Explore Grand Teton National Park
Check out my blog post on What to Bring When Visiting A National Park here.
Grand Teton National Park is not as well-publicized as Yellowstone NP or Glacier NP, but it should be with its grand peaks, emerald green lakes and amazing wildlife. Only a 2 hour and 40 minute drive from West Yellowstone, Grand Teton NP is perfect to visit while visiting nearby Yellowstone NP. We decided to keep West Yellowstone our home-base and drove to Grand Teton NP early in the morning to arrive at the park around 10:00 a.m. This gave us plenty of time in the park to see some of the main features this beautiful place has to offer. Once our adventure was complete, we visited the charming city of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a quick dinner and were back in West Yellowstone by 10:00 p.m.
The Grand Teton Mountain Range formed nearly 10 million years ago when two tectonic plates collided. Earthquakes (on a 40 mile fault line) caused the plates to move one plate upward creating the mountain range and the other plate move downward creating the valleys. The last earthquake to hit this area was almost 6,000 years ago. In addition, glaciers widened the V-shaped valleys into U-shaped valleys. You will notice this interesting feature as you admire the Tetons from the valley. Nomadic-paleo Indians were the first inhabitants of this area. These nomads (Shoshone, Blackfoot, Crow, Nez Perce and Bannock tribes) would live in the area during times of abundance to feast on bulbs, berries, and wildlife. When beaver furs became fashionable, fur trappers began to arrive in the Teton Range, which lowered the beaver population drastically. Thankfully, fashion trends began to change and silk was the new rage, which helped the beaver population to flourish again. In the late 1800's, dude ranches became popular and many people began flocking west to the Teton Range to live. In turn, tourism created the need for many businesses, such as motels, gas stations, etc. In 1926, John D. Rockefeller Jr. visited the area and fell in love with the scenery and purchased a huge piece of land, which later was donated to the national park.
First I'd like to mention that in order to get to Grand Teton National Park you drive through the city of Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Such. A. Quaint. Town! If you're lucky enough to live in a major town (such as LA., Chicago, or Denver) you can take a direct flight to the small airport in Jackson Hole. Although it is a small town, it makes up for it with its charm and Old Western feel. The city is loaded with numerous restaurants, shops and local charm. I will provide more information on the city of Jackson Hole at the end of this blog. After passing through this old-world town, we stopped at the National Elk Refuge and Greater Yellowstone visitor center located in the outskirts of Jackson Hole on the way to Grand Teton NP. This visitor center has everything you might need when visiting a national park - from bear spray to bug spray. And, of course, there are many park rangers here to provide information about the park, to discuss the areas you would like to visit, or to get suggestions from them. Check out my blog post about What To Bring To A National Park. This post will provide you with everything you should bring with you in a national park. In addition, there are bears in Grand Teton National Park! My blog post above also explains what you should do if in bear country.
Once inside the park you will find the Grand Teton National Park booth where you will need to pay a park entrance fee. If you are U.S. Military or a U.S. Veteran you get in free of charge. Make sure you bring proper I.D. with you if you are in the military or a veteran. If you did not stop at the visitors center in Jackson Hole to get a map of the park, this is the time you need to ask for one. The map will guide you anywhere in the park because, more than likely, you will not have cellphone service. The map below shows the different park entrances. Although it doesn't look like it would be the closest entrance to Jackson Hole, the Moose entrance is the one you would choose if coming from Jackson Hole, which is only an eighteen minute drive from the National Elk Refuge Visitor Center.
Jenny Lake Trail
Jenny Lake Trail is a 7.1 mile loop trail and takes approximately 3-5 hours to hike. If this sounds too long, you can take a shuttle boat across the lake for a fee. Located at the base of the teton mountain range you will witness stellar views of the lake with the grand mountains behind it. Make your way to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. There is plenty of parking and this is a great place to begin your hike around Jenny Lake. This trail is very popular and has an elevation gain in certain points. It is not a paved trail so be cautious of roots and rocks while walking. The views on this hike are picturesque and jaw dropping. If a 7 mile hike seems too daunting, decide on a timeframe that you would like to hike and set an alarm on your phone at the half time mark and turn around. We have done this many times in order to stay on schedule. Just a reminder, bears do live in the Grand Tetons. If you see a bear on a trail, get out of their way. Read my post on what to do if you come in close approximate to a bear here.
Mormon Row and Chapel of the Transfiguration
Mormon Row holds two charming barns in the middle of Grand Teton NP, which were built in the early 1900's by a couple of Mormon settlers. The barns still stand and make an iconic photo with the backdrop of the Grand Teton mountains. We were able to see pronghorn hiding in the tall grass with sweet, little fawns. I learned that pronghorn stay near people to keep away from wolves since wolves do not like to be around people. We were also able to see a Mountain Bluebird perched on top of one of the barns and a fox running through the fields. You can take it easy here and walk along the pebbled drive to soak up the views.
Just down the road from Mormon Row is the Chapel of Transfiguration. This chapel was built in 1925 and has heavenly views of the Teton Mountain Range from the single window inside the chapel. The chapel is Episcopal and still holds services in the summer for those who would like to attend.
Jackson Lake Lodge and Lunch Tree Hill
Take the scenic 50 minute drive to Jackson Lake Lodge! You'll pass expansive pastures filled with bison, ponds with dams built by beavers, and , of course, the scenic and Grand Tetons. Jackson Lake Lodge sits atop a bluff with picturesque views of the Tetons and Jackson Hole and provides lodging, a restaurant, and a few small hiking opportunities.
After meandering through Jackson Lake Lodge and viewing the stunning architecture in this beautiful National Historic Landmark, we found ourselves in the very back of the lodge where there is a restaurant with outdoor seating. Near this outdoor seating is the trailhead for Lunch Tree Hill, which is an easy 0.5 mile lollipop loop trail. Atop this trail you will have a magnificent view of the Teton Range and the Willow Flats. There are a couple other trails from the lodge that are easy - moderate if interested. One is a hike to Grand View Point and the other to Christian Pond.
Our next stop was a lovely view overlooking the Snake River at the Snake River Overlook. Just about a 25 minute drive south from Jackson Lake Lodge.
Since we had to drive back to West Yellowstone we decided to view one more panorama of Jenny Lake and it was magnificent. A perfect day spent in the Grand Tetons!
We were rather hungry since we only brought snack foods with us into the park, so we decided to venture to to the idyllic town of Jackson Hole for some dinner before heading back to West Yellowstone. Mexican Food is always a good choice, so we opted for Fiesta Mexican Restaurant. The food was delicious and satisfied our hunger after hiking and exploring all day. While driving through the city of Jackson Hole, I spied a beautiful park ,which is named George Washington Memorial Park. It is the heart of Jackson Hole with alluring large arches on all four corners of the park made from elk antler sheds. We stopped for a quick photo and took a cursory perusal of the town which hosts many restaurants, art galleries and shops. Had I known this Western town was so quaint I would have stayed longer, however, we had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of us so we said "see you again soon" to Jackson Hole and set out on the open road.
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