Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park offers some of the most exquisite, breathtaking and challenging day hikes for everyone from first-time hikers to lifelong pros. On the popular Cascade Canyon Trail, Teton Crest Trail, Amphitheater Lake Trail or any other spectacular route in this park, you’ll see the jagged Teton Range, with eight high-rising summits, crystal-blue lakes and a big sky that seems to go on for days. But Grand Teton has its own special quirks, and you should know a few tricks before embarking on these special trails to ensure that you get the best Grand Teton experience possible.
Yes, There are Bears
The Park Service emphasizes the importance of bear awareness in Grand Teton and does offer some mandatory guidelines for hikers and campers to prevent bear encounters. Hikers and campers must carry bear-proof food storage and bear spray. You’ll want to make sure that bears know you’re present, so the Park Service recommends calling out and clapping your hands while hiking. Bear bells are not considered sufficient. Never approach bears and be sure you have a solid bear encounter plan before embarking on your journey.
…and Other Wildlife, Too
Wildlife in Grand Teton isn’t all serious business. Hikers and wildlife photographers flock to this popular National Park in hopes of spotting majestic mammals—especially the mighty moose and the elusive elk. You’ll have the best chance of spotting moose in Grand Teton along Moose Wilson Road, but be sure to ask rangers and fellow hikers where to look based on the season and the time of day. Hikers may also spot bighorn sheep, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions and plenty of varieties of reptiles and birds within the park’s boundaries.
There Will Be Snow
Rapid weather changes are inevitable at Grand Teton due to the high elevation and unique climate. It’s common for there to be about a 30-degree difference between the average high and average low year-round at Grand Teton. Snow in the mountains melts gradually and can be found on some canyon trails as late as the end of July. Thus, it’s important that you pack performance winter hats that keep you warm and dry if your hike includes a steep descent and hiking trucker hats to keep the sun out if temps are high.
Elevation is No Joke
The Teton Range features eight peaks over 12,000 feet, with the highest peak (Grand Teton) towering at 13,770 feet. Thus, you’ll definitely experience a few elevation changes while you’re exploring this park. In fact, several of the more popular trails in Grand Teton start around 6,000 feet and climb well above 10,000 feet, all in a day’s work! Make sure that you’re well-aware of the elevation gain on your particular route so that you can properly prepare. To prevent altitude sickness, stay properly hydrated, let your body acclimate to higher elevations slowly (only go about 1,000 feet per day) and eat a calorie-dense diet on the trail.
You Might Need a Permit
All overnight backcountry camping in Grand Teton requires a permit, which you can submit online through Recreation.Gov. Note that you also need a permit if you intend to do any climbing or mountaineering. There are several non-backcountry camping options available in Grand Teton if you prefer an established campsite near other campers. These campgrounds are probably a better choice than backcountry camping for those who intend to mostly day hike.
There are Some Rules
As with any National Park, Grand Teton is governed by some general park rules that help make it a safe and well-preserved recreation area. Make sure that you’re aware of all the rules and regulations before setting forth on your journey. The park prohibits any hiking on non-established trails, as this can cause erosion and damage to the natural landscape, so make sure to stick to the trails. Note that pets, bikes and vehicles are not permitted in the backcountry. Additionally, the Park Service asks hikers and campers to bury human waste in a hole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from any water to prevent waterway contamination.
It’s Best to Hike Early
Experienced hikers know that getting up with the sunset is one of the best hiking hacks out there. Getting started earlier in the day means you’ll start off with cooler temps and you’ll get more time on the trail before dark, so you won’t feel like you’re rushing against the clock. Plus, if you dream of solitude, this is the best time to get out and about. There will be way less traffic on the trail before noon!
The Best Views Take Work
As with anything in life, the harder you work, the sweeter the reward. Grand Teton has some spectacular mountain landscapes, but you just might have to take the higher, harder trek to see them from the best vantage point! Naturally, as you get to higher elevations, you’ll be able to see more sweeping and expansive views of the peaks and the canyons, so it may be well worth your while to expend the extra energy for a higher ascent.
The Visitors Center Is Your Friend
There are six visitor centers in Grand Teton, with the most popular being the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. Not only do these landmarks serve as vital information centers—providing detailed information on weather, maps and recent wildlife sightings—they also act as perfect “hubs” for your hiking group. Starting out at one of the centers will help you plan your journey with regard to current conditions so you know just what to expect. One insider tip: The Craig Thomas Visitor Center is one of the few places in the park with Wi-Fi, so it’s a definite hotspot.
Enjoying the Great American West
For many Americans, a hike in Grand Teton is a bucket-list item. This exceptional National Park encapsulates the beauty of the mountainous West, providing glimpses of unspoiled valleys, rocky cliffs and peacefully grazing wildlife that you simply won’t find anywhere else. What we love about Grand Teton is that it’s equally as beautiful as Zion, Yosemite or Yellowstone, but it’s significantly less trafficked. If you dream of vast, open spaces with no one around for miles, Grand Teton feels like a special little secret!