Exploring Grand Teton National Park—With Insider Tips From The Grand Teton National Park Foundation

This park's peak glow amid awesome autumn color. The Grand Teton National Park Foundation knows how to protect the park, and how to enjoy it's secrets. Above, Oxbow Bend photo by Douglas C. Ayers

No photograph can truly capture the razor-sharp way Wyoming’s Teton Range soars above the Jackson Hole Valley. That staggering scarp, the countless climbing routes that spider web the summits, and the tranquil pockets sprinkled beneath the peaks combine to define this picturesque place as one of the world’s magnets for mountaineers.

More than that, these craggy mountains anchor one of the iconic destinations of the National Park System, Grand Teton National Park. It is a park born of geologic fits and starts that today reflects a rustic portrait of the nation’s frontier heritage.

It’s an indelibly handsome portrait. Thirteen-thousand-seven-hundred-seventy-foot-tall Grand Teton is the biggest “Stop Sign” in the West. Flanked by Middle Teton and South Teton, the Grand scrapes the sky with its distinctive “horn,” a reminder that glaciers helped mold this landscape. With a dozen or so neighboring summits rising above 10,000 feet, the Tetons form a monumental spine of rock that arguably is the Lower 48’s most visibly arresting mountain range.

With a string of mirroring lakes at the mountains’ base, this idyllic setting attracts the typical vacationing family and the powerful—U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze held historic meetings in 1989 at the park’s Jackson Lake Lodge.

Come summer, you can relax beneath snowfield-dappled mountains or hike across paint-by-number meadows of red Indian paintbrush, yellow arrowleaf balsamroot, blue flax, white-and-blue columbine, mountain bluebells, green gentians and more.

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The park is full of great hikes, most with towering peaks in view. Photo by Grand Teton National Park Foundation.

Wildlife—grizzly and black bears, wolves and moose, pronghorn antelope and bison—roam this land, while bald eagles wheel in search of fat Snake River trout.

Visitors in search of Western history find it at Grand Teton, too, as many acres were acquired by early homesteaders. Today some of their homes remain, owned and protected by the Park Service. The White Grass Ranch dates to 1913, when Harold Hammond homesteaded it. Today the ranch and its 13 cabins are vestiges of that Old West history. Visit Menor’s Ferry, a ferry crossing dating to 1894, and you can see where Horace Albright, then Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent, met with locals in 1923 to discuss ways to protect the Western character of the valley and fledgling park from being overrun by development.

Lodging in the park has strong Western influences, too, from comfortable log cabins at the Triangle X Ranch, a working dude ranch, to the cabins at Colter Bay Village.

There’s much more to do in Grand Teton than grab a rope and ice axe and climb to the park’s roof. From hiking these glorious mountains and paddling its streams to enjoying outdoor barbecues or taking an afternoon horseback ride, this national park is undeniably a Western classic.

Here are some suggestions from the Grand Teton National Park Foundation on where to go and what to do during your visit to the park:

Explore the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. This peaceful area offers a nature trail system and LEED-certified visitor center that make it a Grand Teton gem. Go early, parking is limited and often full by midday.

Explore the slower-paced Teton Park Road by bike, or hike in the Jenny Lake area to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Most visitors never see snow-covered Jenny Lake in spring, but a ride down the Teton Park Road to Jenny Lake loop from the Bradley-Taggart parking area during the month of April is well-worth the effort. It’s one of the best bike rides in the country for one month.

Summit “The Grand.” If you’re relatively fit, this is a not-to-be-missed adventure in Grand Teton. No need to be a climber, they’ll teach you.

Photography Gems: Oxbow Bend, Snake River — Particularly in fall when the aspens are turning. Usually a calm stretch of water holding an amazing reflection of Mount Moran and Skillet Glacier.

Schwabacher’s Landing. Go in the morning when the water is still and you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the Grand as well as the peak’s perfect reflection in the water.

Coming Wednesday: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Wilderness Magic in the East.

Coming next Sunday on the Traveler: Insider tips from the Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for exploring "Wilderness Magic in the East."