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by Matt, Updated Dec 2021
WELCOME TO THE WEST! Grand Teton, and nearby Jackson, WY, give people an AMAZING feel for the American West.
Many people add Grand Teton to their Yellowstone vacation because the two are next-door neighbors. But Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) should not be an afterthought! It is a remarkable place with so much to do, including hiking, photography, wildlife viewing, and more!
This article will cover the main things you need to know as you plan your trip to Grand Teton:
- General things to know
- What to do and see
- When to visit
- How long to visit
- How to get there
- Where to stay
- Getting around
- Where to eat
- What to pack
- Other handy tips
- History of Grand Teton
General things to know about visiting Grand Teton
Although Grand Teton is close to Yellowstone and they often get lumped together, how you visit them is very different.
Yellowstone is MASSIVE. Grand Teton, in comparison, is much smaller. It can take all day to drive around one of the loops in Yellowstone. At Grand Teton, it only takes about an hour to get from the north end of the park to Jackson, WY, on the south end.
This means you can spend less time driving and you can go back to your hotel or campground during the day to rest or take a nap — something that usually is not an option in Yellowstone.
Both get nearly the same number of visitors, but since Teton is much smaller, the crowds can be a real problem (they’re a problem in Yellowstone as well). Many of the popular attractions will fill up early in Teton.
Want the best game plan to see the park? Check out our self-guided tour. We get you to the best places AND we tell you all about them!
What to see and do
Get ready, partner, because there are A LOT of things to do at Grand Teton!
View the Teton Mountains
The Tetons rise majestically over Jackson Hole valley, so you can see these from virtually anywhere in the park — while driving, hiking, swimming, etc. The first time you see them you’ll be amazed at how cool they are.
Hike to the glacial lakes
There are six small(ish) glacial lakes at the bottom of the Tetons. These are the most popular sites in the park. You can visit each one of them.
Jenny Lake is the most popular and has its own parking lot. Take a boat ride across the lake (recommended) or hike around it. Then do the 1 mile hike to get to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. See our post & video on how to do Jenny Lake.
The other lakes are String (which has the best swimming), Leigh, Bradley, Taggart, and Phelps. All are beautiful in their own right.
Jenny Lake Scenic Drive (video) takes you on a nice drive with views of Jenny Lake. The String Lake parking lot is located on the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive. The other lakes can only be visited by hiking to them; most are 3 miles or fewer.
Look for wildlife
You can see as much wildlife in Grand Teton as you can in Yellowstone: this includes bison, bears, elk, and antelope. You’re less likely to see wolves, but you’re more likely to see Moose. This area is known for moose! There’s even a little town in the park named Moose.
Grand Teton is truly a photographer’s park! The mountains provide a stunning backdrop for just about any photo in the park. If you can get an animal in the foreground, then you’ve really struck gold.
There are a number of popular spots for taking photos. The most popular are Schwabacher Landing, Snake River Overlook, Oxbow Bend, and Mormon Row. You’ll need a good camera, especially if you hope to take photos of wildlife.
I once visited 20 National Parks in one year, and only took photos with my iPhone. After each one I went to, I told myself to buy a nicer camera. Yet I never did….until the next year. It’s a regret of mine, because I saw some absolutely stunning scenery.
If you’re new to photography, see our What to Pack for Yellowstone & Grand Teton article (& video) for tips on what camera to buy.
The Jackson Hole area has world-class rock climbing and river rafting. There are just so many things to do in this area!
Hiking to the glacial lakes is something just about everyone can do: most are 3 miles or fewer. But if you want to do 1/2 day to multi-day hikes, this park is definitely for you.
Hike 16 miles through Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude (the first mile is the trail from Jenny Lake to Inspiration Point). Or hike 9 miles into Death Canyon to Patrol Cabin, overlooking Phelps Lake on the way. There are many more backcountry Teton hikes.
