Why Visit Grand Teton National Park?
Grand Teton National Park is nestled among the Teton mountain range and holds within it lakes, streams, mountains, forests, abundant wildlife such as bears and elk, and historic homesteads. Here you will find beautiful views of western mountains, and a peaceful ambiance.
Grand Teton is beautiful and anyone could enjoy a visit here be it to just enjoy a scenic drive or to get out on the trails. If you have not experienced mountains in the Western US this is a great place to start. This is a great place for hiking, and getting out in to nature particularly in the summer. The surrounding area is also a fantastic skiing vacation opportunity in the colder months.
The weather here is a huge factor to consider as the Tetons have long and snowy winters. December to mid-April you will find a lot of snowstorms and frigid nights. From mid-April to June the days are mild and the nights cool. In July and August the days are warm but nights are still cool. From September to November, there is occasional snow with sunny days and cold nights. I would recommend a visit in the summer unless you are here for the snowy activities.
I visited Grand Teton as a part of a larger Western U.S. road trip. Starting in Salt Lake City, Utah through Idaho, to Grande Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming. We went on to travel across Montana then visit Medora, North Dakota and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. We ended our trip with a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and flew home from Denver. If you are interested in blogs about other locations on this trip see the links below.
If you are visiting Grand Teton and you have the time I strongly suggest combining your visit with time in Yellowstone National Park. Especially in the summer, in the winter the weather can greatly your travel between the two.
How to Get To Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is located on the northwestern edge of Wyoming. The park is right outside of Jackson, Wyoming. It is about an hour south of Yellowstone National Park and two hours west of Idaho Falls, ID.
If you are planning a visit to Grand Teton National Park you need a car. This means you would either drive from your home or fly to a nearby airport and then rent a car.
The closest airports are:
– Jackson Hole Airport, Jackson, Wyoming (JAC) – 15 Minutes to Park
– Idaho Falls Regional Airport, Idaho Falls, Idaho (IDA) – 2 Hours to Park
– Salt Lake City International Airport, Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC) – 5 Hours to Park
Salt Lake City International Airport is the largest of the three and you are likely to find the most flights, direct flights, and the best budget flights. But you will save time and the hassle of driving if you grab a connection to Jackson Hole Airport or Idaho Falls Regional Airport.
Grand Teton is also a great addition to any larger road trip of the West or the U.S. That is the context in which we visited.
We flew into the Salt Lake City, UT airport, rented a car and spent a day in the Salt Lake area. The next morning we drove from Salt Lake to Jackson Hole, Wyoming where we spent the night. The next day we were about a 15 minute drive to the entrance of Grand Teton National Park. We went on to continue a road trip through the Western U.S. after our time in the Tetons.
Jackson and Jackson Hole Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park is on the doorstep of Jackson, Wyoming. Jackson is a small town with a thriving tourist economy and where most of your hotel options will be during your visit. Jackson Hole is the name for the entire valley in which Jackson, Grand Teton National Park, and several other small towns and areas sit.
Jackson itself is full of restaurants, bars, and shopping. Which includes several art galleries. Be sure to stop by the Town Square and see the arches made from Elk horns, and don’t worry the horns are shed by the elk each year so no elk were hammed in the making of the arches. There is a National Park Visitors Center in town as well where you can talk to a ranger for recommendations and pick up maps. The atmosphere here in Jackson is extremely tourist centric, but a generally more affluent tourist clientele then you find in many similar situations.
There is also a Jackson Hole Historical Society Museum and an art museum, the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Check out the schedule at the Center for the Arts before you visit to see if there are any performances you are interested in seeing too.
Jackson Hole is perhaps most famous for its ski resorts. Home to fantastic skiing and lovely resorts if you are looking for a ski vacation Jackson Hole is a fantastic option.
Where To Stay?
There are two options, you can stay in the park at a National Park lodge or cabin or you can stay outside the park where you will find many hotel options.
