Grand Teton National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Since it is a mere ten miles from Yellowstone, many people consider Grand Teton National Park to be something of a sideshow. But upon closer inspection, there are some fundamental differences between these parks. Furthermore, not all RVers have the time, energy, or inclination to take in both.

Yellowstone offers lots of camping and recreational activities. In fact, if you want to take in everything this vast park has to offer, an RV is almost a must-have. But in most respects, Yellowstone is more of a sightseeing park. And there are some tremendous, unforgettable sights to see. Grand Teton National Park also offers an abundance of Kodak moments. Visitors soak in a mixture of grassy plains, rugged mountains, and thick forests. But fundamentally, Grand Teton is more of an activity park. There are lots of year-round recreational activities. There are also over a thousand drive-in campsites inside the park itself. Along the periphery, there are many others which are quite suitable for long-term stays.

Mountaineering, hiking, and fishing are only part of the story. Grand Teton is one of the last true wilderness areas in the United States. Today’s ecosystem is almost exactly the same as it was some 11,000 years ago, when the mysterious Paleo-Indians used the area as a seasonal hunting ground. The area is home to over 300 kinds of birds, 1,000 plant species, and many other wildlife animals. Furthermore, scientists believe some of the rock formations are almost three billion (with a “b”) years old.

Beginning around 1920, environmentalists like John D. Rockefeller fought long and hard to preserve the Grand Tetons for future generations. The moment you pull your RV into the Park, you’ll see why.

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RV Rentals in Grand Teton National Park

Transportation in Grand Teton National Park

Driving

To reach Grand Teton National Park, many RVers take Interstate 15 north from Salt Lake City. Once you reach Idaho Falls, take U.S. 26 to Swan Valley. State Highway 31 goes to Victor, and S.H. 33 goes to Jackson Hole. Along the way, you’ll pass an exit sign for Jackson Hole. Ignore it and stay on S.H. 33. Trust us on that one. We promise this is not a Hastings Cutoff-type route.

This route does have a fairly steep uphill grade. To avoid it, take Interstate 80 north from Salt Lake City to Evanston and enter the Park from the other side. This route is a bit more circuitous, so travelers need a really good sense of direction or a really reliable GPS navigation system.

Some people come from Denver. RVers avoid state highways and steep grades with this route. It’s also a bit longer, so prepare to stay overnight somewhere or drive for a really long time. Take Interstate 25 North to Cheyenne, then Interstate 80 West to Rock Springs. U.S. 191 then takes you pretty much straight to Jackson Hole.

The Park’s GPS coordinates are 43°47'25.54" N -110°40'54.35" W. For a GPS address, use 1 Teton Park Rd, Moose, WY 83012. That’s the Craig Thomas Visitors’ Center, and it’s open most of the year.

Parking

This Park is obviously quite mountainous and rugged, so parking may be limited especially during peak times or if the weather has been bad recently. Stick with the prepared campgrounds as much as possible or ask a ranger for directions to the best parking lots for oversize vehicles or trailers.

Public Transport

Teton County has a very nice bus system which serves Jackson Hole and surrounding areas. The START Bus Town Shuttle is free of charge. Alltrans also runs a summer shuttle between various points inside the Park and downtown Jackson. Numerous private guided tours are available as well.

Campgrounds and parking in Grand Teton National Park

Campsites in Grand Teton National Park

Reservations camping

Jackson Hole / Snake River KOA

Discover a shady spot for rigs up to 30 feet, laden with aspen, cottonwood, and giant spruce trees. Or, set up a tent-style camp, or cozy up in the confines of a comfortable cabin. The Snake River and Horse Creek flow through the campgrounds and are sure to delight anglers and wildlife lovers. A Wi-Fi hot spot at the front office gives you the ability to stay in touch with the online world. At Jackson Hole/Snake River KOA, you’ll find yourself in close proximity to local attractions like Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, or you can stick close to the KOA and kick back and enjoy sunny days at the on-site Snake River Beach.

