Grand Teton National Park
|Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Photodisc/Getty) (John Clet Jones, Greater West Images)|
The snowcapped, snaggle-toothed Grand Tetons are America's quintessential mountain range, rearing up with cartoonish exaggeration out of the sagebrush-covered flats of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Topped by 13,770-foot Grand Teton, these mountains are magnets for the world's top alpinistspeak baggers, big-wall climbers, and backcountry and free skiers. All of them find the Tetons' extreme terrain an endless canvas on which to invent evermore hair-raising ways to gain and lose elevation.
For the rest of us, the peaks are mostly a backdrop of unreal, pinch-me-now scenic beauty. Try cycling or driving through Jackson Hole, one of the premier stages for the world-famous wildlife viewing of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; you may spot some of the buffalo, moose, pronghorn, and elk that roam here. Or you can float the Snake River, a trip through achingly beautiful country.
Nearly 4 million people visit Grand Teton National Park each year. Whether you go to rope up the granite or to camp the shores of Jenny Lake, we're pretty sure your visit here will yield more than a peek or two at the sublime.
Backpacking the Teton Crest
Although a well-used route, backpacking the Teton Crest is the best way to get a taste of all the flavors the park has to offer. It may be one of the most outstanding hikes of your lifetime! The trail runs north from the park's southern border through the high country of the Tetons for 39 miles, ending at Paintbrush Canyon; it takes at least three days to complete. You might decide to stay up there for a whilea day or two into the trip you'll reach Alaska Basin, one of those magical, wildflower-strewn backcountry spots where you can laze for days. From there you'll skirt behind South, Middle, and Grand Teton Peaksenjoying spectacular views of these peaks and the expanses to the westand then head down to Cascade Canyon. You can curtail your hike, walking out magnificent Cascade Canyon, or if you have some more time, head for Lake Solitude, over Paintbrush Divide and out Paintbrush Canyon.
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Floating the Snake River
The Snake is a complex river to float. The beauty and lack of whitewater often lull floaters into inattentiveness. Looks are deceiving, however. This river can pose quite the challenge for even expert paddlers, but by paying close attention to the tangle of channels and constant shifting of logjams, anyone can come out of this experience with one of the best rushes ever! The natural environment along the river is outstanding. Flowing west from its source in the Teton Wilderness, the river enters Yellowstone National Park, then flows south through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway, and into Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Regaining its free-flowing character at the Jackson Lake Dam, the river winds through the park. For a scenic stretch suitable for all levels, try Jackson Lake Dam to Cattleman's Bridge and Cattleman's Bridge to Pacific Creek. These stretches provide scenic views, calmer water, and the fewest obstructions.
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The Tetons in Winter
Since John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway stays open long after most of Yellowstone is closed for winter, Grand Teton becomes king of the hill during the season of snow. Expert all-mountain skiers head to Jackson Hole for its world-famous resort. The cross-country skiing is fine, fine, fine. One of the most memorable, although difficult, is the Flagg Canyon Trail on the north side. The trail follows the edge of the scenic Snake River, first along riverside meadows, then along a canyon walled with volcanic rock. The terrain is gently rolling with a few short steep sections that are easily avoided. Or, on the south side, try the Phelps Lake Overlook Trail on for size. The trail climbs southward through a lodgepole-pine forest and over an open slope to reach the overlook of Phelps Lake framed by towering Douglas firs. And for the internal combustion set, Teton has many snowmobiling venues, including the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail.
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See the Wildlife
The thunder of a buffalo herd on the move... the resonant ring of an elk bugling into frosty morning air... the shrill alarms of "whistlepigs" (marmots) in an alpine meadow. These are images of an unspoiled natural Americasomething supposed to have largely vanished from the modern world. But the Tetons are in the heart of the last nearly intact temperate ecosystem in North America, a place where the wildlife viewing is magical. Colter Bay is a prime spot to watch the full show. The roads and trails in the Colter Bay area provide views of a wide array of mammals. Deer feed at the edge of conifer forests. Uinta ground squirrels flourish in dry sagebrush meadows, while red squirrels chatter incessantly from conifer forests. Alert observers catch occasional glimpses of snowshoe hares and martens in the conifer forests. Trails in the Colter Bay area lead to ponds inhabited by beavers, muskrats, waterfowl, and sometimes river otters; hiking may also provide views of moose and elk.
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Drive the Teton Park Road
This scenic drive ranks up there with the greats. As it curves through the park, it skirts Jenny and Jackson Lakes, with the peaks of the Tetons always in view. Along the way, you'll pass turnouts with glorious views, trailheads for day hikes, and turnoffs for driving side trips. Signal Mountain Road to the top of Signal Mountain is particularly recommended. While here, head up to the summit by following a five-mile drive starting one mile south of Signal Mountain Lodge and Campground. The road winds to the top of Signal Mountain, 800 feet above the valley. Summit overlooks provide a panoramic view of the entire Teton Range, Jackson Lake, and most of Jackson Hole.
Catch the Snake River Cutthroat
The Snake River is one of the most famousand popularfishing rivers in the country. It even has its own species. The Snake River cutthroat is found in the upper Snake River watershed. It can be identified by red slash marks under the throat and small black spots on a yellowish body. Along with this colorful character, brook, brown, rainbow, and lake trout, and whitefish swim the park's waters. The best time to fish the Snake is late August and September. Many of the Snake's tributaries are fishable earlier than August. But several streams are closed until August 1 because they are important spawning areas. Check with park authorities.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication