Ninety minutes south of Yellowstone lies Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone’s often overlooked, underrated little sister. Omitting this park from your vacation itinerary would be a big mistake because there are so many great things to do in Grand Teton National Park!
At only 310,000 acres, Grand Teton is much smaller than Yellowstone and Glacier. However, its iconic jagged mountain peaks, the Snake River, pristine glacial lakes, and the Jackson Hole Valley, make Grand Teton National Park an incredible family destination.
So, if you’re thinking about planning a trip to Wyoming or Yellowstone, check out this guide to exploring Grand Teton National Park, including where to stay, where to eat, what to do, and other tips for a family trip you’ll never forget.
When to Visit Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, the best time to visit is from mid-May to late September when hiking trails, visitor centers, and water activities are all open.
Winter comes early in Wyoming, and by November most of the roads and facilities are shut down. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a winter visit, but if you’re looking for the best weather to enjoy all that this park has to offer, then spring, summer and early fall are your best bets.
If you can plan a trip for late spring or early fall, you’ll enjoy all the park has to offer, but with fewer crowds. Temperatures in May range from mid to upper 50’s during the day to the 20’s at night. September sees highs in the mid 60’s, while lows at night can dip into the 30’s.
While summer is when the park is at its most crowded, the weather is at its best. Low humidity and little rain result in plenty of opportunities to hike and kayak. A visit in July typically means daytime temps in the upper 70’s and lows at night in the 40’s. Crowds can be avoided by simply starting your day early.
How to Get to Grand Teton National Park
Drive to Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton is often a stop on an amazing summer road trip. Its proximity to Yellowstone makes it easy to combine the two on a shorter itinerary. Or you can add it on to a longer trip which includes Glacier National Park.
Check out this epic Chicago to Yellowstone Road Trip itinerary.
Fly to Grand Teton National Park
While you can fly into convenient Jackson Hole Airport located inside of Grand Teton National Park, flights can be extremely expensive. Fun fact: it is the only airport inside of a national park!
Idaho Falls Regional Airport is about two hours away and those traveling to Yellowstone might also consider flying into Bozeman.
The best airfare will most likely be found if you fly in and out of Salt Lake City, which is about a 5-hour drive from the park.
Things to do in Grand Teton National Park with Kids
1. Take a Hike
There are hiking trails for all ages and abilities in Grand Teton National Park. Some hikes are excellent for spotting wildlife while others are all about the views.
From lakeside jaunts to epic trails which involve boat rides and waterfalls, Grand Teton is a great destination for day hikers. Be sure to read our article highlighting the best hikes in Grand Teton National Park for families, before hitting the trails.
2. Go For a Bike Ride
Biking is a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of Grand Teton National Park. A multi-use bike pathway extends all the way from the town of Jackson. At Moose Junction, it follows Teton Park Rd. to the South Jenny Lake area.
If you’re looking to rent bikes in the park, head to Dornan’s. You can take the trail from Dornan’s over to Jenny Lake and enjoy the amazing views along the way.
3. See the Tetons on Horseback
If everyone in your group is eight years old and older, you can explore Grand Teton on horseback.
Guided tours depart from Colter Bay, Jackson Lake Lodge, and Headwaters Lodge and Cabins. Rides vary in length from 1-2 hours. If your kids are too young to go out on a ride, pony rides are available.
There are several other horseback riding opportunities that take place just outside of park borders, mainly based in Jackson. If you want to do something truly unique, check out this covered wagon adventure that includes horseback riding and sleeping in teepees!
If you love horses and want to spend a week enjoying the Tetons on horseback, the Triangle X Ranch is located inside of Grand Teton National Park. Read our full review of the Triangle X Ranch.
4. Become a Junior Ranger
Grand Teton National Park has a fantastic Junior Ranger Program. Your kids can pick up the activity guide and the Colter Bay and Jenny Lake Visitors Centers.
After completing the required activities, kids will be sworn in as official junior park rangers, and receive a pin. It is a great way for kids to learn more about the park and earn a cool souvenir.
5. Take a Wildlife Tour
One of the highlights of a Grand Teton vacation and the best things to do in Grand Teton National Park is spotting wild animals in their natural habitats.
