Named for the tallest Peak in the Teton Range, the Grand Teton towers at 13,776 feet high and is just one of the many snow-capped peaks that line this majestic mountain range. First becoming a National Park in 1929, the current size of the park was established in 1950 when Jackson Hole National Monument was eliminated and added to Grand Teton National Park. While many people just drive thru and enjoy a quick day here on their way to Yellowstone, this park is a true gem. We spent six days here exploring this wonderful area.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
JACKSON LAKE AND COLTER BAY VILLAGE/CAMPGROUND
Day 1: Arriving from the north, you will drive the John D. Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway. The Parkway is a 24,000 acre corridor that connects Yellowstone National Park to Grand Teton National Park and is named in honor of John D. Rockefeller who worked to help preserve numerous National Parks throughout the United States. Upon arriving to Grand Teton National Park, we got our first glimpse of the Tetons (a bit smoky, but still beautiful). We then headed straight to the Colter Bay Campground where campsites are first come, first serve. After getting setup, we headed over to Colter Bay Village & Visitor Center. Colter Bay Village offers cabin rentals, boat/kayak rentals, restaurants, gift shop, general store, laundry facilities and showers that are close to the Colter Bay Campground.
We then set off for Colter Bay Marina where our (1.5 hour) Jackson Lake Scenic Cruise departed from. The cruise provides a great narrative on the history and sights of the area and was a great way to learn a bit about the surrounding area while enjoying the scenery. Unfortunately, we were dealing with wildfire smoke and were not able to see much of the Tetons until we got closer on the other side of the lake. Also offered are Scenic Cruises that include Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner for a longer 2.5 hour cruise.
HERON POND/SWAN LAKE LOOP
After returning from the boat trip, we decided to hike the Hermitage Point Trail. This is actually a 10 mile hike, but you can choose to walk smaller portions and still see some great sights. We hiked the 3.2 miles Heron Pond/Swan Lake Loop portion. This is a great trail for spotting wildlife, both Heron Pond and Swan Lake are lily covered and provide for great bird watching environments - keep an eye out for Trumpeter Swans. Deer are also quite common in this area and we did happen to cross paths with one - overall this was a wonderful short trail that can be enjoyed by anyone!
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN SUMMIT AND VIEWPOINTS
Day 2: Still dealing with smoke from nearby wildfires, we started our morning at Signal Mountain Lodge and drove up Signal Mountain Summit Road. Along the way there are multiple overlooks including East View Overlook & Jackson Point Overlook - but it was so smoky we couldn't see much at all! As we continued back down the mountain and headed towards the Jenny Lake/String Lake/Leigh Lake Area, miraculously the smoke began to clear and the Grand Tetons finally began to appear before us!
Driving south along Teton Point Road, there are a number of great turnouts that offer amazing views of the Tetons - spend some time enjoying these great viewpoints: Potholes Turnout, Mount Moran Turnout, Mountain View Turnout and the Cathedral Group Turnout.
STRING LAKE TO LEIGH LAKE TRAIL
Upon arriving at String Lake, there is a nice String Lake Picnic area that we used to enjoy some lunch before heading out on our hike. With some nice fully bellies, we found the Leigh Lake Trailhead (2 miles roundtrip for the shorter hike). Hiking along the shore of String Lake will bring you to the southern shore of Leigh Lake - this is a great hike for all as there is very little elevation gain and it provides some great lake & mountain views! For a longer hike, continue walking along the shoreline of Leigh Lake for up to an 8 mile hike if desired.
JENNY LAKE LODGE & JENNY LAKE AREA
We then headed to Jenny Lake Lodge to view this historic spot - it has operated since the 1920's and provides some great views from the porch rocking chairs - sit & enjoy! This would definitely be a fun place to stay on a future trip.
Driving further south, we stopped in at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center (which was closed for upgrades) but enjoyed some beautiful (but super windy) views of Jenny Lake. After a couple more stops driving south along Teton Point Road and enjoying some of the viewpoints (Jenny Lake Overlook, Cascade Canyon Turnout, Teton Glacier Turnout & Windy Point Turnout) it was time for some dinner! As we were close to Moose Junction, we happened across Dornan's Chuckwagon. Situated with outdoor dining and great views of the Tetons, this is a great place to enjoy some wonderful chuckwagon style food!