Grand Teton Lodge Company offers scenic floats; 10-mile rafting trips with a guide. You can even choose to eat a meal while you’re out and about. These are done inside the park, with views of the mountains.
If you’re just a little more adventurous, we recommend you try white-water rafting just south of the park. There are many companies you can choose from to guide you through the Class III rapids (Class V is the most difficult).
We’ve rafted this river multiple times as a family, and if white-water rafting interests you at all, you’ll LOVE this. The river runs through a very deep canyon, providing spectacular views and a few heart-stopping moments.
There are many places in the park to rock climb, with and without a guide. If you’re new to climbing and would like a guide to help you and your family get started on some easy climbs, try Via Ferrata or Exum Guides.
Bicycling & Mountain Biking
There are paved bike trails all over the park — the major trail goes parallel with the main road through the park. This is a very popular activity.
If you can’t bring your own bikes, you can rent them at Dornan’s, which located right in the middle of the park. There are other places in Jackson as well.
You can even take guided biking tours through companies like Teton Mountain Bike Tours.
If you like to mountain bike, then Teton Village is the place for you. This place is so cool because you can ride the ski lift — with your bike hooked on the side of it — to the top of the mountain, then bike down the hill.
Golf & Disc Golf
There are two golf courses near the National Park: Teton Pines and Shooting Star (member-only course).
Teton Village also has an 18-basket disc golf course. It’s free! You can rent discs if you need them.
There are many cabins and historical sites in the park because most of Jackson Hole was settled and privately-owned before it became a National Park.
The best way to understand these as you drive through the park is to download our audio guide. I (Matt) teach a history class at our local university. I love to tell stories that help bring the park to life and put it into context.
Dude ranching was big in Jackson Hole in the early to mid-1900s. Dude ranching, in case you haven’t heard of it, is where people pay for the experience to work on a ranch for a week or so. These paying customers were historically called “Dudes.” A “dude” was a city-slicker.
There are a few historical dude ranches in Grand Teton, but there is one that is currently operating! The Triangle X Ranch (now usually called a “guest ranch”) has been in operation since 1926, just prior to Grand Teton becoming a National Park.
If you really want the western experience, check it out!
Jackson Lake is the biggest lake in the park. It’s even bigger than it once was because of the Jackson Lake Dam.
Today the lake feels like a separate part of the park — it feels more like a resort town. It’s the only lake that allows motorboats.
Shopping & Entertainment
The best places to shop are Jackson, WY, and Teton Village.
Jackson is a slice of the Old West, but with upscale prices! LOL. You can stroll through town to shop. You’ll find plenty of jewelry and art stores. One place you might want to visit is the Thomas Mangelsen Art Gallery. Mangelsen has taken famous images of wildlife, including the legendary Bear 399.
Teton Village is a mountain resort with restaurants, shopping, rock climbing, golfing, and cool activities for kids. You can also ride the Gondola to the top of the mountain!
Free & inexpensive things to do
Jackson doesn’t have to be very expensive.
The Jackson Town Square is a must-do. It has world-famous antler arches at all four corners of the square. The antlers are gathered from the nearby Elk Refuge.
Stop at the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center for some cool statues and information. It sets next to a wetland area with a lot of cool birds. It’s a great place for a stroll or picnic.
We love the National Museum of Wildlife Art. It costs $15 to enter, but you don’t even have to enter the museum to have a great experience. Take a stroll through wildlife statues outside the museum for free. A nice bonus is that it overlooks the Elk Refuge.
Jackson and Grand Teton do NOT shut down during the winter! Unlike Yellowstone, which is mostly closed, Jackson Hole offers some incredible activities during the winter.
Visiting the National Elk Refuge is an absolute MUST during the winter. Elk migrate south from Yellowstone into this valley en masse during the winter. The refuge ensures they are fed, since food can be hard to come by for the elk in the winter. A sleigh ride out among the elk is also a must-do!
You can downhill ski at Teton Village, or cross-country ski right in Grand Teton National Park. You can even have a ranger-guided snowshoe tour.
