Insider's Guide to Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park.
Grand Teton National Park. Kim Fuller
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The towering Tetons have always pulled people to the west: indigenous tribes, fur trapping explorers, homesteaders, and conservationists, but it wasn’t until 1929 that the original Grand Teton National Park was created to protect the Teton Range and the lakes at the foot of the mountains. In 1950 the original park was combined with the land known as Jackson Hole National Monument to create the present day park. 

Grand Teton National Park is 310,000 acres and includes the heart of the mountains within the 40-mile long Teton Range. The centerpiece of the park is Grand Teton, the tallest peak in the range, that stands at 13,775 feet. This impressive mountain rises abruptly from the neighboring town of Jackson Hole by 7,000 feet. The area as a whole hosts adventures that include mountaineering, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife watching, boating, biking, and winter snow activities.

Classic Adventures

Mountain views of Grand Teton National Park.
Mountain views of Grand Teton National Park. Kim Fuller

Mountaineers flock to the Tetons. Commercial climbing guides like Exum Mountain Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides  are great resources for providing information and leading expeditions. But y ou don’t have to climb a peak to take in all the mountain splendor. Hikes like Lake Solitude provide top-notch scenery and solitude; it features the largest waterfall in the park. Start at the Jenny Lake trailhead for a roundtrip journey that’s just over 15 miles.

Cascade Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in the Tetons. It’s 10 miles round trip and explores a canyon that was formed by glaciers about 15,000 years ago. For a quick hit, great views of Grand Teton can be seen from the short 3.3 miles round-trip hike to Taggert Lake.

There’s plenty of land to explore in Grand Teton National Park but don’t leave out the water. Guided raft trips down the Snake River provide views of peaks and close encounters with wildlife like bison, moose, elk, beaver, osprey, and eagles.

Speaking of water, there’s plenty of it for fishing in the park. A license is required to fish and there are many businesses licensed by the National Park Service that guide fishing trips. The park has a fishing brochure to help anglers understand license information, creel and size limits, legal tackle, season dates, and zones.

Secrets of the Park

One of the many local moose in the park.
One of the many local moose in the park. Kim Fuller

The park is known to have a rich geological heritage with some rocks in the park older than any other U.S. National Park — dating 2.7 billion years old— as well as a pristine ecosystem with more than 1,000 species of plants, many species of mammals, birds and fish. The area is especially known for trout fishing as it’s one of the few places to catch Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout. 

Daytime raft trips are fun, but there’s a special allure to evening dinner trips. Float the Snake River with Grand Teton Lodge Company for about 4 hours beginning at 4 pm. The boat will stop along the way at a private meal site for a western cookout.  Or head out for a lake cruise to Elk Island for a meal — breakfast or dinner. The boat leaves from Colter Bay Village and heads across Jackson Lake.

Horseback riding is a big part of the area’s western heritage. Stock use is permitted in some areas of the park, and there are a number of park-authorized businesses like Lost Creek Ranch and Headwaters Lodge at Flagg Ranch that provide the full ranch experience to guests.

Winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities in the park during cold and snowy months. Bring the dog, although note that pets are restricted to the Teton Park Road and Moose-Wilson Road and must be restrained on a leash. Fat bikes are all the rage in the area, too — check out Teton Mtn. Bike Tours to get outfitted for the day.

Immerse Yourself

Sunset over the Grand Teton from the sagebrush flats.
Sunset over the Grand Teton from the sagebrush flats. Miquitos

While you can’t bike on trails in the park, you can pedal from the town of Jackson to South Jenny Lake with on a seasonal, multi-use pathway . Bike rentals are available in the town of Jackson and be sure to check out the maps of the path system.

Backcountry camping is an ideal way to immerse yourself in the shadow of the impressive Tetons and within the majestic wilderness that surrounds them. Designated camping zones can be found throughout the park as well as designated campsites and group sites. Phelps Lake is a family-friendly 4.1-mile round-trip hike reaches an indigo-colored lake that surrounding by mountains. The Grand Teton backcountry trip planner is a very useful resource detailing proper preparations.

While 10-horsepower maximum, motorboats are permitted on Jackson and Jenny lakes. Solitude-style, human-powered vessels — like canoes, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks — are the only methods of boating allowed on Phelps, Emma Matilda, Two Ocean, Taggart, Bradley, String, Leigh, and Bearpaw lakes. Permits for all water crafts must be purchased at a park visitor center.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

  • During the park’s busiest months of July and August, parking areas like South Jenny Lake, String Lake, Lupine Meadows, Death Canyon, and Granite Canyon can be congested. Cars must stay in designated areas to protect the park vegetation, so arrive early in the day to get your spot.

  • For big time views of the Jackson Hole Valley and surrounding peaks, take the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

  • Recreational activities like camping, backcountry camping, boating and floating require a permit, as well as commercial use activities like filming and photography and special events like weddings.

  • Backcountry camping permits are issued first-come, first-served from the park visitor centers no more than one day before the start of a trip. In the winter months, overnight backcountry campers must obtain a free camping permit.

  • It’s required to get a park-approved bear canister to use for food items during backcountry camping — the canisters are free of charge.

  • Being in bear country means that bear safety is a big deal. The National Park recommends keeping bear spray immediately available, with the safety clip on until preparing to discharge at a bear. Don’t store it in your vehicle — it may explode.

  • If you’re biking the multi-use pathway during low visibility and between sunset and sunrise, display a reflector or white light from the front and a red light from the rear for your bike.

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