Mountain Lovers, mark your vacation in Grand Teton National Park on the calendar! Whether you enjoy exploring resort towns and going on scenic drives or love exploring the nature and wildlife of a national park, a Grand Teton vacation is for you! These majestic mountains are the centerpiece of the national park and are truly awe-inspiring.
Where to Stay in Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park might not seem like a huge park at first glance, but is essentially a large loop of the main highway (Highway 89) and Teton Park Road. So proximity to the park will save you a lot of time during your visit to Grand Teton National Park.
Lodging in Grand Teton
If you’d like to stay inside the park, check out Jenny Lake Lodge, Jackson Lake Lodge, and Colter Bay Village. These cabins will allow you to explore from inside the park, so you can get out early in the morning to look for wildlife. Some more primitive options are also available like the tent cabins at Colter Bay Village. Keep in mind that you might have to provide your own bedding and other accoutrements and if you book accommodations without a private bathrooms, you’ll have to pay for a shower in Colter Bay Village.
You’ll want to book Grand Teton lodging well in advance and ask about what amenities will be available at the time of your trip. Traveling during the shoulder season might mean that you have limited options for restaurants and other amenities. Keep in mind
Camping in Grand Teton
Grand Teton has only a couple of campgrounds inside the park with a range of services and amenities available. Jenny Lake campground is a tent-only campground. Signal Mountain Campground offers some electrical sites for tents and small RVs as well as many sites with no hookups. Colter Bay RV Park has full hookup sites and is highly sought after. Colter Bay Campground is significantly bigger, with over 300 sites, but offers no hookups.
Campground bathhouses do not have showers. Paid showers are located in the Colter Bay area. All campsites are reservation-only and should be booked well in advance of your trip.
Lodging Outside of Grand Teton
Lodging and hotels near Grand Teton National Park are abundant! The obvious choice for hotels near Grand Teton National Park is in the town of Jackson. Elk Refuge Inn is one of the hotels closest to Grand Teton’s south entrance, which always gives it a boost in our opinion. Other options include Rustin Inn Creekside Resort, Huff House Inn, Brentwood Inn, The Wort Hotel, and Hotel Jackson, among many, many others. You’ll love exploring this adorable resort town. We recommend booking lodging within walking distance of a few restaurants that interest you, because parking is limited during peak seasons. And if Persephone Bakery is on your must-do list, staying in Jackson will give you an advantage getting there before opening.
Jackson Hole is another great location for your Grand Teton stay, especially if you’re planning to explore the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. Hotels in Jackson Hole include Teton Mountain Lodge, Continuum Hotel, Snake River Lodge, Hotel Terra, Alpenhof Lodge, and the Four Seasons Jackson Hole. If you’re looking for a resort feel, a hotel with a pool, or spa services, Jackson Hole is the perfect basecamp from which to explore Grand Teton National Park. And while you’re here, you can take the gondola up to Piste Mountain Bistro for dining with a spectacular view.
If you are planning to visit both Grand Teton and Yellowstone, you might also enjoy staying at Headwaters Lodge, located conveniently between the two parks.
As always, if you plan to stay outside of Grand Teton, I recommend starting your day as early as you can and getting into the park before 10 am to avoid crowds, both at the entrance station and also at your destination inside the park.
Camping Outside of Grand Teton
Because the camping options inside the park are limited and expensive, we chose to spend part of our trip boondocking in the Grand Teton National Forest. You can find primitive campsites at Toppings lakes, Spread Creek, and off other Forest Service roads. Hatchet Campground on Highway 26 is a very affordable first come first serve with limited amenities.
Outside the park, you’ll also find dry camping for both tents and RVs at Gros Ventre Campground and more amenities at Fireside Buffalo RV Park on Highway 26 or Virginia RV Park in Jackson.
Best Time to Visit Grand Teton
The Tetons are beautiful in all seasons, but each season will give you a different experience.
During winter, many of the park’s roads are closed. You’ll see these noted on Google Maps, but if you plan to visit in the winter, we recommend getting as much information as you can while planning from the NPS site and also from the park rangers directly. Plan to enjoy things like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or snowmobiling during your visit or even book a guided tour.
In the spring, you’ll have beautiful snow-capped mountains, but some trails will also be blocked with snow. We experienced quite a bit of rain and fog which limited our ability to explore the park at certain times. Roads with winter closures start to open May 1, but many part amenities will not be open until mid-May or even later. If you visit in April, the closed portion of Teton Park Road may be open for pedestrian travel, which would be an incredible opportunity to enjoy a run or a bike ride through this scenic area. Be aware that in early spring, visitor centers might not be available and many of the park restaurants don’t open until nearly Memorial Day.
