Grand Teton National Park may not be as famous as its sister park to the north, Yellowstone National Park, but it still holds a special place in many people's hearts. Everyone from day hikers and backpackers to geologists and wildlife biologists to rock climbers and anglers has found a niche in this 309,760 acre playground. While there are a lifetime of adventures waiting within the Park, here's a one-day, quick-hitting itinerary that will leave you satisfied you've seen more than most and hungry to come back for more.
National Elk Refuge
Sit down and enjoy a hot breakfast at one of the popular restaurants or cafes in Jackson Hole before driving north on Highway 26 toward Moose Junction and the park entrance. On the way, stop in the National Elk Refuge – it may not be Grand Teton National Park, but the opportunity of seeing a herd of elk, not to mention moose, bighorn sheep and bison is worth at least stopping at the Highway 26 pullout, if not taking a short drive down Elk Refuge Road.
Once you enter the park through Moose Junction, head north to Jenny Lake. Grab a canoe and some paddles and head out onto this glacier-formed lake. With the Tetons rising above the tree-surrounded lake and hiking paths winding all around it, it wouldn't be a stretch to spend a whole day, or even a weekend, on this picturesque lake exploring the banks and fishing for trout.
After exploring the lake for a bit, paddle your way over to the mouth of Cascade Canyon, almost directly northwest from the Jenny Lake Visitor Center (the shuttle boat runs from the Visitor Center to Cascade Canyon if you're unsure where to head). Once there, beach your canoe and make your way just over a mile up to Hidden Falls, a stunning cascade that pours down 200 feet of Cascade Creek. Enjoy a short break here before finishing the last half of the moderate two-mile-long hike up to Inspiration Point, a rocky point with an impressive overlook of Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, the Jackson Hole valley and the distant Gros Ventres and Wind River mountain ranges.
Once you've truly soaked in the “inspiring” view, make your way back down the trail and paddle back across Jenny Lake. Climb back into the car and head north along the Teton Park Road, watching out for moose, elk and other wildlife along the way. Take a right at the Signal Mountain Road and drive up the five-mile road through forested switchbacks that offer peeks of Mt. Moran and the northern section of Grand Teton National Park. Be sure to stop at the Jackson Lake and Jackson Point overlooks on your way up to the 7,593 foot promontory that provides panoramic views of the Teton Range, the Snake River and Jackson Hole Valley. While desperately spinning in circles trying to take it all in, see if you can find the old oxbow the Snake River use to flow through.
From Signal Mountain, drive back down to the main park road and head north to the Colter Bay Visitors Center and Indian Arts Museum, which highlights some of the native history and artifacts of the area. Then go for an afternoon stroll out along the Lakeshore Trail toward Swan Lake, Heron Pond and Hermitage Point. The many ponds, streams and diverse habitats make this one of the best spots in the park to view birds and wildlife – keep your eyes open and you'll be rewarded.
Chapel of the Transfiguration
After meandering around the ponds, drive back to Moose Junction and stop at the Chapel of the Transfiguration. Housed inside a beautiful wooden building, this historic chapel's altar (where services are still given) sits in front of a picture window that provides an absolutely stunning view of the tallest peak in the Tetons. Regardless of your religious inclinations, this historic landmark is a must-see.
After leaving the Chapel, drive north through Antelope Flats on the eastern loop of Teton Park Road, doing your best to catch the sunset from the Snake River Overlook, where you'll have an uninterrupted view of the best sunsets in the Tetons. Once the sun has disappeared over the mountains, head back home and sleep well, knowing you've seen the best Grand Teton National Park has to offer.
Have more time?
Check out some of the following options if you find yourself with some time to spare.
- Take the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive.
- Join a ranger for a guided, and informative, hike.
- Camp at The Platforms – A common camping spot for people attempting summits of the Grand, Middle or South Teton, as well as Nez Perce and Cloudveil, the Platforms are nestled among trees and rocks right next to the creek and just below couloirs that access the cirque of Nez Perce and Cloudveil Dome.
- Hike up to Amphitheater and Surprise Lakes – While it's no easy hike, these steep switchbacks lead up from Lupine Meadows to one of the most beautiful parts of the park.
- Backpack the Teton Crest Trail – This 39-mile trail winds through the park, into Alaska Basin and out Cascade Canyon or Paintbrush Canyon. Plan on spending at least three days.
- Spend the night – Grand Teton National Park has drive-in and backcountry campgrounds throughout the park to provide you with relaxing places to spend the night (or nights).