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Grand Teton National Park

National Parks Image Gallery Carved by glacial ice thousands of years ago, the Tetons' sheer-walled canyons still harbor snowfields and several small glaciers. See more pictures of national parks.
©2006 National Park Services

Grand Teton National Park

PO Drawer 170

Moose, WY 83012-0170

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307-739-3300

www.nps.gov/grte

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is located approximately 275 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, and is named for the highest peak in the park's Tetons range. The summit of Grand Teton is 13,770 feet above sea level, and the mountain shoots a mile and a half straight up into the Wyoming sky without intervening foothills. The steepness of the mountain seems overwhelming to those who view it.

Visitors will find plenty to do; outdoor activities such as wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, and swimming are popular at Grand Teton. Furthermore, it's easy to take advantage of all Grand Teton National Park has to offer. An airport in Jackson Hole makes this park readily accessible.

Entrance fees: $20/vehicle for seven days; $15/individual on motorcycle for seven days; $10/individual on foot or bicycle for seven days. This fee is valid for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

Visitor centers: Moose Visitor Center is open daily, except December 25. Colter Bay Visitor Center is open from early May to early December. Jenny Lake Visitor Center is open from early June to late September. Flagg Ranch Information Station is open from early June to early September.

Other services: Four lodges, two groups of cabins, two guest ranches, and six campgrounds

Accommodations:

  • Six campgrounds are available at various times from early May to mid-October. They mostly operate on a first-come, first-served basis, but reservations can sometimes be available. 800-443-2311.
  • Dornan's Spur Ranch Cabins. Open year-round. 307-733-2522.
  • Seven other lodges or ranches offer lodging variously from early May to mid-October.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Visiting Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park encompasses the 6,300-foot-high valley called Jackson Hole, with Yellowstone to the north and the Tetons to the west. An early 19th century French trapper supposedly named the Tetons for female breasts, which he somehow imagined they resembled.

The name does not really fit, but for English-speaking Americans it has taken on a certain descriptive quality that seems to go with the mountains today. The Tetons are the mountains of dreams, a rise of granite towers so impossible and impenetrable that they appear to guard a hidden land that only can be imagined but never truly attained.

Popular in winter as well as during the warm-weather months, Grand Teton offers dozens of outdoor activities for travelers. On the next page, see our sightseeing tips.

©2006 National Park Services Aspens, cottonwoods, willows, alders, blue spruce, and other moisture-loving trees thrive on the floodplain of the Snake River, which flows below the Teton Range.

Grand Teton National Park derives its name from the towering peak that appears to pierce the skies above. The Grand Teton massif, which includes five consort peaks (Middle and South Tetons, Mount Owen, Teewinot, and Nez Perce), dominates the central part of the range.

To the north, Mount Moran is a stark granite hulk 12,605 feet high. It rises in splendid isolation from the shore of Jackson Lake, the largest of six jewel-like lakes strung along the base of the mountains.

Many people who visit the Tetons are surprised at their first sight of these rugged mountains. They find that they are somewhat familiar with these mountains, having seen them in western movies, such as the classic Shane, and in countless ads and television commercials. The Grand Tetons have become a recognizable symbol of the long gone American West -- tough and proud.

From the foot of Mount Moran, the Snake River flows peacefully out of Jackson Lake along a 30-mile-long stretch that traverses the park. The river is braided into several channels that run through a forested, serpentine trough. Rafting down the Snake provides a unique perspective on some of America's most spectacular scenery.

Wildlife flourishes in the river's valley. Bald eagles nest in dead trees alongside the stream, as do the great ospreys that cruise above the river casting their sharp eyes about for the native cutthroat trout that is their favorite meal. Moose, otters, and beavers also frequent these waters.

Plant life ranges from open grass and sage communities at the lower elevations to subalpine forests of lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, and Douglas fir. The Tetons are famous for summertime wildflower displays. Common flowers include wild rose, Indian paintbrush, blue columbine, and yellow balsamroot.

Today, winter is increasingly popular at the park, with numerous opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and wildlife viewing on the adjacent National Elk Wildlife Refuge.

Regardless, most visitors still come in summer, when the hiking trails are free of snow.

©2006 National Park Services Moose are some of the largest of Grand Teton's wildlife inhabitants.

Hiking to Lake Solitude

Hiking through a deep slice in the mountains called Cascade Canyon, just north of Grand Teton, gives visitors a good feel for some of the geological wonders of the park.

