A mere 27-mile scenic drive south from last week’s featured park, Yellowstone, is Grand Teton National Park. Because of the close proximity to its more popular and geologically active neighbor, Grand Teton can easily be rolled into any Yellowstone trip. These two parks are so closely linked that paying the fee in one park allows you to visit both. Now that’s a bargain. Let’s take a closer look at this alpine show-stopper.
Park: Grand Teton
How to get there: From Yellowstone, take the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway 27 miles south.
Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels and resorts in the park and in nearby Jackson, Wyoming, but for maximum enjoyment, at least in my eyes, plan on camping at one of the park’s campgrounds. The most popular and thus most difficult to find campsites are at the Jenny Lake Campground. Nestled in at the base of the Tetons, Jenny Lake is a gorgeous shimmering oval of tranquility. During peak season, sites can be hard to find, but if you’re willing to wake early and get there as other campers leave their spots, then you have a good shot at snaring one. Once you have a site, prepare to be entranced. It is hard to beat the paradoxically thrilling and relaxing experience of sitting in a comfy camp chair while gazing at the lofty giants looming overhead.
Things to see: This one is easy—the Grand Teton Mountains. This is really what this national park is all about, a towering mountain range that soars almost 14,000 feet into the Wyoming sky. What makes these peaks so impressive is the fact that they shoot abruptly from the flat, sagebrush-covered plain that is Jackson Hole; there are no foothills to dampen their imposing stance.
Wildlife: I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the high volume of wildlife that teemed in the surrounding plains and mountainsides. My original expectation was to spend hours watching the static magnificence that is the Teton mountains, but I ended up spending just as much time gawking at the menagerie of browsing herbivores in and around the park.
There were pronghorn antelope with their quizzical expressions and glowing white butts.
There were hulking moose mowing down sagebrush without a care, knowing full well no bear or wolf would be foolish enough to challenge them while in their prime.
Of course there were bison also, but after my Yellowstone adventure I was no longer awed by their shaggy immensity. (and maddening propensity to block roads)
Activities: Because I had my dog Ursa with me I was not able to explore the backcountry of the Tetons. But there are trails galore and Grand Teton is well-known for its world class hiking, so loading up a backpack for a multiday trek or just a day hike from your base camp is an unforgettable experience. Or if you happen to be extra adventurous (or crazy) you can climb the Teton peaks and see the glaciers up close. There are grizzlies in the Tetons, but your chances of encountering one are beyond slim and with a few precautions (bear spray, making noise when coming around corners, etc.) you have every reason to feel perfectly safe.
Comment on dogs: As I mentioned, dogs are not allowed in the backcountry, and in most parks they must be kept on a 6 foot leash and on paved surfaces only. This may sound harsh, but even as a dog owner I have no problem with these restrictions. Dogs can pass disease on to wildlife, damage sensitive ecological areas, and are sometimes the perfect snack size for a hungry mountain lion, thus keeping your buddy on a leash is the senible way to go. You can take your dog on long walks along the park’s paved roads and let them watch wildlife through your car’s windows, so they can still be a full participant in any national park visit. If you do want to get your furry friend out on the trail, many national parks are surrounded by national forests, and most of these forests allow unleashed dogs on their hiking trails. (provided the owner has voice control over their dog.) Aggressive dogs or dogs that bark incessantly are probably best left at home, however.
Summary: Grand Teton National Park serves up lifetimes’ worth of alpine and wildlife splendor, so even if Yellowstone is your primary destination, a quick jaunt south is well worth it.