My Top 15 Things to do in Grand Teton (written 12.9.14)
Updated: Mar 11, 2019
Working the jobs I do, I am asked what I recommend for people to do in the area on a daily basis. Its hard for me to give a brief answer because there is just so much to do here. I have spent three years in the Tetons and still feel like I have only scratched the surface on all this place has to offer. This my attempt to compile all of my absolute favorite things that I would highly recommend to anyone coming to the Jackson Hole area. Many people may disagree, or think I left something important off the list. That's fine, this isn't meant to be the ultimate list. This is just my list. What this won't include is a list of my favorite hikes or winter activities (although sub driving for XC skiing and many of these can become winter activities), there are plenty of lists like that out there and so many fabulous hikes in the Tetons it makes it hard to chose. What it also won't include is Jenny Lake. Most people come to the Tetons just to see Jenny Lake and Hidden Falls and leave missing all the best jewels that the Tetons have to offer. Jenny Lake is pretty, but doesn't even come close to the top of the list of the best things to see in the Tetons. Trust me, skip Jenny Lake (unless you are traveling with small children and want an easy hike,) and do any or all of these instead.
This was written in the winter of 2014, some information may be outdated, please keep that in mind when reading.
#1 Go Off-Roading or Mountain Biking on River Road
This is probably my absolute favorite thing to do in the park. This road is secluded and teeming with wildlife and amazing views. You may recognize it from Toyota's most recent ad campaign for their Four-Runner. Anyways, for this road you DEFINITELY need a car with great four wheel drive, my CRV can't even handle it. It runs from just above the Taggert Lake trailhead in the south to right below the Signal Mountain Summit Road in the north and follows the Snake River for the majority of the way. Immediately after you get on the road from the south end, you will see several abandoned buildings on your right. This is Struthers Burt's old guest ranch -The Bar BC- and I definitely suggest exploring it. The buildings are very much intact and there are even still some old 1920's cars rusting where they were left. There are NPS signs around with maps pointing to where the dance hall, swimming pool and more are. This is very rarely explored and isn't even on the park map, but is definitely worth visiting. Because there are lots of grizzly bears active in the area, I would not suggest walking or running on this road, and to be extra cautious when on a bike (I have seen five separate grizzlies on this road in the space of an hour).
#2 Go Camping at the "Observatory"
Ah. The Observatory. This is not its actual name, but the nickname it has earned over many years of use by the seasonal employees. This is an amazing site to go camping at the edge of the Bridger-Teton forest just outside of the park, that overlooks the entire valley and Teton range. To get there you turn on the forest road directly across from Cunningham Cabin. When the road forks, choose the left one and from there, pick a site. Many offer amazing views. Since it is in the national forest it is free to camp here, but you want to check if there are any fire restrictions before you start a fire. Also, even though there are no bear boxes, make sure to properly store your food as they are definitely still present. The sunsets from here are spectacular, the stargazing unmatched, and sunrises like no other. Also, there is a wolf den near here and you can often hear them howling into the night. It is a sound you are not likely to hear elsewhere, and you will not regret camping here.
#3 Explore the 4 Lazy F Ranch
This ranch is not very well known at all, even by those who have lived in the area for years, but definitely worth the visit. It's giant red barn against the backdrop of the Tetons is any photographer's dream. To get there, park at the parking lot for the Chapel of the Transfiguration/Menor's Ferry. Walk towards Menor's Ferry and you will come across a dirt road almost immediately. Turn left and follow the road for about fifteen minutes. Partway there you will come across a gate in the road, its not locked so feel free to open it and go through, or take the path around. It is a beautiful walk with lots of wildlife to be seen. This old dude ranch is right on the Snake River, with lots of buildings to explore and photograph. The ponds around the ranch are prime moose habitat and very large trout lurk in the waters here. Many of the Grand Teton Park Rangers enjoy riding bikes or horses back here, and chances are if you run into anyone at the 4 Lazy F, they will be Park Service.