Some animals are more elusive than others which is why many families enlist the help of professionals and take wildlife safaris.
These are great for folks who might be short on time and want to be taken to a variety of spots known to be frequented by critters in a relatively short amount of time.
Teton Science School has a wildlife safari program that is specifically designed with kids in mind. This six-hour tour include samples of real animal skulls, antlers, and horns so that kids can get up close with the animals they might be viewing from a safe distance.
The company also provides transportation, binoculars and scopes, a meal and snacks, and a special souvenir water bottles and activity packet for kids to bring home.
6. Or Spot Wildlife on Your Own
Others, prefer to go it alone and scope out locations known for their wildlife potential. Your best chances of seeing wildlife usually come at dusk and dawn, when the weather is cooler and the animals are feeding.
My family reliably saw moose every evening in the meadows adjacent to the Gros Ventre River just before the Gros Ventre Campground turnoff. We also saw pronghorn antelope in this area. We saw several wildlife tour companies regularly stop in this spot as well, which leads me to believe we didn’t just get lucky.
Bison are commonly seen grazing near Mormon Flats and Elk Ranch Flats. We had no difficulty spotting them while visiting the park.
Elk are often easy to find while gazing off the deck of Jackson Lake Lodge into the meadows of Willow Flats beyond. You can also view them from the Willow Flats Overlook. There are bears spotted in this area as well but binoculars are recommended to get a good view of them.
Another place to possibly spot a bear is on the trail that hugs Jenny Lake. They usually keep their distance, but you should always hike with bear spray at the ready. Black bears tend to be more common than grizzly bears, but both live inside the park.
Oxbow Bend is probably the most popular place to look for wildlife. It is an absolutely beautiful spot with a perfect Teton backdrop, and critters like beavers, muskrats, and otters are seen in the water along with birds like swans and osprey. This is also a place where moose and the occasional bear are spotted.
Moose-Wilson Road is a route that is popular for wildlife viewing, especially at sunset. This is place where bears can be commonly spotted some years.
Finally, if it is wolves you are after, your best best is scanning the sagebrush at Elk Ranch Flats turnout, especially at dusk and dawn when the wolves are hunting.
Wolves were reintroduced to neighboring Yellowstone in 1995 and quickly found their way to Grand Teton National Park. They can be challenging to spot with the naked eye, so binoculars and scopes (along with some patience) are highly recommended.
7. Go For a Photo Tour and Take in the Views
Grand Teton is a national park with many scenic views begging to be photographed. Here are a few of our favorite places to stop and enjoying the view while snapping some photos. For the best shots, visit these spots during the “Golden Hour”, the time period just after sunrise and just before sunset.
Mormon Row– This is a location in the southern end of the park with historic barns that beg to be photographed with the Tetons in the background. It is especially beautiful at sunrise.
Jenny Lake Scenic Drive– This one-way route hugs the shoreline of Jenny Lake. There is a pullout known as the Jenny Lake Overlook that is especially photogenic.
Schwabacher’s Landing– This is a beautiful spot to get the Tetons reflecting on the water, and you might see the beavers responsible for the dam while you are there as well.
Oxbow Bend– Easily the most famous spot to take a photograph inside Grand Teton National Park. The Snake River bends to create a photographer’s dream shot, and the wildlife that frequent the area up the ante as well.
Snake River Overlook– Want that famous Ansel Adams shot? Stop here and take the picture that helped make Grand Teton National Park famous. Well, you can’t get the exact same picture because the trees have grown, but it is pretty darn close!
Signal Mountain– If you want to get the best panorama of Grand Teton National Park, take the road up to the top of Signal Mountain and enjoy the views which go on for miles.
Water Activities in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton’s multitude of picture-perfect lakes, along with the winding Snake River, are definitely highlights of the park which shouldn’t be missed. There are several great ways to enjoy these special spots.
8. Kayak or Paddleboard on String Lake
String Lake is an absolutely gorgeous little lake that is a particularly popular spot to kayak or paddle board due to its shallow waters, immense beauty, and easy access.