FISHING ON THE SNAKE RIVER
Day 3: To start off this morning, we started off with a bit of fishing on the Snake River. First we headed down the Cattle Bridge Road - this gravel road takes you to the Snake River where a bridge used to span the river and was used for cattle crossing. Today, the bridge is gone but the name remains. While we didn't fish here, this was a beautiful spot to enjoy the river. We then headed south to the River Access near Morris Junction and spent part of the morning fishing.
TWO OCEAN LAKE TRAIL
With no luck fishing, it was time to continue onto the Two Ocean Lake area. The Two Ocean Lake area provides for a wonderful 7 mile hike around the lake with only 50 feet in elevation gain. While we did not do this entire hike, we did spend some time walking around the shoreline and enjoying a wonderful picnic lunch here. Unfortunately, the wildfire smoke was pretty heavy again, hampering our views across the lake towards the mountains.
LAURANCE S. ROCKEFELLER PRESERVE
Continuing south, we headed to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. The Rockefellers played a big part in the creation of Grand Teton National Park as they donated 33,000 acres to the park back in 1949. In 2001, the Rockefellers donated another 1,106 acres of their private land which now makes up the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve within Grand Teton National Park. Within the Preserve is a great Visitor's Center and over 16 miles of hiking trails. We chose to hike to Phelps Lake via the 3 mile Lake Creek - Woodland Trail Loop. Beginning at the Visitor Center, the trail follows Lake Creek thru the forest then opens up to views of Death Canyon upon reaching Phelps Lake. This area is absolute paradise - we stopped on the southern shore of Phelps Lake to dip our feet in and enjoy the stunning views. If you want to continue your hike, you can continue around the shoreline of Phelps Lake for a total of 6.3 miles.
TETON VILLAGE & BRIDGER GONDOLA
After spending time spending a large amount of time playing along the shoreline at Phelps Lake, it was getting close to dinner time, so we drove to Teton Village. Just south of Grand Teton National Park sits Teton Village & the Jackson Hole Ski Resort - famous as a world-class ski area. Both a winter and summer destination, Teton Village is a great spot to stop in and enjoy one of it's wonderful restaurants. We stopped into enjoy dinner at the famous Mangy Moose which includes two restaurants, a saloon, a grocery store and a couple of gift shops. After dinner, we bundled up and headed to the Bridger Gondola (it can be quite chilly at the top of Rendezvous Mountain even in summer). The Bridger Gondola is free after 5pm in the summer and provides wonderful views out over the valley. At the top, with an elevation of 9,095 feet are two restaurants and various hiking trails that can be used in the summer. We choose to just wander area and enjoy the views (even if it was a bit smoky, it was still a fun activity - our son loved riding the Gondola!)
Day 4: Located just south of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson is a wonderful place to spend a day while visiting the Tetons. Often called Jackson Hole - Jackson Hole is actually referring to the valley in which it is located. Jackson brings a bit of the 'Wild West' to life with daily shootouts in the center of town, horse drawn carriage rides and it's fantastic antler arches that welcome visitors to the Jackson Town Square. After dealing with wildfire smoke for the first few days of our time in the Tetons, the rain moved in and let loose on us for the day. Luckily, we were able to duck in and out of shops as the showers and some of the loudest thunder we've ever heard passed thru the area. Click Here to read more about our day in Jackson.
JENNY LAKE SHUTTLE TO HIDDEN FALLS & INSPIRATION POINT
Day 5: Up bright and early, we headed to Jenny Lake to catch the Jenny Lake Shuttle (runs every 15 minutes 7am -7pm, no reservations needed). The shuttle service provides a quick trip across Jenny Lake to the base of Mount Teewinot. Once on the other side of the lake there are various trails that can be hiked (taking the shuttle eliminates 2 miles of hiking to reach these trailheads).
