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Best of the Tetons

Beating the Summer Crowds in Grand Teton National Park:

Tips and Strategies to Help Make Your GTNP Visit More Enjoyable!

GTNPVisitation at Grand Teton National Park has been on the incline for several years—each one breaking the previous year’s totals. We are likely on a similar pace this year, and that’s not taking into consideration the extra visitors in August for the Solar Eclipse! Air travel is getting more and more difficult—and less fun. It is probably going to get worse with new restrictions on computers and eventually photo gear. Gasoline prices have remained relatively low and there is a renewed interest in the Parks in general.

That’s great for our regional market. It’s great for the tour operators, merchants, galleries, restaurants, dude ranches, and activities! If you are stuck behind a bear jam or waiting to get through the entrance station, it’s not so great!

This page is intended to help readers miss at least some of the congestion and frustration you might encounter at peak times in Grand Teton National Park.

Bull Elk In Velvet

Be out early!  That’s my #1 tip! Early—as in 5:30 am in the summer. I know that for a large family, that could be a brutal and even novel idea! On many of our vacations and Spring Breaks, I’d get up and run around, taking photos, for a couple of hours, then go back to the room to find the family just beginning to mill around. This strategy always worked for me, but if you can’t leave the family, get them all up and get out. Grab a snack, then plan on having breakfast with the family at one of the restaurants in the Park as the line of travelers fill the roadways. The light and clouds are beautiful at that time of the morning. Wildlife will be moving from their early morning feeding zones to their daytime dark shadows. And, of course, there won’t be a lot of crowds to deal with at that time of the day!

Entrance Station

If you wait until mid-morning to head into the Park, expect long lines! It’s even worse early in the year when people are having to buy their Park Passes.

Noon Time at GTNP

At the Moran Junction entrance station, I’ve seen traffic backed up in two lanes all the way to the highway and spilling out onto the highway! Remember my #1 Rule: Be out early!

Approaching Storm

Grand Teton National Park is usually relatively quiet until Memorial Day. The traffic really kicks in around the 7th of June. Coincidentally, that’s the date of this post! It will be busy until Labor Day with the parents and kids. After Labor Day, another batch of tourists flock to the region for its spectacular Fall Foliage show! The crowds thin out considerably on October 1st.

That’s the “big picture”. On a daily basis in the summer, the bulk of the tourists have breakfast in town, then join the masses heading out of town and into the Parks. Many are passing through the Tetons to get to Yellowstone. In the afternoon, the flow is in the opposite direction. From 5:00 pm to around 6:30 pm, traffic can begin to become congested entering the Town of Jackson and can come to a virtual standstill through town as locals and commuters try to get out of town. Throw in a occasional accident or road construction projects in town and the situation can go from bad to terrible! As you can see in the mid-summer shot above, the Park can appear quiet at certain times of the day, even in the Summer!

Sunset

Suggestion #2: In the evening, stay out longer! If you have reservations for a motel in town, call ahead and let them know you will be arriving late and then sit back and enjoy the park an extra hour or two. That’s a bit like my doctor telling me I need to drink a glass of wine each day! Okay…I can do that! The roads will clear, animals may appear, and stress levels can go down! You can even consider having a pizza at Dornans or even Leek’s Marina. You will likely need to eat “somewhere”, even if you go to town, so find a great spot in the park and miss the crowds! Sunsets can also offer some memorable photo opportunities. Check out this page: Teton Sunsets:

On a similar note, when a big summer storm passes through the valley in the summer, many tourists leave the Parks and go into town. Unlike the 5:00 to 6:30 pm daily crowd, they filter into town and fill the shops and restaurants.

Moose Crossing

Rule #3: Don’t be in a hurry! Expect the unexpected and give yourself some extra time to enjoy the Park. Some of these tourists were probably too close, but I am sure they were pleased to get to see a Moose and yearling calf. Wildlife “jams” can cause stress if you believe you are on a tight schedule. Much of Grand Teton National Park and all of Yellowstone has a speed limit of only 45 mph. At night, even the 55mph portion of the highway has a maximum speed limit of 45 miles per hour. Roads are narrow, sometimes winding, and often have deer, moose, elk, and bison grazing and crossing them. Check out this post: The 100 Yard Rule(s)

Crowded Location

Rule #4: Go where they aren’t! On any particular morning in the summer and Fall expect to find a large group of people at any of the “Big Four”: Mormon Row Barns, Schwabacher Landing, Snake River Overlook and Oxbow Bend. Occasionally, as seen in the photo above, there will be numerous photo workshops and tours. I typically pass by this kind of scene and come back later in the morning. In most cases, tours come and go, so just wait them out. Patience is a virtue! Abracadabra: Now You See Them—Now You Don’t!  This page explains how to relieve stress by not worrying if a person is in your shot.

In recent years, tourists and photographers have been able to spread out more at Schwabacher Landing. Beavers had built a bunch of dams, creating additional reflection pools along the side channel of the Snake River that passes by the parking areas. In 2017, high water runoff has washed their dams away, leaving only one reflection pool on the Spring Creek side. Expect that spot to be even more crowded this year.

