Surrounded by breathtaking nature reserves such as the scenic Shoshone National Forest, the sprawling Caribou-Targhee National Forest, the neighboring Bridger-Teton National Forest, and of course, the famous Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park is part of the so-called Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the largest intact mid-latitude temperate ecosystems in the world. Together, the areas occupy 18,000,000 acres (7,300,000 ha) of pristine wilderness. Grand Teton itself is an iconic destination in American mountain climbing, attracting 2.5 million visitors each year and earning its place among the 10 most-visited national parks in the United States. Mountaineering notwithstanding, there are so many, many more things to do in Grand Teton National Park, including birdwatching, horse-riding, hiking, camping, and boating. If you’ve got a day to spare, skip Grand Teton’s over-crowded northern brother and discover one of the most beautiful places in the world, filled with crystal clear lakes and rivers, incredible mountain ranges, and untouched emerald-green alpine meadows.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT GRAND TETON?
Similar to many other national parks, especially at this latitude, Grand Teton is also forced to close large sections of the park in wintertime, including vital roads and access points. Consequently, the best time to visit Grand Tetons would be from mid-May to late September, when all parts of the national park are open and accessible, including hiking trails, visitor centers, and all the activities that the park is famous for. You may want to skip August and July due to high accommodation rates, frequent crowds, and occasional afternoon thunderstorms.
Winter comes early to Grand Teton, blowing through the park as soon as October rolls around. The winters here are harsh and unyielding, with below-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall that accumulates quickly and stays for long periods of time. Naturally, these conditions are ideal for cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, as long as you keep in mind that a lot of the park’s facilities and accommodations are closed shut for a couple of months.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT GRAND TETON
Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park includes all of the major peaks of the Teton Range, in addition to most of the northern segments of the Jackson Hole valley. The Teton Range is the youngest mountain range in the Rocky Mountains, ranked among the youngest mountain ranges anywhere in the world. The highest peak in the mountain range is the eponymous Grand Teton, rising 13,775 feet (4,199 m) above sea level. Gannett Peak is the only peak in Wyoming higher than Grand Teton. Snake River runs through the national park, and the entire mountain is located within the Snake River drainage basin, feeding it through numerous small creeks and massive glaciers. The origin of the mountain’s unusual name has still not been precisely determined.
One common explanation asserts that “Grand Teton” translates as “large nipple” from French, although many historians challenge that interpretation with a competing theory that the mountain got its name after the Teton Sioux tribe. Native Americans first settled in the general Grand Teton area more than 11,000 years ago. After the Lewis and Clark Expedition missed the region (between 1804 and 1806), later fur trade slowly led to government-sponsored expeditions, exploration, and eventual settlement.
ONE DAY IN GRAND TETON ITINERARY
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Grand Teton.
Visit the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve First Thing in the Morning
Once a private refuge of the Rockefellers, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve is a peaceful lakeside preserve along the southern shore of Phelps Lake. The nature preserve extends from the sandy lakefront beach for miles, with winding hiking trails and a visitor center where you can get all the assistance and information you need. The trails that the preserve offers form an 8-mile network, with great views of Death Canyon, Phelps Lake and the Tetons. You can actually swim in the cool mountain waters of Phelps Lake, or simply enjoy the fresh morning air and great views of the tranquil scenery. The hike to the Phelps Lake Overlook is the easiest hike in the area, so you might give it a try. The roundtrip is only 2 miles long (approx. 50 minutes) from Death Canyon Trailhead, which can be reached by car via Whitegrass Ranch Road. The accessibility and the scenic lake views from the overlook make it one of the best hikes in Grand Teton.
If you prefer something slightly more challenging, take the Phelps Lake Loop Trail, starting where Lake Creek enters Phelps Lake. This trail is twice as long, but just as satisfying. After the hike, take the Moose-Wilson Road to Moose. The road, which passes the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, is great for scenic drives and wildlife watching, primarily elk, mule deer, and moose.
Take the Moose-Wilson Road to the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center
It takes about 16 minutes by car to get from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve to the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. The center is located in Moose, a small unincorporated community along the banks of the Snake River. The community has its own US post office, church (Chapel of the Transfiguration, dating back to 1925), and several notable historical landmarks, such as the Menor’s Ferry Historic District, The Maud Noble Cabin, and The Murie Ranch of Teton Science Schools.
The Grand Teton National Park Headquarters are also located there, not far from the Visitor Center. The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center can help you with maps and information, and you can even watch several natural history exhibits there, such as a 24-minute high-definition film about the park. The Vernon Collection houses a large number of original Native American artifacts.
Explore the Menor’s Ferry Historic District
In Moose, there are several preserved early homesteads and ranches that can be reached after a short walk from the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center. The Menor’s Ferry Historic District is located by the riverbank just north of the Maud Noble Cabin past the National Park Headquarters. The district is named after William D. Menor, who came to Jackson Hole in 1894 and built his homestead beside the Snake River. Soon, he built a general store and set up a ferry that was an indispensable crossing point for early settlers coming to the valley.
