surprise that there’s an abundance of scenic viewpoints to check out. Schwabacher Landing and the Snake River Overlook are two of the most popular viewpoints—and for good reason. Add to the list the Jenny Lake Overlook along the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive and Moose-Wilson Road.
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Grand Teton National Park: The Complete Guide