Tips for getting the most out of a day trip to Grand Teton National Park.
Unfortunately, some people only have a day to spend here. “Where would you go if you only had a day?” The answer I’d give would vary a little with both the season of the year and the direction the person is entering the valley. For example, there would be no need to hurry to the south end of the park if you were already in the north end because there are plenty of great opportunities at both ends. Relative to it’s sister National Park to the North, Grand Teton National Park is relatively small and compact—and that’s great!
The Big Four! Many tourists feel their trip is not complete unless they visit the four most photographed areas. They are: Mormon Row Barns, Schwabacher Landing, Snake River Overlook, and Oxbow Bend. (Specific details on each location below)
Notes About this Page:
I wrote the original page on August 1st, 2013, and it has always been one of the most popular pages on my site. After almost three years, I decided to give it a facelift and reverse some of my travel advice. In this version, I advise people to make a counter clockwise loop through the Park’s main roads, allowing people to see all of the Big Four, plus a lot more of the locations. There will be a few places you might want to “spur off”, then return to the main roads. I’ll explain.
Winter Notes: This page is essentially worthless in the Winter months! Many of the roads and overlooks are snowed in or closed completely. Of the “Big Four” mentioned on this page, the only two you can get to by vehicle are Snake River Overlook and Oxbow Bend. Water levels are very low at Oxbow in the Winter, and the bend is almost always frozen over, so don’t go there for reflections!
If you found this page and are looking for Winter info, click these pages:
My Suggested Summer Route:
(Click the map to see it much larger)
The Kelly Loop: Starting at the Jackson Town Square, drive north 6.5 miles and look for the Gros Ventre Junction wooden park sign. Turn right and follow along the Gros Ventre River. Watch for deer, elk, moose, bison and pronghorns on either side of the road.
One of the main pullout is roughly 2.3 miles from the highway, popular for moose viewing. Continue NE on Gros Ventre Road to Kelly, 6 miles from the highway, go North about a mile on the East Boundary Road and turn right on the road taking you to the Upper Gros Ventre.
You’ll pass the Kelly Warm Springs (seen above), followed by a few “S” turns and then find the Luther Taylor (Shane) Cabins in a hollow on your left, roughly 1 mile from the East Boundary Road.
The Shane Cabins: Authentic Homestead in Grand Teton National Park. It sets a little low in a draw, so you wouldn’t need to hurry to get there.
Drive back to the Upper Gros Ventre Road Junction and turn right on the East Boundary Road (north).
Follow the East Boundary Road 2.5 miles to Antelope Flats Road, then turn left. Head east 1.6 miles towards Mormon Row—the historic old barns and homesteads. When finished viewing Mormon Row, continue west 1.6 miles and hit Highway 89/191 again. Turn right (north) towards Schwabacher Landing.
Note: While at Antelope Flats Road Junction, you might consider a quick trip to the Visitor’s Center at Moose. It is less than 2 miles from the junction, but would be a great place to go for information, maps, literature, books, and info on ranger led tours. Restrooms are available at the Visitor’s Center and at the Dornan’s complex on the other side of the river. Head back to Antelope Flats Road Junction to continue on this tour.
(Click the map to see it much larger)
There will be several turnouts along Highway 89/191. Blacktail Ponds Overlook is only a hundred yards north of the junction. It offers a nice panoramic view of the spring creeks and Teton Range.
Schwabacher Landing: Watch for a small sign 2.7 miles north of Antelope Flats Road with the words “Schwabacher Landing”. Follow the road about a mile until it dead ends at a parking area and restroom.
There are numerous places to photograph and view the Teton Range from this location. This spot is roughly 100 yards from the parking area along the beaver ponds. Another equally nice area is at the parking lot roughly 1/4 miles south of the restroom. It is easy to understand why this is one of the “Big Four” locations.
4.2 miles North of Schwabacher Landing is the famous Snake River Overlook. Watch for the sign along the highway. You can stand in the same spot Ansel Adams stood when he took his famous image. Like many places in the Park, this is a great place for panoramic images. There is ample parking, but no restrooms.
Head farther north to the historic old Cunningham Cabin. It is located at the end of a large turnout, prominently marked with a large wooden sign near the highway. There’s only one cabin left from the original homestead. Pick up a guided tour map at the trail head.
Elk Ranch Flats Turnout is located next to the highway 2.5 miles north of Cunningham Cabin. This spot can good for viewing bison, pronghorns, and grazing trail horses from Moosehead Ranch.
From Elk Ranch Flats, head on north 2.5 miles to Moran Junction and turn left. For many, this will be the first time they’ll have to pay to be “in Grand Teton National Park”, even though they’ve been “in” the Park all morning.
Oxbow Bend Turnout is only four miles past Moran Entrance Station. It is “really good” all year, but spectacular if you hit it right during the foliage season of late September and early October.
Note: While in the Oxbow Bend area, there are numerous side roads, such as the one to Cattleman’s Bridge, or the road up Pacific Creek and onward to Two Ocean Lake. If you have more than a single day, consider exploring some of the less traveled roads.
Jackson Lake Junction: This is one of the important junctions in Grand Teton National Park. Tourists heading into Yellowstone typically stay on the main road and travel on north, but they miss much of the Park. Tourists opting to turn left at the Junction, making the big loop will also miss parts of the Park they probably want to visit. It can be perplexing!
