It’s hard to miss the three massive peaks rising from the valley of Jackson Hole, Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. French trappers nicknamed the Grand Teton mountains “The Three Big Breasts”—”Les Trois Tetons”—with the tallest as “Le Grand Teton.” And the moniker stuck. Today, there are so many things to do in Grand Teton National Park! (And yes, you should also visit in winter.)
The Tetons provide a mesmerizing backdrop for everything from bald eagle spotting on a languid Snake River float trip to chaparral trail rides and fly fishing on secret mountain lakes. Everybody still yearns to experience a bit of America’s wild west. And it’s easy to see why…
Best Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park in Summer
Where are the Grand Tetons? The Grand Tetons are in Wyoming. To be more specific, Grand Teton National Park is in northwestern Wyoming.
One of the things people often ask is: “Is Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park? The answer is yes!
The 40-mile long park (310,000 acres) is unusual in that it remains a mix of public and private lands in a valley that has historically been known as Jackson Hole.
In a series of complex political maneuvers designed to appease conservationists as well as local ranchers reluctant to sell, the federal government settled on a little bit of both.
In practical terms, that means that—for better or worse—visitors can fly directly into the Jackson Hole airport, which is located inside the national park.
Alternatively, to save on airfare from points west of the park, Salt Lake City makes a convenient gateway, with a four-hour drive north into Wyoming.
Where to Stay in Grand Teton National Park
Be strategic when choosing Grand Teton lodging. The park is huge!
For quick access to sights with fewer crowds, consider booking a few nights at the south end of the park and then a few nights at the north end of the park as we did. (See map above for locations.)
Jenny Lake Lodge (south end of the park) is rustic cottages perched at the edge of super scenic Jenny Lake. (My favorite spot in the park!)
Check price and latest availability at Jenny Lake Lodge here.
Headwaters Lodge (north end of the park) looks like a cabin but feels more like a hotel room inside and offers a nice onsite restaurant.
Check prices and availability at Headwaters Lodge here.
Nearby Jackson also makes a good base for the south end of Grand Teton National Park.
Be aware that Jackson is packed with tourists, however, which also makes it pricey.
But if you are in Jackson, be sure to pick up world-class sandwiches for your next picnic at Pearl Street Market!
Map of Grand Teton National Park
There are so many incredible things to do in Grand Teton National Park in summer! The beautiful thing about US national parks is that they’re designed for everyone to enjoy.
And, just as I did when we visited Volcanos National Park in Hawaii recently, I reflected on the legacy of those who set aside private lands for public enjoyment in such a generous and longstanding commitment to future generations.
As in many of the parks, it’s easy in Grand Teton to drive a loop through the center of the park that offers easy access to memorable views, plenty of wildlife, and loads of history.
So families with children, those with disabilities, and older adults can take full advantage.
If you’re a hiker, however, one of the best ways to maximize your enjoyment while missing the crowds is to wake up at dawn—like the animals do—and head out with your binoculars for prime time viewing of wildlife.
Steve nearly bumped into a full-grown buck getting coffee early one morning!
Insider tip: See popular sites before 9 am. Pack a picnic lunch and then head up to a mountain lake for an afternoon hike. Crowds thin after 5 pm, making the evening an excellent time for seeing more sites.
Without further ado, here are the top things to do in Grand Teton (your Grand Teton itinerary):
1. Enjoy Jenny Lake Scenic Drive
It will take you just 20 minutes or so to drive this paved one way road but leave time for stops to enjoy the incredible lake views. The Jenny Lake overlook and Leigh/String Lake trailheads are picnic-perfect!
Or…ride the paved trail here. You can rent bicycles nearby at Dornan’s Adventure Sports Bike Shop if you don’ t have your own.
2. Hike at Jenny Lake
Scenic Jenny Lake makes the perfect stop for a hike after driving the loop.
