How to Spend 2 Days in Grand Teton National Park
June 21, 2021
Table of Contents
Whether you are combining Grand Teton with a trip to Yellowstone or visiting it on its own, Grand Teton National Park needs to be on your bucket list! The Grand Teton Mountains are unique because there are no clear foothills in front of the mountain range. The Jackson Hole Valley is almost completely flat until the Grand Teton Mountains rise up suddenly.
The mountains are stunning from every angle. You can explore the park by car, by boat and by hiking up into the mountain range. This two day guide provides tips for visiting the Tetons and recommendations on how to make the most of spending two days in this incredible park.
- You may have thought that Jackson Hole was the name of the nearest city to the Grand Tetons. However, Jackson Hole is not a synonym for Jackson. Jackson Hole refers to the large flat valley to the east of the Teton mountain range, while Jackson is the name of the ski town within Jackson Hole.
- Be sure to not approach wildlife, pack out all trash and leave no trace of your visit while visiting this incredible park.
- Grand Teton National Park received 3.3 million visitors in 2020. It’s less than the 3.9 million visitors that visited nearby Yellowstone, but Grand Teton still came in as the 5th most visited national park. All this to say: you should expect crowds, book accommodations early and arrive at the popular spots early when possible.
- Grand Teton National Park is home to so much incredible wildlife. You’re very likely to spot moose and elk while visiting the park. The park is also home to bears and beavers along the Snake River.
- Just south of the park, there is an Elk Refuge where thousands of elk live for a portion of the year. It has an interesting history. In 1909-1911, a series of particularly harsh winters starved large numbers of elk in the area. The locals came together to provide food for the elk in 1912 when the Elk Refuge was established. However, today the number of elk has grown to unnaturally high numbers, damaging the overall ecosystem and leaving the herd more vulnerable to disease outbreaks. The most iconic activity that relates to the elk refuge is riding a sleigh ride through the refuge if you visit during the winter.
- The Snake River is a beautiful place for a white water rafting trip. This is a great activity to add to your trip if you have time.
- The app GyPSy Guide has an audio tour of the park with places to stop, the history of the park and tips for visiting. It’s a great resource to learn as you explore and not miss anything. The Teton tour costs $6.99 or you can combine it with a Yellowstone tour for $14.99.
- If you are hiking, be sure to carry bear spray. You can purchase bear spray at most local grocery stores. Read the instructions carefully so you know how to use it.
- The time of day and position of the sun will influence your photos of the mountains. Photography is generally best around sunrise and sunset, or when the sun is not directly shining above the mountains.
- The Jackson Airport is the only US airport located inside of a national park. It’s very convenient for flying in and out for your visit.
In order to experience everything that Grand Teton has to offer, visit in the summertime. Some of the park’s roads close between November and April. Between mid-December and mid-March, some roads can be used for skiing, snowshoeing and hiking.
If you can visit in May, September or October, it might be cold but you’ll likely experience less crowds and more affordable hotel prices.
I recommend staying inside of the park so that you’re closer to everything to do. I stayed one night at Colter Bay Tent Village and one night in the town of Jackson, which was perfect because they are at opposite ends of the park.
Colter Bay Village has both traditional cabins and tent cabins available to rent. The cabins come in several sizes and include linens, towels and microwaves. The tent cabins each have 4 bunk beds and are in a campground setting. Guests need to bring their own bedding and will use shared bathrooms. The tent cabins are constructed with two permanent wooden log walls and two weatherproof canvas walls. The cabins also come with an outdoor firepit and a picnic table outside, but do not have any outlets. The office is open 24/7 and sells firewood along with a limited amount of bedding available to rent.
My experience staying here was nice but we got very cold throughout the night (in June). We could only pack very light bedding in our suitcases, so we used the wood burning stove located inside the cabin. We had to keep feeding the stove logs every couple hours throughout the night.
The showers for the tent village are located much further than the regular bathrooms, cost an additional fee and were only open from 7am-8:30pm every day.
