Nestled just north of Jackson, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is a must-see for anyone in the area, as well as those willing to make a longer journey. Renown for its razor-sharp peaks that tower over 12,000 feet in complete grandeur, Grand Teton National Park is a favorite among climbers, hikers, fishermen, photographers and more. The park is also known for its accessibility and is just as beautiful from the window of your car on a quick drive by as it is on a five-day hiking excursion. That said, the inside of the park is teaming with wildlife and adventure, and the deeper into the craggy mountains you travel, the more there is to see. So if you have the time and ability, I recommend a few day hikes or spending an overnight trek in the Tetons and experiencing the full extent of all the park has to offer.
Note: At the time of the publishing of this article, the fire restrictions have been lifted for Federal lands in Grand Teton and the road between Grand Teton and Yellowstone is open. Go here for the most recent updates.
The Drive: The drive to Jackson, WY is just under eight hours. If you are leaving in the morning, camping is a good route to take. If you’re planning on heading up after work, I would recommend finding a hotel in Jackson for the night.
The Wildlife: Grand Teton National Park is considered an area with high bear activity. Hikers should be prepared for bear encounters and carry bear spray with them at all times.
The Park: Grand Teton National Park begins 4.5 miles north of Jackson. The park has three entrance stations, the closest from Jackson being the Moose entrance station. The park fee is $30 per vehicle, but you can purchase a pass for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton for $50.
Notable Stops Along the Way
Bitter Creek Brewing, Rock Springs, WY – Right around this time, chances are you’ll be both starving and itching to stretch your legs. Grab a pint and a burger at Bitter Creek Brewery. Their beers are brewed onsite and the food is good and reasonably priced. Keep in mind there aren’t many stops along the route to Jackson, so you should take food and beer as they come.
Medicine Bow National Forest – Got some extra time budgeted into your road trip? Check out Medicine Bow National Forest. While this national forest doesn’t necessarily boat the grandeur and renown peaks of the Tetons, it’s both beautiful and uncrowded. There you’ll find some hikes and treks that rival those in Grand Teton National Park without the hoards of national park-goers.
Town Square, Jackson, WY – Jackson is an adorable cowboy mountain town with art galleries, delicious restaurants, souvenir shops and more all wrapped together by the Jackson Town Square, with its famous elk antler arches. During the summer months, you can enjoy a scenic horse carriage ride around the park. Tuesday through Thursday at 10:30 a.m. during the summer months, the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum provides a free walking tour of Jackson starting in Town Square. During the chilly the winter months, the Town Square transforms into an ice skating rink!
The Bird, Jackson, WY – This local bar and eatery offers delicious food options, refreshing microbrews and an unbeatable view of the area from the deck. Known for their burger selection and tasty wings, this is your one-stop-shop for bar food that doesn’t suck.
Where to Camp
Camping preferences range from full hookups for RVs to walk-up and reservable tent sites to hike-to backcountry havens (where a permit is required). If possible, I recommend reserving a backcountry permit during the allotted period of time or getting to one of the visitor’s centers the day before or when they open at 8 a.m.
Backcountry Camping in GTNP
Pro tip: From the first Wednesday in January through May 15, you can reserve backcountry sites online at nps.gov for $35.
*Bear-proof canisters are required for all backcountry stays. You may “rent” these in the visitor center.
- Sites go quickly, so if you’re outside the time to reserve a permit, arrive at one of the visitor centers the day before your trip or 8 a.m. the morning of.
- $25 walk-up permits, $35 to reserve ahead (during allotted period)
- During peak season (July and August) the competition increases for these hard-to-get permits.
- Death Canyon Shelf offers amazing views of the craggy Teton Peaks.
- Cascade Canyon South Fork is another great option for camping, with stunning vistas of more waterfalls than you can count (hence, the name).
- Marion Lake is a beautiful lake along the Granite Trail on the way to Death Canyon. You must camp 300 feet from all lakes and 100 feet from all streams.
- Lower Paintbrush Canyon Zone begins three miles from the String Lake parking area. The Upper Paintbrush camping zone is 1.5 miles below the lower Holly Lake Trail junction. You may camp on either side of the trail. Some camping areas are marked by signs.
- Granite and Open Canyon is located on the western side of the park, closest to Teton Village and the tram. You can take the tram up the mountain and cut out a major hike to this spot. You can camp in either the lower or upper Granite Canyon camping zones. Some camping sites are marked by signage.
- Visit the NPS website for more information, including rules and regulations for backcountry camping.
- Groups of 7-12 people must camp in designated group sites indicated on the brochure map.There are a number of reservable group sites in each camping area that can accommodate up to 75 people. Group sites can be booked when obtaining your backcountry permits at one of the visitor centers.
*Campground fees change each year; visit the campground webpages for more information. Fees vary for electric hookups.