399 and Cub

Sometimes, you simply can’t go where “they” (tourists and photographers) are not! In most cases, to get Grizzly photos, you simply have to be there and be part of the crowd.

Blondie Watchers

If so, Rangers and Wildlife Brigade Volunteers tell people where they can stand, park, and view the bears. Personally, I can only take this kind of photography is small doses! As the season progresses, Rangers and Volunteers become less tolerant. I was in a bear jam recently that lasted a hour or longer. As I drove off, I could see people had parked as far as a half mile away to walk to the area.

399 and Cubs

This shot was taken only a few seconds before they crossed in front of the Rangers two shots up. I was using a Nikon D500 with a 200-500mm lens, giving me an “effective” reach of 750mm. You’ll need something similar if rules require people to be 100 yards from the bears and wolves. Check out this post: The 100 Yard Rule(s)

Take a Hike

Hidden FallsI don’t know where to look for the statistic, but I’ve heard that less than 10% of the visitors to Grand Teton National Park ever walk more than 100 feet from their vehicle. Some never get out of their vehicle at all! If so, all you have to do is hike a short distance off the parking areas and pull-outs and you can be virtually free from the crowds! Before leaving town, pick up a few “boxed lunches”. Find a cool, shaded stream, then sit back, relax and have a picnic!

Bridger-Teton National Forest butts up against Grand Teton National Park in many areas, offering even more opportunities to get away from the crowds. Even though some trails are fairly popular, hikes to Phelps Lake, Taggart Lake and Bradley Lake offer experiences inside GTNP with far fewer people. Also consider a hike to Goodwin Lake and Toppings Lake on the east side of the valley.

Best of the Teton’s site is filled with content skewed towards photography. If you would like more information about area hiking, try this link: Teton Hiking Trails. They can cover the topic much better than me! Again, most trails have few people on them.

If you would like a hybrid outing, get up early and take the ferry ride from Jenny Lake to Cascade Canyon, then hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. The first boat of the day is even cheaper! The Park Service is working on the parking areas at Jenny Lake again in 2017, so getting there early makes double sense. Beat the crowds and find a close parking spot. Check out this post: Cascade Canyon: One of the Teton’s Many Gems

Try Something Different!

This page is historically popular on Best of the Tetons: Outside the Park: Alternative Places to Visit, Hike, Fish, and Photograph. I wrote that page when the US Government shut down for a few weeks, displacing thousands of visitors still in the valley but unable to enter the Parks. It is loaded with photos and maps to areas fewer people see. A drive up the Gros Ventre Canyon, for example, can take you to red hills, mountains, rivers, lakes and vistas.

Additional Info:

The previous link might be considered a generic introduction to some of the alternative places. Check out these more details pages:

FREE in Jackson Hole ~ Areas & Activities:

This page contains numerous ideas that are mostly free. Some are free simply because you get up earlier than the Park Station attendants. Others are 100% FREE!

Not FREE, but these excursions will get you away from the crowds

Consider one of the many options that whisk you away from the crowds and into the wilds!

Horseback Rides: There are many companies that offer rides, including some inside the park. Check out the stables at the top of Spring Creek Ranch. The rides give you views from East Gros Ventre Butte over the National Elk Refuge and across to GTNP and the Grand. Triangle X offers trips into the wilderness and Park.

Scenic Float Trips: Some of these operations offer trips through some of the more remote areas of GTNP on the Snake River.

Scenic Chair Lifts: Check out the lifts at Snow King Resort. At the top, you can hike the ridge and get views only skier see.

Tram Ride: At the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, you can ride the tram to the top of Rendezvous Peak with unparalleled views of the valley below. Even in the summer, it can be chilly or crisp.

Hot Air Balloon Ride: How about another unique view of the valley. These rides start early!

Come Back in the Winter!

If you’ve only been here in the Summer, consider coming back in the Winter. Here are a few of the Winter pages on Best of the Tetons. You’ll find the area magically transformed by snow.

 

 


Teton Photo Excursions

If you are considering a trip in September, I’d definitely recommend booking it NOW. Some of those slots are filling fast. June is filling, but there are still openings. For inquiries, send an email to info@tetonimages.com.

 

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Comments (3)

  1. Maurice Horn

    On Monday, June 5, 2017 We found Hidden Falls closed for maintenance and to give the area a rest and recovery from the vast hordes of people over many years. Boats were not landing at the boat dock on the West side of Jenny Lake. Some of the boats are work boats. The trail from the String Lake parking lot was closed after about two and a half miles. It was blocked with a closed sign. At that point the trail up into Cascade Canyon was open. Needless to say the String Lake parking lot was jammed with cars. We met lots of hikers, but much less than if the ferry boats were landing. Most boats that day seemed to be operating sightseeing tours on Jenny lake without landing anywhere.

  2. Maurice Horn

    The definition of a FARM is where all of the parking has been converted into a FARM

  3. Maurice, Thanks for the great report!!!!! I need all the help I can get! I’ll make some notes based on your comments. MJ

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