by Joseph A. Sprince – Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks Travel Guides are a resource for those planning to tour Yellowstone National Park and/or Grand Teton National Park. The adjacent national parks are typically visited at the same time and offer very different experiences. Yellowstone offers the world's largest concentration of thermal features such as geysers and hot pools. Grand Teton features one of the world's most spectacular mountain ranges. Both parks offer outstanding opportunities to view wildlife.
Outdoor Activities in Grand Teton National Park
A wide variety of organized outdoor activities are available at the park. These include: youth backpacking, boat rentals, climbing guides, cross country skiing, snowshoe tours, fishing trips, Snake River float trips (scenic, wildlife, and white water), horseback riding, kayaking tours, marinas, Jenny Lake shuttle, sailboating, scenic cruises. Please see Grand Teton National Park’s Concessioner Activities web page for a list of businesses and organizations that are licensed to provide visitor activities within the park.
Grand Teton National Park also offers Ranger-Led Programs throughout the year. Program locations vary daily. Hikes rated from easy to strenuous. Some hikes not recommended for people with heart, breathing, or serious medical conditions. Information on ranger-led hikes is available at these visitor centers: Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center, Jenny Lake, Colter Bay, and Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center.
Hiking in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park offers a network of trails which penetrate the Teton Range and also work around the pretty lakes at the base of the mountains. The most scenic and popular areas are around and above Jenny Lake. The combination of lake and mountain vistas with beautiful forests is hard to beat. The most outstanding experience at Grand Teton is the hike up Cascade Canyon via the Jenny Lake boat shuttle (described below).
Grizzly and black bears live throughout the park and parkway. Some of the most popular trails are in excellent bear habitat. Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear people approaching, so make noise. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Bear spray has proven to be an effective, non-lethal, bear deterrent capable of stopping aggressive behavior in bears.
- Hiking. The best way to enjoy the park is to get out of your vehicle and enjoy the areas away from the road. Be sure to download Grand Teton’s Day Hikes Brochure for suggested hikes and safety recommendations. The trails around Jenny Lake, String Lake, and Leigh Lake are fairly wide and level, easy to access, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Loop hikes of Jenny and String lakes are easy and pleasant. For scenic hikes around lakes such as Phelps, Jenny, Leigh and Taggart, download Grand Teton’s Lakeshore Hikes Brochure (a PDF file). The more physically fit should definitely visit Cascade Canyon, at least as far as Inspiration Point. (See sample day hikes below.)
Day Hike Sampler for Grand Teton National Park
Below is a sampling of trails we have day-hiked in recent years:
- Polecat Creek. An easy, level hike in a marshy area where there are hot springs. North of the Flagg Ranch Resort on far side of Grassy Lake Road. A good hike to do after dinner with possibilities of seeing waterfowl and wildlife. We observed buffalo along Polecat Creek. There is a hot spring which is suitable and apparently popular for recreational use.
- Paintbrush Canyon. A challenging hike with a nice payoff. We hiked from Jenny Lake beyond Lower Paintbrush Canyon to the group campsite, then returned going around north end of String Lake, about ten miles in total. Going up-canyon entailed steady uphill climbing but extremely strenuous. The lower canyon was generally in woods, following a pretty, cascading stream. The trail broke out of the trees perhaps a mile before the campsite with beautiful views of the mountains above the canyon. The campsite was on an elevated bench which afforded tremendous views of Jackson Hole down-canyon.
- Cascade Canyon. The finest hike in the park. It’s best to take the Jenny Lake boat shuttle across the lake to the Cascade Canyon trailhead. This saves four miles of hiking. The shuttle runs frequently and requires a per person fee. The views from the boat while crossing the lake are spectacular. From the boat dock, the trail starts steeply uphill, along a pretty cascading stream. Hidden Falls is about 1/2 mile up the trail (150 feet elevation gain). The 250 foot tall waterfall is one of the park’s finest sights. Another 1/2 mile up the trail (more strenuous, another 250 feet of elevation gain) is Inspiration Point, possibly the best vista point in the park, with views of Jackson Hole and the mountains beyond. After Inspiration Point, the trail becomes relatively level for several miles. The canyon narrows with steep mountains rising thousands of feet on either side. To reach the Forks of Cascade Canyon would require a nine mile round trip from the dock wih a total elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. See our article, Cascade Canyon, Beyond Magnificent.
