Grand Teton National Park has a naming story that even a seven-year-old can appreciate. What happens when three lonely French-Canadian fur trappers come upon three jagged peaks? They call it “les trois tétons” or “the three teats”. The name sticks, and they name a whole damn park after teats.
Who knows if the story is true. Even an unsophisticated name can’t take away from the greatness of Grand Teton National Park. Like many mountain parks, Grand Tetons has got range. 64km of mountains with 9 peaks above 3,700m. Ecosystems ranging from alpine tundra to Rocky Mountains subalpine zone to a valley floor mean that you’ll experience completely different flora depending on how high up you are. There’s a diversity of species with some pretty epic mammals (sorry to throw shade on chipmunks) and an impressive variety of bird and fish species. It’s a spot for climbing, fishing, camping, or winter sports.
Ready to experience Grand Teton National Park for yourself? Here’s a complete guide including things to do, hiking trails, how to get there, permit info, and campsite recommendations.
AT A GLANCE
Grand Teton National Park is a 1,300 km2 park in Northwest Wyoming. Just 16km south of Yellowstone National Park, visiting Grand Teton can be part of an epic road Wyoming trip. It’s technically the youngest mountain range in the Rockies, but The Tetons are still between six and nine million years old.
Entrance to Grand Teton National Park costs $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, or $20 per individual (by foot, bicycle, park shuttle bus, railway, raft). If you’re planning to visit 3+ National Parks, you should consider buying the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass ($79) which includes access to all US National Parks and Federal Lands. Read more about why you should get an America the Beautiful pass here.
When to visit: Grand Teton National Park is mostly a summer destination with a limited shoulder season and a rugged winter. The park is at its best between late May and mid-September. While it’s still possible to visit, the majority of services at Grand Teton National Park shut down between mid-September and May.
THINGS TO DO IN GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
Grand Teton National Park has a few things that set it apart from the other parks in the region.
Grand Teton is part of The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which according to the NPS, is a twenty million-acre stretch of some of the last intact temperate ecosystem on earth. There are a whopping 61 species of mammal in Grand Teton, and they run the gamut in size.
You don’t have to look hard to spot bison, pronghorn, or elk grazing alongside the road. You can encounter rodents like marmots, chipmunk, muskrat, beaver, pika, and porcupine or see otters and badgers swimming in the river. And while slightly more elusive, you also have a decent chance of seeing everything from grizzly bears to gray wolves. The mammals of the Grand Teton also share the park with more than 300 bird species, tons of fish, and a few reptiles and amphibians.
Some of the best places to see wildlife in Grand Teton National Park are Willow Flats, Cottonwood Creek, or Oxbow Bend.
ADVENTURE OR WINTER SPORTS
While Grand Teton is a nice spot for hiking and scenic drives, some of the best things to do in Grand Teton National Park are adventure or winter sports.
It’s a popular destination for climbing and mountaineering due to road access, well-marked trails, and the fact that many peaks can be summited in just a day. Of course, the most famous of all the mountaineering routes in the parks is Grand Teton itself (more info on that climb below).
Grand Teton is also a good spot for fly fishing. It’s got extremely clean water and a diversity of fish (including the Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout).
I’m always a sucker for a scenic drive, but the scenic drives in Grand Teton are pretty damn cool. One of the best scenic drives in Grand Teton National Park is a 64km loop that starts and finishes in Jackson. Some of the highlights are traveling along the tree-lined Gros Ventre Rd and cruising past the grazing bison and iconic barns on Mormon Row with Teton views.
Another killer drive is a 72km loop from Moose that cruises past famous stops like Oxbow Bend for moose-watching, to Snake River Overlook where Ansel Adams took his famous photograph, and around Jenny Lake for some of the best Teton views in the park.
HIKING & BACKPACKING IN GRAND TETON
Hiking and backpacking are some of the best things to do in Grand Teton. I’ve outlined a few trips below, but you can find plenty of other hikes in Grand Teton National Park by searching on AllTrails.
Jenny Lake Trail (13km)
Jenny Lake Trail is probably the most popular hike in Grand Teton National Park because it’s flat – gaining just 200m in total elevation – but it still yields some of the best Teton views. The trail wraps around the circumference of the vast and beautiful Jenny Lake making it a good spot for family hikes or solo hiking in bear country.
Surprise & Amphitheater Lakes Trail (14km)
Surprise & Amphitheater Lakes Trails is a 14km trail departing from Moose that climbs just under 900m. The trail is popular and well maintained, but the switchbacks make it quite a tough ascent. The views are fine, but the real reason to do this hike are the two brilliant blue alpine lakes hidden at the top.
The Grand Teton Loop Trail (55km)
The Grand Teton is THE climb in Grand Teton National Park. You can climb Grand Teton with or without a guide, taking one of many routes, but whichever route you take should be taken seriously. The Grand Teton Loop Trail is 55km and more than 2,100 vertical meters and there are points where you’ll be climbing with hundreds of meter drops below. All ascents require technical mountain climbing gear and if you intend to stay overnight, you’ll also need a permit. Here’s more information about the climb up Grand Teton.
HOW TO GET TO GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
The closest major airports to Grand Teton is Jackson Hole (JAC), but other options are Idaho Falls Regional (IDA), Salt Lake City International (SLC), or Bozeman Yellowstone (BZN).
As with all the US National Parks, the only practical way to access Grand Teton National Park is by private vehicle. Your other option is to book a tour that includes transport.
GETTING AROUND THE PARK
AllTrans runs a shuttle between Jackson and Grand Teton, but again, the best way to travel within the park is by private vehicle. It’s also worth noting that while the park is open year round, some areas of the park are closed to cars from November to May.
Colter Bay Cabins | The Colter Bay Cabins are conveniently located and surprisingly affordable for park cabins. There are 208 log cabins in the complex meaning it may even be possible to snag a last-minute booking during shoulder season. Cabins from $180.
Gros Ventre | The most enormous of all Grand Teton campsites, Gros Ventre has seven loops, 300 campsites, and five group sites. Every site should have its own parking spot, tent pad, picnic table, and fire pit with grate. And while it may not be the most serene campsite in Grand Teton, the sites are first-come-first-served, so it’s very likely your best shot at landing a site within the park. Sites from $33.
Jenny Lake | Jenny Lake is the most popular campsite in Grand Teton thanks to its lovely location. It’s a tent-only campground with 49 campsites and 10 hiker biker sites. It’s a developed site with parking spots, tent pads, picnic tables, and fire pits with a grate, plus flush toilets and coin-op showers. First-come-first-served. Sites from $32.