In The Park – There are 7 different options for National Park owned and run lodges and cabins that are actually inside of the park. They are located in various locations throughout the park. They offer stunning views and the best locations for easy access to the park. They offer dining options as well. Most rooms in any National Park lodge are not particularly fancy or luxurious but they have everything you need and are clean and comfortable.
Outside of the Park – There are hotels, resorts, ranch resorts and more in all of the towns around the park. This includes, Jackson, Teton Village, Moran, and more further out. Most of the accommodations are in Jackson. Here you will find small hotels and the big chains you recognize. As well as some higher end resorts the focus on ski vacations. There are options art various prices points.
We stayed at the Mountain Modern Motel. We choose to stay outside of the park so that we would be walking distance to downtown Jackson. This was a change for us selecting a privately owned hotel over a chain. Our thought was to experience the area more and stay somewhere a little different. I was attracted to the Mountain Modern Motel from the photos online it just looked so cute and it was a good price. There were not a lot of amenities but we would just be staying one night with limited time spent at the hotel so we didn’t need them. I knew this was a more classic motel that was renovated in the past couple of years. When we arrived we were told they had overbooked, though I had made my reservations over a year in advance, and we would have a to wait after check in time while they sorted it out. Needless to say this was not a great first impression. About and hour later we were given our room key. When we got into our room is was very cute and photogenic BUT the quality of everything was lacking. The floors and walls felt like you were sleeping in someones basement. The linens, bed, attitude of the front desk staff, were all sub-par. It was clean and safe and had everything we needed but I would not recommend a stay.
I learned a lesson with hotels on this particular trip. If we visited Grand Teton again I would opt for one of the Hilton chain hotels, my favorite chain, or for one of the more luxurious resorts in the area.
What To Do In Grand Teton?
There is a lot to do in Grand Teton. If you are just spending the day, passing through, or devoting a whole vacation there is a lot to fill your time.
Hiking – There are tons of hiking options in Grand Teton. If you want to hike make sure you have a plan on where. Check out the National Parks website, and consider picking up a travel guide, I like Foders brand, that includes Grand Teton. Plan what hikes you want to visit. Another resource is alltrails.com .
Safety First while hiking the park recommends you carry bear spray and/or wear bear bells. Make sure you do your bear safety reading before visiting. Also note that you will not be able to take bear spray with you if you are flying but there are plenty of places that sell it in and around the parks.
I also advise that if you plant to hike you make sure you are in hiking shape before your visit. Practice with walks around your neighborhood or local hikes. Pick a trail that is equal to your skill level. No one wants to be soar and miserable during their vacation, be prepared and don’t over do it.
Scenic Drives – For those looking to enjoy the park with mobility concerns or with a travel party that is not up to a hike just a drive through the park is very scenic. There are several specific routes that the park recommends, linked below. These drives feature pull off and scenic overlooks where you can park quickly and hop out for a photo and the enjoy the view.
Ranger Programs – The National Park Rangers host programs free to the public. They are talks or walks throughout the park. These are a great way to learn and ask questions about the park and the nature in it.
Be sure to check out the parks schedule –
The wildlife in the park is a huge highlight. Many of the Ranger programs focus on the wildlife. For some locations to best spot specific animals see the Parks recommendations.
Junior Rangers – For the kiddos the National Parks Service has the Junior Rangers program. Stop into any of the visitors centers or visit the website before you go to get started. They have booklets full of activities for kids to do while you travel through the park.
Climbers, backpackers, campers, fisherman, and bicyclers, all have the opportunity to enjoy those activities in Grand Teton. There are also private boating opportunities, permits required.
If you are looking for some history check out Mormon Row, a section of picturesque homesteads dating back from 1890 to 1950. The Chapel of the Sacred Heart is a lovely log structure from 1930 that still holds mass and events today.
Private Tours – There are a lot of tour options from many private companies in the Tetons some in the park and some in the surrounding area.