String Lake is such a beautiful spot that many people choose to spend the entire day here. For this reason, the two parking lots tend to fill up early in the day, so arrive by nine during June and July if you want to snag a spot.
If you want to kayak or paddleboard on neighboring Leigh Lake, paddle the length of String Lake and then carry your watercraft across the short portage between the lakes. You will likely have a section of the lake all to yourselves.
Kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards are available to rent at the Adventure Sports shop at Dornans for $55 per day.
9. Go Rafting or Floating on the Snake River
Your family can enjoy scenic float tours and adventurous rafting trips on the Snake River.
Grand Teton Lodge Company offers a 10-mile float trip that is perfect for families with children ages six and up. These guided tours are led by experts who are eager to share their knowledge of the history and wildlife of this special place.
Speaking of wildlife, moose, elk, beavers, eagles, and osprey are often spotted on these trips. Upgrade your experience to include lunch and dinner and you will enjoy a meal on the banks of the Snake River with the Tetons looming behind you.
If it is whitewater you crave, you will have to head out of the park and into nearby Jackson Hole for a Snake River whitewater rafting trip. These trips are also open to kids ages six and up. The rapids are Class II which means they are splashy enough to be fun but ideal for beginners.
10. Embark on a Multi-Day Guided Kayak Trip on Jackson Lake
Jackson Lake is huge, and most people only see it from the shore which is a shame. If you’re craving scenic, outdoor beauty and family togetherness without the adrenaline, a 3-day or 4-day kayaking tour is for you.
Trips departs from the Signal Mountain boat dock and includes guided kayaking, hiking, camping, and tasty meals. It is a great way to get away from the masses and really immerse yourself in the beauty of the region.
11. Or Just Rent Watercraft & Enjoy A Couple Hours on Jackson Lake
You don’t have to commit to a multi-day trip in order to enjoy being out on Jackson Lake. There are canoes, kayaks, and motorboats available for rent out of Colter Bay Marina.
All rentals are first come, first serve and the marina will not allow you to call and check availability ahead of time. Typically the marina is open for rentals mid-may through August.
12. Take a Scenic Boat Cruise
Want to leave the boat captaining to someone else? Scenic boat cruises along Jackson Lake depart daily from Colter Bay Marina during the summer. You can also book a meal cruise, which takes passengers out to Elk Island to dine.
There is also a boat ferry that goes across Jenny Lake to the Cascade Canyon trailhead which will lead you to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Take the scenic cruise out, go for a hike, and then take the scenic cruise back.
12. Go Fishing
Given the park’s ample lakes and waterways, it is no surprise that fishing is a popular activity in Grand Teton National Park. Fishing licenses are required and the national park website should be checked before casting your lure so that you are aware of the latest restrictions.
Guided fishing tours are available from Colter Bay.
13. Take a Swim
Ultimately, you don’t need a watercraft or a reel to enjoy Grand Teton’s lakes.
Although the water can be cold, there are swimming beaches at Colter Bay and Signal Mountain. You can also swim in String Lake and Leigh Lake. The water is especially refreshing after an afternoon hike.
Where to Stay in Grand Teton National Park
From camping to log cabins, to luxury digs, Grand Teton has plenty of in-park lodging options for your family. Many reservations are handled through the Grand Teton Lodge Company. We’re going to break down the lodging options by location, as each location has its own services on site.
Colter Bay Village
Nestled on the shores of Jackson Lake, with a view of the Tetons as its backdrop, Colter Bay Village is like a summer camp for the entire family.
Choose from a number of cozy cabins, including 1 room cabins that sleep from 2-6 guests and two-room cabins which sleep between 6-10 guests. Each cabin has its own bathroom and comes with linens and towels.
If you’re looking for more rustic accommodations, the tent cabins include pull-down bunk beds and they have cots for rent. While visitors are expected to bring their own bedding, there are a number of sleeping bags available to rent at the office.
Interested in camping? The campground at Colter Bay has 330 campsites, with fire pits, bathroom facilities, and laundry nearby. Showers are located near the Colter Bay General Store and visitor center.