Another winter activity is to take a sled dog tour through Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours. You’ll ride to Granite Hot Springs (video), where you can soak in some hot springs — perfect for the middle of winter.
When to visit
The Jackson Hole Valley is over 6,000 feet above sea level. So summers are short in this area.
Generally, the busy season is May to October, with the summer months being the most crowded. May and October will be much less crowded but can be a gamble with the weather.
September is our recommended time to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton. It can still be somewhat crowded, but visitors are waning, and the weather is usually great.
How long to visit
As listed above, there are MANY activities you can do in Grand Teton and the Jackson Hole area. You can spend a week and not do it all.
We recommend at least three days. You can get a very good feel for Grand Teton National Park and the city of Jackson in that amount time. Many people wonder how much time to spend in Grand Teton vs Yellowstone. Our take is three days in Teton, four days in Yellowstone.
We’ve produced itineraries and audio guides to guide you through each park. If you want to take the stress out of planning, and if you’re one of those curious people who likes to learn about the place you’re visiting, this is definitely for you.
How to get there
Surrounding mountain ranges make Grand Teton a long drive from just about anywhere.
Most people will enter Grand Teton from Yellowstone, which is about an hour north of the park.
If you’re driving from points east, you’ll almost certainly go through Cody, WY, into Yellowstone (and hopefully visit Yellowstone), and then enter Grand Teton from the north.
If you’re driving from Colorado, you have two GREAT options. You can’t go wrong either way:
- Through Lander & the Wind River mountains (gorgeous)
- Through Pinedale, Wyoming, the home of of the Mountain Man Museum.
If you’re driving from points south, like Salt Lake City, you also have some great options. Strangely, these routes all take about the same amount of time, which is about 5-6 hours from Salt Lake City, UT:
- Turn off in Brigham City, UT and drive through beautiful Logan Canyon. You’ll pass the deep-turquoise Bear Lake before arriving in Montpelier, where you can visit the Oregon Trail Center and the Butch Cassidy Museum (an actual bank that Butch robbed!)
- Turn off at Lava Hot Springs. Take a soak in the hot springs and see the nearby incredibly well-preserved historical town of Chesterfield, Idaho. Then head to Soda Springs and see the Soda Springs geyser, which erupts every hour on the hour.
- Continue north to Idaho Falls (although Lava Hot Springs is located right off of I-15, so consider stopping in for a soak!). Idaho Falls is a nice, clean city with a graffiti art gallery, a beautiful temple (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), the Museum of Clean, walking and biking paths along the Snake River. And just north of Idaho Falls is Bear World, and place we’ve visited many times with our kids; we just love it! You can either cut over on Route 26 or continue to West Yellowstone and then drop down into Grand Teton.
If you’re driving from points northwest, like Seattle, you could drop in via Idaho Falls, Bozeman, or West Yellowstone. If you go through Montana, don’t miss the lovely town of Missoula and Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge.
I believe most people who fly will fly into Bozeman, MT, because most people visit Yellowstone on the same trip. You can also fly to Jackson Hole Airport which sits right next to GTNP. Some people might fly to Salt Lake City, UT, and do the 5-hour drive to to Yellowstone/Grand Teton.
It’s high elevation, so the summers are short and the winters are long. The average high temperature in JULY is only 80 degrees. Summer weather is awesome. But it can still get cold during the nights and mornings. Bottom line, make sure you’re prepared for cold weather at any time.
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Where to stay
There are 7 main areas for lodging. But in this article, we’ll briefly cover the big 3: Grand Teton NP, Jackson, and Teton Village.
For a more detailed guide, see our full article on Grand Teton lodging.
In Grand Teton NP, there are 8 places you can stay, ranging all over the park. You can go cheaper ($200/night) with cabin rooms, or high-end (over $1,000/night) with big family rooms or lakefront rooms.
- Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch
- Colter Bay Cabins
- Flagg Ranch Cabins
- Jackson Lake Lodge
- Jenny Lake Lodge
- Signal Mountain Lodge
- Dornan’s Spur Ranch Cabins
- Triangle X Ranch
Jackson, WY is a famous city just south of GTNP. We recommend an online search took like Booking.com.
Teton Village is a big resort area. Again, we recommend Booking.com. You have many choices here, but it’s generally NOT cheap.
- See our article Where to stay in Grand Teton for a detailed guide on lodging.
Camping is HUGE in GTNP and the surrounding area. It has exploded in popularity in recent years. They used to operate solely on a first-come, first-serve basis, but it was so busy that the campgrounds filled up at 6 am! So they’ve changed it now.
Here’s what you need to know:
There are many campgrounds in the Jackson Hole area. Some are IN THE PARK and are managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Some are OUT OF THE PARK and are managed by the Forest Service.
IN THE PARK, you now need an advance reservation. Book them online at recreation.gov.
There are 8 campgrounds you can choose from. The two largest are Colter Bay and Gros Venture. You can’t go wrong with either one. Colter Bay sits next to Jackson Lake and provided views of the lake and the mountains. Gros Venture is in the valley and is frequented by moose.
Jenny Lake campground would be a great place to stay, but there are only about 50 sites and it’s tent-only.
OUTSIDE OF THE PARK, it is still first-come, first-serve. To find campground spots, the best way is to try Campendium or Hipcamp.
This is the West, and the West is big! So you need a car, obviously. Grand Teton does not have a shuttle like some National Parks (with one exception), and you can’t rely on Uber — it would be much too expensive due to the size of the park.
You’ll either drive your own vehicle or RV, or you’ll need to rent a car at the airport.
There is one exception: There is a complimentary guest shuttle that makes stops in Jackson, Jenny Lake, the Jackson Lake Lodge, and Colter Bay Village. Note that it does not stop at the Jackson Hole Airport and it is not wheelchair accessible. It operates from mid-May to early-October.
This might be best used if you’re staying at Jackson Lake Lodge or Colter Bay Village.
Where to eat & drink
Inside Grand Teton
Inside GTNP, There are MANY options to eat. You will have mountain views at ANY of these places. This is a quick overview:
- Leek’s Pizza. Located at Leek’s Marina near Colter Bay, this seems to be the most popular spot for food.
- Dornan’s. Dornan’s is centrally located and offers two restaurants: the Chuckwagon and the Pizza Pasta Company. It also offers a Coffee Cart in the morning, with baked goods. Every Monday night they have the “Hootenanny” with food, drink, and live music.
- All of the lodges have dining. Eat nachos on the deck at Signal Mountain Lodge, enjoy a five-course meal at Jenny Lake Lodge, or eat at the Blue Heron at Jackson Lake Lodge.
At Teton Village, you can dine on top of the mountain at Piste Bistro, Top of the World Waffles, or other places. To get the top of the mountain, you’ll ride the Gondola, which can cost money, depending on the time you ride it. Sometimes it’s free after 5 pm. Also, you may need reservations for the Piste Bistro — check with them first.
Or dine down in the Village at the Mangy Moose, an iconic, long-standing restaurant and bar. And there are many other options, of course.
In Jackson, there are so many places to dine — use Trip Advisor to search for a place. But there are two iconic bar & grills: Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Silver Dollar Bar & Grill. We also like the ice cream at Moo’s.
We surveyed our viewers and Instagram followers, and we compiled a list of the best places to eat in Jackson and Grand Teton according to them!
What to pack
In addition to your usual packing list, here are some things we recommend.
Now is the time to invest in some nice binoculars and/or a nicer camera. GTNP is full of wildlife. Pictures with your phone just don’t do it justice. And if you see a bear or moose, you’ll want a closer look.
The best value binoculars are the Vortex Diamondback. Believe us, they are a game-changer. You can also get a higher-powered scope., but if that’s out of your price range, you can rent one from local businesses.
