We’ve been to Grand Teton many times. Grand Teton is worthy of 3 days (or more), but often we only spend a day in the park. You can still get a great feel for the Tetons with only one day, because you can view the Tetons from anywhere in the Jackson Hole valley.
If you only have one day in Grand Teton, you must do the Jenny Lake boat ride and hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Arrive before 8:00am as the parking fills early. In the afternoon, you can choose from a variety of activities listed below.
About Jenny Lake
Although it is not the biggest lake in Grand Teton, Jenny Lake is the crown jewel of the park. It is named after a Shoshone Indian woman. We don’t know her Indian name, but she married an Englishman named Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh (pronounced Lee) and obtained the name Jenny at that time. They had children together.
Leigh was a mountain man. He and Jenny helped guide the first government-sponsored expedition of this area in 1872. For their efforts, the government named Jenny Lake and nearby Leigh Lake after them.
Beaver Dick loved his wife Jenny and wrote fondly of her in his letters. The family got smallpox and only Beaver Dick survived. He lived to an old age and became known as “the last mountain man.”
Get to Jenny Lake by 8:00 am. The later you arrive, the longer the line will be.
If that sounds too early, we recommend doing it anyway and taking an afternoon nap to recuperate. The crowds start to subside around 3:00 or 4:00, and parking at the popular spots starts to open up again.
There is a Jenny Lake South and a Jenny Lake North entrance. You must enter at Jenny Lake South. The Jenny Lake North entrance takes you on Jenny Lake Drive, which is a scenic little drive. Jenny Lake North is also the entrance for String Lake.
But remember — go to Jenny Lake South to do the boat ride and hike.
Jenny Lake has it’s own parking lot, which does fill up. It will overflow way back to the main road. We’ve seen people walking a mile just to get to Jenny Lake from the main road.
There are four small buildings at Jenny Lake.
- Visitor Center. This building turns 100 in 2021! It was built by Harrison Crandall, and was originally located near the Cathedral Group Turnout on the Jenny Lake scenic drive. Crandall homesteaded the area and eventually became the Grand Teton park photographer. This building also served as his sales building.
- Jenny Lake Store. This is just a little store to get some convenience items.
- Ranger Station. This is another old building built by a homesteader in the 1930s. It’s now where they issue backcountry permits. Many backpackers camp outside here hoping to get a permit.
- Boat dock. Nearby is the boat dock to catch the shuttle boat to Inspiration Point.
There is also a campground there, with 49 tent sites. It’s first-come, first-serve only.
Grand Teton National Park recently renovated this area. Because the Jenny Lake Visitor Center is so small — yet this part of the park is so popular — the park felt the need to create an outdoor museum.
The displays are very nice. There are trails leading to the lake with great information about Beaver Dick, Jenny, fur trappers, explorers, geology, etc.
One of the coolest things about it is you’re looking at the lake and mountains while you’re reading the displays!
My recommendation is to read these when you return from your hike, because you want to get in line right away. However, if your group is already waiting in a long line, this would be a nice thing to do to pass the time.
There is also an accessible entrance to the lake shore near these displays.
It’s a short walk to the boat dock from the visitor center. Read the displays on the way, and you can’t miss it.
Take the $18 (round trip) boat ride. It eliminates a 2-mile hike (each way) to the other side of the lake.
Shuttles run every 10-15 minutes and the ride is only a few minutes to get to the other side.
When you get off, you’ll hike a loop to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, and then back down to the boat dock. To get to Inspiration Point from the boat dock is 1 mile. I believe you can get a little map to help guide you.
The hike is insanely pretty. You’ll cross over a bridge or two and walk along the cascading river while enjoying views of the Tetons above.
The first stop is Hidden Falls. It’s called Hidden for a reason. You have to turn left at the sign or Hidden Falls and walk a short distance to see the falls tucked behind the trees. I guess if you weren’t paying attention at all, you could miss the turn off. So keep an eye out.
Now you’ll start the climb to Inspiration Point. It isn’t much farther.
You’ll walk along the carved out rock ledge and enjoy fantastic views of the valley below as the falls empty into Jenny Lake.
You’ll know when you get to Inspiration Point, as the views of Jenny Lake and the Jackson Hole Valley will open up to you.
Take your time and enjoy it for a while. Many others will probably be there, but everyone is in a great mood because it’s so nice.
Cascade Canyon & the Return Trip
Now, you have a few options.
The hike to Inspiration Point is only a mile (because you took my advice and took the shuttle instead of hiking around the lake ;), so I recommend extending it a bit and hiking into Cascade Canyon.
You simply continue towards the mountains from Inspiration Point. You’ll see some signs pointing you in the right direction.
The entire Cascade Canyon is many miles back into the mountains. But you don’t need to do the whole thing. Just walk for 20 or 30 minutes and then turn around, if you want.
One day, I would like to go all the way to Solitude Lake. But that’s an all-day hike.
To return from Inspiration Point, you can return 3 ways. Consult the map for the details.
The most common way is to return back to Hidden Falls, as if you’re coming down the way you came. Once you pass Hidden Falls, you’ll see a little turn off to your left to go across the bridge. That route will take you back to the boat dock, and I recommend it because it provides some different views of the stream that you don’t get if you re-trace the path you took up the hill.
The lines to get back on the boat can be 1-2 hours if you’re there during the busy season and if you got a late start.
You’ve done with the #1 thing to do in Grand Teton!
Here are a few things you can do with your afternoon:
- Kayak at Jenny Lake
- Eat lunch at Dornan’s
- Go for a drive on the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive
- Go searching for Bear 399 or other wildlife
- Do some things near Grand Teton
Grand Teton is a relatively small National Park (at least, the popular areas are). It’s much smaller than Yellowstone and gets about the same number of visitors: 4 million per year. Parking fills up early.
To help you plan your trip, you can watch our video below. Thank you, and we hope you have a great trip to Grand Teton.