For more information on the ranch including maps click here
#4 Eat at Signal Mountain Lodge, Then Drive the Summit
From someone who has lived in this park for three years, take my word for it, Signal Mountain has the best food inside the park. A close second, Leeks Pizzeria. Definitely make sure to stop in and eat here. If you are feeling extra hungry, go for the Signal Mountain of Nachos. The half order can easily feed three and the full order filled my family of five after a long hike. Besides that the restaurant has delicious cocktails and amazing views from all tables. It is the only lodge in the park situated right on the lake. For a fine dining experience, try The Peaks at Signal Mountain. It blows the Jackson Lake Lodge's Mural Room out of the water. After you finish your meal, head up to Signal Mountain Summit to take in the sunset. From this viewpoint you can almost see the entire park from above, without having to hike a single mile. (Although you can hike up to it from the lodge if you wish.)
#5 Take a Dip in "Hippie Hot Springs"
Hippie Hot Springs is definitely one of the better kept secrets in the area, in fact locals will probably get mad that I am even letting others know about it. Recently the Park Service has really cracked down on people illegally bathing in the more popular hot springs up near Flagg Ranch. In my opinion, those nothern hot springs are far inferior to these beautiful southern ones anyways, so it shouldn't be a big loss. Hippie Hot Springs are leaps and bounds cleaner and clearer, a more comfortable temperature, and much more scenic than any other hot springs in the area. These hot springs are slightly larger than a hot tub, have clear turquoise water and are right at the base of two waterfalls.
To get there: 1. Head south from the town of Jackson until you reach Hoback Junction. 2. Take the second exit at the roundabout heading East towards Pinedale 3. Go about eleven miles and then turn left when you see the sign for Granite Hot Springs 4. Follow the dirt road about 9 miles until you see Granite Falls, park there and head to the falls. Cross the creek at the base of the falls to get to the hot springs.
If you prefer something a little more developed, a mile up the road is Granite Hot Springs. That is a developed pool with bathrooms and a small snack bar. There is a $6.00 fee to swim at these springs.
Tip: This is better in late summer when the water levels in the creek are lower, making it easier to cross.
#6 Watch a Sunset or Sunrise at Schwabacher Landing
When you think of iconic Grand Teton viewpoints, Schwabacher Landing is at the top of that list. The mirror-like reflection of the Tetons is absolutely stunning and you will often find hoards of photographers here. It's still worth the crowds, and I would even go so far as to say its my absolute favorite place in the entire park. You have to experience the beauty there to really understand. Along with incredible scenery here, is also the opportunity to wildlife watch. Beavers are abundant at the landing. I once bet my friends $10.00 that we would see ten different beavers in fifteen minutes. We saw fourteen. This place is spectacular at all times of the day, but it really comes alive at sunrise and sunset. If you come to Grand Teton and can only see one thing, I highly suggest it is Schwabacher Landing.
#7 Take a Trip to Brook's Lake
Brooks Lake is going to be a short 45 minute drive east of Grand Teton, but the spectacular scenery is well worth it. This lake is a grizzly bear hot spot, so keep your eyes out. If fishing is your thing, this is your place. My father caught 36 trout in the space of an hour. For those doing the math... Thats a fish less than every two minutes If you are into photography, make sure to come around 4:00 PM. The nearby Brooks Lake Lodge sends their horses to pasture at that time and the sight of seeing the entire herd of horses running at full speed up and over the hills, is something you will never forget. Truly makes you feel like you are in the wild, free west.
Tip: If you are going in early summer/spring, bring the mosquito repellant. I have never encountered mosquitoes as ferocious as those at Brooks Lake.
#8 Watch the Sunrise then Kayak or Canoe at Oxbow Bend
Sunrise at Oxbow Bend is one of the most popular events in the park, and for good reason. Mt. Moran is particularly stunning in the morning light. For wildlife viewing, Oxbow Bend is one of the best places in the park, but its even better if you can explore it by water. The easiest access to the water level is around the back of the bend at a place known as Cattleman's Bridge. Coming from the south, the road will be the first left after you pass the Oxbow Bend turnout. There are all sorts of little channels to explore, and lots to see. Moose, River Otters, Grizzly Bears, Beaver, and all types of waterfowl thrive here. The fishing is also pretty great. I think a person could spend the whole day on the water there and not get bored.
Tip: If you don't have your own Canoe or Kayak, Dornans down in Moose will allow you to rent them and transport them up to the Bend.