Dubois / Wind River KOA

With the Grand Teton and the Yellowstone National Parks just a short drive away, Dubois, WY puts you close to the wilderness, recreational trails and scenic driving tours this side of the Continental Divide. Make Dubois/Wind River KOA your base and choose from the many (some riverfront) full hook-up sites or sites with municipal water, sewer and up to 50-amps of electricity. Rigs 80 feet and smaller are welcome and can easily be accommodated for. Relax by the indoor heated pool, stay in the loop with Wi-Fi and cable TV, go out for some fishing fun, and keep everyone entertained in the game room and on the playground.

Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch

Reservations are available and highly recommended at this park, but they are not technically required. All sites are full-hookup sites. As is the case at other RV parks inside the National Park itself, RVers may stay for a maximum fourteen days. Restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities are available at this pet-friendly park. Headwaters Campground is open from May through September.

Colter Bay RV Park

This park has 103 full hookup sites. Most of them are pull-through sites. They all fill up quickly, mostly because the park is just a five-minute walk from Jackson Lake. Laundry and shower facilities are close at hand, as are very stable WiFi connections. Colter Bay is exclusively for RVers. No tent camping is allowed.

First-come first-served

Gros Ventre Campground

This sprawling campground has over 300 sites. That includes thirty-six electric hook-up RV sites. There’s also a dump station. This site usually has vacancies and it’s open from May through September.

Signal Mountain and Lizard Creek

These single-vehicle primitive campsites are on either side of Signal Mountain Lodge. Lizard Creek is open from June through September; Signal Mountain is open from May through October. These lakeside campsites offer some truly stunning views. Signal Mountain Lodge has camping supplies, groceries, fishing supplies, and more. For something completely different, try the nearby Leek’s Pizzeria.

Colter Bay Winter Campground

The National Park Service keeps the Colter Bay Visitors’ Center plowed during the winter. So, it doubles as a primitive campground from December through April. The visitors’ center usually stays open during this period as well.

Alternate camping

Lodges and Cabins

Lodging options abound right inside the Park at Grand Teton. For a change of pace, park your RV and settle in at one of nearly a dozen organization or concessioner-run options, from a rustic bunkhouse or cabin to a luxurious cottage or fully-appointed room. For a one-of-a-kind experience, sign up for a river trip or a stay at a dude ranch.

Backcountry Camping

In addition to a host of RV campsites, Grand Teton National Park offers camping alternatives, if you’re looking to get off the beaten path during your visit. A camping permit and bear-proof canisters are required for all backcountry camping. A wealth of information, including a backcountry planning guide, is available from the Rangers and online.

Private Campgrounds

A number of privately-run campgrounds and RV Parks in the area offer all you could ask on an RV trip to Grand Teton. Within 30 miles, you can settle in at a variety of places with pull-through sites and full hookups. Amenities range from an on-site laundromat, grocery store, souvenir shop, and fuel station to dog parks, play areas, WiFi and local shuttle service. For a more refined experience, you can even find resort parks with options like deep tissue massage and activities that range from fishing and horseback riding to hot air balloon rides.

Seasonal activities in Grand Teton National Park

Spring

Mount Moran

This peak has several large glaciers, which are a rarity in the Lower 48. Whereas Grand Teton has a number of established trails to the summit, Mount Moran has almost none. So, it’s only for intrepid and experienced (and perhaps slightly foolhardy) climbers. Many choose to canoe across Leigh Lake much of the way, but even then, it’s still a challenging climb. Mount Moran is also a stunning view. It towers almost directly above Jackson Lake. Others go to Mount Moran for the rock climbing. There are group tours to the top as well.

Grand Teton

Though a few claim that the 13,700-foot peak is named after the Teton Sioux, most believe that it comes from the French for “big nipple” or “big teat.” Two of the routes up are included in the mountaineering guidebook, ‘Fifty Classic Climbs of North America’. Altogether, there are some three dozen routes to the top. Getting down is a bit easier. While the five ski routes from the summit all require at least one rappel, the route down from the Grand and Middle Teton is suitable for everyday skiers.