The many options include actives such as:
- Guided Hiking Tours
- Wildlife “Safaris” In Open Air Vehicles
- Dog Sledding
- Horse Drawn Sleigh Rides
- Float Trip (Rafting and Water Rapids)
- Jeep Tours
- Horseback Riding
There are also rental options for bicycles and water sports.
What We Did During Our Visit
After our evening spent in Jackson where we explored the shops, and galleries, we got an early start to head to Jenny Lake for our planned hike.
As our time in Grand Teton was part of a much larger road trip we had just a half of a day to devote here. After which we were off to neighboring Yellowstone. With that in mind I wanted to have a plan as to which trail we would hike to get the most out of our time.
A few criteria I had:
- On The Way to Yellowstone
- Parking Access
- Restroom facilities
- Easy to Moderate Trail
- 1 – 2 hours to devote
- Scenic Views
With all that in mind I settled on Jenny Lake Loop Trail which checked all of the boxes. While the trail is a total of 7.5 miles. Our plan was to hike from the visitors center headed west to the Hidden Falls, very close to which is the West Shore Boat Dock where you can hop on a shuttle boat (it was a $10 one way ticket when we visited) that will take you back across the lake to the visitors center. This meant about a 2.5 mile hike.
For details on the shuttle boat visit: https://jennylakeboating.com/boat-trips/shuttle-service/
We got an early start not only so we could fit a lot into our day but because parking was a concern.
The drive from Jackson into the park and to Jenny Lake was so scenic the mountains seemed unreal as we approached. Just this drive could be a fun experience in itself, and there were several scenic turnouts where you could stop for photos or a picnic lunch.
The parking lot here was not the smallest I have seen in a National Park but it was not large and this is a popular trail and we were visiting during the peak summer season. When we arrived at 8:00am there were only a few spaces left but we did get one.
The visitors center here was nice and had bathrooms, water fountains, and a small shop.
The trail was then just steps away starting on the banks of Jenny Lake. The views were lovely from the start. You hug the lake for a while and then start climbing into the forest, nothing too steep. Eventually you are high above the lake on a cliff edge overlooking the area, a beautiful sight. As you descend you are approaching the Hidden Falls a great cap to the experience. The trail was well marked and while we saw plenty of others we did not experience crowding until the end when we arrived at the falls. From the falls it was a quick hike to the boat dock. There are additional parts of the trial that you can explore as well if you are looking for a longer hike.
During our hike we had really hoped to see some wildlife and we were not disappointed. We saw a few marmots which we had to look up to identify once we were back in cell service. We also saw a black bear. Luckily he was at a safe distance yet very visible. This was between the falls and the boat dock so at this point the trail was fairly crowded and many had stoped to see the bear so we felt safe with about 20 people nearby. This was a highlight of the entire larger trip to get to see a bear in the wild, we were very excited.
Once on the boat you are treated to a quick ride back across the lake to the visitors center and the views from the lake are stunning as well.
Back at our car the whole experience took about 2 hours and then we drove from Jenny Lake through Grand Teton headed for Yellowstone. The drive through the rest of the park was beautiful and we made a planned stop at the Jackson Lake Dam, where we hopped out of the car to see the vista of many mountains across the lake.
Who Should Visit
I think as part of a larger road trip a visit to Grand Teton would be a hit with everyone. As discussed above there are things to see and do at all activity levels from skiing to a scenic drive. You can devote a day or so to Grand Teton as part of your longer road trip adventure.
I would suggest a trip just to visit Grand Teton to those who are active. Friends, couples, our adult only families who are active can enjoy some time hiking, rafting or another physical activity and then spend their evening at a lodge or in Jackson. For families with little ones I would recommend this for those with children elementary aged and up if you are an active family. If your kids will enjoy some hiking around the park, some time on the water in a boat, or similar than Grand Teton could be a great choice for your family. I think for those with teenagers this would be a great opportunity for the family to unplug and have some quality time together in a place that it likely very different from your home town.
Additionally anyone who is an avid skier I would recommend a trip to Grand Teton during the ski season.
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