What to see, what to do in Grand Teton National Park: hiking, nature and wildlife
Located in the rocky west of Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is less famous than its almost immediate neighbour Yellowstone National Park. And yet, with its peaks culminating in more than 4000 meters of altitude, called the "Tetons", it offers an ideal setting for a stay at the foot of the mountains, between nature, hiking and wildlife.
We had the privilege of discovering this park for the first time in September 2013, and then returned in October 2017. Although we have seen an increase in park visitation in 4 years, Grand Teton National Park is still preserved from mass tourism. The reason? Grand Teton is mainly discovered by foot. Only a few viewpoints on the lakes and snowy peaks are directly accessible by road. To discover the heart of Grand Teton, we have to walk and that's a good thing, because that's what we came for!
In this article, we will tell you about the different hikes we have been able to test, the points of view accessible by car and give you our advice to observe the animals. For more information on access to Grand Teton, length of stay, accommodations and prices, you can also consult our dedicated article: Grand Teton National Park: all you need to know to prepare your visit: Grand Teton National Park: everything you need to know to prepare your visit
1Hiking in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton is a paradise for hikers thanks to its impressive network of hiking trails. There are more than a hundred kilometres of them, allowing you to venture into the vast wilderness around the Snake River, up to the steep peaks of the Teton Range.
From half an hour to several days of walking, the choice is vast. To locate them, all trails are indicated on the park map by dotted lines.
Hikes leading to the lakes are generally flat or with a slight drop in elevation, while hikes leading to the peaks will have a much higher drop in elevation. It should be noted that in winter, it is strongly possible that the trails are impassable because of the snow that can arrive in mid-September.
We will detail here the different hikes we have done. For the others, you will find on this link a description of all the hikes in the park.
3 km loop - 40 minutes to 1h00 - Easy
The departure of this fast and easy loop is made from the Visitor Center in Colter Bay. This walk is of little interest because it does not offer a grandiose scenery, but it allows you to walk along Jakson Lake and Colter Bay, offering a clear view of the Teton Range, when the path is not through the woods.
The footpath runs a large 8 in the middle of the small peninsula where only a small arm connects the two ends of the peninsula. Allow 45 minutes to complete the loop.
Leigh Lake trail
3 km round trip - 40 minutes to 1h00 - Easy
This short hike of only 3 km round trip allows us to reach Leigh Lake along the beautiful String Lake. Departure is from the Leigh Lake Trailhead parking lot.
The trail leads us directly to the shores of String Lake and its green tinted waters. This is where we have the most beautiful views of String Lake. From here, the trail heads north, continuing near the lake, but without really approaching it. The path crosses a clear fir forest almost all along the route. The setting is rather bucolic and the path is flat.
After about 20 minutes, we arrive in sight of Leigh Lake. This lake is much larger, but less charming than String Lake. The return is done by the same way.
Once back in the parking lot, do not hesitate to continue the hike south to the String Lake parking lot. The walk is very pleasant by the beautiful lake.
Taggart Lake and Bradley Lake trail
9 km loop - 2h00 to 3h00 - Easy
This is the hike we preferred. The trail is not exceptional in itself, but it leads to 2 very beautiful lakes, with a special mention to Taggart Lake which is really beautiful.
Departure is from the Taggart Lake Trailhead parking lot. We chose to start it at dawn in early October, we were the only ones on the parking lot around 7:00 am (a choice that proved to be very judicious).
The goal of this hike is to reach the two Taggart Lake and Bradley Lake, only one kilometer away. Two trails lead to the first lake, Taggart Lake and eventually allow you to make a loop in the direction you want. Then, a second loop leads to the two lakes. You will have the choice of either riding the big 8 or the slightly shorter version (which we have chosen) along the river to arrive more directly at Taggart Lake, then continue to Bradley Lake and back on the small loop only.
The beginning of the walk is rather monotonous on the first 500 meters at the end of which one enters a pretty forest mainly composed of deciduous trees and some fir trees. We then find ourselves in a very pleasant pastoral setting. Stretch out your ear and you will quickly hear the rustling of the water, from which you will soon discover its origin. Soon, the path crosses the small river that we will follow for a while.
Approximately 15 minutes after crossing the river, we arrive at a fork to either Taggart Lake on the left or Bradley Lake on the right. We opted for Taggart Lake first, which in the end seemed like a good option because the landscapes looked more beautiful to us. The trail continues through a forest of fir trees.
This section being darker, the trail can be very muddy and wet if it rained recently.
The forest finally leads to a large clearing at the end of which the surprise will not be long in coming. On the last meters, the fir trees spread out to reveal a magical scenery. At the foot of the impressive Tetons, Taggart Lake appears. Its calm and clear waters reflect the snow-covered mountains that stand out in a lake of sumptuous emerald green. For many minutes we watched this magnificent landscape. Only the whistling of the birds and the sound of the light cool breeze reached our ears. What a feeling of tranquillity, we were like in a dream!
Unfortunately, the cold brings us back to order. We start and continue along Taggart Lake. Although we are still close to the lake, the views are not so great any more. The path finally moves away from the lake and begins to climb up into the forest where some deciduous trees reappear. The setting is very pleasant, especially in autumn when the colours are amazing.