If you can book far in advance, the Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Lodge offer nice amenities. At Jackson Lake Lodge, you’ll have the option of a room in the lodge or a cottage in the woods a few minutes away. If you’re looking for a luxury experience, definitely book a room at Jenny Lake Lodge. The lodge is made up of elegant cabins that come with handmade quilts, down comforters and even jacuzzi tubs in the bigger cabins. The lodge is considered an AAA 4-Diamond Resort and prices start at over $800 a night.
Jackson has several options of hotels and accomodations. I stayed at the Lexington Jackson Hole and enjoyed the luxurious touches. The hotel is located downtown, just a four minute walk from Jackson Square. The standard room was large and wood accents outside gave a log cabin feel. The hotel is family-owned, opened in 1970 and underwent renovations in 2012. There is an indoor pool and hot tub, a courtyard with outdoor seating and an extensive breakfast included.
- Bear spray. You’ll need bear spray if you’re doing any hiking in the park.
- Trekking poles. These will be helpful if you’re doing a difficult hike.
- Binoculars and/or a zoom lens. If you’re interested in looking for wildlife, these items are great to have.
- A Map. I love purchasing the National Geographic waterproof maps.
- Layers. The park may be warm in the day but can get very cold in the evenings.
- Bathing suit. You can swim in Jenny Lake or Jackson Lake if you’d like.
On your first day in Grand Teton, spend the morning driving a large portion of US Highway 191 and Teton Park Road, stopping at scenic overlooks along the way. Enjoy a short hike in the afternoon and have dinner inside the park.
Mormon Row is a historic area of Grand Teton that was home to Mormon settlers beginning in the 1890s. To reach this spot, you’ll turn off of Highway 191 and drive 1 ½ miles until you see a pink stucco barn. There are two famous barns on Mormon Row, built by brother’s John and Thomas Alma (or T.A.) Moulton. The T.A. Moulton barn took 30 years to build due to its complex triangle roof design. Both are gorgeous to photograph with the backdrop of the Grand Teton Mountains; the lighting is best at sunrise.
When I visited Mormon Row in June 2021, the parking area for the John Moulton barn was closed off.
What I didn’t realize until visiting was that there are a handful of other homesteads in addition to the famous barns. You can typically walk down the row of houses and see several more barns and homes, but it was closed when I visited. The Mormon Row Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and the park service is working on a museum to better tell the history of this area.
There are brochures at the parking lot that provide additional information about the history of each home.
Schwabacher Landing is another stunning place to watch the sunrise and see the mountains reflected in the river. If you are interested in spotting wildlife, Schwabacher Landing is a great place to do so, especially in the early morning. To reach this spot, take a bumpy gravel road for about a mile to reach the parking lot. When you arrive, there is a beautiful trail along the river. Whether you continue hiking or not, this is a fantastic area to spot moose, beavers, elk and bears.
The Snake River Overlook is a beautiful stop along Highway 191. This spot was made famous when photographer Ansel Adams photographed the spot in 1942. The river curves and creates an “S” shape with the mountain range towering above in the background. It’s a beautiful spot that is definitely worth a quick stop.
Oxbow Bend is another overlook that you should stop at during your scenic loop drive. The river gets very wide here and bends in another direction. This is another spot where you may see a moose crossing the river, a bear in the distance, a Great Blue Heron or even an otter.
Signal Mountain is a detour off the main road that will take you about an hour to complete. Turn off of Teton Park Road and take a winding mountain road up about 4 miles to reach two incredible viewpoints. At the first viewpoint, there is a beautiful view of the Grand Teton Mountains with Jenny Lake in the foreground. The view is a little obstructed with trees, but it’s still worth seeing. The second viewpoint, at the top of the mountain, has a view of Jackson Hole facing away from the Teton Mountains. It gives you a great perspective on the “hole” shape that the valley creates. There were butterflies and colorful wildflowers at the Signal Mountain viewpoints when I visited in late June. The area was full of life and is definitely worth the stop.
A pit toilet is available at the upper most viewpoint.
As you continue down the Teton Park Road, take a quick scenic detour on the Jenny Lake Road. The Jenny Lake Overlook is on this road and it’s a gorgeous place to stop for a view of Jenny Lake and the mountains behind it. You can also start the Jenny Lake Trail from here.