- Colter Bay Campground is 25 miles north of Moose, with 335 sites, 11 group sites, 13 electric hookup sites, trailer dump station, showers and laundry. Colter Bay is a wooded campground with larger sites and easier access if you are traveling with a camper, trailer or RV. Close to Jackson Lake. Phone: 307-543-3296
- Jenny Lake Campground is eight miles north of Moose, has 49 sites and offers sites for tents only. This is the park’s most popular campground and is generally full before 10 a.m., so plan accordingly. Sites are in among the evergreens and glacial boulders a short distance from Jenny Lake. Only one vehicle, less than 14 feet long and eight feet tall, is permitted per site. Trailers and pop-up tops are prohibited. Phone: 307-543-3296
- Lizard Creek campground sits at the north end of Grand Teton National Park, about 32 miles north of Moose, offers 60 sites and generally offers availability. It is a less heavily developed campground with sites in the woods. One side of the campground is adjacent to and slightly above Jackson Lake. Vehicle size limited to 30 feet. Phone: 307-543-2831
- Signal Mountain is nine miles north of Jenny Lake, and offers 81 sites, 24 electric hookup sites and a trailer dump station. In peak season, this popular site usually fills by noon. Signal Mountain offers a mix of forest, hillside and mountain views. It is adjacent to Signal Mountain Lodge and marina with a camp store and amenities close by. Sites are generally smaller and intimate.
Outside the Park
- Shadow Mountain is a lesser-known camping area across the valley, which offers some of the most breathtaking views of the entire Teton park, including the craggy peaks for which it is renown. From Highway 191, turn right down Antelope Flats Road (which is closed from November through May) then turn left onto Shadow Mountain Road. You will find amazing dispersed camping sites along this road and such grand views of the Tetons that you’ll forget you didn’t have to pay to enter the park.
Not “Wild” About Camping?
There are a number of rustic cabins available at Jenny Lake Lodge and Jackson Lake Lodge also offers (semi-overpriced) rooms that look like your standard road trip motel.
Where to Hike
Because of the nature of the Tetons’ jagged-edged, vertical peaks, easy and flat day hikes are few and far between. But there are a number of easy to moderate hikes suitable for most people in reasonably good shape. Always be prepared with extra layers, food, water purifier, rain gear, flash lights or headlamps, an emergency medical kit and other survival supplies. Pro Tip: It is recommended hikers carry bear spray at all times. You can purchase bear spray at most outdoor stores. Check out this site for more information on Bear Safety.
- Jenny Lake Loop – This 7.4-mile loops is paved and good for all skill levels, offering stunning views of the lake without the effort. The loop begins at the East Shore Boat Dock and you can choose to take the lake clockwise or counter-clockwise.
- Jenny Lake Trailhead to Cascade Canyon Fork – Take the ferry across Jenny Lake and hike up to Inspiration Point for stunning views of the lake and the outlying lands. For a longer trek, you can continue up and through amazing views of the Tetons until you reach the fork for Cascade Canyon. This is a popular hike, so expect to have some company on this 12.3-mile out and back trail.
- Taggart Lake – This 3.9-mile loop is rated as moderate and will offer some great views of the mountain range. A popular day hike, be prepared to get there relatively early to secure your spot in the parking lot.
- Lake Solitude – This hike is more of a push than others listed, but completely worth the trek. You can shave off a few miles by taking the Jenny Lake ferry, but still this 14.4-mile hike will take six to seven hours, so plan accordingly because the last shuttle departs the boat dock at 7 p.m. This hike also boasts a notable elevation gain of over 2,240 feet, so hikers seeking a challenge should check out this jaunt.
- Phelps Lake Trail – this 7.7-mile loop is rated easy to moderate and boasts some of the great Teton views and scenery without the extra exertion.
- Paintbrush Divide Loop – This 18.1-mile loop is one of the more popular backcountry routes in Grand Teton National Park and is extremely busy from July through August. Take two to three days on your trek and enjoy the stunning scenery along Cascade Canyon and Paintbrush Divide, though extreme athletes could probably make this spree in one very exhausting day. The climb isn’t terrible, with a 3,775-foot elevation gain throughout.
- Death Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon – This 36-mile jaunt is accessed via most of the Teton Crest Trail. Begin at the Death Canyon trailhead and end at the String Lake Parking area. The scenery through Death Canyon and along Hurricane Pass is unbeatable.
- Granite Canyon Trailhead to Death Canyon – To access this 24.7-mile trek, begin at the Granite Canyon Trailhead and traverse along Teton Crest trail, through breathtaking passes and captivating canyons to the Death Canyon Trailhead. There will be points along Granite Canyon where you’ll be hard-pressed to see another person and it’s truly magical.
- Teton Crest Trail – The longest of the hikes, this 40-mile jaunt can be accessed and completed a variety of different ways. You can begin at String Lake or Granite Canyon or you can even take the tram from Jackson Hole up and save yourself some mileage (this makes the hike around 34 miles). The full hike takes anywhere from three to five days, but if you can budget the time, take it slow and immerse yourself in all the beauty of Grand Teton National Park.