I decided to write a few blog posts about how to enjoy several different National Parks if you only have one day there. I hope you find my suggestions for Grand Teton National Park helpful.
I have been to Grand Teton National Park three times (so far). I have spent a total of eight nights there. So, I’m obviously no expert on the park. Even so, I think I’ve seen enough to make some recommendations, especially for first-time visitors that will have a limited time in the park.
Grand Teton is one of my favorite National parks. You’ll see that it is a popular destination and can be overcrowded at times, but not on the level of its close neighbor to the north. Yellowstone is located just about thirty miles north of Grand Teton National Park along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. As a result the Tetons see a whole lot of tourists that make the short jaunt down from Yellowstone for a day or two. It makes sense, since they are so close to each other. The last time I packaged the two parks together I actually spent twice as much time in the Tetons as I did in Yellowstone. Those mountains have cast a spell on me. In fact, I have a photo I took of them tattooed on my right leg.
Grand Teton, like its big brother to the north, can be very busy during the summer, so just as I recommend in all of my posts in this series, I have to emphasize that the earlier you arrive the better your experience will be. At least, that’s almost definitely going to be the case. I imagine most visitors enter the park from Yellowstone, so I will construct my list in that manner. So, without further ado, here is my list for what to do in Grand Teton National Park if you only have one day.
1. Stop along the shore of Jackson Lake for your first (meaningful) glimpse of the Tetons. You may be tempted to go on a short hike or spend a lot of time photographing the mountains. Instead, I advise you to continue south.
2. Head south on Teton Park Road until you reach Jenny Lake. This area is one of my favorite spots among all the parks I have visited. The area can get very crowded, so it’s important to arrive early. Otherwise you may not even find a parking spot in the large lot. When beside Jenny Lake I find it natural to want to slow down and take in my surroundings. I recommend you do the same. Walk along the lakeshore, check out the small General Store, or sit by the fireplace in the cozy Visitor Center.
3. After relaxing by Jenny Lake for a bit it’s time to get moving. Take a kayak or canoe out on the lake or ride the boat shuttle to the other side of the lake to begin hiking. You can actually hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point by hugging the shore of Jenny Lake, but I recommend taking the boat to reduce the time and effort. Then, with that saved time you can continue past Inspiration Point and hike a couple of miles into Cascade Canyon. I think Cascade Canyon is the best trail in the park, and you don’t have to go too far before you enter an incredible landscape where you’ll be surrounded by towering peaks.
4. Next get back on the Teton Park Road and continue south to the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. This is probably my favorite National Park visitor center. There are huge windows that showcase the Tetons, excellent exhibits and displays, and a huge 3-D map of the park. The map has a lot of suggestions for things to do and identifies places where you can see certain things within the park.
5. You’re near the southern end of the park at this point, so if you want to take a break in Jackson, the nearby ski resort town; this is the time to do it.
6. Then I recommend taking the outer park road (Route 89/191/287) to loop back toward the north end of the park. Many of the park’s most famous scenic vistas are located on this road. First up is Schwabacher Landing. This is an awesome little spot where the Cathedral Group of the Tetons reflects in a tiny tributary of the Snake River.
7. Also stop at Snake River Overlook, made famous by photographer Ansel Adams.
8. The last can’t-miss photo stop is Oxbow Bend, which provides a magnificent view of the hulking Mount Moran.
9. If you still have time I recommend the drive up Signal Mountain to view the Tetons from a higher vantage point. You won’t be at eye level with the Grand, but you’ll be far above the valley floor.
I think that should be a pretty good starting point for a day in Grand Teton. There are other options such as such as a visit to Taggart Lake, float on the Snake River, or photograph the barns on Mormon Row. Ultimately it’s up to you. You need to prioritize what is most important to you if you only have a small amount of time in a park, especially an amazing one like Grand Teton. If you want to take some great photos and fit in a great hike, then I’m confident you’ll love my itinerary.