The summer season in Grand Teton is naturally its busiest. Everything will be open (except for any construction or restoration closures), but parks will be crowded and reservations will be hard to come by. Planning ahead and getting up early are your two best ways to enjoy summer in Grand Teton National Park. You can see flowers in the park in any of the warm months, but June is a favorite for peak wildflowers. Enjoy the flowers in three different ecosystems: valley, forest, and alpine.
In the fall, things in the park start to slow down. Visitor Centers and other amenities throughout the park will vary in closing dates through September, October, and November, so check ahead for scheduled closings and know that inclement weather could change those. Visit in the fall to enjoy the vibrant changing leaves of the quaking aspen trees. Do a little leaf peeping at places like Willow Flats Overlook, Oxbow Bend, Snake River Overlook, Two Ocean Lake, Moose-Wilson Road, Cottonwood Creek, and Schwabacher’s Landing. Some recommended fall hikes include Phelps Lake, String Lake, Moose Ponds, Jenny Lake Loop and Hidden Falls, Taggart Lake Loop, and Heron Pond to Swan Lake Loop. Fall in Grand Teton is also a great time to see the pronghorn, bison, and elk migrations.
Tips for Visiting Grand Teton
GPS timing might be off. During our trip, Google Maps trip timing on Teton Park Road was much longer than the actual time it took us to drive. For reference, it should take about 30 minutes to drive the 20 miles from Jackson Lake Dam to Craig Thomas Visitor Center.
If you want a photo of your RV or vehicle in front of the mountains without having to go down a dirt road, pull into Elk Ranch Flats turnout and take a photo from the path across the street.
During peak season, parking lots might get a bit crowded, but after 3 pm in the afternoon (or early in the morning), you should see more available space.
Plan extra time in the park if you can to account for bad weather.
Weather in Grand Teton
The weather will vastly affect your experience in Grand Teton. In most national parks and other outdoor recreation areas, a foggy morning, a little haze, or even a light drizzle might affect your plans a bit, but it’s not likely to cause you to completely change your plan. This is not the case in Grand Teton. If you’re like me, the stunning Teton mountain range is central to your enjoyment of the part and the backdrop to nearly all of your activities there. Whether you’re visiting Jenny Lake, walking Mormon Row, or stopping at the many highway overlooks, what you expect to see in the background is the mountains. Even if it never rains, low lying clouds can hide the mountains from view on what would otherwise be a perfectly beautiful day.
We spent a week in Grand Teton in mid-May and it rained nearly every day. Most days it was a single afternoon thunderstorm, but on a couple of the days, it rained 3 or 4 times throughout the day. Clouds and fog obscured the entire mountain range on more than one occasion, even when it didn’t rain. And when it thunderstormed, the entire sky was filled with dark clouds for hours. We stayed flexible and still had an amazing trip, but if we had only planned 1 or 2 days in Grand Teton, I would have been very disappointed at the visibility of the mountains. In a national park where visibility is crucial to your enjoyment (you’re here to look at the mountains after all), you’ll want an extra day or two to shuffle things around when weather is bad.
So what do you do when your gorgeous mountain view is obscured by clouds or a thunderstorm threatens on the afternoon you had planned to hike to Phelps Lake? Here are some activities that are less weather dependent:
Explore the visitor centers – Craig Thomas Visitor Center has the largest display area, but the art at Jenny Lake was beautiful, and Colter Bay Visitor Center has a large indigenous artifact exhibit.
Look for wildlife – Go on a drive through the park and look for animals.
Enjoy a leisurely meal – Head to Trapper Grill at Signal Mountain Lodge or see if you can grab last minute reservations at Jenny Lake Dining Room.
Visit Jackson or Jackson Hole – Just remember you won’t be the only ones with this idea! The Teton County Rec Center in Jackson even has an indoor pool.
Drive up to Yellowstone – If waiting around to see if the fog lifts doesn’t seem like a good choice for the day, drive north to Yellowstone National Park. (Visiting both Grand Teton and Yellowstone in one trip makes the upgrade to a National Park annual pass just a few dollars.) Old Faithful and its surrounding geyser basins are just a 90-minute drive from Colter Bay Village or you can head to the east side of the part to see Yellowstone Lake and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. A little fog won’t ruin your enjoyment of the many Yellowstone hot spring boardwalks, even if visibility in the distance is poor.
