Grand Teton National Park: Monumental mountains, abundant wildlife and wild rivers make for great vacations!

 

The tram pulling into Jackson Hole Ski Resort can whisk visitors to 10,100 feet in 14 minutes - right into the heart of the Teton Range!

The Grand Teton rises majestically in front of large herd of bison in early summer!
Old Faithful Geyser thrills Yellowstone visitors with eruptions every 60 to 90 minutes that can reach 150 feet!

With a neighbor like Yellowstone Park just to the north, it takes a big country to match up to that grandeur.  Grand Teton National Park does not disappoint – visitors will find the country’s most dramatic mountain range, the Tetons, which rise abruptly from sage brush valley floor at 6,300 feet to 13,770 feet at top of Grand Teton.  From bottom to top is an awe-inspiring cacophony of varied topography – high alpine lakes with deep forests, a world-class ski area and jaw-dropping vertical granite faces that challenge world-class climbers.

Visited by Native Americans as early as 11,000 years ago, these lands were joined together in three steps as a national park starting in 1929, culminating in today’s park boundaries in 1950. For insight into the park’s Native American heritage and its formation as today’s national park, we stopped at the Craig Thomas and Colter Bay Visitor Centers.  Either stop will provide insights into the park’s history, Native American early residents and its wildlife.  Additional visitor info stops include Flagg Ranch, Jenny Lake and Laurance Rockefeller Center – all offer info on ranger led walks and evening programs to enrich your experience.

Exploring the lakes and valleys with the Tetons towering above is part of the allure of the park.  You can drive to top attractions Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake, both with dramatic lodges offering good food and upscale lodging.  Walk these scenic shores or rent a boat and go on a most dramatic lake tour. 

Stop at the Taggert Lake Trailhead for a short, robust hike to scenic high-alpine lakes like Taggart Lake and Bradley Lake and you will be well into the foothills of the Tetons.  Hike a few miles higher to Surprise Lake (at 9,500 feet), and you are in the heart of the huge Grand Tetons themselves.  Though, hike with rain gear; at these elevations thunder storms can quickly descend and drop rain and temperatures dramatically!

For a quicker visit to Teton’s high-country, make a stop at Jackson Hole Ski Resort.  This world-class ski mecca offers a tram ride to over 10,000 feet, and one can hike from the top of the tram, either deeper into the rugged Tetons or down to the base area.  Mountain bikers haul their rides to the top for exciting downhill adventure.  Even if just to sightsee, this is a stunning side-trip!  And stop for lunch or a drink at the Mangy Moose Saloon at the base area, a most memorable western experience!

The Tetons also offer world-class mammal and bird-watching.  We saw elk and bison by the hundreds and truly observant travelers will spot moose and bears. Throughout the park are grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, elk, bison, moose and pronghorn antelope (best viewing times are early morning or near dusk). Birds are also abundant, including osprey and bald eagles.  The National Elk Refuge just east of the park allows one to drive into the refuge and view elk and other wildlife up-close!

Part of the fun of a trip to Grand Teton National Park is a short or long-stopover in the town of Jackson, a bustling tourist-focused stop during the summer, a bit quieter in the off-season. Stop at the Jackson Town Square, where a wild-west shootout is staged every day at high-noon.  Take in a rollicking play at the Pink Garter Saloon and belly up to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar right on Jackson Town Square.  Jackson offers scores of quaint shops, restaurants and motels, all with a wild-west theme and top-rate hospitality!

Visitors coming by auto from Stockton can enter from Jackson, WY (south) and head north into the Tetons.  Another option, our favorite, is to enter from West Yellowstone, MT (the west entrance to Yellowstone Park), tour Yellowstone and then enter Grand Teton Park from the northside. 

If you are spending time in Grand Teton National Park, a few more days to tour into Yellowstone is a must!  Head north into the park and visit Lake Yellowstone (the US’s largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet) and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with more spectacular scenery.  The thundering Lower and Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River within the canyon are not to be missed!

Then tour over to Old Faithful (which erupts almost on cue, every 60 to 90 minutes) where a short or longer hike along the varied boardwalks takes you to scores of geysers and hot pools along the Firehole River.  Geysers, fumaroles, hot springs and mudpots are also found in Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot and Firehole Lake Drives, the Midway Geyser Basin, and at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Mud Volcano areas.  Over half of the world’s thermal attractions and two-thirds of its geysers are located in this park!

Plan a multi-day stay in these two stunning national treasures!

How to get there: One option is the park’s south entrance, another is to head to West Yellowstone, tour Yellowstone Park then head south to Teton National Park.  Both routes are about 900 miles, and 14-15 hours by auto.  To arrive at the Teton’s south-entrance, we took I-5 to Sacramento, I-80 to Wells, NV, then Hwy. 93 north to Hwy. 30, then I-84 east to I-86 north, then I-15 north to Hwy 20, east to Hwy 26 to ID 31 to ID 33 to WY 22 into Jackson.  Both Jackson Hole and West Yellowstone are served by regular airline service and offer rental cars, as well.
When to go: Summers are busy in these parks, so plan accordingly!  If you can visit just before Memorial Day, or after Labor Day, you will find the parks much less crowded. 

Where to stay/where to eat: We have enjoyed several stays in the Antler Inn, 43 W. Pearl in Jackson, offering close proximity to the Jackson Town Square and the Pink Garter Theater (with nightly live theater performances). The town has a host of inexpensive to more upscale lodging and dining options.  Inside the park, our two favorite places to stay/dine are Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Lodge.  Many choices of food service are offered in the park, but a “must do” is to have breakfast, lunch or dinner in the Jackson Lake Lodge dining room.  Jackson Lake Lodge, http://www.gtlc.com/reserv.aspx, (800) 628-9988; Jenny Lake Lodge, http://www.gtlc.com/reserv.aspx, (800) 628-9988.

Six campgrounds (Colter Bay Campground, Gros Ventre Campground, Headwaters Campground and RV sites at Flagg Ranch, Jenny Lake Campground, Lizard Creek Campground and Signal Mountain Campground) are located within the park; all are “first-come, first-served” (prepare to arrive early morning if you hope to get a “first come” camp site in the summer!). 

What to bring: Warm clothing and rain gear if you plan long hikes in the mountains, good walking shoes and hat, water-bottle if one wants to get off the “beaten path”.  Binoculars and your camera, of course!

What’s nearby: Yellowstone National Park to the north; the National Elk Refuge southeast; the town of Jackson and Jackson Hole Ski Resort to south; the spectacular Wind River Valley to southeast.  Craters of the Moon National Monument, in central Idaho, is “on your way” to the Tetons (18 miles southwest of Arco, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 24 miles northeast of Carey, Idaho on Highway 20/26/93, 84 miles from Idaho Falls, and 90 miles from Twin Falls).

For more information: For Grand Teton National Park, http://www.nps.gov/grte or write Grand Teton National Park, P.O. Drawer 170, Moose, WY 83012-0170; phone, (307) 739-3300.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com.  Happy travels in the west!

Next week, we return closer to home, with a tour of “what’s new” in Old Sacramento, just 45 miles north of Stockton!

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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