Backpacking and Backcountry Camping in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is extremely popular with backpackers due to the spectacular and unspoiled nature of the backcountry. Permits are required for all backcountry camping and generally require that you stay in designated backcountry campsites. Grand Teton National Park requires the use of Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee approved canisters for food storage in the backcountry. All permit holders may check out a canister, free of charge. Each backcountry campsite has varying restrictions on group size, stock use, boating access, campfires, and length of stay. The permits are available on a reservation system, and reservations are strongly recommended, especially for popular areas during the summer.
Requests for advance backcountry reservations for the summer season are accepted only from the first Wednesday in January through May 15. All requests must be submitted using the website Recreation.gov. Fees are charged for permits and reservations. See the NPS’s Grand Teton National Park Backcountry Reservation web page for more information. (Only a portion of the backcountry campsites are reservable in advance. If you prefer, you may wait until you arrive in the park to reserve your backcountry campsite(s). During peak season (July and August), competition for these walk-in permits is high.) Please call 307-739-3309 for more information.
- Backpacking. Backcountry camping is a very popular activity at Grand Teton. Designated camping areas have been established on a number of the most popular trails, with limits on the number of campers. Permits are required to camp in the backcountry. There is a reservation system available. (Reservations may be made up to May 15 for a given summer.) The most popular (and busiest) backpack trip is the Cascade Canyon – Paintbrush Canyon loop. For assistance on backpacking, visit or call the Jenny Lake Ranger Station (307-739-3343).
Other Outdoor Activities
- Climbing and Mountaineering. The jagged high peaks of the Teton Range, such as Grand Teton peak, are accessible only by technical climbing. Permits are not needed to climb (but still needed to camp in the backcountry). Commercial guides are recommended for less experienced mountaineers. Current and detailed information in the summer is available at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, phone: (307) 739-3343. In the winter, please call (307) 739-3309. Current conditions are posted on the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers Blogspot.
- Biking in Grand Teton National Park. Biking is a popular activity in the park. The multi-use pathway is open to non-motorized users from dawn to dusk. The pathway currently extends from the town of Jackson, north to Moose Junction and then follows the Teton Park Road to the South Jenny Lake area. The section of pathway through Grand Teton National Park opens seasonally after snow has melted from the pathway surface. Download the Biking Brochure for a map of suggested routes, rules, and regulations.
- Boating and Float Trips in Grand Teton National Park. There are many opportunities for enjoying boating or float trips in Grand Teton National Park. The Snake River flows through the park and features world-class fishing, unparalleled wildlife viewing and mild rapids depending on time of year. Many of the more accessible lakes are open for a variety of activities. Concessionaires licensed by the National Park service provide various visitor activities including boat rentals, float trips, kayaking tours, boat shuttles, and scenic cruises. Download the Boating Brochure for guidelines for registering boats in the park, launch sites and safety requirements. Wyoming state law now requires boaters to purchase an Aquatic Invasive Species decal from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and post it on their boat. Download the Floating the Snake River Brochure for information on floating the Snake River, including river flows, permits required and safety precautions.
- Fishing in Grand Teton National Park. A Wyoming fishing license is required. Licenses require a Conservation Stamp except for a one day license. Download Grand Teton’s Fishing Brochure for more information.
- Horseback Riding. Permitted on most park trails and generally not permitted off-trail. There are five designated stock campsites in the backcountry. This brochure provides specific rules on trails and backcountry camping. Commercial horseback rides are available from the following park-authorized businesses: Headwaters Lodge at Flagg Ranch, Grand Teton Lodge Company, or Lost Creek Ranch.
- Aerial Tramway. The aerial tram from Teton Village ski area has long provided easy summer access to the Grand Teton high country Tram Building Location: 3265 West Village Drive, Jackson, WY 83025, Phone: (307) 733-2292.