The Best of Grand Teton National Park in Just 3 Days

19 March 2017

Out of all the National Parks I had the pleasure of visiting over the past year, Grand Teton holds firmly a special place in my heart. At 310,000 acres, Grand Teton isn't nearly as large as Yellowstone or Glacier, but because the magnificent Teton Range towers over the Jackson Hole Valley with virtually no obstructions, the landscape is well worth the effort to explore. And that's why I love Grand Teton so much. Unlike her sister to the north, to truly get the most out of any trip to this National Park, you have to hit the trails.

3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
Views of the Teton Range, for which Grand Teton National Park is named
Of course, the scenic drive that runs east of the Teton Range, connects the park to Yellowstone, and creates a small loop around the Snake River is certainly not to be missed. From it, you'll get some of the best views of the mountain range for which Grand Teton is named. Check out our perfect 3-day itinerary below to get the best of both worlds.  

DAY 1 | Leisurely Bike Ride, Phelps Lake, Taggart Lake, and Signal Mountain

9:00am, Dornan's. Upon entering the park, drive north past Moose Junction and start your day at Dornan's. If you haven't come prepared with it already, pick up some bear spray. You might be able to find a local outfitter in Jackson Hole that allows you to rent, but if you end up purchasing, you can donate your *hopefully* unused canister to the rangers at the end of your stay. Grand Teton is bear country, so make sure you're prepared. Weather permitting, rent a couple of bikes and helmets for a ride. 

9:30am, Biking the Multi-Use Path (1.5 hrs, Easy). Leave your car in the parking lot at Dornan's or at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. Pack plenty of water, layers and a mid-morning snack. The roundtrip bike ride out to Jenny Lake and back is about 15 miles over paved, easy road, which should only take about 1.5 hours to complete, even if you're a beginner. Allow for plenty of time to stop and take pictures, as you'll be biking right past the Teton Range and plenty of pull-offs. You'll finish your trip back at Dornan's to return your bikes and hop back in the car. 
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
The view from the top of the Phelps Lake hike
11:45am, Hiking Phelps Lake (1.5 hrs, Moderate, 430 ft. climb). Take the park road down to Phelps Lake and find a spot in the parking lot, and if you're not driving a high-suspension vehicle, prepare for a 20-minute walk to the trailhead. The Phelps Lake Overlook hike is moderately difficult and should only take about 1.5 hours to complete. The trail is mostly wooded, passing over creeks and streams, but once you make your way up to the overlook you'll be treated to beautiful, expansive views of Phelps Lake. Make time to explore the trail further to find some openings in the foliage for great photo ops, and maybe enjoy a boxed lunch that you've packed in from Jackson Hole's e.Leaven before heading back down to the parking lotbut make sure to take all of your trash back out with you!
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
A booming waterfall at the start of the Taggart Lake to Beaver Creek Loop Trail

2:00pm, Hiking Taggart Lake (2.5 hrs, Moderate, 500 ft. climb). After a short drive north on the park road, you'll find the parking lot to the Taggart Lake trailhead. There are a couple of ways you can tackle this hike, so if you want to spend close to four hours here, plan to take the Taggart Lake Loop to Bradley Lake Loop. For a shorter two-and-a-half hour long hike, just make your way around the Taggart Lake to Beaver Creek Loop. The trailhead starts with a fork, and you can successfully finish the hike by heading in either direction, but you'll immediately be welcomed by a gorgeously booming waterfall over which you'll cross if you head to the right. On your way up to the lake, your path will take you through a lush forest of spruce fir, pine and aspen. Once you reach it, Taggart Lake will reward you with stunning mountain views behind it before you start to make your way back down.

4:30pm, Teton Park Road Scenic Drive. By now, your legs are probably begging you for a break, so it's a great time to sneak in some of the park's scenic drive. From the Taggart Lake parking lot, take the Teton Park Road north toward Signal Mountain Lodge, stopping at pull-offs you deem to be the most picture worthy. We suggest Jenny Lake Overlook, Mountain Moran Turnout and Potholes Turnout, but you really can't go wrong. Continue on past Signal Mountain Roadnot to worry, you'll be making your way up there soonand past Jackson Lake Lodge where, soon after, you'll find Leeks Marina and Pizzeria. Order yourself a pie and get cozy on one of the picnic tables on the veranda overlooking Jackson Lake for a comforting dinner after a long, action-packed day.
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
Signal Mountain Lookout Point
7:00pm, Signal Mountain. And, for the day's grand finale, head back south on Teton Park Road until you reach the pull off for Signal Mountain Road. Continue driving up the curvy pass, climbing to the top of Signal Mountain. When you reach the end of the road, grab a parking spot, and throw your layers back on. Signal Mountain is one of the best places to watch the sunset at Grand Teton, and it will be a wonderful end to your first day.