We choose to hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point which is about a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike. Scenic boat rides, viewing waterfalls and beautiful views of Jenny Lake make this area a very popular destination of the park. In the summer, get here early to avoid the heavy crowds. Once the shuttle arrives on the other side of Jenny Lake, you will start your hike along the banks of Cascade Creek, along the way there will be a spur trail to view Hidden Falls. After visiting the Falls, continue onto Inspiration Point for another 1.1 miles with about 400 feet in elevation gain. While this is a bit steep and will get your heart pumping, the views are definitely worth it!
CRAIG THOMAS DISCOVERY & VISITOR CENTER
After heading back on the boat shuttle, we headed south to the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center near Moose Junction. Opened in 2007, this modern state of the art visitor center features some great informational exhibits and wonderful views of the area. Don't forget to get your National Parks Passport stamp!
MENOR'S FERRY HISTORIC DISTRICT
Then for the rest of the day, we took in some of the history of the area - first stopping at the Menor's Ferry Historic District. Named for the ferry that used to cross the Snake River, Menor's Ferry is a great stop to learn a bit of history about some of the original homesteaders of the area. The ferry itself was operated until 1927 until a bridge was built over the river at Moose. Bill Menor first began this homestead in 1892 and in addition the ferry operations, the area includes a five room cabin, a store, a barn and numerous sheds that have been restored and can be explored. The store is actually still run by the Grand Teton Association and is a great place to buy an old fashioned Sarsaparilla soda and enjoy some cookies baked in the wood burning oven.
CHAPEL OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
Also, located within the Menor's Ferry Historic District is the Chapel of the Transfiguration. It was built in 1925 so that homesteaders wouldn't have to travel into Jackson for church services. To this day it is still an active church and is a popular spot for weddings due to it's scenic views of the Tetons.
Next continue with a drive along the Hwy 89 Overlooks and Turnouts - these many stops provide for some of the best views of the Teton Range anywhere in the park. Spend half a day just taking in the sights and putting your photography skills to work. Heading north on Hwy 89, turn onto Antelope Flats Road to reach Mormon Row. Mormon settlers first arrived in this area in the 1890s and established 27 homesteads that we now call Mormon Row. These homesteaders were some of the few that were able to survive in the harsh environment. Today a handful of the homes and barns still remain, creating a setting that is one of the most photographed areas of the Teton Range.
HWY 89 VIEWPOINTS
Continuing back to Hwy 89 and heading north, stop to enjoy all the various viewpoints along the way. Each turnout or overlook provides a unique view of the area: Blacktail Ponds Overlook, Glacier View Turnout, Schwabacher Landing, Tieton Point Turnout, Snake River Overlook & Elk Ranch Flats Turnout are all worth a stop! This area of Grand Teton National Park is just stunning!
JACKSON LAKE LODGE - WILLOW FLATS - OXBOW BEND
Day 6: For our last day in Grand Teton National Park, we spent the morning exploring the Jackson Lake Junction Area: Start off the morning by heading to the Jackson Lake Lodge. We always love to visit the 'Parkitecture' within our National Parks and the Jackson Lake Lodge is a beauty - sit and enjoy the beautiful views from the outside patio or inside the lobby enjoy the 60 foot floor to ceiling windows that offer outstanding views of the Teton Range. From Jackson Lake Lodge, follow the Lunch Tree Hill Trail. This great little hike is 0.5 miles roundtrip and offers great views over Willow Flats and the Teton Range. Further down the road there is a also the Willow Flats Overlook that is worth a view and make sure to keep an eye out for Moose as they are common in this area.
With the smoke finally gone - we ventured out to Oxford Bend to enjoy the iconic view of the Snake River with the Tetons in the background, what a stunning view! This is one of the most photographed spots in the park and it's easy to see why!
JACKSON LAKE DAM
Jackson Lake Dam was our next stop - built in 1906, before the area became a National Park, this spot is worth a quite stop to enjoy the views. There is also river access along the Snake River here that makes for a nice area to play along the river's edge.
TAGGART LAKE TRAIL
For the afternoon, we drove south past the Jenny Lake Area to the Taggart Lake Trailhead area. This area is a starting point for multiple different hikes - we chose to hike the Taggart Lake Trail (3.2 miles roundtrip). This was a our favorite hike of the trip! This is a great trail for anyone with minimal elevation gain and beautiful views of the Tetons thru the entire hike - ending at beautiful Taggart Lake!