The hike starts on the west side of Jenny Lake. In the lower part of the canyon, rushing water, here and there in the form of cascading falls, seems to be constantly at work, eating away at the granite walls. Cascade Canyon originally was cut as a V by running water. Now it has been formed into a U shape, its nearly vertical sides sculpted by the powerful activity of glaciers in the last ice age.

As you walk through a series of switchbacks, granite walls rise 2,000 to 3,000 feet above you. Two miles into the canyon, the peaks tower a mile above. Abruptly, the canyon drops away, the rocky trail begins a steeper ascent into a broad bowl, and you suddenly discover that you have walked around to the north side of Grand Teton. After a total of seven miles, you arrive at Lake Solitude.

There, in an incredibly beautiful valley, the air is intoxicatingly clear, and wildflowers abound. Grand Teton and Mount Owen are reflected in the lake, and a circular granite wall rises in the west.

Grand Teton National Park Photo Opportunities

The Tetons are hypnotically alluring, and there are no bad views of these mountains from any place in the park. There are, however, sites that offer especially striking views, such as:

  • Blacktail Ponds Overlook: An excellent place for spotting osprey and moose, Blacktail Ponds Overlook is located about a mile north of Moose Junction on the Scenic Loop Drive.
  • Inspiration Point: This overlook does require some rather strenuous hiking, but the sweeping vista of Jenny Lake is well worth the climb. The trail to Inspiration Point begins at Solitude Lake and climbs more than 400 feet in altitude.
  • Snake River Overlook: Considered by many to be the best panoramic view of the Tetons, Snake River Overlook is located along the northeast route between Moran and Moose junctions on the Scenic Loop Drive.
  • Oxbow Bend: Unusual wildlife such as moose, bald eagles, and elk frequent the Jackson Hole region, and the view from Oxbow Bend is fantastic. From one of the turnouts on the south side of the road, onlookers will note the stunning peak of Mount Moran shimmering in the Snake River waters.

The Tetons are the youngest range in the Rockies, at 12 million years old. To learn about the geology and history of the Tetons, read the next page.

©2006 National Park Services The braided channels of the Snake River provide wetland habitats for a wide array of Rocky Mountain wildlife, such as Canada geese, ducks, beavers, elk, and moose.

The fierce geology of the Tetons accounts for almost everything unusual about the region: the afternoon thunderstorms that can turn suddenly nasty, the deep canyons that shelter bears and deer, the broad river basin that provides grazing for moose and a refuge for elk, and the long and bitter winters. A walk into any of the canyons between the mountains reveals this geology firsthand.

The Tetons are a textbook example of fault-block mountains. This means that they were pushed up as the earth split along a north-south fault line. As pressures deep within the mantle forced the blocks on each side of the crack together, the western block rose to form the mountains and the eastern block sank to form the valley.

The granite on the summits of some of the peaks is more than three billion years old, which makes it some of the oldest rock in North America. But the mountains themselves are the youngest of the Rocky Mountains. Only 12 million years old, they are mere adolescents compared with the rest of the 60-million-year-old range. Because of their relative youth, the Tetons are more rugged than the rest of the Rockies. The eastern side of the mountains is more abrupt and dramatic than the somewhat gentler western side.

©2006 National Park Services Inhabited by Indians as many as 8,000 years ago, Jackson Hole and the Tetons, reflected here in a channel of the Snake River, were explored in the early 1800s by well-known mountain men such as John Colter and Jedediah Smith.

The History of the Tetons: Inhabitants and Explorers

The first people arrived in Jackson Hole long before white men set foot on the North American continent. A pointed obsidian blade found in the northern end of the park indicates a human presence as long ago as 11,000 years. The first humans who came here were probably hunters and gatherers. By 1600, Shoshone and Athapaskan people had discovered the valley.

In 1807, John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, wandered alone into the Yellowstone-Jackson Hole area and brought back incredible tales of exploding geysers and impenetrable mountains. The region was first named "Colter's Hell" in his honor.

The first permanent settlers arrived here sometime during  the 1880s. One original homestead, a log ranch house built by the Cunningham family on the eastern side of Jackson Hole, has been maintained in the park for historical purposes. The view of the Grand Teton mountains through its kitchen window is a stunning reminder of the hardships and terrible winters the family endured beneath the very same spectacular scenery.

Although Grand Teton is one of the smaller national parks, it offers much in the way of wildlife and scenery. If you plan on visiting Yellowstone or traveling to this corner of the country for other reasons, schedule some time at Grand Teton National Park. It will be well worth the visit.

©Publications International, Ltd.

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