I might as well tell it like it is, this is by far my favorite moment during my road trip in the USA. It’s quite difficult to explain, but the places are in my opinion gorgeous and the national park really deserves to be more shown more attention. Everybody knows the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, at least by name, while the Teton National Park doesn’t really ring a bell.
During our trip to the USA in the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to discover this park for almost a week, which is in my eyes, a real wonder for all nature lovers, hikers and photographers! We arrived at the end of a month of camping in this park, and took the time to discover it.
In this article, you will find my must-haves and all the practical information you need to prepare your trip to the Grand Teton National Park.
I ended up spending about a week in this beautiful park and to be honest, I would have stayed another week to hike to the more remote lakes and summits. I’m not even talking about photography which is a real pleasure in this very photogenic park. As a matter of fact, I had even found complete articles (in English) dedicated to the photographic spots of the park. For those looking for nice activities to do in Grand Teton National Park (and even around), I recommend you check out this site which compares all the best prices!
To me, this is the most interesting part of the park along with the hikes. The thing is that with a 2-and-a-half-year-old, it was clearly not easy to go on long 8-hour hikes in the mountains… So, we took advantage over the days of visiting the most beautiful viewpoints around the classic loop of the park. Of course, it all depends on where you sleep exactly, but the loop starts north at Jackson Lake Junction and turns south at Moose Junction.
The park is characterized by a large number of overlooks along the way. So you can stop at any time and enjoy the beauty of the scenery. Small precision for all photographers (more about this below), the sun rises in the east and illuminates the Tetons (in the west) once the sun passes the mountains. For the beautiful light and photos, it is better to start the loop on the eastern part.
I also recommend that you go for a walk on the shore of Lake Jackson to admire superb panoramas of the Tetons.
On the program, a whole series of spots, each more beautiful than the other. To name a few: Snake River Overlook, Schwabacher Overlook, Mount Moran Turnout, and so on. Judge by the pictures…
During my road trip, I had already taken a boat trip in the Glacier National Park, at the Canada/USA border and I really enjoyed it. So I wanted to repeat the experience on this beautiful lake. The surroundings were truly splendid and even if it’s clearly not cheap (I only did a 2-hour trip), it’s worth it. A word of advice, leave as early as possible to take advantage of the soft morning lights on the Tetons. I left a bit late, so the pictures aren’t at the best, but hey!
Although you’ll probably arrive from Yellowstone national park (or go there right after), the wildlife experience is just as enjoyable. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to see bears or grizzly bears here, but I did see moose, a lot of bison and other animals.
If you are not afraid to get up early, I recommend you wake up at 5am, slip into your car/van at 0° (yes in the middle of August -> we are at high altitude here…) and drive on the East side loop. On the side of the road, you are likely to see a lot of animals in the dark… So be aware and keep your eyes open…
If you’re a photographer, you may have already seen this area in pictures, in particular a picture of the John Moulton Barn, the most photographed barn in the world! The area is a former Mormon site where a group of wooden buildings was built. Today these barns are a delight for tourists and photographers who come to admire the sunrise over these old houses with the gorgeous pinkish colors of the Teton Mountains in the background.
To really admire the beauty of the place, I recommend coming very early, before the arrival of the first tourist buses. Otherwise very late in the evening. If you like photography and if time is with you, you can easily spend a few hours photographing these beautiful barns and the kinds of small squirrels that hang around the site.
Chances are a lot of people will mainly come to the park for this. There are a lot of hiking trails in the western part of the national park, the most mountainous part. To put it bluntly, I haven’t really had the opportunity to go on any long hikes per se, but I did have the opportunity to go for walks. Carrying my 17 kg baby on my back with my camera bag didn’t help!
One thing is certain, hiking lovers will have a lot of fun here. There is something for all levels. You can very well go for a few hours or for a morning walk around the nearby lakes. To name just a few: Phelps Lake, Taggart Lake, Jenny Lake, String Lake and Leigh Lake and to the north-east of Two Ocean Lake and Emma Matilda Lake.
I have personally walked around Taggart Lake which is really more than beautiful (and still, the word is weak) and along Jenny Lake and String Lake which are equally beautiful. I really advise people who like walking to spend some time in this park and go on the great hikes that go up into the mountains towards the park’s glaciers. A few beautiful hikes are well known, including the famous Death Valley, Cascade Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon.
Just south of Jackson Lake Lodge is a junction to Signal Mountain, a small peak in the park rising to 2355m. The road to get there is superb and it is really worth driving slowly to try to meet some animals. Unfortunately, it won’t be for us this time. From the top, you have a great view of the Snake River below and the surrounding mountains. You would easily gaze off into these landscapes…
For those who like to get away from the classic circuits inside the park, there are a few possibilities where you clearly won’t come across many people. I am thinking in particular of two very nice places in the park to visit. The first, the road that leads to Shadow Mountain. Located in the southeast of the park, we took it wishing to see something else and frankly, it was quite nice. For many kilometers, you drive on a beautiful track in the middle of the forest. You then finally arrive at a summit that offers you a beautiful view of the surroundings. If you can make it up there for the sunset, it’s even better. Note that there are several possibilities to camp in the wilderness in the area. Simply apply for permits at the park’s Visitor Center.
Another place away from the crowds is the beautiful Lower Side Lake, at the end of the “Gros Ventre Road”. The lake is located outside the park itself, to the southeast. The lake has nothing special in itself, but the setting is very peaceful, perfect for a small meal by the lake around a fire. A great family time for us!