Teewinot Mountain

The sixth-highest peak in the Teton range is known for is jagged summit. “Teewinot” is supposedly the Shoshone word for “many pinnacles.” The peak is also one of the youngest Rocky Mountains, having begun their ascent some nine billion years ago. The climb up the eastern face is quite doable, as glaciers carved out a path over who knows how many years. More experienced climbers may want to try the unmarked Alpine Trail on the other side of the mountain.

Phelps Lake

This 750-acre lake is at the mouth of the oddly-named Death Canyon. The fishing is typically very good, as the trout are usually biting. There are a large number of hiking trails as well. The 1.8-mile round trip trail to and from the Phelps Overlook is the most popular one. While there, be sure and check out Jumping Rock on the lake’s north shore. It’s about a 30-foot drop to the water below, but the water is deep enough for daring high-divers. These indomitable divers might want to wear wetsuits. The water is quite cold all year long, even in summer.

Lake Solitude

So named because it’s almost literally surrounded by the Teton Mountains, hikers and backpackers flock to Lake Solitude this time of year. The Cascade Canyon trail runs a little over seven miles and features a 2,000-plus foot uphill grade. So, bring lots of food and water along for the trip. The views of the Cathedral Group, the tallest peaks in the area, are especially good from this spot. The quiet lake is also a great place for a night of camping.

Summer

Leigh Lake

One of the largest lakes in the Park has a pair of islands on its surface. The glassy water and wide-open spaces make for excellent canoeing and kayaking. During most of the year, this deep, glacier-filled lake is almost like a mirror. And you can imagine what that must look like. Several relatively short hiking trails lead to the lake, which also has a ranger station.

String Lake

Largely because of the nearby wetlands, moose are abundant at String Lake. Many people start their lake hiking tours here, because String Lake is easily accessible by RV. It has one of the Park’s very few large surface parking areas. Fly fishing off one of the bridges is one of the most popular activities. Swimming is a very close second. Lots of canoers also come to String Lake.

Mormon Row Historic District

Those on a religious pilgrimage may be somewhat crestfallen, as little remains of the original 19th century Mormon community. However, a number of homesteads dating back to the early 20th century still remain. From looking at them, it’s easy to see why people were attracted to this area. The fertile soil is quite suitable for farming, although the area is a little dry. Plus, there’s something very Old West-ish about a small cluster of homes in the shadow of some of the tallest peaks in North America. In 1997, Mormon Row joined the National Register of Historic Places.

Hidden Falls

The Jenny Lake boat shuttle takes visitors from the lake to the nearby Hidden Falls. There are several hiking trails available as well, including the 5.2-mile (round trip) Jenny Lake Trail. Once they arrive at the Falls, visitors see water rushing down some ten stories of rock. The water meanders slightly through the rocks and trees, so it is quite a sight.

Jenny Lake

A quite long, but relatively easy, hiking trail leads to Jenny Lake. That combination makes it one of the most popular pedestrian trails in Grand Teton National Park. It’s also a good jumping-off point for several other scenic trails, like the Valley Trail and the Cascade Canyon Trail. Like most other lakes, Jenny Lake also has some very nice primitive campsites.

Fall

South Teton

This 12,000-foot peak is noteworthy for its breast-shaped face. As the name implies, it’s also one of the southernmost peaks in the mountain range. So, when you get to the top, stunning panoramic views await. The Garnet Canyon trail is a relatively easy path, as far as mountain trails go. More challenging ascents are on the other side of the mountain. Eleanor Davis, the first woman to climb Grand Teton, used South Teton as something of a warm-up climb in 1923.

Taggart Lake

There’s also a large parking area adjacent to Taggart Lake. It’s less than a mile from Bradley Lake, so if you like water, you came to the right place. According to a 2005 survey, the lakes in this area are completely unspoiled. The pollution that has marred many of them, at least to an extent, is completely absent here. The lake area also offers great views of the Teton Mountains, which are just to the west.

