The Grand Teton National Park is a beautiful wilderness area in Wyoming with jagged mountain ranges, lush meadows and interesting hiking trails. Here’s what to do in the Grand Tetons – the understated star of the US parks.
The summits of the Grand Teton mountains are a row of jagged pinnacles soaring towards the sky. Beneath them, canyons drop to emerald-green lakes surrounded by wildflowers, sagebrush meadows and swathes of forest.
The Grand Teton National Park accommodates a host of invigorating activities. Hike mountain passes, paraglide from rocky peaks and kayak in pristine lakes.
Grand Teton is also one of the best places in the US to see wildlife. Bears and moose are far denser than they are in nearby Yellowstone, and bison, elk, and pronghorn deer are regular grazers on open plains.
It’s one of our favourite parks in the US with sublime scenery and a relaxed, understated western vibe. The entire area deserves at least two to three days to explore, but if you are an avid hiker or wildlife watcher you could easily spend longer.
Read on for all the best things to do in Grand Teton National Park including when to visit and where to stay.
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MAP | GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
The Grand Teton National Park is located in the northwest of Wyoming. The park includes most of the Teton mountains and the Jackson Hole valley. It’s 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park.
How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.
1 – GRAND TETON VIEWPOINTS
The mountains of the Grand Tetons are a line of jagged peaks rising from a flat plain, with flower-strewn meadows in the foreground and several lakes enhancing the scene.
Drive the 42-mile loop between the town of Moose and Willow Flats using a combination of HWY 89 and the Teton Park Road that passes Jenny Lake, and you’ll see the best viewpoints in the Grand Tetons.
Here are our favorites which are all marked on the map at the top of this guide.
Willow Flats – A large grazing area with the best view of the Grand Teton mountains rising above it. Elk and moose can often be spotted here, especially at dawn, and the golden colors throughout the fall are wonderful.
Oxbow Bend – A sweeping bend in the Snake River offers great reflections of Mount Moran. On cold mornings, the mist lingers in the valley giving it a magical feel. Keep an eye out for river otters, bald eagles, and ospreys.
Signal Mountain Summit – A ten-minute detour from the 42-mile loop, the road climbs to the summit of Signal Mountain, where a 200-meter walk to a viewpoint allows you to look straight across at the Grand Teton mountains and the national park.
Mountain View Turnout – This lookout has a wild a rugged feel with the peaks of the Grand Tetons at their sharpest. The flats are abundant with sagebrush which contrasts with the jagged peaks.
Snake River Overlook – This viewpoint was made famous by the photographer Ansel Adams. A sweep of the Snake River cuts through sagebrush flats as the Grand Tetons rise behind. Today however, some trees obscure part of the view.
Schwabacher Landing – Another short detour off the 42-mile loop, this viewpoint gets right next to the river as it meanders between wood and willow. The mountains which rise in the background are beautifully reflected in the water on a still day.
2 – JENNY LAKE SCENIC DRIVE
The Jenny Lake Scenic Drive skirts the eastern edge of Jenny Lake and offers scenic views across the water to the mountains.
Don’t miss the Jenny Lake Overlook for an easy but scenic view. Nearby, the Jenny Lake Lodge is a full-service resort with natural wood cabins that bring a taste of luxury to the idyllic setting.
The scenic drive is only 3 miles long and runs one way (from north to south). There are wide cycle lanes making it perfect for exploring the area on a bike.
3 – JENNY LAKE BOAT TRIP
One of the most popular things to do in Grand Teton National Park is to head onto the water at Jenny Lake. The Jenny Lake Visitors centre provides tours and equipment hire for your excursion.
Here are some of the options available.
Scenic Cruise – Two or 3 scenic cruises of Jenny Lake run each day from mid-May to the end of September. Reservations are recommended. Price – Adults $30 | Children $25.
Canoe & Kayaks – Canoes (up to 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children) or kayaks (up to 2 people) can be rented from the dock where the scenic cruise departs between mid-June and mid-September. Price – $25 an hour | $100 for the day on a first come first served basis.
4 – HIDDEN FALLS & INSPIRATION POINT
A great way to combine a boat trip on Jenny Lake and a short hike in the Grand Tetons is to head to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Start at the Jenny Lake Visitors centre and get the shuttle boat across Jenny Lake to the West Shore Boat Dock which sits at the bottom of Cascade Canyon.
From the dock, a hiking trail slowly winds back and forth across Cascade Creek as it steadily climbs to Hidden Falls – a small cascade set in the woods. The path steepens and crosses a rocky ledge to arrive at Inspiration Point where views stretch out across the lake.
The hike is 1 mile each way and takes about 1 hour and thirty minutes to complete. The path climbs steadily, so it takes a bit of puff, but it’s a great way to get into the mountains.
Hardier hikers can continue the Cascade Canyon Trail, which keeps rising beyond Inspiration Point. Head up as far as you want before turning around.
