The dramatic, rugged peaks of the Teton Range virtually erupt from the flat plains and Snake River valley, creating a landscape that at times appears to be an illusion. Photographers and artists attempt to capture the majesty and breathtaking views, but their results never fully convey the experience of standing at the Snake River overlook with the entire range spread before you or being on the shore of Leigh Lake, looking straight up from the base of Mount Moran.
Just down the road from Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park is a world of its own—a string of peaks abruptly rising 7,000 ft/2,170 m from a base of shimmering mountain lakes, sagebrush flats along the spectacular Snake River and a wealth of easy to moderate trails leading to scenic spots. Sightings of moose, elk, deer and pronghorn are plentiful, with grizzly and black bears occasionally appearing on even the busiest trails. Bald eagles, falcons and white pelicans dot the sky, and wildflowers add vibrant color all summer long. Although there is a fair amount of development, this remains a wild area where natural habitats are diligently preserved. Even with nearly 4 million visitors a year, there is enough space to get away from the crowds.
Most of the 40-mi-/65-km-long, 15-mi-/24-km-wide valley of Jackson Hole lies within Grand Teton National Park, which is framed by the town of Jackson to the south and connected to Yellowstone by the Rockefeller Parkway to the north. The western half of the park is covered by the rugged peaks of the Teton Range erupting from the landscape, and the eastern edge is defined by the Snake River and expansive sagebrush flats.
Getting around is easy: Teton Park Road runs up the middle of the park past Jenny and Jackson Lakes, as well as to most of the park's lodging and campgrounds. A one-way scenic loop off Teton Park Road heads to String Lake and Leigh Lake and to Jenny Lake Lodge. Highway 191 heads along the Snake River and the eastern border to Moran Junction before the roads join and continue on through Colter Bay and into Yellowstone.
The most popular entrances to the park are at Moose and Moran. There is also an entrance station near Teton Village. All entrance stations require that visitors either present a valid National Park Service park pass or buy one specifically for Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The latter pass is valid for one week.
Grand Teton almost didn't become a national park. The saga began in the late 1800s. Yellowstone was created in 1872, and there was interest in protecting the area south of the park. The Teton Forest Reserve was created by the U.S. Congress in 1897, and for the next 25 years the debate raged about including the Tetons as part of Yellowstone. Horace Albright, the superintendent of Yellowstone was for it, many local ranchers were against it, and every attempt at a bill failed.
A 1923 meeting at the cabin home of Maud Noble (the cabin still exists near the park's Moose entrance) brought together those who were striving to obtain protection for the area. The group wanted to find a wealthy patron to buy the land and keep it out of the hands of the park service. After a few years of looking for a patron, they began to soften their stance, and in 1929, Grand Teton National Park was established. Its 96,000 acres/38,850 hectares included the Teton Range and six glacial lakes at the base of the peaks.
Albright and others eventually convinced John D. Rockefeller Jr. to assist them in expanding the area. Rockefeller spent the next decade quietly purchasing 35,000 acres/14,165 hectares of land, intending to donate it to the park. The donation was not accepted until U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose to accept the land, creating the Jackson Hole National Monument by a presidential decree. The U.S. Congress passed a bill to dismantle the national monument, but Roosevelt vetoed it. The state of Wyoming then sued the National Park Service to reverse the designation, but lost. It took seven years after that for the parties to come to a consensus, and in 1950 Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole National Monument were merged into a single entity.
For an overview of the park's offerings, drive the 43-mi/70-km scenic loop. From Moose, drive north along Teton Park Road, and then east at Jackson Lake Junction to Highway 26/89/191 at Moran. Return south to Moose along the Snake River. Overlooks and turnoffs provide interpretive information on everything from how the mountains were created to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem to park history, and each one is worth the time. Traffic is heaviest from midmorning until early evening, and much of the Teton Park Road closes in winter.
Early-to-midmorning and early evening hours are the ideal times to explore the park—you'll see more birds and wildlife, and the lighting for photography is outstanding.
Restaurant options within the park have expanded and range from cafeteria-style to fine dining by candlelight. Restaurants are located in conjunction with lodging or visitor-service areas. You should expect to wait in line during prime mealtimes. Menus feature fresh fish, game and lots of steaks.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines for a single dinner without tax, tip or drinks: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$35; and $$$$ = more than US$35.
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