You can take a short self-guided tour of the area and feel the history of the place. The Menor Cabin is also significant for being the point of departure for the very first ascent of Grand Teton. The ferry itself was built in 1894 and was operated first by Menor, and later by Maud Noble until 1927, when a bridge was finally built over the Snake River. The current ferry is a replica of the original. It was restored by Rockefeller together with the surrounding structures and donated to the National Park Service in 1953.
Take a Short Lunch Break
Across the river from the Menor’s Ferry Historic District, there is a small area with a resort, cabins for rent, a gas station, a store, and two restaurants (Dornan’s Pizza Pasta Company and Dornan’s Chuckwagon). Dornan’s Chuckwagon is a classic American restaurant with burgers, BBQ, and beer. The location is unbeatable, with a beautiful view of the mountains. Dornan’s Pizza Pasta Company has all the same strong points, but slightly better reviews when it comes to food.
The pizza here is great, but you can also get burgers. The service is fast in spite of the occasional crowds. The staff is friendly, just keep in mind that you have to order food at the desk first, then take a seat and the food will be brought to your table.
Take the Car to Jenny Lake District
After lunch, head to Jenny Lake District, one of the most popular parts of Grand Teton National Park. It takes about 16 minutes to get there from the restaurant. In addition to stunning views of the dramatic mountain scenery (which you can never quite get used to), the area offers easy access to gorgeous alpine lakes and some of the best hikes in Grand Teton. These include the Inspiration Point hike and the Hidden Falls hike, in addition to trails leading into Cascade Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon.
There is another visitor center there, worth checking out for updated information on potential incoming thunderstorms, which are quite common in the afternoon. If you are interested in climbing, make sure to check out the Jenny Lake Ranger Station for current conditions on all the routes to Grand Teton. As an aside, the area is accessible by car only between May 1st and October 31st. During the peak summer months, parking can get quite congested between 10 AM and 4 PM.
Take the Shuttle Boat to the West Shore Boat Dock
The Jenny Lake Trailhead is located not far from the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and the nearby parking lot on the southern shore of Jenny Lake. The Jenny Lake Trail loops around the lake before branching off to the west into the Cascade Canyon Trail, one of the more challenging and strenuous hikes in Grand Teton. The Hidden Falls hike & Inspiration Point hike are both easy and rewarding, located near Cascade Creek and easily accessible via the Jenny Lake Trail.
Right by the Jenny Lake Trailhead, there is a small boat ramp. The shuttle boat that stops there takes visitors to the West Shore Boat Dock for a small $15 fee, shortening the hike by approximately 2.4 miles each way. Enjoy the boat ride across glacially-carved Jenny Lake, the second-largest lake in the national park, named after a Shoshone Indian who helped early explorers map the area during the Hayden Geological Survey in 1872.
Follow the Trail to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point
Since the area west of Jenny Lake is particularly famous for its beauty, hiking to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point has been among the most popular things to do in Grand Teton for over 75 years. After years and years of overuse, the trails and the surrounding area underwent extensive rehabilitation in 2014. After crossing the lake, leave the boat dock and follow the trail upward through the intact fir and pine forest. After crossing the Cascade Canyon Creek, you will soon arrive to a short side trail on the left-hand side. Take the trail to get to Hidden Falls, an impressive waterfall that drops more than two hundred feet, cascading over huge rocks and fallen trees in a series of steps. Take the time to enjoy the unique view and snap some photos before making your way back to the main trail.
From there, keep climbing along the rugged, rocky trail until you reach Inspiration Point, a lofty viewpoint that offers outstanding views of Jenny Lake. You can almost take in the entire lakeshore. It is a great place to visit in the afternoon since the morning sun is less than ideal for taking good photos of the lake. When the sun is high enough in the sky, you can take some National Geographic-level photographs that will remind you of this place for years.
Continue Your Trip by Visiting Colter Bay Village
The Colter Bay District is located in northern Grand Teton National Park, 20 miles north of Jenny Lake Visitor Center. After taking the shuttle boat back across the lake, go for a scenic drive on Teton Park Road, past Spalding Bay and Signal Mountain. After 35 minutes, you should reach Colter Bay Village on the shores of Jackson Lake, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the country. The lake’s shores are perfect for hiking, either along the popular Hermitage Point Trail or the shorter Lakeshore Trail. For this itinerary, taking the time limitations into account, the Lakeshore Trail stands out as the superior option. Much like the Hidden Falls hike, this trail is easy and very kid-friendly.
The loop hike begins behind the Colter Bay Visitor Center on the lake shore. Expect to see plenty of wildlife, including moose, elk, bear, muskrat, beaver, river otters, trumpeter swans, herons, martens, snowshoe hares, and others. Some interesting points along the trail include the natural narrow causeway connecting the small forested peninsula to the mainland and a stunning rocky beach area with amazing views of Mt. Moran, Grand Teton, and Teewinot Mountain.