Once back at the West Shore Boat Dock, either take the shuttle boat back across Jenny Lake or walk back on the southern end of the lake to the Visitor Centre via Moose Ponds (1 hour 30 minutes).
Jenny Lake Boat Shuttle – One-way ($12) or return trips ($20) are available. The shuttle runs every 10 to 15 minutes from the East Boat Dock next to the Jenny Lake Visitors Centre.
5 – MOOSE PONDS
Moose Ponds are two small lakes tucked into a dell, south of Jenny Lake. These two beautiful ponds are excellent for spotting moose. On our trip, we saw a bull and three cows soaking themselves in the ponds and wandering through the reeds.
The trail to the ponds is beautiful with wildflowers and aspen marking the route as it clings to the edge of Jenny Lake.
From the Jenny Lake Visitors centre Moose Ponds is a 1-mile hike each way with very little elevation. Allow about 1 hour 15 minutes for the entire return walk or include it on a day trip to Cascade Canyon as mentioned above.
Once at the ponds there is an optional 1.7-mile loop around them.
6 – STRING LAKE
Of all the lakes that sit under the Grand Tetons, String Lake is our favorite. Often sheltered and still, it shimmers a translucent green as the mighty Teton peaks rise above it.
After tiring yourself out exploring the national park, ending the day here is one of the best things to do in the Grand Tetons. Find a quiet stretch of beach, go for a swim in the (slightly chilly) waters and enjoy a picnic under the trees.
String Lake is right next to both the Leigh Lake Trailhead car park and the String Lake Trailhead car park. Be aware, there are often bears in the area so follow all the rules on the signs. In particular, don’t leave food lying about.
7 – BLUE HERON LOUNGE
Another great way to end the day is at the Blue Heron Lounge. Tucked in a corner of the classy old-school Jackson Lake Lodge, this cool bar has massive windows offering fantastic views across to the mountains.
They have both indoor and outdoor tables, or you can pull up a stool around the circular bar. Cocktails are mixed to perfection, and they have several excellent local craft ales that are well worth trying.
The Blue Heron Lounge is a great place to watch the sun slowly drop behind the Tetons as the skies turn a burnt orange.
8 – DRIVE MOOSE-WILSON ROAD
The Grand Tetons is one of the best places in the USA to spot bears with a greater density than Yellowstone. While meeting bears on a hike in the mountains can be nerve-wracking, seeing them from the safety of your own car is downright exciting.
One of the best places to spot bear is along the Moose-Wilson Road.
Connecting the town of Moose with Teton Village, the Moose-Wilson road heads through forest and marshland, home to a wide array of wildlife. Moose are often spotted feeding on the willows, and you’ll also see beavers, herons and cranes.
While you can spot both black and brown bears from late spring to fall, the best chance to see them is mid-August to late September when they feed on the berries that line the edge of the road to fatten up for hibernation.
There are a couple of detours worth considering. Pull off at the turnout near the northern end of the road and look over the Snake River keeping an eye out for moose.
Alternatively, a bumpy, rocky track heads up to the Death Canyon Trailhead car park from where a 1-mile trail leads to the pretty Phelps Lake Overlook (30 minutes each way). The drive is usually doable in a 2WD, but the last five hundred metres might best be done on foot.
Finally, stop in at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve to learn about the conservation of the area.
The Moose-Wilson road is usually open from May to November. It was closed for much of 2022 but plans to reopen in May 2023.
9 – LAURANCE S. ROCKEFELLER PRESERVE
In 1927 John D Rockefeller purchased much of the land that surrounds Jackson Hole. He gave the bulk of it to the Grand Teton National Park allowing the boundaries to expand but kept 3,100 acres as a family retreat and guest ranch.
Over the years more land was donated to the National Park on the proviso that the preserve remains a place where visitors can experience the area.
The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Centre is a beautifully designed modern structure set in a sagebrush meadow. Inside there are visual and sound displays of the local wildlife and a cool library packed with a wonderful selection of nature books.
A series of trails leave from the centre to picturesque Phelps Lake (1.5 miles each way – 1 hours 30 minutes in total). From the lake, even more trails head off in different directions, going around the lake or up to Granite Canyon, Open Canyon, or Death Canyon.
If you are worried about bears on route, join a ranger lead program which runs from mid-June to late September.
10 – JACKSON HOLE AERIAL TRAM
The Jackson Hole Aerial Tram which runs from Teton Village offers incredible views of the Grand Tetons.
In 12 minutes, the tram glides skyward rising 4,139 feet to a 360-degree viewing platform overlooking the Tetons, Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountain ranges.
From the summit, a series of hiking trails crisscross the mountains with various level of difficulty for everyone to enjoy. The Top of the World is an easy half-mile round trip; the Rock Springs Loop is a more strenuous 3.5-mile hike, while the Cirque Trail traverses the summit of Rendezvous Mountain.