It’s one of the best places to visit in Grand Teton National Park. For $18 round trip, you can zip across the lake in the shuttle as we did for a gorgeous day hike.
It’s a popular stop so arrive early or late in the day as suggested above.
Otherwise, you’ll wait for parking.
Consider starting at the Jenny Lake visitor center to snap a photo of the current wildflowers in bloom. They’re all posted for easy identification on the trail.
Wondering what to pack for Teton? My Yellowstone packing list works great! Check out this list of 23 essential items to bring.
Also, you can save on your parks visit when you get the America the Beautiful Pass.
This is your ticket to freedom! For $79.99, the pass gives you a whole year of access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks nationwide.
It covers entrance for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle or up to 4 adults at sites that charge per person. When you buy through REI, they donate 10 percent of the sale to the National Park Foundation.
There are so many amazing hikes in Grand Teton to choose from here depending upon your interest and skill level. Here are some of the best known:
- Hidden Falls is an easy to moderate hike (one to three hours) to see the only accessible waterfall in Grand Teton!
- Inspiration Point is one of the most popular trails, offering memorable views of Jackson Hole, Cascade Canyon, and the Teton mountain range.
Wherever you hike in Grand Teton, bring your bear spray!
On our hike to Inspiration Point, we rounded a bend to see two ears poking up among the huckleberry vines in a lush valley. We backed away and headed the other direction up to Hidden Falls.
But then, as we approached the falls, we came upon this incredible sight below. This guy was so busy gorging on berries that he didn’t even notice us gawking at him.
- Moose Ponds is a great place for moose spotting. It’s an easy two mile out-and-back hike (or you can do it as a three mile loop) on Jenny Lake’s south shore.
- Jenny Lake Loop offers amazing views of the Cathedral Group, Cascade Canyon, and Jenny Lake and passes Moose Ponds. It’s 7.6 miles round trip and takes 3 to 5 hours to hike.
- Forks of Cascade Canyon takes you through a glacially carved canyon into Teton backcountry. It’s a great option for an easy out and back hike without too much elevation. But it’s also a long hike at 5 to 8 hours.
- Lake Solitude is for you if you’re a seasoned hiker looking for a strenous full day or overnight hike in the Tetons. Plan on 8 to 12 hours (or take the shuttle boat to shorten it a bit). Elevation gain is 2,500 ft.
- Hurricane Pass is another option for a challenging hike with bucket list views of the park, including panoramic views of the three Teton peaks. This is a 15 to 18 hour hike with 4,000+ ft in elevation gain.
3. Eat Huckleberries.
There were huckleberries everywhere in Grand Teton. In fact, the air was perfumed with them.
And the bears were so focused on gorging on them that they didn’t seem to register our presence on our two encounters with them in the park.
Sometimes referred to as “mountain blueberries”, huckleberries are a bit like a smaller and sweeter blueberry. They grow wild from Wyoming to Alaska.
Huckleberry season here is a delight. Think huckleberry lattes, huckleberry smash, huckleberry lemonade, huckleberry milkshakes, and huckleberry pie! If you’ve never tasted a huckleberry, now is your chance!
4. Take in sunset at the top of Signal Mountain
Signal Mountain is 7,727 feet and make the perfect spot to enjoy epic views of Grand Teton National Park at sunset. It’s located just south of Coulter Bay.
The good news is that the summit is easily accessible by car.
You can wind your way to the top via Signal Mountain Summit Road. Or, if you prefer to hike, take the Signal Mountain Trail.
It’s a scenic hike up a forested mountainside to the summit…a moderate 6.8 mile out and back trail.
Bear Safety Tips: Get Bear Spray!
It was magical to see a black bear in the wild…especially since we were prepared if he approached. Bear spray is not optional for hikers in Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Park.
You can buy it in the park, but since it’s illegal to carry it on a flight home, consider renting it for $8 per day at one of the equipment rental companies inside Yellowstone or in the town of Jackson.