How to See Wildlife in Grand Teton
My best tip for seeing wildlife in Grand Teton is to drive the park often. We saw elk in the early evening and a black bear early in the morning while on the way to do other things. Keep your eyes out while driving Grand Teton Road, particularly in the more wooded stretch between Mount Moran Turnout and Jackson Lake Dam.
If you spot wildlife, look for a place to pull over safely (use pullouts or park completely off the roadway) and be sure to stay the recommended distance away from animals.
Top 10 Must Do Activities in Grand Teton National Park:
1. Drive the loop of the park – Stop at as many overlooks as you can and look at these stunning mountains from every possible angle.
2. Enjoy the park’s beautiful lakes – Jenny Lake is the most popular, but we really enjoyed paddling String Lake and would recommend the String Lake hike to those without paddleboards or kayaks. Phelps Lake and Delta Lake are also popular longer hikes.
3. Explore the town of Jackson or the Jackson Hole Resort area – We’ll share some must-do stops below!
4. Eat huckleberry ice cream – It’s the area’s signature dessert!
5. Take a photo at the park’s south entrance sign – It has beautiful mountain views!
6. Explore outside your car – Grand Teton is a great park for touring in your vehicle, but it’s nice to get away from the pavement for a bit. Go for a hike, take a ride on the park’s bike path, or take a ferry ride at Jenny Lake. You can also book a rafting tour on the Snake River through Grand Teton Lodging Company which looked like a lot of fun!
7. Look for wildlife in the park – We saw bison, elk, and bears during our visit. Drive through the park in the morning or evening for the best chances to see wildlife.
8. Check out the exhibits at the visitor centers – Craig Thomas has the largest exhibit area, but we always try to stop at every visitor center.
9. Visit Mormon Row – Mormon homesteaders established a community here in the 1890s and some of the surviving buildings are from 1912.
10. Look for (and stay away from) bears – We drove past quite a congregation of vehicles in an area where a particularly famous bear (Grand Teton’s famous 399) and her cub were reported to be. But if you don’t want to stand around with binoculars hoping to see a bear, just keep your eyes peeled as you’re driving through the park and maybe you’ll get lucky like we did!
Things to do in Grand Teton
The Craig Thomas Visitor Center has extensive animal exhibits. The Jenny Lake Visitor Center is the smallest of the three and had some beautiful artwork at the time of our visit. The Colter Bay Visitor Center had an indigenous artwork exhibit as well as visiting indigenous artists.
Get Out on the Water
There are numerous ways to enjoy some time out on the water at Grand Teton. If you don’t have a boat of your own, you can purchase a ticket for the Jenny Lake ferry. Bring your own equipment for water skiing or windsurfing on Jackson Lake. Jackson Lake also permits motorboats and sailboats. Kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards are allowed on Jackson Lake, Jenny Lake, Phelps Lake, String Lake, Leigh Lake, Taggart Lake, Emma Matilda Lake, Two Ocean Lake, Bradley Lake, and Bearpaw Lake, although some of these lakes would require a lengthy portage to get your boat in the water. The lakes that don’t require a long portage are Jenny, Jackson, and String. Two Ocean also appears accessible by vehicle, but the road was closed during our visit, so we couldn’t get to the lake.
The Snake River is a great place for fishing and is also open for human-powered water vessels, but the park service cautions that currents are challenging and it’s not recommended for amateurs. Swimming is also permitted in all of the park’s lakes.
Before launching your watercraft, you’ll need to purchase a permit and also have it inspected near the entrance station.
Biking Grand Teton
If you visit Grand Teton in early spring, much of Teton Park Road will only be open to pedestrian travel, making it the perfect time to explore on your bike. But in the summer season you’ll still have extensive biking options! The Grand Teton Pathway is 17 miles of multi-use pathways stretching from the south end of the park to Antelope Flats Road and along Teton Park Road to Jenny Lake. Be sure to carry bear spray!
Spend a morning wandering this beautiful town. Take a photo under the antlers in Jackson Town Square and grab a cup at Cowboy Coffee. Persephone is another Jackson staple for pastries, breakfast, or lunch. Check out the shops in Gaslight Alley. You’ll also fine many art galleries in town, so you could spend an entire day looking at art! The Jackson Rec Center also has an indoor pool area, which might be the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon!
Scenic Drives and Overlook Areas
The scenic drives in Grand Teton National Park can be split into 5 main areas where you’ll find pullouts to park and take photos of the Tetons.
Highway 89 – These pullouts are accessible outside the park gates, which might be advantageous to those just driving through, but the real stunning spots are located closer to these majestic mountains. That said, Teton Point Turnout, Glacier View Turnout, and Schwabacher Landing are my favorite spots on this road.