If you’re a beginner, our recommendations for the best affordable cameras are the Nikon D3500 or the Sony A6100. You can just point and shoot and get great images. The key here is that you must buy the zoom lens to go with it.
You may want to bring a chair if you’re planning on sitting and looking for wildlife.
If you want to paddleboard, kayak, or canoe at String Lake, you can rent them at Dornan’s. But if it’s something you might want to do more often, consider buying an inflatable one. I thought they might be unreliable, but they are just as nice as the big plastic versions — and you can store it in your RV.
If you want to get in any of the lakes, you need water shoes. The lakes have a lot of rocks at the bottom. They aren’t sharp rocks, but water shoes will make wading or swimming in them much nicer.
You generally only need bear spray if you’re going to do backcountry hiking. If you’re hiking away from the popular areas, definitely bring it. My (Cheryl’s) brother ran into this bear in the Tetons! He had his bear spray in hand while taking the video.
Remember, the highs in the summer are typically around 80 degrees. It can still get cold at night and in the mornings. Mountain storms can blow in at any time. Be prepared with clothing. Dress in layers.
You definitely want to hike to some of the glacial lakes, so wear appropriate shoes. We just wear cross-training shoes; boots aren’t necessary unless you’ll be doing longer hikes.
Mosquitoes can get pretty crazy in the mountains. You might want some bug repellent.
For a more detailed list, see our post (& video) on The Ultimate Packing Guide for Yellowstone & Grand Teton.
Other handy tips
When visiting any place for the first time, always study the maps. A great way to do this is to watch our videos. We use the maps with footage of the park to orient you and teach you about the park.
Usually, Grand Teton is combined with a Yellowstone trip. So you’ll have to plan a strategy for the order of doing things.
Most likely, you’ll start in Bozeman, head south into Grand Teton, and return to the north, completing the Yellowstone Grand Loop, before flying out of Bozeman.
You could also fly into Jackson, loop around Yellowstone, and fly out of Jackson.
With Yellowstone and Grand Teton, you need a game plan. Yet, it has to be flexible because crowds and nature don’t always cooperate! 🙂
Our itineraries give you a daily schedule, and our audio guides (currently in production) will explain the park to you. It’s just like having a tour guide in the car with you (only without the B.O.)!
History of Grand Teton
Yellowstone was first officially explored in 1871, and by 1872 it was the world’s first National Park.
Grand Teton, in contrast, was first explored in 1872, and it took another 27 years to make it a National Park! And even then, only the Teton mountains were protected. It took another 21 years to expand the boundaries to include the Jackson Hole valley.
The creation of Grand Teton National Park is a story unlike any other National Park.
This part of the country was some of the last settled land in the United States. The Jackson Hole valley wasn’t settled until the late 1800s. Homesteaders and ranchers barely survived for a few decades until they began to realize that tourism was the future.
So they turned to Dude Ranching. Dudes — city-slickers willing to pay for a cowboy experience — came from the east in hopes of seeing the “real” West. Ranchers made more money from them than from livestock.
When the automobile and a good economy in the Roaring 1920s made it easier to get places, Jackson Hole experienced a Dude Ranching boom.
But some settlers were concerned that the valley would become a tourist circus, and that their beloved valley with beautiful views would become tacky and over-commercialized.
So they formed partnerships with conservationists and crafted a plan to get the entire valley protected as a National Park. It took many years, and some congressional compromises, but it was finally accomplished in 1950.
Ultimately, protecting the valley made turned it into a home for wildlife such as bears, bison, elk, antelope, and moose. In addition to the stunning Tetons, these animals also entice millions to visit the park. Protecting the mountains, lakes, and wildlife has done more for tourism than anything else could have.
Grand Teton now receives over 3 million visitors per year.
We hope our guide and our videos helped you plan your trip. Remember, if you’re looking for a more memorable experience, check out our guides!
We hope you have a great trip!