Grand Teton National Park
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
“The mountains are calling, and I must go!” – John Muir
Grand Teton was established as the 18th US national park in 1929. It is one of the most scenic national parks and ranked 9th among the top 10 most visited national parks in 2019.
I was surprised to learn that 4 million people visited Yellowstone and only 3.4 million visited Grand Teton. I feel that you can’t visit Yellowstone without visiting Grand Teton and vice versa. I feel bad that the other 0.6 million people are missing out on visiting Grand Teton, which is only a one hour drive from Yellowstone. ☹
While the Yellowstone National Park wows you with natural wonders, the Grand Teton National Park will give you a sense of peace and tranquility. Grand Teton is not as big as Yellowstone, and it’s divided into 4 different areas: Colter Bay, Jackson Lake, Jenny Lake and Moose Junction. You can spend as much time as your schedule allows, but I think a minimum of 2 days would be best to appreciate Grand Teton. There are camping sites as well as lodging available in all these 4 areas. The in-the-park lodging needs to be reserved 8-9months, sometimes a year, in advance. I would make reservations early and cancel if you don’t want to keep them. Each of these locations is beautiful in its own way, so you should check out all these areas. Similar to Bryce Canyon National Park, everything you need to see is right off the single main road through the park, Teton Park Road.
Overview Map of Grand Teton via NPS.GOV
Colter Bay is the first stop if you are entering Grand Teton from Yellowstone. It's the location if you want to do water sport activities. Here you can have scenic lake cruises, guided lake fishing, and horseback riding. You can also explore the lake via canoe, kayak or rental motor boat. There are picnic and grilling areas along Jackson Lake. At this location, you will also find the Colter Bay Visitor Center and Indian Arts Museum. The kids enjoyed the educational programs offered here. One of my favorite pictures of Grand Teton was taken at Colter Bay. There are many lodging options here from tent camping to cabin style. For people that do tent camping or RV-ing, it's a good stop for laundry and showers. There are two restaurants onsite with decent food options.
Colter Bay @Grand Teton National Park
Jackson Lake Lodge is the second stop when coming from Yellowstone, and about 12 miles from Colter Bay. It's located right on Jackson Lake and faces the gorgeous mountain range. Watching sunrise and sunset from this spot is absolutely amazing, like a still painting. There are 3 different restaurants at this lodge. We thought the foods was quite good, and it’s not your typical national park food. Jackson Lake Lodge is your choice of lodging if you are looking for an upscale and pampering kind of lodge. It is not the typical in the park kind of lodging. We was quite happy with the stay at Jackson Lake Lodge. Horseback riding, river float, water rafting, etc. is offered there, so it’s pretty convenient if you want to do one of these excursions.
The view of Teton Range from our room @Jackson Lake Lodge
Jenny Lake is the most popular spot in Grand Teton, and about 45min drive from Jackson Lake Lodge. Jenny Lake was formed 12,000+yrs ago during the ice age where glaciers flowed through the canyons, carved out the depression and deposited terminal moraines. With time, the water filled up the depression and formed the lake as it is today. This is where most people do their hikes. There are cabins and campsites for tent camping as well as RV’ing. I don’t think you could go wrong with this location. The tent campsites along Jenny Lake have the most beautiful view!
Jenny Lake @Grand Teton National Park. These pictures don't do the lake justice because it's so much more beautiful in person.
Moose Junction is located at the very southern tip of the park. The three highlights for this area are the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Dornan's Chuckwagon and the Moose-Wilson Road. As the name mentions, you will likely to see moose here, especially on the Moose-Wilson Road. Having a meal at Dornan's Chuckwagon is one of the things to do in Grand Teton. The view from there alone is worth a stop. We stopped by to check it out but didn't eat there since our schedule didn't work out. The sessions offered at the visitor center is informative and educational.
There are plenty of other lodging options outside the park in Teton Village, Jackson Hole or the town of Jackson, so you can definitely stay in these areas and drive in. It takes about 30min to an hour to get to the park from these towns, and sometimes a little bit longer depending on traffic and construction. The road is single lane, so it can be slow at times. The towns of Jackson and Teton Village are quite lively. There are many restaurants and activities to choose from.
