Have you decided to visit Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyoming? If so, read on! We will share our experience visiting the park in an epic road trip, our full 5 day itinerary and things to do with lots of pictures and videos so you know what to expect! We will also include our list of top things to do in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton in case you only have 3 days, or maybe even just 1 day to spend visiting Grand Teton National Park.
Here are the topics we will cover in this post and other related posts. Click on any link to skip to the relevant section.
Table of Contents
What is Grand Teton National Park Famous For?
Grand Teton National Park is a beautiful untouched wilderness of over 310,000 square miles just a hop, skip and a jump away from the quaint, historic town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s known for it’s rising peaks (especially the 13,770 ft tall Grand Teton) that are as grand today as they were thousands of years ago when man first stepped foot into the Jackson Hole Valley.
This series of peaks stand as silent, prehistoric guardians of a landscape unchanged for centuries. During your stay you will experience breathtaking postcard perfect landscapes, crystal blue lakes with lots of water activities, over 200 miles of trails in the wilderness where you can hike in solitude till your feet cave in, and of course lots of wildlife – bears, moose, elk and deer. They can often be seen right by the roadside, but also expect to run into them in longer hikes. Carry a bear spray!
“Of all the places in the rocky mountains that I know, it is the most beautiful, and, as it lies too high for man to build and prosper in, its trees and waters should be kept from man’s irresponsible destruction” – Owen Winster, 1876
Grand Teton area map
Here is the map of Grand Teton from the NPS website to get you oriented with the park. There are 5 intersections (marked in red) on Teton Park Road which is the main artery in the park. Note that this road is closed Nov – May due to snow conditions.
- Moose Junction is the closest intersection from Jackson, where you can detour to Phelps Lake, Mormon Row & Shadow Mountain. This will be the first intersection you hit when entering the park from Jackson.
- South Jenny Lake Junction is where you can catch the boat shuttle to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Falls & Cascade Canyon. Probably the most popular area in the entire park.
- North Jenny Lake Junction is where you can take a hike to Paintbrush Canyon and visit String Lake & Leigh Lake. It is also where Jenny Lake Lodge is located.
- Jackson Lake Junction leads to Jackson Lake on one end and Colter Bay on the other. You can also exit the park and head to Yellowstone National Park from here.
- Moran Junction that takes you out of the park on the east side. No major attractions on this side, other than the RV park that we stayed at.
Where to stay in Jackson Hole Wyoming & Grand Teton
When visiting Grand Teton National Park, the town of Jackson, Wyoming is THE PLACE to stay. It is only 5 miles from the south entrance to the park and has plenty of hotels, shops, restaurants, and touristy things to do. Make sure you book your trip months in advance though as the hotel rooms can get booked fast all year round. There aren’t very many options other than Jackson that are convenient to access the park. If you’d like to stay inside the park, Jenny Lake Lodge is right by the Jenny Lake and is a very popular option. You can also stay at Signal Mountain Lodge, or Jackson Lake Lodge, both of which offer lakeside accommodations.
Camping & RV
If you’re doing the trip in an RV like we did, you may want to check out Fireside Buffalo Valley RV Park which is just outside the north entrance of the park past Moran junction. The RV park itself was ok (we’ve been to better ones) but we chose it because its only 4 miles to the north entrance. Other campsites within the park are Jenny Lake Campground and Signal Mountain Campground
How many days to spend in Grand Teton?
There are so many things to do in Grand Teton, that you can easily spend more than a week here and do a different set of activities every day. Most people spend 3-5 days though, and combine a visit to Grand Teton with Yellowstone National Park which is only 70 miles north. We recommend spending at least 5 days here to be able to do some of the longer hikes and enjoy the breathtaking scenery without being rushed. That said, if you’re short on time, 3 full days should be enough to get you a taste of the Tetons.
We spent 5 days in the Tetons and have compiled a list of the must do things in the park. Following is our day by day itinerary.
DAY 1: Getting to know the park
Scenic drive around park
As you enter the park on Highway 191, you can’t miss the majestic Teton range on the west side. The first thing to do in the park is to drive on a 48 mile loop around the park. The drive let’s you see the breathtaking scenery from different viewpoints along the road. By the end of this drive, you will surely be ready to have a closer look at the parks many attractions! Here are some of our pictures from the Scenic Drive around the Tetons.
Phelps Lake Trail
We started exploring Grand Teton from the South end on Phelps Lake Trail which is a 4.7 mile roundtrip with a 965 feet elevation gain. Along the way about a mile into the trail, there is an overlook that has amazing views of the lake. You can also continue on to the Death Canyon hike, which is 10.5 mile roundtrip and is rated “difficult” due to the 2800ft elevation gain. Check out our video of the hike to Phelps Lake.
DAY 2: Lakeside picnic and a hike to waterfalls
One of the more popular areas of the park is Jenny Lake which is a prime location for scenic tours and motorboating. It also serves as a starting point for many hikers that often choose to hike the 7 mile Jenny Lake trail that loops around the lake itself, or the dozens of other nearby trailheads. We spent an afternoon here by the lakeshore and it was a perfect way to relax in the Tetons.
Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point
Jenny Lake has a boat shuttle that takes you to the other side of the lake (for a roundtrip fee of $18 per person) to the trailhead for Hidden Falls, Inspiration point and Cascade Canyon. Most people do the Hidden Falls and Inspiration point hikes, both of which are fairly easy 2.5 miles roundtrip. Cascade Canyon hike is 9 mile round trip with a 1000+ ft elevation gain, and you can continue further to Solitude lake which adds another 2.7 mile one way.
The biggest lake in the Tetons, Jackson Lake is not to be missed. As you enter the park from Moran junction, the Teton Park road leads to right into the Jackson Dam, which is the origin of the Snake River. A short walk along the dam is a great way to spend an evening watching the sun set behind the Teton range.