DAY 2 | Jenny Lake, Inspiration Point, String Lake, Mormon Row

8:30am, Jenny Lake Shuttle Boat Ride. In the morning, head to Grand Teton early from your hotel, and come well-fed. Make your way out to the Jenny Lake area. Due to Inspiring Journeys, a multi-million restoration project underway, this area will be under construction, and some parking lots and roads may be inaccessible. The rangers may advise you not to even bother with Jenny Lake, but if this is your firstand potentially onlytime visiting Grand Teton and there are still some trails open, give it a shot anyway because this part of the park is not to be missed. And, to ensure you get a parking spot, get out to Jenny Lake early! Peak time is 9am-4pm daily.
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
Jenny Lake Boat Launch
Start off by stopping by the boat launch. You might be able to find parking here, and if the sun is in the right position, you can capture photos of the Tetons perfectly mirrored in Jenny Lake. Breathtaking! Once you're finished, walk up to Jenny Lake Boating and try catching the first shuttle across the lake. You don't need to make a reservation, but boats are small and fill up fast. Tickets will cost $15 per adult roundtrip for a short 10 minute ride each way, which is a little steep in my opinion, though the view is incredible. You can save some money by hiking your way back around the lake, but that will set you back about four hours.
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
The pinnacle of the Inspiration Point trail
9:15am, Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point (2.5 hrs, Moderately Strenuous, 700 ft. climb). This was by far my favorite hike at Grand Teton. At the time of this post, most of the Hidden Falls trail is under construction and therefore unavailable, but you can still capture a glimpse of the falls on your way up to Inspiration Point. Pay close attention to the temporary trail markers; the renovation project has caused a few slightly confusing routes. The trail to Inspiration Point climbs 700 feet quickly through forest with patches of sunlight. About an hour later, you'll emerge through a rolling meadow with picturesque views of the Tetons to your right, and Jenny Lake starting to peek out at your left. After crossing a small creek, you'll hike out another 5 minutes to Inspiration Point, which offers quite possibly some of the best views of Jenny Lake and the national park behind her. 
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
String Lake
12:00pm, String Lake & Leigh Lake (3 hrs, Easy, 325 ft. climb). Once you've taken your roundtrip shuttle back to the boat dock, retrieve your car and park it up at Jenny Lake Lodge. Grab your packed lunch and find a picnic table to enjoy your meal with an up-close view of the Teton Range, or head into the lodge to eat in the dining room. When you've finished, get ready for a leisurely walk around String Lake, which leads right into the Leigh Lake trail. These trails are pretty level with a small climb on the String Lake Loop, but will offer a great way to walk off that lunch and give your quads and calves a break from the climb over at Inspiration Point. About 20 minutes into your hike at String Lake, you'll find the path to Leigh Lake, which is a short out-and-back one. An alternative to lunching at North Jenny Lake could be enjoying it here at one of the benches along the shore. Continue on back to the String Lake Loop to finish up your hike and be rewarded with varied terrain as well as both mountain and lake views. 

3:30pm, Scenic Drive to Cunningham Cabin. Head back out to the Teton Park Road and stop at Signal Mountain Lodge for a nice afternoon break and a Blackberry Margarita, enjoying views of Jackson Lake. After about an hour, follow the park road and stop at the Jackson Lake Dam for a quick walk around. Then loop around toward the Moran Park Entrance, and head down to the Cunningham Cabin Historic Site to wander around a double-pen log cabin built in the 1800s that remains standing today.  
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
This iconic cabin at Mormon Row is often associated with Grand Teton National Park
5:30pm, Mormon Row. From Cunningham Cabin, drive south on Teton Park Road toward Moose Junction, stopping at Teton Point Turnout and Glacier View Turnout for awesome photo ops. Then, take a left down Antelope Flats road for a truly unforgettable experience. The Mormon Row Historic District is a community of still-standing homestead complexes built in the early 1900s. Here, you'll find the popularly photographed T.A. Moulton Barn, which is iconically associated with Grand Teton National Park. You can wander amongst the homesteads, trying to imagine what it must have been like living back then nestled so closely to the Teton Range. 

7:00pm, Dinner in Teton Village or Jackson Hole. After a long day, head back to your temporary residency and stop for a cold brew and a mini feast. In Teton Village, give the Mangy Moose a try for eclectic ski chalet decor and live music or Q Roadhouse and Brewing for fantastic food and locally brewed beer. In Jackson Hole, give the little log cabin Cafe Genevieve a try, or have some barbecue at the Smokin' Iron, which features outdoor seating only. And top off your night at Moo's Gourmet Ice Cream for a creamy, organic treat. Try the huckleberry flavor--YUM!

DAY 3 | Jackson Hole, Coulter Bay, Kayaking

9:30am, Breakfast in Jackson Hole. After miles of hiking, biking and exploring, you deserve the chance to sleep in and grab a hearty breakfast in town. Start your morning in Jackson Hole, and stop by Cowboy Coffee for a cup of locally roast jo' and a massive bagel egg breakfast sandwich. If you're looking for something more substantial, try the French-inspired Persephone Bakery Boulangerie and Cafe or e.Leaven for more traditional breakfast options. After breakfast, spend the morning wandering around the many boutiques and storefronts in Jackson Hole, or stop by the famous antler arches at the Jackson Hole Square for a photo op. 
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
Lakeshore Trail near Coulter Bay
1:00pm, Lakeshore Path at Coulter Bay (1 hr, Easy, 100 ft. climb). After lunch, head into the park and drive north as far as you can to reach Coulter Bay. Just behind the visitor center, you'll find the trailhead for the Lakeshore Path, a quick 2.5 miles in a double loop around the peninsula of Coulter Bay.
3 Perfect Days in Grand Teton National Park
View of Coulter Bay
2:30pm, Kayaking around Coulter Bay. When you're finished with your hike, rent some kayaks--or a canoe, if that's more your style--from the Coulter Bay Marina, and take them out for a short paddle. Kayaks run for $20-$23 an hour per adult, and canoes are $20 an hour per adult.  A spin out in the bay will offer unreal views of the mountains, and if you go at the right time, you'll be lucky to see them reflected in the water as you paddle out.

4:30pm, That's a Wrap! Soak up the last few hours of your trip to Grand Teton by squeezing in any last minute day hikes, pull-offs or view points you might not have been able to squeeze in elsewhere. If they're open, I highly recommend some of the hikes near Jenny Lake, as they're among the best in the park. Sadly, they were closed last summer during our trip due to construction.

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