Grand Teton National Park Essentials

Plan memorable alpine adventures among the iconic peaks of Wyoming’s Teton Range.

Rising like a tidal wave over the surrounding plains, the Teton Range forms one of the most iconic landscapes in all of the National Park Service. These imposing peaks are undoubtedly the centerpiece of Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming, and for good reason—the mountain skyline stretches into 12,000 and 13,000-plus feet, a dramatic elevation gain—but this jewel of a park just south of Yellowstone National Park offers plenty more.

Here, sparkling lakes lend themselves to paddling, boating, and shoreline hikes. Kayakers paddle the mighty Snake River. Historic buildings let visitors peek into the area’s past. Alpine wildflowers bloom against a backdrop of glaciers. And an impressive variety of wildlife make their homes here, from osprey and marmots to moose, bison, and grizzly bears. It’s no wonder this relatively small park inspires such grand affection. 

Sculpted Peaks

How exactly did those photogenic Tetons come to be? The region’s mountains were formed starting about 120 million years ago, as massive tectonic plates collided on the North American west coast and forced the Earth’s crust upward. The park lies on a fault (a giant fracture in blocks of rock known as the Teton fault), where, about 10 million years ago, earthquakes began shoving one side up to form the peaks and the other side down to form a valley. The Pleistocene Ice Age further shaped the Tetons by adding ice sheets to the landscape, which bulldozed, polished, and sculpted the rock before retreating in the modern era.

Wildlife Haven

Grand Teton borders Yellowstone, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find many of the same animals here. Beavers, river otters, and moose live in the valley’s waterways, while pronghorn, bison, and elk populate the sagebrush flats on the park’s east side. As you move up in elevation, look for black bears, mule deer, and martens in the forests. Marmots, pikas, and bighorn sheep can be found in the highest mountain habitats. Grizzly bears and gray wolves also roam the Tetons, and many people consider spotting one a highlight of their trip. 

Human History

Archeological evidence tells us that people have lived in the area that is now Grand Teton National Park for at least 11,000 years. Indigenous tribes, including the Shoshone, Bannock, Crow, Blackfoot, and Nez Perce peoples, spent summers in the area, hunting and roasting camas roots. European explorers and trappers began arriving in the 1800s, followed by settlers, homesteaders, and dude ranchers catering to tourists. Grand Teton became a national park in 1929 and was significantly expanded in 1950. 


Grand Teton comprises the skyscraping Teton Range on its west side, a swath of sagebrush-studded valley floor on the east side, and a number of lakes large and small through the middle. Though parts are quite wild, you’ll find infrastructure for travelers on the lower-elevation east side. Two main roads run roughly north-south through the park (they form a loop), granting access to several visitors centers, six hotels, 10 restaurants, and a few developed campgrounds. You’ll need a car to see the bulk of the park, as there’s no park shuttle or other public transportation. 


Summer: Mid-June, July, and August make up the park’s high season, and no wonder: This is when snow melts off all but the highest peaks, opening up hiking and mountaineering routes. Flowers bloom, wildlife is active, and warm-to-hot temperatures put swimming and paddling on the table. All services are open in the summer, too. But keep in mind that the summer months can be very crowded in the park, and wildfire season in the West means smoke from local and regional fires can cause significant air pollution. In summer, expect highs in the 70s and 80s and lows into the 30s.

Fall: September, October, and November are excellent times to visit Grand Teton. Crowds begin to fade (though September can still be busy), fall foliage colors the landscape, and wildlife (notably, bears) are busily preparing for winter by gorging on food and navigating the mating season (elk, moose). Remember that many services begin to close up for the season, though. Fall daytime temps range from the high 30s to the low 60s, with nights getting downright frosty by November. Snow can fall anytime, especially in the high elevations. 

Winter: December through March, the Tetons are covered with a fluffy layer of snow—perfect for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and alpine skiing (for the hardcore backcountry skiing crowd). Winter is also a great time to spot the elk that congregate in the lower elevations this time of year. Winter visitors must be prepared for few services and cold temps: Expect highs in the 20s and lows approaching 0. 

Spring: April through mid-June, the park wakes up. Bears emerge from hibernation, and you might spot baby elk, moose, and bison. Snow lingers on the trails well into May (and longer at higher elevations), so you’ll still need skis or snowshoes to really explore the backcountry. But spring is also an excellent time to cycle the park’s roads and paths and try fishing. Near the end of spring, park services begin to reopen for the busy season. Weather will be variable, with snow possible anytime and highs in the 40s through 60s and lows in the 20s and 30s. 


Your Grand Teton adventure awaits. Here are just a few of your options.

Top day-hikes & backpacking trips

Grand Teton hikes include everything from lakeside rambles to steep peak scrambles. 

Phelps Lake

This relatively easy trail leads through an evergreen forest to a tranquil backcountry lake sitting at the entrance to Death Canyon. The hike lies inside the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, a refuge located within the national park. It’s a 1.3-mile (one-way) hike to reach Phelps Lake, but the loop trail around the lake extends the trip to about 7 miles round-trip (well worth the time).

Amphitheater Lake

Get ready to climb on this zigzagging trail to a stunning lake at 9,600 feet. The trip gains almost 3,000 feet over 5.1 miles, but you’ll be richly rewarded for the effort with views over and beyond the town of Jackson to the east, and 11,618-foot Disappointment Peak to the west.

Cascade Canyon-Paintbrush Canyon Loop

One of the park’s best backpacking trips, this 19.7-mile loop takes you into the Tetons’ sweetest backcountry. The route winds past alpine lakes and over 10,700-foot Paintbrush Divide, treating hikers to views of the park’s tallest peaks. 


The Tetons have long been a prized destination for mountaineers, and no wonder: The park contains miles of thrilling, challenging alpine climbs, including 12,330-foot Teewinot Mountain, 12,519-foot South Teton, 12,809-foot Middle Teton, and 13,775-foot Grand Teton. Climbers should have a strong set of mountaineering skills and experience, and several guiding services have permits to lead trips in the park.


The Tetons are better when you sleep over. The park offers seven developed campgrounds, all of which can be reserved ahead of time. Colter Bay Campground, on the north side of the park, and Gros Ventre Campground, on the southeast, are the largest options. Lizard Creek and Headwaters campgrounds are smaller and located in the northern stretches of the park (and often don’t fill as quickly as the other options). Jenny Lake Campground, with its primo location on the shores of picturesque Jenny Lake, is particularly popular.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.