Wanderlust in Wyoming: Exploring Grand Teton National Park

January 07, 2016                 5m read time
Nicole Wiegand


Hike the mountains, paddle the river, or take a horseback ride…just don’t forget your camera. We’ve compiled 10 picture-perfect adventures in majestic Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton National Park lays claim to one of the most spectacular mountain ranges on the planet: Uninterrupted by foothills and rising nearly 7,000 feet above the valley floor, its towering summits dominate an immaculate natural landscape. With more than 300,000 acres of jagged peaks, sapphire lakes and lush forests, this wild and wondrous terrain is an outdoor enthusiast’s xanadu. Here are 10 grand adventures to make the most of Grand Teton National Park.

1. Pedal under wide open skies

Biking through Grand Teton National Park  John Russell

Biking through Grand Teton National Park 

John Russell

 

Though hailed for its hiking trails, Grand Teton boasts plenty of paved roads for cycling, too. Take a ride on the designated bike path running from Jenny Lake to the town of Jackson: This gorgeous route will have you pedaling beneath wide open sky, the Tetons towering in the distance. If biking on the mountain is more your thing, we suggest Two Ocean Lake Road, a three-mile dirt trail over rolling alpine terrain. For a guided adventure that offers thrills in several flavors against a variety of epic backdrops, consider booking an unforgettable six-day multisport adventure with Escape Adventures.

2. Float the twisting Snake River

Floating on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park  Tom Kelly

Floating on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park 

Tom Kelly

 

Don’t be creeped out by the name—the Snake River doesn’t actually have serpentine critters lurking in its waters. Rather, its namesake is the result of English settlers misinterpreting the local Native Americans, who were making hand gestures meaning “river with lots of fish in it.” Plethora of pescatarian delights aside, the river’s winding trajectory makes it a top watersports destination for kayaking and rafting. Head out with Rendezvous River Sports or Lewis and Clark River Expeditions for beginner kayaking lessons, white water trips, scenic raft floats and more. And if you’re planning to venture out sans guide, be sure to purchase a permit at the park's visitor center first. Pro tip: For a leisurely paddle, avoid the toughest stretch of river between Deadman's Bar and Moose Landing in favor of putting in at Jackson Lake Dam.

3. The best way to see the West? By horse, of course

Horseback rides in Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park Big Ben in Japan

Horseback rides in Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park

Big Ben in Japan

 

You’re in the heart of the Old West: Riding a horse comes with the territory. See the majestic Tetons as early explorers did by arranging a guided tour with Jackson Lake Lodge or Colter Bay Village corrals. There’s nothing like soaking in 360-degree mountain vistas from the saddle, moving along at a rhythmic pace with nothing but the gentle sounds of hooves plodding on grass. For equine enthusiasts, heaven on earth is an extended vacation at a local dude ranch, where unparalleled riding excursions in glorious stretches of backcountry await.  Cowboy hats are optional, but highly recommended.

4.  Savor the snow

Cross country skier in Grand Teton National Park  Clark Weber

Cross country skier in Grand Teton National Park 

Clark Weber

 

Winter in Grand Teton is a wonderland: the park is a bit less busy, and the landscape is utterly transformed beneath a blanket of snow. Strap on some cross-country skis and traverse the leisurely Swan Lake-Heron Pond Loop, or take on the slightly more challenging Phelps Lake Overlook Trail. For a unique winter adventure, a team of dogs can whisk you into the woods during a sledding trip with Continental Divide Dog Sled Adventures. Seize the day by leading the pack yourself, fulfilling that itch to gleefully yell “MUSH!” at the top of your lungs.

5.  Critter Central at Oxbow Bend

Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park rwarrin

Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park

rwarrin

 

Grab your binoculars and camera and head to Oxbow Bend for some wildlife watching to rival any Nat Geo documentary. Famous for the crystal-clear reflection of Mt. Moran that materializes on the river’s placid waters each morning, this serene backwater location is also critter central. Stake out a spot in the early morning for delightful sightings of river otters, moose, black bears and grizzlies. And don’t get so entrance by the river that you forget to look up: Skyward, you're likely to see osprey, bald eagles and various birds of prey.