After 30 minutes, we finally arrive in view of Bradley Lake which we discover from above. This second lake is quite different, the water is darker and seems deeper.
To admire the lake, do not hesitate to continue on the path after the intersection of the path that will take you back to the car park. The most beautiful views are on the lake. To do this, try to approach the water's edge by the small secondary roads. You can also continue the stroll for a few hundred meters until you reach a small wooden pontoon, then turn back.
The path in the direction of the car park climbs very slightly for the first 500 metres, then descends almost continuously until it reaches the first intersection we passed on the way. The landscapes crossed are also pleasant, always in this rather sparse forest of deciduous trees and fir trees.
On the way back we will meet an impressive number of hikers, removing a little the charm of this stroll with lady nature.
After 3 hours of walking, having taken our time for the pictures, we arrive at the car park. This one's almost full!
This hike is one of the most popular in the park. We strongly recommend this hike early in the morning to avoid crowds, especially in summer.
2Grand Teton National Park viewpoints
Although the most beautiful lakes can only be reached after a short walk, Grand Teton also offers beautiful views easily accessible by road. The park map clearly shows each point of view by the name "Overlook". As there are many of them, we will only indicate here those that have marked us.
Willow Flats Overlook
Here is a lovely view of the Tetons Range, located in the immediate vicinity of the main road. In autumn, the trees at the front of the viewpoint offer an incredible yellow ornament for the pleasure of the eyes.
Signal Mountain is a small hill that reaches 2355 metres above sea level. The road takes us to the summit after a few shoelaces. From the top, two different viewpoints are accessible after a few meters of walking. They provide a bit of height and a panoramic view of the Snake River plain.
The first point of view will allow you to see the Teton Range at the foot of Jackson Lake. The second, situated a little higher, will offer a panorama on the plain. Here, the interest will be to realize the extent of the park, and why not, to observe with binoculars some animals.
Jenny Lake Overlook
This is one of the park's most popular vistas. It is accessible after 2 kilometres on a small one-way road along Jenny Lake. A car park allows you to park and admire the incredible view of the two highest peaks of the Teton Range, Grand Teton (4197 meters) and Mount Owen (3940 meters), which are reflected in the dark blue waters of the lake. The picture is really beautiful!
To better appreciate it in the calm and photograph it, we advise you to come there at the beginning or end of the day, unless you walk along the hiking trail that goes around the lake.
Mormon Row - Moulton Barns
Located near Antelope Flats Road, Thomas Alma Moulton's barn (commonly known as T. A. Moulton Barn) was made famous by photographers around the world.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Mormon peasants settled near the Snake River to cultivate the land, defying the harsh conditions. Today, the Moulton family barns bear witness to the past of these brave settlers. Thomas Alma Moulton's barn can be seen from the small road south of Antelope Flats Road, while John's barn is located to the north, near his new small house covered with pink stucco.
We went there at sunrise on an October morning to try to capture the long-awaited moment when the sun shines on snow-covered peaks. Alas, that day the clouds did not leave the foot of the mountains, but the very particular atmosphere of the sunrise combined with the very rustic setting of the place left us a very good memory!
We chose to head north, towards John Moulton's barn (not the most famous). We preferred this other barn, whose setting in the early morning seemed much more charming to us.
Dn fact, at 6:00 in the morning we were about twenty photographers on site, braving the cold for a good hour in search of the most beautiful photo. Nevertheless the place is big and you don't walk on it (well, in summer it must be probably very different).
3Watching wildlife at Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is also an ideal place to observe wildlife. The extensive grassy stretches along the Snake River and the wooded areas at the foot of the mountains attract many animals. The park is a protected place where they are not afraid to be hunted, so it is very easy to observe them.
At dawn and dusk
It is at dawn and dusk that it is easiest to observe animals, especially deer, antelopes and moose. At these hours, the park is generally quiet, especially in the morning. This is the time when many of them choose to come out of the woods.
If you're staying in or near the park, take advantage of these moments to explore the woods or along the Snake River. Sometimes they can get very close to the road if they don't feel disturbed.
If you stretch your ears, you may hear growls, rustling leaves or howling wolves, like this October morning when we heard a pack of wolves for several minutes. This is a really impressive moment!
Animals may also visit campgrounds and lodges during the night until the early morning. It is the best place to approach them.
During the day
During the day, the animals are less visible but equally present. In September, we met a doe and her little one in the Leigh Lake parking lot, next to the cars.
When driving in the park, if you spot vehicles parked on the side of the road, follow the movement and pay attention. Previous drivers may have spotted a nice specimen near the road!
Watch out for bears
As for the bears, they are numerous in the park but are relatively discreet. If you have to go hiking, always carry a bear bell and pepper spray. It is always more prudent to equip yourself well in case you make a chance encounter. If bears have recently been spotted on the trail, a report is usually marked with a marker on the wooden sign at the start of the hike.
If you have chosen to camp, place all your food and toiletries (smelling) in the dedicated steel box. Never leave anything in your tent or car. Bears frequently come to inhabited areas and campsites, attracted by odours.
We are coming to the end of this article. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to discover this park in more detail, despite our two days spent there. If you have had the opportunity to enjoy the Grand Teton park, don't hesitate to share your experience with us as a comment, it will be very useful to future travellers:)