Dining & Shopping
There are two on-site restaurants in Colter Bay Village. The Ranch House offers breakfast, lunch and dinner (and tasty barbecue) in a nicer dining environment. While the Cafe Court offers lunch and dinner (and great pizza) in a more casual environment.
The Colter Bay General Store has everything you need for your campsite or your cabin. And you have to make sure to try the Huckleberry ice cream! The adjacent gift shop has tons of souvenirs, and the laundry facilities are right next door.
Headwaters Lodge & Cabins
If you’re planning on combining Grand Teton and Yellowstone in the same trip, then Headwaters might be the perfect fit. Located between the two parks along the Snake River, lodging options include cabins, tent cabins, tent sites, and RV sites.
Each cabin at Headwaters includes a private bathroom, a front porch, and rocking chairs. Cabin classes range from standard to premium and all sleep up to five when using a rollaway bed.
Headwaters has tent sites, camper cabins and RV sites with full hook up. Each site has its own firepit. You can now book camper cabins, RV sites, and campsites ahead of time. The campground has on-site laundry facilities as well as renovated showers and bathrooms.
Dining & Shopping
Located in the Headwaters Lodge, Sheffields Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner; you can also visit Sheffields Saloon for drinks. From souvenirs to camping supplies, the Headwaters gift shop and convenience stores have everything you need.
Jenny Lake Lodge
If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, then you might want to consider Jenny Lake Lodge. The lodge is a four diamond AAA resort, and the luxury cabins combine western charm with modern comfort.
There is also a small campground located at Jenny Lake that does fill up early in the season, so make those reservations as soon as possible.
The Jenny Lake Lodge Dining Room is fine dining at its best. Reservations are recommended for breakfast and required for dinner, where a five-course meal is served nightly.
Jackson Lake Lodge
Even if you’re not staying at Jackson Lake Lodge, it’s worth visiting the lobby just to take in the view of the Tetons from the 60-foot windows in the lobby. The lodge has 385 rooms including suites, lodge rooms, and cottages.
In addition to restaurants and shopping, the hotel has an outdoor swimming pool and a complimentary guest shuttle for guests wanting to get to Colter Bay, Jenny Lake, or the town of Jackson.
Jackson Lake Lodge has four on-site restaurants. For fine dining, check out the Mural Room, featuring panoramic views of the Tetons. The Blue Heron Lounge offers more casual dining and the Pioneer Grill features communal counter dining. If you’re lounging at the pool, you can grab food and drinks at the Pool BBQ.
Signal Mountain Lodge
Located along the shores of Jackson Lake, Signal Mountain is comprised of 1 and 2-room cabins, single rooms, and bungalows. Signal Mountain also has campsites which must be reserved ahead of time.
Dining and Shopping
Signal Mountain has a number of dining options. Trapper Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Peaks Restaurant offers more high-end dining. Both offer reasonably priced kids menus.
Located 11 miles north of the lodge, Leek’s Pizzeria offers local microbrews along with pizzas, sandwiches, and calzones. They also offer a kids menu.
The on-site gift shop and general store have everything you need from fishing supplies and snacks to souvenirs.
Gros Ventre Campground
Located in the southern portion of Grand Teton National Park along the Gros Ventre River, this campground is a good option for those hoping to snag last-minute camping reservations, though the campground will still fill up in the summer, especially on weekends.
This large campground has 279 sites, including 39 with hookups. There are no showers at Gros Ventre Campground so bring your own or stop by the showers at Colter Bay when you are in the area.
Grand Teton National Park Tips
- Bring a reusable water bottle and take advantage of the park’s many refilling stations.
- Dress in layers and always be prepared for pop-up rain showers.
- Respect wildlife and always stay at a safe distance. Park Rangers recommend at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and 25 yards from other large mammals like bison, elk, and moose.
- If you’re hiking, be sure to carry bear spray and stay in groups of three or more.
- Make sure to check out the town of Jackson. There are a ton of great restaurants, breweries and even a farmers market. The Jackson Hole Rodeo is a blast too!
- Take advantage of the many ranger programs- especially the evening ones.
Updated in 2021 by Sharlene Earnshaw. Special thanks to Missy McCormick who write the original version of this article.