Continue driving a couple more minutes and arrive at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. The visitor center complex has a general store, exhibits, bathrooms and more. From the visitor center, you can take a short trail down to the lake where a ferry takes people across the lake every few minutes.
There are a few large 3D maps of the Grand Tetons near the visitor center and Jenny Lake. It was really cool to get a sense of how the mountains look from above!
The hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point can be started by walking around Jenny Lake for a 6 miles hike, or by taking the ferry across the lake for a 2 mile hike. The ferry costs $18 for adults round trip, or $10 to take the ferry only one way.
The ferry ride is very quick to get across. When I visited, there was no line leaving from the visitor center but a long wait to get back on the ferry coming back.
After the ferry, it’s about a half mile hike to Hidden Falls and another half mile to Inspiration Point. The trail to the falls has 200 feet of elevation change and lots of shade. If you continue on from the falls, the trail to Inspiration Point is another 200 feet of elevation with less shade. When you reach the top, there is a beautiful view of Jenny Lake. If you’re interested in something a lot more strenuous, the 9 mile hike along the Cascade Canyon Trail also begins at this point.
There were many overly friendly chipmunks around Inspiration Point. Please do not feed or pretend to feed them for your safety and theirs. Moose and bears are also often commonly spotted along this trail.
Please note that this trail was heavily trafficked in the afternoon that I visited (even on a Monday). If you want to have the trail to yourself, consider visiting early or late in the day.
There are several great places to eat inside of Grand Teton! I’ll recommend three places that you should consider based on where you’re staying and where you are planning to watch the sunset.
Dornan’s is a complex of multiple restaurants and shops located near the Moose entrance of Grand Teton National Park. There is a pizza & pasta restaurant and a Chuckwagon Grill that serves dinner, along with a deli open for lunch. The Chuckwagon Grill serves burgers and sandwiches with sides of fries, chili and coleslaw. There is ample outdoor seating with great views of the Teton mountains as you enjoy your food.
Across the street from the Chuckwagon, the Pizza & Pasta Co. serves a large selection of salads and pizza options along with cold beer. They have both indoor and outdoor seating with amazing views of the mountain range.
Attached to the Pizza & Pasta Co, there’s a wine shop with an extensive selection. Grab a bottle or two to take home or enjoy at your hotel!
In addition to the restaurants and wine shop, you’ll also find a gas station and grocery store at Dornan’s. This area is a great place to stop for whatever you need.
If you want to watch the sunset near Dornan’s after dinner, I recommend driving about 10 minutes to Schwabacher Landing.
The Jackson Lake Lodge has a few options for meals, however not everything is open during the 2021 season. The Pioneer Grill is open for take-out only and serves sandwiches, salads, wings and more in a diner setting. If you’re interested in just having a drink, check out the Blue Heron Lounge where they serve cocktails like a huckleberry mojito with panoramic mountain views.
For a high end dinner, the Mural Room has incredible views of the mountains and a nice interior with ten murals painted in the late 20th century. The menu consists of items like elk tenderloin, smoked trout soup and a variety of other items. As of this writing, reservations are required for dining at the Mural Room.
There are benches behind the Lodge where you can sit outside and take in the views. When I visited, someone had an easel and was painting the mountains.
Even if you don’t plan on dining or drinking at Jackson Lake Lodge, it’s worth visiting for the views. Go out behind the lodge and be on the lookout for moose and other wildlife. There is also a short trail behind the hotel that will take you to a viewpoint from Lunch Tree Hill.
This last dinner option is perfect if you’re staying in Colter Bay Village. Leek’s Marina and Pizzeria is located a few minutes up the road from Colter Bay right on Jackson Lake. They serve pizza, salads and sandwiches with outdoor seating overlooking a marina.
When I visited Leek’s in June 2021, the restaurant did not have a liquor license to sell alcohol.
After enjoying some pizza, I recommend watching the sunset over Jackson Lake from the Colter Bay Beach. Or get your pizza to go and enjoy a picnic next to the water and the mountains.