Or buy your own for extended hiking trips. You can get bear spray on Amazon here if you’re road tripping.
Keep it ready on your belt, not packed away in a pack!
• Skip the bear bells. They just annoy other hikers and are not particularly effective with bears.
• If you see a bear on a trail, stop, stay calm, and avoid sudden movements. Back slowly away using a calm tone of voice and never get between a mama bear and her cubs. Don’t ever turn your back.
You’ll be happy to know park rangers monitor bear activity quite closely here, working hard to keep tourists and bears apart!
5. Float the Snake River
A Snake River float trip is a memory maker here at sunset.
Look for moose, beaver, river otters, osprey and American white pelican here at dawn and dusk particularly. Mount Moran provides a beautiful backdrop for photos.
To really get the feel of the river, head out on a sunrise or sunset float trip as we did.
We booked our three-hour float trip through Signal Mountain Lodge, where we stayed.
It was quite the experience to see nearly a dozen American Bald Eagles standing sentry on the tops of lodgepole pines dotted all along the river as we floated.
We also saw our share of flat-tailed beavers busy at the river’s edge and learned they are “crepuscular,” i.e., most active at twilight. During the day, they hole up and sleep it off in their elaborate beaver “lodges.”
6. See Snake River Overlook
Ansel Adams brought the Snake River to fame with his famous shot of the Snake River overlook in 1942.
In fact, he was commissioned by the National Park Service to capture the beauty of the parks to promote their beauty and protetct them from development.
It’s one of the top things to see in Grand Teton National Park…one of the four most famously photographed shots in the park along with Oxbow Bend, Moulton Barn on Mormon Row, and Schwabacher Landing. (Read on for more on those.)
7. See the Moulton Barns on Mormon Row
If you’re wondering what to do in the Tetons, start with the Moulton Barns!
The two Moulton Barns here are the last remnants of 27 homesteads by Mormons in the late 19th century.
Homesteaders loved the fertile soil and shelter from winds, hand digging ditches to irrigate their crops…and then building an intricate network oflevees and dikes to move water.
With the three Tetons behind them, these historic homesteads make a striking sight and are a must-see for photographers visiting the park.
8. Hike Phelps Lake
Phelps Lake—once home to a Rockefeller family retreat—is today part of the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve for all of us to enjoy.
With 40 million visitors to Grand Teton annually, it’s incredible that you can still enjoy a mostly solitary hike to pristine spots like Phelps Lake.
With scenic lake views, it was one of my favorite hikes in Grand Teton.
The gorgeous Jenny Lake Loop Road meanders along 5 miles of stunning scenic views between the Moose Junction entrance to Grand Teton National Park and Jenny Lake, a gorgeous glacial lake.
Start your hike at the Preserve Center and then choose from an easy 3-mile loop (the Lake Creek and Woodland Trail), a longer 5.8-mile loop (Aspen Ridge and Boulder Ridge) or the 4.7 mile Phelps Lake trail loop.
All three of these trails meander through sun dappled forests and sagebrush meadows to arrive at the lake.
The Phelps Lake Trail is an easy to moderate round trip hike. You pick up the Death Canyon Trailhead and amble through a super scenic lodgepole pine forest.
With a total elevation gain of 965 feet, the trail also climbs past a few aspen groves.
Turn left onto the Valley Trail to arrive a mile later at the peaceful Phelps Lake Overlook for panoramic lake views.
9. Oxbow Bend
Oxbow bend is a another one of the key things to see in Teton National Park.
It’s one of the most photographed spots here and is just one mile east of Jackson Lake Junction in the park!
It’s also a really wonderful place to see moose, otters, and black bears at dawn or dusk in summer. Even grizzly bears can be on the prowl here if you’re lucky.
In fall, the aspens turn orange and gold here making it massively popular with photographers.
10. Take a Trail Ride
Get your cowboy on! If ever there were a spot to get out on a trail ride, it’s in Grand Teton National Park.
