Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is located in the northwestern part of Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park and north of the town of Jackson. The area is characterized by  an extraordinary mountainous landscape rising high above the Jackson Hole Valley.

The jagged Teton mountain range is part of the Rocky Mountains, and its peaks are snow covered year-round. The Teton range rose up about ten million years ago due to fault line activities, which pushed the mountains upward while causing Jackson Hole to drop. Glaciers that were present in the area during the ice ages carved the the surrounding valleys and shaped the mountains to their current formation. The two highest peaks in the range are Grand Teton and Mt Owen, at 13,800 and 13,000 feet above sea level, respectively. The height difference between the mountain peaks and the valley to the east is roughly 8,500 feet which rise steeply over a short distance.  Due to their steepness, there are not many trails that climb to the ridge from the valley that are suitable for the average hiker, but there are many trails that are suitable for the whole family in their foothills near lakes, swamps and the banks of Snake River. These trails offer great views of the iconic mountain scenery, and you might also spot some of the many animals that inhabit the park.

In 1929, Congress declared the Grand Teton National Park to protect the Teton Range and several lakes in the foothills. Jackson Hole Valley was not included in the park’s original territory. The valley’s residents initially opposed its inclusion in the national park, fearing such an act would limit their access to grazing lands, thus damaging their livelihoods. In 1943 however, after much pressure exerted by political and private parties to turn the entire area into one national park, and following the recognition of the economic potential of tourism, the President of at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, declared the remaining federal land in the Jackson Hole Valley a national monument. In 1949, John D Rockefeller Jr. donated lands in the region, which he had purchased anonymously, to the federal government.

Eventually, in 1950, Congress decided to join the lands of the original national park, the national monument and the Rockefeller lands into the present day Grand Teton National park. In many ways, Grand Teton is not a typical national park: an airport and residential buildings are located in its premises, its largest lake is dammed (Lake Jackson), motor boats cross its waterways, and hunting is permitted during autumn. In recent years, efforts have been made to purchase more private lands in the area and convert them into protected federal lands.

One unique attribute of the park is that you can experience it all from your car window. The roads throughout the park, which pass through grass prairies to the east of the mountain range, provide an impressive view of the jagged mountains and of the many lakes at their feet. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to visit the park for an extended period of time, driving along the road that crosses it from north to south will leave its mark on you.

the drive north along the park’s main road

When to visit Grand Teton Park:

Summer and early autumn are the only recommended times to visit Grand Teton (early June to mid September). During the rest of the year the park is covered with snow and most of the roads are closed.

Spring (March-May): During early spring the region is still covered with snow, and most roads are close. Snow thaws towards the season’s end, and roads begin to open. Temperatures during springtime are cold, and while the days gradually warm up as summer nears, it is still to cold to camp in the park.

Summer (June-August): By summertime all roads in the park are usually open to private vehicles. During early summer some hiking trails are still snow-covered, but towards late July, as temפeratures rise, even high altitude trails are usually snow free. Summer is a great season for hiking throughout the park. Days are usually warm, and while nights are cool, camping is ideal (warm sleeping bags are recommended). Afternoon thunderstorms are prominent during summer, and while precipitation is not as significant as winter, rainfall is not uncommon during the season.

Autumn (September-November): Autumn brings with it a rapid decline in temperatures and blizzards can appear as early as mid-September.  Towards the season’s end temperatures stabilize at well below freezing, day and night. During September, the mountain slopes in the area are painted in wonderful autumn shades of yellow and orange. The park’s campgrounds close towards mid season.

Winter (December-February): A thick blanket of snow covers the region during winter, and all but the main roads in the park are closed. A 4×4 vehicle, as well as snow tires/chains are required to travel through the park. Campgrounds remain closed for the whole season. While days between blizzards are usually sunny, temperatures are well bellow freezing, day and night. Winter sports are popular in the area during the season.

Location and arrival directions:

The closest big city to the park is Salt Lake City, Utah, from which the drive is roughly five hours by car. Jackson, Wyoming, is the closest town to the park.

Where to Visit and for How Long:

Most of those visiting the park do so on their way north towards Yellowstone National Park, or on their way back south. Most visitors dedicate the park a day or two,  depending on the trip’s schedule. You can of course devote the park more time, and explore its many hidden gems.

If visiting for a single day, on your way to or from Yellowstone, you can experience the region’s beauty while driving the John D Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Pkwy. The drive offers great views of the Teton mountain range, the lakes beneath it and the grass parries to its east. You should add a side-drive through Teton Park Rd to your trip, and on days with good visibility, include a walk to one of the observation decks along the way (Inspiration Pt trail, for example).While driving, remember that the area is a wildlife watching paradise, so be sure to drive slowly and keep your eyes open for bears, moose and elk. Dusk and Dawn are especially good times to spot animals.

If dedicating an extra day to the Park, you should focus on additional hiking trails in the park (for example, the trail around Phelps Lake is beautiful, the Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake Loop trail is also very nice), go boating in Lake Jackson or Lake Jenny for a calm wildlife-spotting  tour, or go rafting on the Snake River. Another nice sideroad you should drive is Moron Row, along which are scattered several buildings built by Mormon settlers at the beginning of the last century and two large and picturesque barns. The antique buildings against the background of the Teton Mountains has become a hallmark of the region.

Road opening schedule and shuttles:

The park’s main road (26/89/191 and in its northern part – John D Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Pkwy), which connects the town of Jackson and Yellowstone, is open year round, but may close without prior notice during snowstorms. Access might also be limited to 4×4 vehicles with snow chains only. The smaller roads throughout the park are mostly closed during winter.

There is no shuttle service in the park, but Lake Jenny does have a paid boat service that operates from mid-June to mid-September and transports hikers from the southeast side of the lake to the west side, where the trailheads of Cascade Canyon Trail and the Inspiration Point Trail are located. The service might temporarily stop operating during summer thunderstorms.

Lodging and Camping:

There are several hotels located inside the park itself, and the nearby town of Jackson has a large selection of accommodation.
Most campgrounds in the park cannot be reserved in advance. Coulter Bay Campground offers an option to pre-book an RV spot. It is best to book your place there at least 10 months in advance. There are also several private campgrounds in Jackson.

* For a map of Grand Teton National Park click here.

* For other destinations in the Northwest click here.

See here some Grand Teton activities suggestions:

The Teton Mountains

An old Mormon Barn, against the Teton Mountains

Jackson Lake

An encounter with a Moose along one of the park’s trails

Follow me on Instagram