Teton Park Road – This scenic road is an absolute must-do for your Grand Teton vacation. We spotted so much wildlife on this road, and of course, it’s how you’ll access a lot of the popular hikes in the park. Mountain View Turnout, Mount Moran Turnout, and Jackson Lake Dam are can’t-miss pullouts.
Jenny Lake – Turn right on Jenny Lake Road just after Mountain View Turnout and drive the loop past Jenny Lake Lodge and along the edge of the lake. Be sure to also park at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and wander around from there.
Mormon Row – Mormon Row is more of a historic area than a scenic drive, but it’s in a separate area of the park, so I wanted to highlight it here. In the 1890s, Mormon homesteads were built here and a few buildings are still standing. You’ll find two small parking areas within walking distance of the historic buildings. The backdrop of the Tetons behind make these the best looking barns I’ve ever seen!
Jackson Lake – Highway 191 takes you from the park entrance station along Jackson Lake all the way to Yellowstone. The best turnout on this road is Oxbox Bend. The area around the Colter Bay Visitor Center is also a great spot for photos (and bear spotting, at least while we were there!).
Taggart Lake – 3 mile loop trail to the edge of the lake through both forests and sagebrush flats.
Leigh Lake – Less than 2 miles round trip. Hike along the shore of String Lake and over a bridge to Leigh Lake. String Lake also has a 3.7 mile loop trail if you want to enjoy even more views of these beautiful bodies of water.
Lakeshore Trail – 2 miles round trip along the Colter Bay shoreline.
Since we travel with young kids, I often ignore hikes with high mile counts, because I assume they’re not a fit for my family. But scan through these longer ones anyway, because sometimes you can cut mileage or elevation off of a larger hike by only completing a portion of it and still enjoy some of the same views.
Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point – 5.4 miles round trip with 580 feet of elevation gain. 4.8 miles if you only hike to Hidden Falls. The trail starts at the south end of Jenny Lake. This hike can be shortened to only 2 miles by taking the Jenny Lake shuttle boat (for a fee) either one or both ways.
Jenny Lake Loop – Walking around the entire lake will take you a little over 7 miles, but consider walking just part of the way.
Phelps Lake Loop – 7-mile loop trail with over 700 feet of elevation gain. This trail goes around the entire lake, so hikers could also shorten the trail by making it and out and back or taking the 3.3 mile Woodland and Lake Creek Trail that reaches the edge of the lake and gains much less elevation.
What to Bring to Grand Teton National Park:
Food supplies – My #1 rule for national parks is bring everything you think you’ll need. If you’re staying in Jackson, you’ll be surrounded by restaurants, but otherwise you’ll have very limited choices. If you can eat breakfast on the go and pack a picnic lunch, you’ll have so much more time and freedom to explore Grand Teton than if you’re sitting down for breakfast first or relying on picking up lunch nearby.
Water bottles – Water fountains are available at the Visitor Centers, but you’ll want to bring enough water to get you through most of the day.
Hats and sunscreen – Don’t be like me and forget to put on sunscreen for your bike ride!
Water-resistant hiking shoes – If you visit in spring like we did, you might find snow on the trails, so bring footwear that won’t leave you soggy and cold.
Bear spray – If you’re flying in, you can purchase or even rent bear spray from the park. If you’re driving, you might want to prepurchase it, to save time tracking it down. Know how to use it and carry it with you everywhere.
Your camera – The whole point of visiting Grand Teton is to take 1 million photos of these beautiful mountains, right?
Binoculars – We saw a lot of wildlife that was pretty far from the road, so binoculars will help you get a better view.
Grand Teton National Park with Kids:
Grand Teton Books
My #1 tip for visiting a national park with kids is to read about the park ahead of time. Here are some Grand Teton Books you might enjoy:
Junior Ranger Program
The Junior Ranger books are a given for our kids and we always try to pick them up at the beginning of our visit since some activities are designed to be done in specific areas of the park. This booklet is not as involved as other park programs, but some activities are designed to be done while out in the park or after visiting certain locations in the park, so it might be hard for kids to complete on a very short visit.
Grand Teton Activities Kids Will Love
Throw rocks at Jackson Lake – The entire beach is made of rocks and they had a grand time!
Bike around the park – The bike paths here are extensive. While there are some road crossings, they are clearly marked with bike path stop signs and crosswalks.
Learn about the park animals at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center – As you walk around, look for animal quiz signs posted on pillars. Answer a question about an animal and then look around (and up) to find that creature hiding nearby. My kids really enjoyed the animal fur samples and track molds throughout the exhibits. If your kids like exhibits they can touch, you’ll also find a mountain range display at Jenny Lake.