We drove to Jenny Lake from Jackson Lake Lodge. It’s about a 45min drive. The parking lot is always busy and sometimes you need to park pretty far. I would plan to go as early as you can. If you are willing to wait and loop around a few times, you will surely be able to find a closer parking spot. That was what we did. At Jenny Lake, you can hang out at the beach, take a boat ride, kayak or hike. It's a kid friendly and wheelchair accessible area. Even if you don't to hike, it's a must stop since just a few steps from the parking lot, you can have the expansive view of the lake. The beach or shoreline are pretty shallow, and the emerald color is so beautiful. The kids loved playing around in this area. I would recommend water shoes and a change of clothes. The water is pretty cold, so some kids might not last that long in the water. I saw some tent campsites right off the lake. It must be an amazing spot if you wish to do tent camping. There are many hiking trails from here. You can do a little or a lot depending on what your travel party’s ability is. Remember that this is also bear country! When we were there, the trail loop around the lake was closed due to bear activity. I would check with the ranger before heading out. Bring bear spray! Hike in groups and make lots of noise! The one time I am happy that my kids were loud ☺
Since we only had 2 full days for Grand Teton, we decided to do one big hike which took us to Hidden Falls, then to Inspirational Point and ended at Cascade Canyon. The complete loop is about a 9+miles round trip, but we only did about 6+miles . You can go as little or as far as you like. If you take your time, even with little kids, this is doable. The sights along the trails are breathtaking and there are plenty of things for kids to do , like exploring water creek cascades or watching a moose or two. You can start this hike from the boat dock near the visitor center or you can take a boat over to the other side of the lake. The boat ride will cut down about 2 miles, and that’s what we opted to do. If you travel with kids, I would recommend taking the boat ride and start the hiking from the other side of the lake. On the boat ride, you can enjoy the gorgeous views of the lake and mountain range.
After we took the boat ride, we hiked about 0.5 miles to get to the Hidden Falls. The first portion of the hike is relatively easy. After enjoying the fall, we headed back to the main trail and continued our hike to Inspirational Point, which is about 0.5 - 0.7 miles from Hidden Falls. Inspirational Point is a great stop for photo op as well as a lunch break. What a gorgeous view from here! We then continued our hike into Cascade Canyon. The total distance from Inspirational Point to the forks of Cascade Canyon is about 4+ miles one way. We did about 3miles in. It’s one of the most scenic hikes that we ever did, probably second to the Highline trail in Glacier NP. We saw a couple of moose on this hike. We viewed them from afar. If you do this hike, the chance you will see a moose is pretty high. The cascade creeks along this trail is fun for the kids to explore. Overall, I think if your time allows you to do one hike, I recommend you do the same loop as we did.
(1)Hidden fall; (2)Hiking up to Inspirational Point; (3) Spotting moose along Cascade Canyon; (4) Cascade creeks along the trail into Cascade Canyon
We did the guided float on Snake River via the activities center at Jackson Lake Lodge. We wanted to do horseback riding too but, unfortunately, it was all booked up. I recommend making reservations early if you can. They picked us up at the hotel and it took about 30mins to drive to Snake River. It was a very relaxing float. It gives you a different appreciation for the beauty of a mountain range from the water. The landscape and the wildlife we saw along the way was worthwhile. There are options for white water rafting as well or an all day trip. We opted to do half day trip, and for us, it was sufficient.
We spent the other half of the day exploring Teton Village. It’s about 45min to an hour drive from Grand Teton NP. The Village is super charming and walkable. It’s a series of lodges, gift shops, and restaurants. We enjoyed the foods and drinks there. It’s one of the prime ski spots, but we found it fun to hang out there during summer as well. It must be awesome to ski there. We hope to return there in the winter one day.
Relaxing float down Snake River with the view of Teton Range
Before heading out to the airport, we drove to the Moulton Barn, the symbol of Jackson Hole as well as the most photographed barn in the US. The barn is perfectly situated with the Grand Teton Range as its background. I am dabbling a little bit in photography, so I couldn’t possibly let this opportunity pass by. It’s crazy to think that you would drive an extra 45min just to see an old barn, but I would say it’s a must do while you are visiting Grand Teton. When I stood there looking at the barn with the mountain range in the distance and reading about the history of the Moultons and their barn, I felt like it took me back in time. Mr. Thomas “Alma” Moulton definitely saw something special about this place before anyone else did. It took him and his son 30yrs to build this barn and it’s still standing today. You can read more about the history of the Moulton family here, https://jacksonholehistory.org/thomas-alma-moulton-homestead/
The Moulton Barn @Grand Teton National Park
May to September is the best time to go to avoid cold weather.
Sun screen, water shoes, bear spray and camera are essentials for the trip.
Make lodging reservations early if you plan to stay inside the park
Definitely combine this trip with a trip to Yellowstone
Use National Park Apps to help guide you on trails and activities
Lastly, Grand Teton is one of the most friendly places for biking. There is a nice bike path from Moose Junction to Jenny Lake. It would be super fun to do this if you can bring your bikes or rent them. We couldn’t do this due to time constraints, but it's on our list to do for our return trip.
Cascade creek along the Cascade Canyon Trail @Grand Teton National Park