DAY 3: A canyon hike and a spectacular sunset
String Lake & Paintbrush Canyon
Of all the canyon hikes, we decided to do the Paintbrush Canyon hike, which is 24 mile roundtrip to Lake Holly (we turned around at half way point). The trailhead to the hike is along String Lake and Leigh Lake both of which have spectacular clear waters with reflections of the Teton range
Signal Mountain gets its name due to a cell tower that’s at the top of the mountain and is a great place to get 360 views of the Grand Teton Valley and catch plenty of wildlife on the drive up to the mountain. We spotted a buck and a black bear on our way up and another buck on our drive down. Its an easy activity to do and your legs will welcome it especially after hiking all day!
DAY 4: A tourist town and the worlds most beautiful barn
Jackson Hole downtown
For a brief change from the beautiful scenery in Grand Teton, spend at least a few hours walking around the streets of the quaint little town of Jackson. There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants around the Jackson Town Square area to keep you entertained. This would be the perfect opportunity to get those souvenirs from one of the gift shops, although be aware that this area can be a bit of a tourist trap.
Mormon Row is only a couple miles from Moose Junction on Highway 141, and is a historic site where Mormons settled in early 1900’s. The most famous feature of Mormon Row is a barn known as “John Molton Barn” (presumably after the owner’s name) that has the most amazing postcard perfect backdrop of the Tetons. The barn attracts lots of tourists but is nevertheless a great place to get some iconic photos.
Take a short drive from Mormon row on a dirt road (4×4 is recommended), to Shadow Mountain area which is a great place to watch the sun set behind the Tetons. This place is actually outside of the National Park boundary, and is also lesser known so you will not find very many people here. (We only ran into 2 other cars). There are no vehicles allowed on the road after about 4 miles so you will have to turn around at that point.
DAY 5: Pit stop at a bay on the way to Yellowstone
Colter Bay is on the north east edge of Jackson Lake on the way to Yellowstone on Highway 287. There are plenty of activities to do here – kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, fishing, or even boat tours around the lake. We decided to take a short walk along the marina and picnic by the lakeshore.
Feeling a bit more adventurous?
If you have some extra time and are feeling bit more adventurous, here are some other suggested activities to do in Grand Teton National Park. These are activities we did not include in our trip but maybe of interest to some travelers.
Backcountry camping is a great way to get out and explore nature the way the first pioneers would have. You will need to carry a GPS system and a bear canister because those are required by the park! A lot of people plan on trying to make it through one mountain pass a day for as long as it takes to get from there drop off point to their destinations. It is highly recommended that you reserve your permit ahead of time. Make sure you pack plenty of gear to keep yourself hydrated and fed!
Seasonal ranger programs
There are some great ranger led seasonal programs to explore. In spring, “Grouse Street Program” runs several weekends in April, where rangers will lead guests out onto the Prairie to view the remarkable native grouse in their mating season, where they do special and elaborate dances to attract a mate. Another option is the Autumn Tipi demonstrations, where you can learn about how indigenous people of the area lived before settlers arrived. If you are brave enough to show up in winter, you can reserve a spot in a Ranger-led snowshoe hike.
Grand Teton has long been a site (and a sight!) for mountaineers across the country both experienced and tenderfoot! You don’t even need a permit to go mountaineering in the park. But if you do plan on staying overnight swing by the visitor center and pick up a backcountry camping permit. Precious few footsteps have followed the initial assents of the first mountaineers, like Philip D. Smith, which means you’ll be able to enjoy picturesque scenery that has been untouched since prehistory.
Don’t worry, you shoot these majestic, bugling creatures with a camera, not a high powered rifle. (Though there are actual fall hunting zones in the area). The Tetons are ablaze with color in the fall and it’s a great time to come out and witness “the Rut” as elk, Whitetail deer, mule deer, and even moose strutting around trying to find “Mrs. Right”. It’s also a great time to catch a view of bears and wolves fattening up for winter. Be careful though and admire them from a distance of 100 yards at least!
Top 5 things to do in Jackson Hole Wyoming & Grand Teton
If you are short on time, and are looking for the absolute best things to do in Jackson Hole & Grand Teton area, here are our favorite top 5 things to do based on our own experience:
- Teton Park Road Scenic Drive: You can’t not do this. Its the best way to see all the viewpoints in the park and get some great shots in a convenient 2-3 hour drive.
- Jenny Lake: A very popular lake with views of the Tetons and a chance to get your feet wet!
- Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point: Combine a visit to Jenny Lake with a short boat ride across the lake that takes you to the trailhead of Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Both trails combined are only about 2.5 miles.
- String Lake: A much less crowded lake with beautiful mirror reflection of the Tetons
- Paintbrush Canyon: One ofthe most secluded canyon hikes. If you can only do one canyon hike (out of Cascade Canyon, Death Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon), do this one!
Are you ready for the Tetons?
With its many wild habitats and fantastic wildlife, Grand Teton is a great place to visit any time of year. Whether your ideal vacation is roughing it in the backcountry like a pioneer or lazily floating around in a boat on Jenny Lake, Grand Teton has an option fnaor everyone seeking to spice up their vacation with a little adventure!
Here are our other posts covering Grand Teton National Park. These will give you an idea of things to do in Jackson Hole & Grand Teton national park.
- Scenic Drive Around Grand Teton National Park
- Hiking Phelps Lake Trail
- Picnic at Jenny Lake
- Trails near Jenny Lake – Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point
- Hiking the Paintbrush Canyon & String Lake
If you have been to the Tetons, let us know in comments what was your experience like. We would love to hear from you! Hope you loved it just as much as we did!