If you want to get noticed, don’t stand next to an international superstar.
That thought occurred to me as I considered why Grand Teton National Park doesn’t seem to get as much worldwide buzz as Yellowstone does. The two scenic U.S. wilderness areas in Wyoming are only ten miles apart, but Yellowstone has a much bigger reputation.
For that matter, Yellowstone is a much bigger park than Grand Teton — something like 7 times as large. Yellowstone was the world’s first national park and has the world’s largest collection of geysers. It is on the official list of World Heritage Sites.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that Yellowstone doesn’t deserve all the attention it gets. It’s just that Grand Teton National Park can make your jaw go slack, too. It is a high-altitude plateau (6,000 ft.+) that is surrounded by mountains and glaciers; the Snake River slithers through it. Everywhere you look seems postcard-worthy, so if you go home from GTNP without at least a few good photographs, you might as well stop taking pictures.
The first non-natives to find this region arrived in the early years of the 19th century. One of them was John Colter, who had been with the Lewis and Clark expedition, but on the return trip Colter stayed in these parts to try his hand at fur trapping.
By the way, it was French-speaking fur trappers who are apparently responsible for the name. They called three distinctive mountain peaks les trois tetons, which translates (politely) to “the three breasts”. This would indicate that these fellows had a flawed understanding of basic female anatomy, or had not seen a woman in a very long time. Probably both.
At any rate, Grand Teton, Middle Teton and South Teton are dramatic features on the horizon as seen from Jenny Lake, a gorgeous body of water formed by glaciers. There are a lot of hiking trails in the area around Jenny Lake, and there’s a ferry boat that will take you across the lake to reach the ones on the far side.
One leads to a beautiful cascade called Hidden Falls. From there, an even steeper trail leads to Inspiration Point, which inspired me to sit down and catch my breath.
The largest body of water in GTNP is Jackson Lake, which is fed by the Snake River. It’s a good spot to stop hiking and regain your inertia while you admire the view in all directions.
Particularly in the early morning or late afternoon, though, it’s worth grabbing your camera and traveling a couple of miles east from the Jackson Lake Lodge to a spot called Oxbow Bend. Pull off the road and walk down to the river’s edge to get excellent views of Mount Moran, which sometimes has a shawl of clouds around it (see photo).
There are lots of scenic viewpoints along the highway that winds through Grand Teton National Park. At one we saw a grizzly bear wade into a group of foolish tourists who barely managed to get out of his way. At another, a bald eagle circled overhead.
We eventually drove the few miles north to Yellowstone, of course, and it’s as glorious as you’ve probably heard, but its next-door neighbor deserves its share of raves, too. What I’m saying is, Grand Teton National Park is spectacular. Pass it on.