BAR T-5 COVERED WAGON COOKOUT & SHOW
With our time in the Tetons coming to an end - we spent our last night here with a special evening at the Bar T-5 Covered Wagon Cookout & Show. After a beautiful sunny day, the rain clouds rolled back in for the evening as we set off for this adventure (thank goodness you are undercover during the wagon ride and during the dinner). Getting into the true cowboy spirit, horse-drawn covered wagons whisk you away to Cache Creek Canyon. Getting to ride in a covered wagon was a real treat - especially for our 2 1/2 year old son - he had a blast! Upon arriving to our destination, it was time to eat! Rolls, salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, BBQ chicken and roast beef filled that appetite we worked up hiking earlier - make sure and save some room for dessert! The Bar-T-5 band then entertained us with great western music & humor! By the end of the evening, our son was dancing & clapping along becoming part of the entertainment himself! We had a wonderful time and highly recommend this to anyone interested in some good western fun!
Interested in planning your own trip to Grand Teton National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day 1: Enter Grand Tetons, arrive by noon at Colter Bay Campground to get campsite (first come, first serve). Explore Colter Bay Village & Visitor Center (open til 7pm), catch Jackson Lake Boat Tour (book for 3:15pm), then hike Heron Pond/Swan Lake Loop (3.2 miles roundtrip)
Day 2: Signal Mountain Area: Signal Mountain Lodge, Signal Mountain Summit Road with East View Overlook & Jackson Point Overlook, then Potholes Turnout & Mount Moran Turnout. String Lake/Leigh Lake Area: Mountain View Turnout, Cathedral Group Turnout, Drive to String Lake - have lunch at String Lake picnic area. Then head to Leigh Lake Trailhead (2 miles roundtrip). Swim in String Lake after hiking (if warm enough). North Jenny Lake Area: Jenny Lake Lodge, Jenny Lake Overlook (keep an eye out - easy to miss), Cascade Canyon Turnout, Jenny Lake Visitor Center, drive thru Lupine Meadows, then Durnan’s Chuckwagon for dinner in Moose.
Day 3: Drive to Cattle Bridge Road & Morris Junction River Access for fishing on Snake River, hike the Two Ocean Lake Trail (7 mile trail along shoreline of lake, hike as much or little as wanted before turning around), Laurance S Rockefeller Preserve (Visitor Center, hike Lake Creek - Woodland Trail Loop to Phelps Lake - 3 miles roundtrip), Head to Teton Village, explore village & have dinner at the Mangy Moose. Ride the Bridger Gondola (open 9-9, free rides after 5).
Day 4: Explore Jackson: Town Square, Antler Arch, Town Square Stagecoach Rides (departs from corner of Town Square $6-10 per person), spend time exploring and shopping the many stores in downtown Jackson. 6pm Jackson Hole Shootout.
Day 5: South Jenny Lake and Moose Junction Area: Take Jenny Lake Shuttle (every 15 minutes 7am-7pm, no reservations, try for 8am shuttle). Once on the other side of Jenny Lake - hike to Hidden Falls and Lower Inspiration Point (1.6 miles roundtrip), then Teton Glacier Turnout, Windy Point Turnout, Craig Thomas Visitor Center and Menor’s Ferry Historic District/Chapel of the Transfiguration (at the general store buy a Sarsaparilla soda and cookie from wood burning oven). Hwy 89 Overlooks & Turnouts: Heading north on Hwy 89, turn onto Antelope Flats Road to reach Mormon Row, then continue north to other viewpoints: (Blacktail Ponds Overlook, Glacier View Turnout, Schwabacher Landing, Tieton Point Turnout, Snake River Overlook & Elk Ranch Flats Turnout)
Day 6: Jackson Lake Junction Area: Jackson Lake Lodge, Lunch Tree Hill (0.5 miles roundtrip), Willow Flats, Oxbow Bend, Jackson Lake Dam, then south to Taggart Lake Trail (3.2 roundtrip) Can continue to Bradley Lake - less than a mile more from Taggart Lake with 120 feet in elevation gain. Bar-T-5 Covered Wagon Cookout & Show