Founded in 1929, Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park is named for the Teton Mountain Range that formed when tectonic plates collided 100 million years ago. The mountains are newer than that though, having risen from the valley floor about 10 million years ago after massive earthquakes caused the mountains to rise and the valley to fall.
Two million years ago, glaciers etched and eroded the mountains leaving the jagged peaks you see today — 40 miles of them along the park’s western border. The mountains alone are worth the trip.
But wait, there’s more! The valley, called Jackson Hole, is surrounded by the Teton and Gros Ventre Mountains and is home to wildlife and remnants left from homesteader days. The Snake River winds its way through the park and its floodplain is home to wildlife as well. As a bonus, moraines — the sediment and rocks pushed around by glaciers — dammed streams and rivers creating alpine lakes that are nestled in the Tetons.
Many people visit the park in conjunction with a trip to Yellowstone National Park, located just 6.8 miles north via U.S. Highway 89/191. I made it my primary destination on a recent road trip, spending two days exploring the park.
If you opt to fly to Grand Teton National Park, the Jackson Hole Airport is the only commercial airport in the area. It is located within the national park boundary, 7 miles north of the town of Jackson. Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, and United Airlines are the major carriers that service the area.
Here are the nine best experiences in gorgeous Grand Teton National Park and the reasons I can’t wait to go back.
1. Admire The Scenery
In all, eight peaks in the Teton Mountain range surpass the impressive 12,000 foot elevation mark. Grand Teton, the tallest, has an elevation of 13,775 feet. Although they are receding, you’ll still see named glaciers in high mountain bowls.
Along the park’s two main roads, U. S. Highway 89/191 and the Teton Park Road, you’ll find a number of turnouts with ample parking. Admire the scenery from at least a few of them along the way.
Each turnout has a placard explaining what you’re seeing — whether it is the names of the peaks and glaciers or an explanation behind the potholes and kettles you see at Potholes Turnout. Potholes formed when chunks of ice fell off the receding glaciers, melted, and created a depression where water and soil accumulated. You may also see elk and pronghorn in the area.
A scenic, one-way loop off Teton Park Road that skirts Jenny Lake has a gorgeous view of the Cathedral Group: Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot Mountain. They are among the tallest mountains in the range.
Pro Tip: The scenic turnouts and overlooks are ADA accessible.
2. Go To Mormon Row At Sunrise
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent members to Wyoming to settle the area in the 1890s. The town they founded was called Grovont, but today it’s known as Mormon Row. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Barns, cabins, and sheds remain as well as the levees and ditches homesteaders constructed by hand to divert water from the Gros Ventre River to their crops.
The John Moulton barn, north of Antelope Flats Road, and the T. A. Moulton barn, south of Antelope Flats Road, are the subjects of many photographs. T. A. Moulton’s combination barn and shed is the more popular of the two.
The Tetons rise out of the valley west of the barns and are dazzling when the rising sun hits them. They provide a stunning backdrop for the barns.
Use care when walking around the buildings. Prairie dog and badger burrows are a tripping hazard.
Pro Tip: Mormon Row is located east of U.S. Highway 89/191 on Antelope Flats Road, about 15 miles from Jackson.
3. Take A Boat Ride
Jenny Lake Boating offers scenic tours of this alpine lake located at the base of Teewinot Mountain and Mount St. John. The sparkling water is clear enough to see lake and cutthroat trout.
I opted to take the Jenny Lake Shuttle that connects the Jenny Lake Visitor Center on the eastern shore with the Inspiration Point trailhead on the lake’s western shore. You can purchase one-way or round trip tickets. An unpaved trail circumnavigates the lake if you choose a one-way boat ride.
Pro Tip: If you change your mind, you can buy a second one-way ticket to get back to Jenny Lake Visitor Center. Lines can be long for the return trip, with benches for about 100 people. There is very little shade and no concessions on the west side boat dock. Bring plenty of water.
4. Take A Hike
Trails skirt most of the park’s lakes. For an easy, mostly flat, 2-mile loop trail with a view of Jackson Lake and the Tetons, walk the Colter Bay Lakeshore Trail.
For a more challenging hike that rewards you with a birds eye view of Jenny Lake, take the shuttle boat across the lake, as I did, to the Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point trailhead (the shuttle boat cuts about four miles off the hike). The two-mile round trip hike to Inspiration Point is steep and the trail is very narrow at points. Midway on the trail, take a break in the shade at Hidden Falls. Plan for 2 to 3 hours for the 2-mile round trip.
If you have time or an interest in more hikes, rangers at each of the four visitor centers can make recommendations, provide maps, and fill you in on trail closures due to bear activity. Maps are also available for purchase at trailheads.
Pro Tip: Be bear aware. Make noise on the trail, carry
5. Look For Wildlife
The park is home to moose, bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, black and grizzly bears, beavers, river otters, bald eagles, herons, pelicans, osprey, and cute little chipmunks. Watch for bison, elk, deer, and pronghorns in Elk Ranch Flats, Antelope Flats, and Mormon Row.
Moose prefer marshy areas along the Snake River. On my recent visit, I saw moose at Blacktail Ponds Overlook and Schwabacher Landing. Moose are also frequently spotted on the Moose-Wilson road that connects the town of Wilson to the park’s Moose Entrance.
For more moose, bald eagles, pelicans, osprey, and herons, visit Oxbow Bend.
Fellow visitors reported seeing black bears around Jenny Lake and Blacktail Ponds.
Pro Tip: You can spot pronghorn and bison any time of the day. Moose, elk, deer, and bears are more active at dawn and dusk.
6. Head To Schwabacher Landing At Dusk
Schwabacher Landing is on the Snake River. Beaver dams have created a pond that provides a photo opportunity to catch the Tetons and their reflection when the water is calm at either dawn or dusk.
I chose to visit Schwabacher Landing at dusk because of a moose cow and her calf that were foraging on water plants at that time. Continue on the trail that leaves from the parking lot until you pass the beaver dam and reach the elongated pond.
Pro Tip: The asphalt and gravel road to Schwabacher Landing is off U. S. Highway 89/191, heading west. The road is steep, but passable in a passenger car.
7. Enjoy The View At Jackson Lake Lodge
The lodge’s great room has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the valley, Jackson Lake, and the Tetons. The lodge has a Starbucks in the lobby and plenty of chairs for you to enjoy the view. You can have an unobstructed view on the hotel’s deck.
Pro Tip: The ADA-accessible great room is open to all visitors, not just hotel guests.
8. Tour Menor’s Ferry Historic District
The National Park Service provides an audio tour of the historic homestead and ferry on the Snake River. The ferry you see is a replica. The looped trail is 0.3-miles long, relatively flat, and paved.
9. Splurge On Jenny Lake Lodge
If you want to stay in the park, make reservations early. Of the nearby towns of Jackson, Wilson, and Teton Village, Jackson is the closest to the park entrance and has a wide range of accommodations.
If you’re looking to splurge on a room within the park, head to Jenny Lake Lodge. With the exception of several modern ADA-accessible cabins, historic log cabins were moved to the property and completely refurbished. Cabins are designed for you to disconnect from the outside world and do not have televisions.
A five-course dinner and breakfast the following morning are included. The concierge can arrange fly-fishing, rafting, scenic boat tours, and complimentary horseback rides. Complimentary bicycles and miles of paved pathways are at your disposal.
Pro Tip: The average elevation in the valley is 6,800 feet. You are likely to feel the effects of this altitude with even minimal exercise if you normally live at sea level or at a much lower altitude. Nights are cool, so be prepared to dress in layers.