For a thrilling way down, paragliding in Jackson Hole will give you breathtaking vistas of the Snake River & Grand Teton National Park.
11 – SPOT BISON & ELK ON THE PLAINS
While moose and bear are often hidden in the trees, bison, elk, and pronghorn deer can often be spotted feeding on the grasses that line the road.
While they can be viewed anywhere in the park there are a few places that increase your chances.
Elk Ranch Turnout is good for elk and bison, and the meadows either side of the road from Jackson Dam South to Moose are good for bison and pronghorn.
Blacktail Ponds and Antelope Flats on the other side of the road is a popular spot for elk and bison who come during the cooler parts of the day.
12 – MORMON ROW HISTORIC DISTRICT
Arriving in the 1890s Mormons built a cluster of 27 homesteads on a gentle sloping cove between Blacktail Butte and the Gros Ventre Mountains. Today only six homesteads survive, but together they form the Mormon Row Historic District, also known as Antelope Flats.
There are two particularly picturesque and historic barns. The Moulton Barns which took 30 years to build is an iconic image of the Tetons. The Chambers Homestead harnessed electricity from the windmill in 1946.
The old wooden structures set under a mountainous backdrop, in fields where bison often roam, is a great location for photography in the Tetons.
13 – JOIN A RANGER LEAD PROGRAM
One of the more educational things to do in the Grand Teton National Park is to join a ranger lead program. It’s a great way to learn more about how the area was formed and the ecosystems it contains.
Each year a different set of ranger programs are run, offering a variety of experiences.
- Oxbow Bend Wildlife Watch – Spend an evening learning about wildlife in one of the most beautiful places in the park.
- Hike to Moose Ponds – 2-hour 30-minute guided hike to Moose Pond.
- An Evening at Jenny Lake – Engaging evening chat about the natural and cultural history of the park.
- Hike to Phelps Lake – 2-hour 30-minute guided hike from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Centre to one of the prettiest lakes in the National Park.
14 – JACKSON
A 20-minute drive to the south of the Grand Teton National Park, the town of Jackson is a must-visit destination in the Tetons.
Situated in the valley called Jackson Hole, it was originally populated by Native American tribes such as Shoshoni, Crow, and Blackfeet. In the early 1800s trappers and mountain men came to the area and over the course of the next century news of the area’s beauty spread across the country.
Today Jackson is a charming town that lovingly combines old and new. Traditional western architecture sits side by side with modern boutiques and art galleries. Don’t miss the town square with its arch of elk antlers or the landscape photography in the Thomas Mangelsen gallery.
WHERE TO STAY IN GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
You can find more details on our where to stay in the Grand Tetons guide, but here are a few of our recommendations.
Jackson Lodge – A grand old lodge in the heart of the national park the views are superb, and the Blue Heron bar is a great place to end the day.
Jenny Lake Lodge – Quaint freestanding rustic wooden cabins nestled in a forest on the edge of the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive. Couldn’t be any more central or atmospheric.
Colter Bay Village – A sort of summer camp for the whole family, there are a mix of cabins and tented cabins, a couple of restaurants, a general store, and loads of national park activities right on your doorstep.
Huff House Inn – A stylish B&B in the heart of Jackson, choose between traditional cabins or chic contemporary rooms. Outside there’s a hot tub, barbecue, fire pit, and lovely garden patio.
Bentwood Inn – Wood clad cabins each individually styled offer a touch of indulgence in this scenic part of the world. The inviting lounge has a warming fireplace, board games and grand piano for those rainy days.
Elk Country Inn – Four blocks from the centre of Jackson, the Elk Inn is built in wood and stone and makes a friendly retreat at the end of the day. There’s a pool and hot tub, and in winter shuttles run to the ski slopes.
WHEN TO VISIT GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
The best time to visit Grand Teton National Park is from mid-May to late September when all the scenic roads, visitor centres and walking trails are open. The weather is excellent during the summer months, but the area is busy during the school holidays making June and September ideal.
Wildlife watchers may want to aim for mid-August to late September when the bears feed on the berries around the Moose-Wilson Road and elk begin to rut while the leaves are turning a wonderful golden yellow.
Hikers planning on hitting the high trails should aim for summer as snow takes a while to clear from the higher passes in spring and can arrive surprisingly early in fall.
Finally, although much of the park is closed in winter wildlife is still plentiful. Moose, coyotes, and wolves are often easier to spot and a steady trail of migrating elk head to the National Elf Refuge from late October to December. Skiers flock to the slopes above Teton Village from January to March.
HOW MANY DAYS IN GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK?
We recommend two to three days in the Grand Teton National Park. This is enough time to visit all the viewpoints, drive the most scenic roads, do a bit of wildlife spotting, and complete a couple of short hikes.
Wildlife fanatics and avid hikers could stay longer. The animal density in Grand Tetons is excellent and there are loads of trails heading passed magnificent canyons, lakes and mountain peaks.
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