It had been more than a decade since the last time I was perched on a saddle, but this horseback ride through the morning mist clinging to the forest was incredible!
In fact, the horses were both gentle and responsive. Maybe that’s because they are so obviously well-loved.
According to our wrangler and guide Caroline, the outfitter that owns them (and manages all the horses in Teton and Yellowstone) can name every one of his 2,000 horses and something about the way each of them rides.
Over the course of our two-hour ride, we crossed the willows, climbing up to Emma Matilda Lake.
Eventually we arrived at this panoramic view of Oxbow Bend from above, before heading back to the barn where we fed them special horse cookies!
11. See wildlife.
Wildlife is one of the top Grand Teton attractions!
What can you expect to see here? I’m happy to report that in August—which is actually the very worst month for wildlife spotting— we saw elk, pronghorn antelope, buffalo, deer, black bear, bald eagles, beavers, swans, and osprey…in addition to the usual chipmunks and squirrels.
What really helped on our wildlife viewing endeavor was heading out on a jeep tour with a guide at sunset.
We learned that pronghorn antelope, for example, are surpassed only by the cheetah among mammals for speed (and that their closest relative is a giraffe)!
Male elk can bulk up to 700 pounds and shed their antlers annually when their testosterone drops. And those horns are heavy!
We lifted a rack for ourselves in a visitor’s center. I’d love to come back to the park in fall and do a snowshoeing adventure to see wolves.
I highly recommend a guided full day tour if seeing bison, grizzly bears, fox, eagle, and osprey are on your bucket list.
This eight-hour guided tour from Jackson Hole offers round-trip transport from Jackson and includes breakfast and lunch, binoculars and a scenic boat ride on Jenny Lake.
Guest review: “Jeff, our guide, was amazing. He had a vast knowledge of the history of the area the animals and plants. We saw just about all the wildlife. We would highly recommend this tour.”
You can check price and availability on the guided tour from Jackson Hole here.
12. Kayak Jackson Lake.
Of the many incredible activities we enjoyed, our favorite was perhaps kayaking in the Tetons at Jackson Lake.
In fact, after our experience this year kayaking Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, Moorea in French Polynesia and then Jackson Lake, we finally broke down yesterday and bought our own double ocean kayak for paddling closer to home in San Diego.
It’s easy to rent kayaks right at Coulter Bay Marina within the park. Kayak rentals are $25 to $48 per hour, depending upon what you rent. And it’s worth every penny.
We did it twice during our one week in the park.
And if you arrive early or late in the day, you’ll enjoy a blissful paddle past the bird sanctuary and across the lake with only the sound of a honking goose breaking the vast silence as clouds float by.
Be safe. Don’t forget to wear a personal floatation device when you go!
13. Relax at Jackson Lake Lodge
After time on Jackson Lake, it’s a no brainer to head to nearby Jackson Lake Lodge.
I can’t speak to the food here at the Mural Room but you can’t beat the view from the back deck. And there are plenty of Huckleberry-themed beverages on offer!
14. Schwabacher Landing
Schwabacher Landing is the final of the four iconic photo spots in Grand Teton as you’ll be able to capture the silvery reflection of the Tetons in the still Snake River here.
It’s one of the must see places in Grand Teton National Park.
To get here—if you’re coming from Jackson Hole—you’l head north on I-89 for about 16 miles.
Look for the wooden sign “Schwabacher Landing” and then drive about a mile until you hit the end of the gravel road where you can park.
From there, it’s an easy 1.3 mile flat hike along beaver ponds and wetlands until the trail opens out onto a gorgeous view point where you can snap a photo.
It’s a great spot for a picnic or spotting coyote, antelope, and deer, too.
“The trees, the animals, the streams, the flowers, preserved as much as possible in their natural state of beauty, will in turn help preserve our most precious resource—the human spirit.”
—Laurance S. Rockefeller
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