So, you could almost think that only photographers would have the motivation to get up at dawn to see a sunrise? Honestly, if you feel like it, do it, you won’t be disappointed. There is a special atmosphere in the early morning on the roads of the park. You can come across herds of antelopes, elk, deer, moose and all other species on the roadside. In short, a bunch of wild animals! Be very careful and keep your eyes wide open. I personally got scared once or twice…
Focus on the east side portion of the park loop first. I found this excellent site from a local photographer who lists the best photographic spots in the area and gives advice. Some of the best and most famous spots are: Snake River Overlook, Elk Ranch/Flats Turnout, Blacktail Ponds Turnout and many others. I wasn’t exactly lucky with the sunrises, but the atmosphere and the fact that I was with other photographers at 5am in the morning at 0° was very cool (even if I was literally freezing)!
As with many parks in the United States, you are unlikely to come from Europe or elsewhere just to visit this park. Very often, you will include it in a road trip in the American West with other national parks around. So, let’s just start there.
While traveling in the United States, it is obvious that if you are in the area, you would arrive or go to see the famous Yellowstone park, located just north of Grand Teton. Usually people combine the two parks together over the period of a week. There are only a few national parks in the area, and if you’re on a larger tour, chances are you’re coming from the south towards Salt Lake City. From there you have access, to name only the closest parks, to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Zion and many others. For your information, from the Grand Canyon to Salt Lake, there are 800 km, 8 hours of estimated non-stop driving. Another 500 km north of the Canyon is the Grand Teton National Park.
For those arriving from Europe, you will therefore consider either arriving via Salt Lake City, or more likely to San Francisco or Los Angeles. For information, you can find cheap flights via this flight comparator that I have been using for more than 10 years now. For Canadians who come across this blog, the ideal would be to take a flight from Canada to Salt Lake. The cheapest prices range from $300 to $350.
There is also a good chance that you will be on a road trip in the USA during your visit. For your information, I found great prices on this car rental comparator. For those who are looking for a van or a camper, I recommend this great comparator where all the major brands are present.
Since the park is still much less visited by tourists than the famous Yellowstone National Park, I don’t think you have to worry about that, although there are some areas that are well frequented in the summer.
Regarding the weather, how can I tell you, this is the park where it was the coldest for us during our month in the USA. Coincidence or not, I don’t know but still, the park is located at altitude (above 2000m), and it can really get very cold, especially in the evenings/mornings and at night. We had 3 or 4 nights at 0°, in the middle of August. Usually no snow in July/August, so that’s something.
Unlike Yellowstone, the park is open all year round and you can drive from Jackson (small town in the south) to Flagg Ranch (north of the park) without much hassle. If you like to travel a little bit out of season, both for tourists and for you, I would even advise shifting a little to May/June or September/October. Be aware that you will still have negative temperatures and probably snow…
Another important point, while speaking with rangers in the park, I was told that July and August were too hot and that the bears were therefore less visible because they stayed in the mountains, at altitude. Apparently, we would see them much more during spring/fall. To be taken into consideration.
From what I’ve seen and heard, many tourists just spend the day in the park, which I think is extremely unfortunate. The park has so much to offer. Much smaller than Yellowstone, you can definitely spend some time there if you like hiking and photography.
It will most likely depend on how much time you’ve managed to get off work and maybe just the way you travel. We were at the end of our trip, already exhausted by more than 3 weeks of camping. So we took our time and I don’t regret having stayed almost a week in the park enjoying the landscapes, lakes, short walks, boat trips and photographic sessions.
If you can, I would recommend spending 3 or 4 days there. I think it’s a good compromise.
The entrance to Grand Teton Park is, of course, subject to a fee of $35/car in 2018, valid for 7 days. Yellowstone Park has another entrance fee (at the same price).
If you plan to visit both parks and others (to make it profitable), I often recommend getting the “America the beautiful” card. This card gives access, for $80 per car, to all the national parks in the country. Let’s say that from 4 parks in general, you have refunded it. I’ll let you do the math.
Like for Yellowstone N.P, I recommend getting up early to enjoy the sites and the different viewpoints with less people but also for the beautiful light (for photographers). Take the time for those who like to hike to go for a walk in the park for a few days (with your bear spray, you never know). Tell me about it in the comments, okay?
To stay in the park, you basically have two simple options: sleeping in lodges or camping (paid or wilderness).
Regarding lodges, this is obviously not the cheapest solution, but the easiest. There are quite a few of them, some at decent prices, others more upscale. To mention only the best rated and those I received great feedback from, there are some very nice ones:
For those who want to be closer to nature, the great outdoors and love camping, there is a whole range of campsites in the park. Some can be booked, others not (first come, first served). You have all the details on this page.
Concerning my experience of camping in the park, we were at Colter Bay Village. We arrived in the morning from Yellowstone and there were empty sites. A few hours later, everything was already full. So be careful either to anticipate this by coming early in the morning, or by reserving, at the risk (so to speak) of having to spend the night in one of the lodges of the park.
Depending on the season in which you come, campers be careful to come well equipped against the cold.
To eat, you have a few options with the stations or small shops in the park, but the products are generally much more expensive than outside. If you’re coming from the South, from Salt Lake City, you might as well stock up on food for the week in my opinion!
I’m coming to the end of this article on Grand Teton National Park. I hope it made you want to go there? Personally, I really enjoyed it and would definitely go back, especially for photography and hiking. For those who are preparing for the trip, here is what you need to prepare your road trip in the USA.
Have a good trip and enjoy,