Grand Teton National Park
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Grand Teton National Park

The Grand Teton Mountains are the youngest mountain range in North America. They are also the most rugged and most beautiful mountains in the USA. This tiny offshoot of the Rocky Mountain Cordillera is but 80 miles (130 km) long and less than half as wide. The Grand Teton range forms the western rim of a large upland plain surrounded by mountains known as Jackson Hole. Their jagged peaks rise almost vertically for about 4,000 feet (1250 m) above the 12-mile (20 km) wide valley of Jackson Hole. Several large lakes lie at the base of the mountains providing wonderful reflective pools. This makes the views of the Grand Teton spectacular and very photogenic.

Located just south of Yellowstone

Hiking in the Tetons Mountains © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The most popular activities in Grand Teton National Park are sightseeing, wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, backpacking and camping.

Grand Teton National Park contains nearly all of this mountain range and most of the large valley of Jackson Hole with its enclosed lakes, rivers and streams. The park is located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming near the borders of Idaho and Montana. It directly borders on Yellowstone National Park to the north. In fact, when you enter either Yellowstone NP or Grand Teton NP, your $20 entry fee allows you unlimited usage of both parks for one week.

Highway 191 passes from the northern entry at Yellowstone National Park, skirts along the shores of Jackson Lake, and follows the Snake River southward to the town of Jackson Wyoming at the southern end of Jackson Hole. Aside from the Teton Park Road that parallels 191 along the western edge of the valley and highway 26 that heads east to the village of Dubois Wyoming, there are very few roads in this park. Access to the peaks is primarily via hiking paths or horseback trails into the mountains.

Accommodations in and near the park

There are six service areas within Grand Teton National Park. Each area offers park information, lodging, camping, a restaurant and a convenience store. Some areas also offer auto service stations, riding stables or marinas. The lodging and the dining vary from moderately priced to expensive depending on location. Jenny Lake Lodge offers the nicest and most expensive lodging and dining in the park. Dornan's open-air chuck wagon at Moose Junction offers some of the most informal and inexpensive dining. There are a few additional lodging and dining options just east of the park along the road to Dubois and numerous accommodations and restaurants in Jackson Wyoming a few miles south of the park.

Dornan's Chuck Wagon near Grand Tetons National Park © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Dornan's open-air chuck wagon at Moose Junction offers some of the most informal and inexpensive dining.

The Jenny Lake Campground near the southern end of the park is one of the nicest spots for tent camping, as it is located along the shores of the lake within the shadow of the peaks. (This campground does not allow recreational vehicles or trailers and it has reserved sites for backpackers and bicycle campers) Jenny Lake campground usually fills early in the day during the summer, so plan on arriving early to secure your campsite. Lizard Creek Campground near the northern end of the park is also very nice and usually does not fill up. The other campgrounds are less secluded and they offer a few more amenities like hot showers. All campgrounds other than Jenny Lake accept RVs and trailers.

A place to experience unspoiled wilderness

Grand Teton National Park is the place to go if you want to escape civilization and wish to experience the unspoiled wilderness of the old west. The entire state of Wyoming covers nearly 98,000 sq. miles (254,000 sq km) and has a population of less than a half million. Wyoming is about the size of the United Kingdom with less than one percent of its population! The park is even more desolate as it contains no towns or villages within its 485 square miles. It does offer hundreds of miles of hiking paths, horseback trails and mountain climbing routes.

The most popular activities in Grand Teton National Park are sightseeing, wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, backpacking and camping. There are numerous vantage points along the roads and many short walking trails to additional vistas. You can drive to the top of 7593 ft (2314 m) Signal Mountain for unparalleled views of Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton Mountains and Jackson Lake. For serious hikers and backpackers, there are a variety of trailheads easily accessible from the roads and from the campgrounds. A small ferry can take you across Jenny Lake for quick access to some of the lower alpine trails into the mountain valleys or up to the summits. At Teton Village just south of the park boundary, an aerial tramway rises over 4,000 feet to the top of a 10,450 ft (3,185 m) mountain with some high-country trailheads.

Horseback riding, river rafting and mountain climbing

Jackson Park - Town Square in Jackson's Hole Wyoming © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Jackson once an isolated cowboy town, is now famous for its town square with four grand entry arches constructed entirely from elk antlers.

Horseback riding is another popular activity. Stables are located at Jackson Lake Junction, at Coulter Bay Village and at Flagg Ranch within the park. You can rent horses or participate in guided rides through many of the scenic areas. Many of the ranches near the park offer horse rentals and riding expeditions into Grand Teton Park.

The Snake River that flows the length of the park, is a great place for both white-water and calm-water boating or rafting. Several outfitters in the local area rent canoes, rafts or kayaks. They also offer guided whitewater adventures or scenic float trips on the Snake River.

The vertical rock faces and severe ruggedness of the mountains make a great place for mountain climbing, bouldering and alpine trekking. The peaks offer some world class technical climbing but they also offer trekking routes to the summits that can be completed without technical expertise. The American Alpine Club maintains a climbers ranch with dormitory accommodations, showers and cooking facilities a few miles south of Jenny Lake.

Winter elk herds and skiing

In the winter, Jackson Hole is a very popular ski resort. The town of Jackson is the center for several local ski areas with a variety of slopes. Teton Village with its 2.5 mile 4,000 feet tramway offers some of the most vertical and most challenging skiing in the USA. The southern end of Jackson Hole is also renown for its winter elk refuge. More than 7,000 elk migrate from the higher altitude summer pastures and form a vast herd at the southern edge of the valley around the town of Jackson. In the early spring, the bull elks engage in their mating ritual fights and eventually lose their antlers before returning to their summer pastures.

Jackson Wyoming

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson's Hole Wyoming © Mike Leco / Tourist.com
The "Million Dollar Cowboy Bar" with its stools made from real saddles remains the most popular attraction in Jackson.

The town of Jackson Wyoming is located at the southern end of Jackson Hole less than five miles from the park entrance. It was once an isolated cowboy town famous for its town square with four grand entry arches constructed entirely from elk antlers. The "Million Dollar Cowboy Bar" with its stools made from real saddles remains the most popular attraction. Today the village is still part cowboy town but is also a trendy tourist resort. It is filled with fancy restaurants, classy hotels, designer boutiques, art galleries and souvenir shops. The surrounding communities include expensive ski chalets, upscale vacation condos and luxurious mountain homes.

From Grand Teton National Park, it is only a one-hour drive north to Yellowstone National Park and some of most interesting geological features in the world. It is less than an hour drive across Teton Pass to Pierre's Hole on the eastern side of the mountains where the Caribou Targhee National Forest provides many wilderness opportunities for camping and hiking. Very few tourists venture to this side of the mountain range. Grand Targhee Resort Ski Area offers some less extreme skiing with far smaller crowds.

Grand Teton Weddings

The rustic log Chapel of Transfiguration sits on a rise just within the southern entrance of Grand Teton National Park. A large window behind its altar frames the magnificent beauty of these rugged mountains. This chapel has become a favorite spot for folks to get married. I think it is one of the ten most spectacularly beautiful places to have a wedding in the USA.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: The rustic log Chapel of Transfiguration