Bucket List May 18, 2021
Grand Teton National Park: A Wyoming Wonder In The Jackson Hole Valley
Every year, millions of people travel to Wyoming to visit
Yellowstone National Park. While the nation’s first National Park certainly deserves all of the attention that it gets, plenty of people walking the boardwalks and watching the geysers don’t realize that they’re just a few miles away from another world of wonders – Grand Teton National Park.
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Grand Teton National Park is a Wyoming wonder, and every year visitors fall in love with the unique scenery in the Jackson Hole valley.
Yellowstone National Park, which sits directly north of Grand Teton, was the country's first National Park, established in 1872. It took nearly 80 years for Grand Teton National Park to be founded after Yellowstone, and the formation of the park brought controversy to the otherwise peaceful Jackson Hole valley.
In the early 1900s, the residents of Western Wyoming faced off with varying opinions about whether federal oversight of Wyoming lands was necessary, or if the takeover of these natural wonders would result in over-regulation and control of once wild and free lands. In the end, the park was established in 1950, and the result has been the preservation of wilderness and wildlife, allowing the land around the towns of Moose and Moran, Wyoming to escape the industrialization that has crept into Jackson Hole over the past several decades.
Today, the park consists of 310,000 acres of mountain and valley land and dozens of beautiful alpine lakes that sit in the foothills of the mountains, up in the canyons, and on the valley floor.
It's a fairly small and narrow park that stretches 45 miles from north to south, and the park boundary is just 26 miles across at its widest point.
There are several lodging options within the park, from primitive campgrounds to full RV sites, cabins, and even full-service resort-style lodges. To choose your ideal home away from home,
visit the Grand Teton Lodge Company website
The Snake River winds its way through the park, and the sight of Mount Moran sitting above the river's Oxbow Bend is one of the park's most iconic views.
If you're a morning person, you'll want to wake up early enough to catch the sunrise at Schwabacher's Landing.
This quiet spot is a bit off the beaten path and requires a short hike to access. The path is fairly well maintained and graded. It's common to see moose and elk here, particularly just after sunrise. When you visit, be sure to keep your distance from the moose; they're wild animals and may charge when provoked or when they feel threatened.
Oxbow Bend was once made famous by the iconic photographer Ansel Adams, who captured its pristine beauty. Today, photographers line up at sunset to try to find their own interpretation of the scene.
Oxbow Bend is a popular spot for wildlife watching. Unique birds like pelicans and herons make their home here, as do muskrats, river otters, and moose. If you're lucky, you'll see a bear! The park is home to both grizzlies and black bears.
As bears are common within the park boundaries, it's important to brush up on basic bear safety before you head out. Even if you plan to stay on the most popular trails, you should always carry bear spray.
When you check in to your campground or head out on a hike, ask the rangers about recent bear activity. They can also teach you about proper food storage (in a bear box or in your car, always!) and give you tips on how to avoid a - pardon the pun -
For the most part, bears in the park will leave you alone and keep their distance. To avoid startling them, hike in groups and make noise as you make your way down the trail.
Jenny Lake is perhaps the most famous of the park's crystal-clear glacial lakes.
Though it isn't the biggest - that honor belongs to Jackson Lake - it is home to a luxury lodge, a primitive campground, and miles of shoreline that will make you feel like you've stepped into a fairytale.
One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Jenny Lake is to take a ferry across it. Boats run every 10-15 minutes and take you from one end of the lake all the way to the base of Mount Teewinot.
The photo below shows just how enormous these mountains are compared to the dock below! From this dock, you'll access the most popular trails in the entire park.
is the name of the valley between Mount St. John and Mount Teewinot, and it offers a relatively easy way to access the park's backcountry without having to struggle through significant elevation gain.
From the boat dock, you'll have access to the trails toward Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, or into the Canyon itself, which eventually splits into North and South forks. The North Fork takes you to Lake Solitude and the Paintbrush Divide, and the South Fork brings you along to Hurricane Pass.
The easiest trails to take from the Jenny Lake dock will show off stunning views from Inspiration Point and take you to discover Hidden Falls.
The trail to
is two miles out-and-back, and from the top, you'll have a great view across Jenny Lake and over the flat valley floor. Along the way, you'll follow Cascade Creek as it tumbles down short, rocky waterfalls that clearly show why the waterway was named as such.
On your way to Inspiration Point, keep an eye out for a side trail that takes you to Hidden Falls.
This is another landmark name that's easy to understand! Hidden Falls is tucked away behind a wall of pines. If you didn't know it was there, you would easily hike on by! For the entire journey up to the falls and to Inspiration Point,
you'll only gain 200 feet in elevation
, making this an easy trek for inexperienced hikers and families.
If you're looking for a more challenging hike, skip Inspiration Point and head straight into Cascade Canyon itself.
If you hike from the boat dock to the forks and back, you'll cover more than nine miles and gain around 1,100 feet in elevation. The trail consists of switchbacks and stairs for the first mile and a half or so, before opening up to a much more gradual slope in the canyon itself. As you walk along this rocky and narrow path, you'll have your eyes glued to the towering mountains above.