#9 Spend an Afternoon at the Lucas Fabian Ranch
The Lucas Fabian Ranch is another place you will not find on any map of the park, but it is one of my absolute favorite places to go for peace and quiet. To get there drive towards Jenny Lake from the town of Moose. About four miles in you will pass the Alpine Climber's Ranch and then the Teton Glacier turnout. Almost immediately after the turnout on your left you will see a service road with a gate blocking it. In front of the gate there is a small unpaved parking lot. Keep your eye out because it is very easy to miss. Park there and walk down the service road. About 100 feet in you will find a small bridge crossing Cottonwood Creek. Immediately after crossing the creek, you will come to the ranch. The Lucas Fabian is extremely picturesque and unknown. In all of my trips here, I have only come across another person once, even in the height of summer. With the calming sound of the creek in the background, the Lucas-Fabian Ranch is the ideal place for a picnic, or to spend an afternoon painting or reading.
To read more about the history of this ranch, click here
#10 Visit Mormon Row
Mormon Row, one of the most photographed places in all of the park. Its easy to see why when you see the old barns dwarfed by the massive peaks. In addition to being so photogenic, this also another wildlife hotspot. I frequently see badger, coyote, bison, and pronghorn among many others. If you visit the Tetons and don't visit Mormon Row... Well, shame on you.
#11 Visit Elk Island
Let me start off this one by apologizing for the poor quality of photos I have of Elk Island, I didn't want to risk getting my real camera wet and ruined and on the kayak ride out there. Elk Island is a large island that lies at the center of Jackson Lake. There are several ways to get there - using your own water transportation, catching a ride with one of the Grand Teton Lodge Company lake cruises, or a Park Service shuttle. Besides the daily breakfast and dinner cruises who stop at the island for their meal, almost no one makes it out to this island, which is a shame. It really is a wilderness experience being out on this island by yourself. Inquire at a visitor center for a backcountry permit and spend the night camping here for an even better experience. Definitely a must do for anyone with a sense of adventure.
#12 Go for a Drink at the Deck at JHMR
In the summer, a popular thing to do is to take the tram up to the top of Rendevous Mountain at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. While that is pretty enjoyable, it will set you back thirty dollars a person to get up there. What I would suggest doing instead is riding the FREE Bridger Gondola up to the Deck and the Couloir Restaurant. The Deck is a fantastic outdoor bar with amazing views, delicious food, and a variety of signature cocktails. The gondola opens at 4:30 with happy hour running from 5:00-6:00. Don't take the tram, save your money and instead spend it on a Huckleberry How-Pow and the Portobello Tempura. You will not regret it.
#13 Drive North Fork Road and Then Dine at Hatchet Resort
This drive is probably my favorite in the National Forest that surrounds the park. It is a dirt road the entire way, but you do not need a four wheel drive vehicle to explore it. The backroads take you through some spectacular scenery with panoramic views of the Tetons. I once drove this road and came across three grizzlies feeding on a moose carcass. You never know what you might find here. The road starts at the Hatchet campground (about ten minutes east of the Moran entrance) and will loop around back to the main highway near Togowotee Pass. After driving this road, be sure to eat at the Whetstone restaurant on your way back. The food is a different kind of excellent, the tables are private, and you have some amazing views of the Tetons. Trust me, you will thank me for sending you there.
#14 See the Tetons From the West Side
The Tetons are stunning from the east, but some argue that they are just as beautiful from the west side. Take a day trip over to the town of Driggs and do some hiking into the canyons from there. I highly recommend the Table Mountain hike. The scenery varies greatly from what you find inside the national park. You will also get a much better understanding for why they were named the Tetons. As for which side is prettier? That's a decision you should make yourself.
#15 Go to the Hootenanny
Every Monday of the year, Dornans in Moose puts on a live music event called the Hootenanny and in the summers it moves outside. Anyone can sign up to play and there is a large variety of acts. It is a favorite among the locals who outnumber the tourists at these events. Some of the acts are excellent while some are well, not. However, they are all highly entertaining, and who doesn't enjoy live music while eating delicious Dornan's pizza on warm summer night?