The Northern Spur
For this day tour, I’d suggest making a spur off the loop and backtrack to Jackson Lake Junction after seeing Pilgrim Creek, Colter Bay, and Leeks Marina. This entire area is “bear country”. If you leave your car, take along your canister of bear spray!
Willow Flats Overlook: This is a great spot for panoramic images, or just isolate any of the bigger mountains. Elk, wolves and bears roam the flats, but they are closed to human entry. The overlook is only a short distance from Jackson Lake Junction. Jackson Lake Lodge is just a hop, skip, and a jump north of Willow Flats Overlook. Their deck offers a similar view of the area.
There will be numerous restaurants in this region of Grand Teton National Park.
- Jackson Lake Lodge: They have a diner style area and a high end restaurant.
- Signal Mountain Lodge: Bar and restaurant. This is one of my favorite spots.
- Colter Bay: Grocery store and full restaurant.
- Leek’s Marina: Pizzeria and Ice Cream Shop with deck and indoor seating.
- Flagg Ranch: Convenience store, bar & restaurant. (along the Rockefeller Parkway before entering Yellowstone)
- Dornan’s (at Moose): Chuckwagon breakfast, lunch, and dinner. restaurant, wine shop, convenience store with deli sandwiches.
The area around Pilgrim Creek, Pilgrim Creek Road, Cygnet Pond, Colter Bay and Leeks Marina is traditionally home to numerous Grizzlies and a few Black Bears. I added some red squares on the map to indicate where to look, but of course, they aren’t always there. Worth looking, but I don’t suggest spending long looking and waiting.
Colter Bay can offer quite a few scenic opportunities. There are lots of hiking trails along the lake, but you won’t have time for that on a one day tour.
Canoes at Colter Bay.
Leek’s Marina at night. Keep an eye out for deer, snowshoe hares, foxes, coyotes, badgers, and other smaller critters.
If you were to continue farther north, watch for meadows, bays, and views across Jackson Lake. This meadow is a short distance past Arizona Creek.
Back to Jackson Lake Junction
At Jackson Lake Junction, you’d begin heading back towards town on the original GTNP road. This area contains lakes, a few waterfalls, and plenty of photographic opportunities.
Head south about two miles and cross the Jackson Lake Dam. If the lake is calm, park in one of the two parking areas near the dam. Walk back and catch a nice pano!
From the Dam, continue South on the Teton Park Road (Inner Park Loop Road). There will be numerous pullouts. The Signal Mountain Lodge area offers views across the lake, a marina, restaurants and gift shops.
You might consider driving up to the top of Signal Mountain, but it will take at least 30-45 minutes to make the round trip. Black Bears frequent the area in the fall and Dusky Grouse are seen there most of the year.
While heading south on the Teton Park Road, turn right (west) at At the North Jenny Lake Junction. You’ll have an option to turn into the scenic areas of String Lake, Leigh Lake Trail Head, northern Cascade Canyon Trail Head, or continue on the road towards Jenny Lake. A pullout will let you view across Jenny Lake towards Cascade Canyon and the Cathedral Group (seen above).
After returning to the Teton Park Road, look for the entrance to the Jenny Lake Visitors Center. Currently, the area is under construction, so finding parking spaces late in the day might be difficult. This year, you might want to skip the location. Jenny Lake has plenty of good views of the lake and outlet stream. Ferries take tourists to the base of Cascade Canyon, but would require a lot of extra time. Check out: Cascade Canyon: One of the Teton’s Many Gems.
After leaving the Jenny Lake area, head south on the Teton Park Road. You’ll pass Cottonwood Creek and the Taggart Lake Trailhead parking areas. Restrooms are available at each pullout.
Just past that area, watch for the sign for Chapel of the Transfiguration. A short drive will take you to a scenic church with a fantastic backdrop of the Teton Range. Church services are still held in the Chapel on Sundays and it is a popular wedding location. While in this area, checkout the other historic sites, such as Menor’s Ferry and the Maude Noble Cabin.
The Teton Park Road will bring you to the South entrance station. A half mile past the station, watch for a sign indicating the Moose-Wilson Road. If there is time left in your day, you can drive the entire Moose-Wilson Road to Teton Village, or stop at about the halfway point at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve.
The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve offers parking and trail head access to beautiful Phelp’s Lake and cascading Lake Creek. From the junction at Moose, the spur drive to the LSR Preserve is only 3.6 miles each direction or 7.2 miles round trip.
Along the Moose/Wilson road, watch for black bears, moose, deer, beavers, eagles, herons, and a large variety of birds that hang around the area.
When you make it back to the Moose Visitor’s Center Area, simply follow the signs a short distance over the Snake River Bridge and return to Highway 89/191. Turn right (south) to return to the Town of Jackson.
Click this map image to see it much larger.
The travel route suggested above lets you cover a lot of ground. If you are trying to see all of the spots listed here, you’ll have to keep moving. The route outlines the popular locations within GTNP and will cover roughly 140-150 miles.
All along the way, there should be opportunities to see wildlife—but it might help to have an idea where some of the species prefer to hang out. Check out this page: Where to Find Wildlife in the Tetons and JH Area. This page might also help with some of the wildlife viewing distance rules. The 100 Yard Rule(s)
Winter: I wrote this post for the Summer and Fall visitors. If you are planning a trip in the Winter, you’ll want to read the linked page. Many areas and some of the important roads are closed, some starting on November 1st and others in mid-December.
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