Award Yourself with a Nice Meal
After hiking, you can choose whether you want to have dinner in Colter Bay Village or somewhere along the way as you leave the national park. Although not at all bad, you need to keep in mind that your options will be limited in both cases. The closest restaurant is John Colter’s Ranch House, with a large dining room, tall windows, and plenty of light. Open all day, the restaurant serves tasty comfort food and offers a pretty great beer selection. Menu highlights include the excellent grilled chicken salad, rainbow trout, linguini, and pork belly. Everything is fresh and the staff is beyond friendly.
If you are on your way south and would like to have your dinner later, then stop at Teton Village and check out Mangy Moose Steakhouse and Saloon, a rustic American restaurant and tavern serving steak and seafood in a warm, charming setting filled with old items, fur pelts, souvenirs, tools, flags, wheels, and the like. There is a stage inside where local bands occasionally perform and play rock music. The food is excellent and you get very generous servings at an affordable price.
WHERE TO STAY IN GRAND TETON?
Jenny Lake Lodge
Located on the shore of gorgeous Jenny Lake, Jenny Lake Lodge offers warm rustic cottages, each with a private entrance and equipped with custom-made wood furnishings and a wide patio where you can relax and enjoy the fresh mountain air. In spite of their rustic design, the cottages are equipped with modern amenities, including a private bathroom with a hairdryer, and a coffee machine. There are several shops nearby, and guests have unlimited access to bicycle rentals and horseback tours of the park.
The on-site restaurant mirrors the rustic feel of the cottages, and also boasts excellent service and an amazing view of the peaks from the tables. If you visit the restaurant during dinner time, you can enjoy some excellent guitar music. Otherwise, you can always retreat to your cozy cabin in the woods or enjoy some of the awesome activities like hiking or fishing.
Rustic Inn Creekside
Rustic Inn Creekside Resort and Spa at Jackson Hole takes the outdoorsy, trip-back-in-time style that is prevalent in Grand Teton and seasons it with a healthy dose of luxury. Featuring personalized butler service, a massive 2,300-square foot spa and exclusive amenities, this resort is the ideal choice whether you intend to visit Yellowstone or Grand Teton. Guests can choose their accommodation in line with their own taste and preferences, including private cabins, comfortable guest rooms, and luxury spa suites.
The food in the excellent on-site restaurant is locally sourced and complemented by an extensive wine list. Additional highlights include the fire pits in the back where you can sit down in the evening and gaze at the stars, the nearby river, and the peace and quiet that is rarely encountered in such a top-class resort.
Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, a Noble House Resort
Located in Teton Village, only 11.6 km from Grand Teton National Park, Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, a Noble House Resort regales its guests with a nice outdoor pool, a spa and a wellness center. The well-appointed rooms all come with free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and a private bathroom with complimentary toiletries. This hotel is also open in wintertime, featuring ski valet services and the option to ski in and ski out of the property. Apart from the comfortable rooms and excellent location, the standout crew is certainly this hotel’s biggest asset – professional, friendly, and welcoming, making sure that every guest feels like home.
Elk Refuge Inn
For those who like to stay away from the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet, no place is better than Elk Refuge Inn, located only a 5 minutes’ drive from the Grand Teton National Park Entrance. All rooms are equipped with free Wi-Fi, a private bathroom, and a flat-screen TV with cable access. One of the inn’s biggest selling points is its close proximity to the National Elk Refuge, a beautiful, calming long meadow where the elks arrive in winter. All rooms enjoy unrestricted views of the Refuge, and second-floor rooms also come with small balconies that complete the whole experience. Select rooms are equipped with a small kitchen and self-catering supplies.
GRAND TETON DAY TRIPS
Even with careful planning, it is hard to think of everything. There are times when letting someone else worry about every little detail is the right choice since it lets you focus only on yourself and your own experience. There are numerous organized day trips of Grand Teton National Park, where seasoned professionals put their skills and knowledge to the test in an effort to give you the most memorable adventure possible. They know all the right spots for wildlife sightings, as well as how to keep your distance and stay safe.
Numerous unusual alternatives also exist, such as the 60 Minute Scenic Flight Tour of the Tetons and the Grand Teton Wildlife Safari in Open-Air Vehicle. All of these options and more can be found in our separate article dedicated to exciting, reliable and tested day trips and adventures in Grand Teton.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING GRAND TETON
-Yes, wildlife watching can be exciting, as long as you respect the animals and know how to stay out of their way. Talk to the park rangers and get informed at the visitor centers on the best way to stay safe. Also, pack bear spray.
-While dogs are allowed in the national park, you have to keep them off hiking trails and away from the lakes and visitor centers. Plus, they have to be restrained at all times.
-The closest airport is Jackson Hole Airport, with flights from/to Denver and Salt Lake City.
–Get informed on the services, gas stations, grocery shops, showers, and boat marinas before you arrive. Most of the services can be found in Moose (gas, post office), with restaurants and shops at South Jenny Lake and Colter Bay.
PIN FOR LATER!
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Grand Teton Itinerary, feel free to share them in the comments below!