Grand Teton National Park: A user's guide
There's a reason why more than 4 million people visit this Wyoming wonder annually. (Don't worry: there's enough nature for everyone to enjoy.)
Wed, Aug 31, 2011 at 07:04 AM
Grand Teton National Park is part of a string of national parks and national forests in northwestern Wyoming. Though it is not as large as its high-profile neighbor, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton certainly doesn't sit in the shadows. Its 13,775-foot namesake peak towers a mile above the popular Jackson Hole ski and recreation area.
Though the Tetons dominate the skyline, this park contains non-alpine landscapes as well. Grasslands, lakes and valleys are found within its boundaries. Like other major national parks, the main areas of Grand Teton are overcrowded during the summer, but there are plenty of unvisited spaces lying just off of the park's beaten path.
In the early years of the 20th century, Teton National Forest was established by the U.S. government, but it was a long and messy process. In 1919, there was a political movement to expand the boundries of Yellowstone National Park to include the Teton range and Jackson Hole, but the bill died in the Senate. In 1929, the Tetons and the lakes at the base of the mountains were finally given national park status.
Industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller was instrumental in the park's expansion. He bought land in the Jackson Hole area in the 1930s with the goal of conserving it and handing it over to the National Park Service — but again, there was controversy. It wasn't until 1950 that Rockefeller's land, as well as more than 100,000 acres of neighboring land, were officially taken over by the NPS and subsequently merged with Grand Teton, more than doubling the park's size.
Things to do
Unlike many summer-centric national parks, Grand Teton is a year-round destination. Snow-shoeing and cross-country-skiing, either solo or as part of a ranger-guided tour, are possible during the snowiest months of the year.
A full menu of interpretive hikes and informational sessions is offered each summer. The park's newspaper has up-to-date information on these events. Serious back-country aficionados will enjoy Grand Teton because the rugged trails and quick changes in altitude offer challenging conditions and assure trekkers that the masses will be absent from the farther reaches of the park. Camping permits (and bear-resistant canisters for food) are required for all multi-day journeys.
The roads inside Grand Teton have turnoffs that lead to parking areas where visitors are most likely to catch sight of wildlife and appreciate photo-worthy panoramas of the mountains.
Why you'll come back
Some people might shy away from this park because of the sheer number of visitors that it gets (more than 4 million in 2010). But crowds or not, the scenery and wildlife are undeniably attractive. With both Jackson Hole and Yellowstone nearby, Grand Teton is a convenient addition to any winter or summer Wyoming itinerary.
Flora and fauna
Grizzly and black bears, elk, bison, and moose are Grand Teton's most sizable animal residents. Pronghorn deer can often be seen from the park's scenic overlooks. Smaller mammals, such as beavers, wolverines, and marmots are also prevalent. Large birds, like trumpeter swans (which live on their namesake Swan Lake), ospreys, and bald eagles make Grand Teton a great place for birdwatchers.
There are more than 1,000 species of plants in the park. Vegetation varies according to elevation. Wildflowers bloom during the summer months in areas below the alpine zone. Ferns and grasses cover the valley forest and riverside wetlands. Tree species are mainly coniferous, with spruce and fir the most common.
By the numbers
- Website: Grand Teton National Park
- Park size: 310,000 acres or 485 square miles
- 2010 visitation: 4,002,025
- Busiest month: July (761,885 visitors)
- Slowest month: November (138,056)
- Funky fact: 17 species of carnivores live inside the park.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.