6.  Hike the Hidden Falls Trail

Hidden Falls Trail in Grand Teton National Park  John Menard

Hidden Falls Trail in Grand Teton National Park 

John Menard

 

Rushing more than 200 feet to the valley floor, the thundering Hidden Falls are hardly hiding from anything. The scenic five-mile hike begins on the south side of Jenny Lake, gradually cutting through the verdant heart of an evergreen forest. Keep an eye out for cute marmots (you know, those chubby rodents that look like giant beaver-squirrels) scampering trailside. This area is also prime bear country, so take proper precautions, which include keeping your camera at the ready. The big payoff comes at the top of the trail, which reveals a heart-stopping view of the falls. Adrenaline and motivation spiked, continue to Inspiration Point for panoramic vistas of Jenny Lake and the 12,000-foot Teewinot Mountain to the west.

7. Don't forget to explore Jackson

Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park  USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park 

USFWS Mountain-Prairie

 

A trip to Grand Teton National Park would be incomplete without taking advantage of attractions in nearby Jackson, where, less than six miles to the northeast, an estimated 11,000 antlered locals call the National Elk Refuge home. Take your pick of seasonal activities such as ElkFest, tours of the historic Miller House, guided wildlife viewing drives and much more. If you’re sore from all that hiking or climbing, tired muscles find respite with a restorative soak in Granite Hot Springs, a natural bath at the base of the Wind River Mountains (typically open to the public from late May through October). And even though you’re in the cradle of Mother Nature, there’s still plenty of cultural enrichment to be had. Embrace western nightlife at the Jackson Hole Playhouse, which features Broadway-style entertainment complete with dinner served by singing, gun-slinging waiters.

8.  Play in Colter Bay

The shore of Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park  Deborah Desiree

The shore of Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park 

Deborah Desiree

 

Name a water sport, and you’re likely to find it at Colter Bay. Rent a kayak, canoe, or motorboat from the National Park Service, or leave the navigating to someone else with a guided fishing excursion. Swimming, waterskiing and windsurfing are popular activities here, but remember: the water stays chilly year-round, a thick wetsuit is de rigueur no matter the season. Prefer to stay on dry land? Take your pick of myriad hiking paths tracing the shores of Jackson Lake or sleep beneath the stars at first-come, first-serve Colter Bay Campground.

9.  Tackle Grand Teton

Rock climbing in Grand Teton National Park  Nick Swett

Rock climbing in Grand Teton National Park 

Nick Swett

 

At 13,770 feet, Grand Teton towers over Jackson Hole. Summiting it is a coveted accomplishment, and it’s not for the unseasoned. Prepare for the challenge with a course at one of the park’s climbing schools prior to attempting an ascent. Exum Mountain Guides readies students for Grand Teton after just two days of instruction, but first consider a practice run at Teton Boulder Park (located at the base of Snow King Mountain), where a free outdoor climbing wall will test your chops.

10.  Soar above Teton Village

Flying above Grand Teton National Park  Brian Gautrey

Flying above Grand Teton National Park 

Brian Gautrey

 

If you thought the Tetons were glorious at ground level, nothing will prepare you for the majesty of a bird’s-eye perspective. End your trip by making once-in-a-lifetime memories with Jackson Hole Paragliding, which offers tandem flights for newbies and seasoned paragliders alike. Following a short safety briefing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort or Snow King Resort, experience the sheer exhilaration of soaring over Teton Village, surveying all the awesome mountainous glory you’ve hiked, biked, and conquered below.

Nicole Wiegand

Nicole Wiegand is a native New Yorker who writes about everything from travel to technology. She loves exploring the city, hiking with her family, knitting, and cooking.

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