Laurance Rockefeller Preserve

The Rockefellers purchased this former dude ranch around 1930. Over the years, the family donated most of the land to the Park. The final gift came in 2001. There were some strings attached. Namely, the government promised to always use the land as a way for people to connect with nature. The family evidently wanted other people to have the same experience they had when they used the former ranch as a family retreat. The visitors’ center tells much of this story. Today, the Preserve is a carefully bio-engineered place that features things like a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating and composting toilets.

Signal Mountain

This isolated mountain peak is usually only accessible during the summer and fall. The next-closest peak is some ten miles away, so the top of Signal Mountain offers sweeping views of most of the Park. Another unique thing about this mountain is that it’s almost entirely covered with dense forest. The trails are quite popular for hikers, mostly because they run through a series of shallow ponds. When the road is open, Signal Mountain is also a very RV-friendly destination, as there is usually some parking thereabouts.

Cascade Canyon

It’s easy to see why the Cascade Canyon Trail is one of the most popular ones in the Park. The scenery here is quite incredible, even for Grand Teton National Park. Running water formed the canyons of the Southwest over eons of time. A glacier did the same thing here, as it slid down every so slowly over the rock faces of these mountains. The only thing left of them now are numerous waterfalls, such as the aforementioned Hidden Falls. In addition to the Cascade Canyon Trail, there are numerous other trails available. There’s also a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps barn, which adds a nice historic touch to Cascade Canyon.

Winter

John Rockefeller Parkway

Without this family’s vision, passion, and generosity, there probably would be no Grand Teton National Park. Or at least, it would be a much smaller version of the one that RVers enjoy today. There might also be no Acadia National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So, it’s fitting that the John Rockefeller Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in this Park. As they drive, RVers can take in ancient lava flows, stunning rock formations, and of course the majestic Snake River. Popular activities along the Parkway include rafting during the summer and winter snowmobile tours. Incidentally, this Parkway is also the primary connecting route between Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. But that’s the subject of another guide.

National Museum

Winter, spring, summer, or fall, but especially winter, no RV excursion to Grand Teton would be complete without a stop at the National Museum. The facility is made from Idaho quartzite and designed like a Scottish castle. It overlooks the National Elk Refuge, so the views are quite stunning. Inside, the Museum features fourteen galleries with works from the likes of Frederic Remington, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andy Warhol. There’s also the regionally-famous Sculpture Trail, which includes some thirty works of outdoor art.

Grand Targhee Resort

The western Tetons average about 500 inches of snow a year. That’s a lot of powder, which is why ski resorts like the Grand Targhee are so popular. Despite the resort’s popularity, personal space is not a problem. Grand Targhee is located in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and consistently has one of the lowest skier-to-powder ratios in the country. If skiing isn’t your thing, try one of the backcountry snowshoe tours or hitch a ride on a Snowcat. Or, you can come during the summer and check out one of the many music festivals. There is usually at least one a month.

Jackson Hole

Depending on who you ask, Jackson Hole is either one of the coolest towns in the West or a cloister for spoiled rich people. That should not come as much of a surprise, because the West has always been a place of sharp contrasts. One thing is for sure: With temperatures as low as -60, Jackson Hole sometimes gets very cold in the winter. Nevertheless, Jackson Hole is also a great place for skiing and shopping. It’s also home to Wyoming’s largest commercial airport, so it’s a very lively and diverse town.

National Elk Refuge

Visitors can see elk at other times of the year as well. But the roughly 6,000-head herd congregates in this area every winter. That’s one of the largest elk herds in the world. The area is fenced, but that’s for the elk’s protection. The 8-foot high fence reduces the risk of motor vehicle collisions and so on. Furthermore, there are a number of “elk jumps” where the animals can come and go almost as they please. If you show up for Elk Fest in May, you have the opportunity to buy elk antlers. A few are also available year-round in Jackson Hole. We also recommend the winter sleigh rides. Fortunately, in this neck of the woods, May is practically winter. So, you may be able to hit both. People can go onto the Refuge as long as they stick to the main roads.

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