While hiking to the fork and back makes for an excellent day trip, there are opportunities to head North or South to extend your adventure. North takes you to Lake Solitude, which is a breathtaking and hidden spot in the backcountry. From there, you can continue up the steep and rocky Paintbrush Divide into Paintbrush Canyon, making your entire hike just over 20 miles. While the Cascade/Paintbrush Loop is one of the most beautiful hikes in the country, it is only for the most experienced hikers and it's best to split it with an overnight at a backcountry campground.
If you head south at the fork, you'll find yourself encountering Schoolroom Glacier and Hurricane Pass at the park boundary. This is another backcountry adventure that's for experienced hikers and best done as an overnight. If you're interested in hiking these challenging treks, check in with the rangers when you arrive in the park to hear about current trail conditions, snowpack information, and recent bear activity.
Cascade Canyon can get pretty crowded, but there are dozens of other trails you can explore, and each one takes you to a new natural wonder. One of the most beautiful treks that's off-the-beaten-path will lead you to Delta Lake.
Delta Lake is a too-beautiful-to-be-real glacial lake that's about half a mile from Surprise Lake, which can be accessed via the Lupine Meadows.
The hike down to Delta Lake
involves finding an unmarked (but relatively heavily trafficked) trail and scrambling down a scree field until you reach this incredible view.
If you're up for an overnight hike and you're looking for a challenge, there are several summits in the park that are less "hikes" than "climbs".
These include Disappointment Peak, Middle Teton, and South Teton. Disappointment Peak involves some exposed scrambling and route finding can be tricky. South and Middle Teton are both best done as overnights, with backcountry camping in Garnet Canyon. Both involve climbing through scree.
All backcountry camping in GTNP does require a permit
There are plenty of summits within the park and the Teton Range that don't involve technical climbs, but if you're looking to access them safely, it's best to tackle them with a guide.
lead hikes and climbs in the park and can help you determine the best summit for your skill level and time constraints.
Exum Guides can also take you on the park's signature high-adrenaline adventure - a climb of the legendary Grand Teton itself.
While most people visit Grand Teton National Park in the summer when hiking is easiest and the park's amenities are open, some choose to head here in the winter for the country's best backcountry skiing.
Not all of the wonders in the park are natural wonders - there are many historic structures that have been preserved as a relic of early Wyoming pioneer life.
The entire Jackson Hole Valley was a hotspot for migrants and fur traders, and some of their homesteads are still standing. Perhaps none is more famous than the Moulton Barns on the Antelope Flats, built by the Moulton family in the 1890s.
, as it is now known, is a popular spot for photographers to gather at sunrise to capture first light on the Teton range.
The Chapel of the Transfiguration is a sacred site within the park, and even those who aren't religious will find serenity here.
One man-made spot that's often overlooked is the Cunningham Cabin. This homestead was established in the 1880s and is one of the few remaining structures from that era still standing.
Can you imagine making your life here? Today, the cabin is empty, but the ranch is home to a herd of horses that seem to enjoy running and rolling in the sprawling fields
Accessibility : All lodges, except for the Grand Teton Climber’s Ranch, offer some accessible rooms or cabins. Gros Ventre, Jenny Lake, and Colter Pay campgrounds are on flat terrain that should be navigable for visitors with mobility impairments. All three of the above campgrounds also offer partially accessible bathroom facilities. There are several accessible trails and the park is continually working on improving access to the natural beauty in the area for all. For more information, view the park’s accessibility guide here.
Pet Friendly : While we love to travel with our pets, Grand Teton National Park is not the best place to bring your pup. If you must bring your dog along, be aware that they have to stay within 30 feet of roadways at any given time, be leashed, and cannot be left unattended. Additionally, no dogs are allowed on park trails or in park waters. For more details, visit the park’s pet regulations page here.
Parking : Parking areas at popular trailheads may fill up, but there are improved lots at most of the visitor centers and facilities. Additionally, the park’s main roads offer multiple scenic turnout viewpoints, where you can park and take in the most iconic sights.
Seasonal Access: The park is open 24/7 all year long, but amenities and services are limited from November through April. In the winter, all campgrounds and most visitor centers are closed, and the main road through the park is only open to snowshoe and ski traffic. Most visitors plan their trip between May and September.
Cost : Grand Teton National Park charges an entrance fee. For private cars, the cost is $35. For motorcycles, it’s $30, and for anyone arriving on foot or by bicycle, the fee is $20. Your pass is good for seven consecutive days from purchase. Yellowstone National Park charges a separate entrance fee as well, and visitors to both parks are encouraged to purchase an annual National Parks pass.
Feeling inspired to fill your Bucket List? Check out our previous features of Havasu Falls, Molokini Crater, and the beautiful Shenandoah National Park, then subscribe to our weekly Bucket List newsletter to discover new destinations across the country that definitely deserve a visit. Address: 103 Headquarters Rd, Moose, WY 83012, USA