Walk across the Jackson Lake Dam bridge – Each side has a pedestrian walkway and you can get an up-close look at how the dam works.
How to Plan Your 4 Day Grand Teton Vacation
A long weekend sounds like the perfect amount of time to explore Grand Teton, but as I said above, weather can have a huge impact on your experience and your photos in Grand Teton National Park. For this reason, I recommend spending at least 4 days in Grand Teton National Park. Ideally, pick one of our itineraries and add a buffer day or two if you can. Or make your own list of priorities in the park and then give yourself extra time to do it.
4 Day Grand Teton Itinerary
For a 4 day itinerary in Grand Teton, I’d recommend splitting your days like this:
On your prettiest weather day, drive the main loop of the park and enjoying the many overlooks. If you have time, you can pop over to Colter Bay Village as well. See more specifics of this on our 1 day itinerary below.
On day 2 spend a little extra time on the south side of the park and enjoy the area around Jenny Lake. Drive Jenny Lake Road. Walk around the lake, hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, or take the ferry tour.
Spend day 3 hiking. Choose a longer hike from the list above or drive the park loop again, hitting multiple paved paths if that suits you better. And remember, more driving around means more opportunities to spot wildlife!
Finish your 4 day Grand Teton trip in the town of Jackson. Grab a drink at Cowboy Coffee. Take a photo under the antler arch in the town square. Wander the shops. If you plan to stop at the popular Persephone Bakery, go early or pack your patience. The line often goes out the door.
In addition to your time in Jackson, stop by Mormon Row to see the historic buildings and take a photo with the Grand Teton south entrance sign.
Grand Teton 1 Day Itinerary
Assuming you have good weather, 1 day in Grand Teton is enough to hit the highlights and take pictures of this beautiful mountain range from a wide variety of places. We’ll start our loop of the park at Moose Junction as many guests stay in Jackson during their visit, but since we’re doing a loop, you can jump in and start your day at the point closest to your accommodations.
We’ll begin by driving north on Highway 89, the highway along the edge of the park. You’ll find several overlooks on this road, but my favorites are: Teton Point Turnout, Glacier View Turnout, and Schwabacher Landing.
After paying your park entrance or showing your annual pass, head to Colter Bay Visitor Center. Pick up a park newspaper, ask the rangers any questions you might have, and step outside to see Jackson Lake.
Next, drive south on Teton Road with beautiful views of the mountain range. My favorite turnoffs on this part of the road are Oxbow Bend, Mount Moran, and Mountain View. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, especially through this first section of the park.
Stop at Jenny Lake.
End your loop at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center.
2 Day Grand Teton Itinerary
With two days in Grand Teton National Park, I would follow days 1 and 2 in our 4 day Grand Teton Itinerary. If you are adding a visit to Grand Teton to your Yellowstone trip, one or two days might be all you can spare. I am confident that after 2 days in Grand Teton, you’ll be wanting to come back and visit again!
3 Day Grand Teton Itinerary
With 3 days in Grand Teton, here are a few things I would add to the 2 day itinerary:
Taking a photo at the National Park entrance sign is not usually on my must-do list, but the south entrance sign between Jackson and Moose Junction has a beautiful view of the mountains.
Choose one hike from the list above. We chose to paddle String Lake to Leigh Lake, but if we didn’t have our boards, we would have done this as a hike. The String Lake Trail follows the edge of the lake, so the views are top notch.
Choose the day with the clearest weather for your overlooks and mountain photos.
5+ Day Grand Teton Itinerary
If you have 5 days in Grand Teton, give yourself more time to hike. While driving the park gives you stunning views of the mountain range, hiking (or biking or paddling) will give you a closer and more secluded experience. Choose 2-3 hikes to enjoy over your 5 day Grand Teton vacation. Or if you’d rather bike or paddle and you didn’t bring your equipment with you, you can rent watercraft at Jenny Lake and Colter Bay or rent bikes in town.
And like I said above, planning a few extra days in Grand Teton gives you a lot of flexibility for poor visibility or rain.
Pairing your Grand Teton Vacation with Yellowstone National Park
If you have the time, pairing trips to Grand Teton and Yellowstone together just makes sense! You’ll likely never be staying so close to a 2nd national park. While a single day trip into Yellowstone sounds like a tall order, I have a 1 day itinerary in my Yellowstone blog post. On an ideal vacation, you’d have 9 days to 2 weeks to explore both parks together.