For day two, I give the details on a major hike and then recommend you go explore the city of Jackson. Please note that this hike is not for everyone, be sure to be prepared and evaluate your own abilities. I also list an alternative hike and an alternative activity.
Delta Lake is a popular 8.2 mile trail that is difficult but highly rewarding. Please only attempt this hike if you are an experienced hiker, as there is steep and difficult rock scrambling at the top. Sturdy hiking shoes, plenty of water and bear spray are a must. For an easier time on the steep rock scrambling, trekking poles are nice to have. Also be sure to download and use the All Trails map so you are clear on the direction.
A pit toilet is available at the trailhead. The parking lot is pretty large but fills up during peak hours.
The hike has an overall elevation gain of 2,349 feet and begins on a wooded trail. After the first half mile, the trail has a steady incline until the very end, where it is the most steep. About halfway to the top, you’ll exit most of the tree cover and take a few long switchbacks up the mountain. During this part of the hike, you’ll see a mountainside full of wildflowers (in June) and views of Jackson Hole and smaller lakes below. When you are about three quarters of the way to the top, you’ll step off the main trail at the end of a switchback and continue on an unmaintained trail. There is first a small boulder field that is relatively flat. After crossing that, you’ll reach the steepest section in the final stretch to the lake. You can choose between a dirt path to the left and a field of boulders on the right. Most choose the dirt path to the left for a slightly easier time, but loose dirt on a this steep slope was not easy.
We saw a bear cub with no mama in sight on this trail so bear spray is a must. We also saw several marmots at the top!
When you reach the top, you’ll see a turquoise glacier-fed lake with the Grand Teton Mountain Peak behind it (the tallest peak in the Grand Teton Mountain Range). While visiting the lake, you can take a plunge into the cold water, enjoy a packed lunch and spend time relaxing next to the beautiful water.
I personally thought going down was a lot harder than going up, but taking in the breathtaking view of the lake was worth the climb.
If you’re looking for something a bit easier than Delta Lake, the Taggart Lake Loo is a great option. This 3.8 mile hike has 419 feet in elevation gain and has an amazing view of Taggart Lake with the mountains behind it. There are beautiful views throughout and it's common to see wildlife like moose or bears along this trail.
Another option to spend your day in Grand Teton is by going on a rafting trip down the Snake River! Several companies offer rafting trips on the river. Typically you can pick between having a relaxing scenic float or a thrilling whitewater adventure, or combine both in one day. Some companies to look at are Daven Hansen Whitewater and Jackson Hole Whitewater. You will also want to reserve your experience a few weeks in advance.
If you are leaving Grand Teton and driving to Jackson, I have a couple more stops worth making on your way out. The Chapel of Transfiguration is a small log church that was built in 1925. Inside the chapel, a window behind the altar provides an incredible view of the Grand Teton Mountains. It’s a unique building to quickly stop in and visit.
Finally, the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center is an impressive modern complex that has exhibits, a gift shop and rangers to talk with. All of the exhibits were closed due to the pandemic when I visited in June 2021, but it’s worth stopping if you want to buy a souvenir before leaving the park.
Look for lines on the floor of the visitor center that will lead your eyes to each mountain peak and its name!
Before leaving the area, I recommend spending at least a little time in the town of Jackson. Visit the Jackson Town Square with Elk Antler Arches at each corner. The arches are made from antlers collected from elk at the National Elk Refuge and are replaced every 30 to 40 years.
Right on the square, the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is an iconic place to grab a drink. The bar has horse saddle bar stools, pool tables, western decor and live music and dancing. Another iconic place on the square is Jackson Drug, where you’ll find American fare in a retro diner setting. I opted to eat dinner at Snake River Brewing, which is located about a half mile from the main square. The brewery serves a few different beers (they had just undergone renovations and had limited options when I visited) and a great selection of food. Try the beer battered cauliflower wings and sit outside in their lively patio space.
If you are staying the night in Jackson with an open morning or another day, I highly recommend breakfast at Picnic (order a breakfast sandwich and it comes with an egg souffle!), shopping at MADE for unique gifts and riding the gondola up a mountain in Teton Village.
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