Best of the Tetons, Great Photography Tours In Jackson, WY

The Ditch at the Moulton Barn

10 Tips for a Grand Teton National Park Visit

Tips for a better visit from a 31 year resident and local photographer.

Sparring Moose

1: Do some pre-trip planning!

  • The good news…Grand Teton National Park is open all year! Summer visitors have access to most roads and facilities. It’s beautiful here all Winter, but you’ll find fewer roads and access.
  • Grand Teton National Park is home to many species of wildlife, however you might need to time your visit based on what you are hoping to see. For example, bull Moose will not have antlers from late January through mid-August. Many mammals will be shedding winter fur during the Spring months, but those months are the best months for the babies. Remember, some of the wildlife migrates out of the region while others hibernate during the Winter months.
  • Weather can be an issue at any time of the year. It helps to bring warm clothing at all times of the year. Temperatures can drop to below freezing overnight, even in the summer, yet warm up to comfortable temperatures by afternoon. We have experienced heavy snow on July 4th!
  • You’ll know you are in Grand Teton National Park via a few entrance signs, however much of the Park lacks clear signage  identifying its boundaries. This is especially true on the East side of the park. Pick up a Park map as soon as you can, or visit click the link below to view the official Park map. Note: Visitors entering GTNP via Yellowstone pass through a gate a Moran Junction, then enter the highway. Many believe they are out of the Park, yet they are still well within Park’s boundaries. Check the maps before letting your dog off its leash or considering using a drone anywhere in the Jackson Hole area!
  • Wildlife viewing rules state that humans must stay 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from other wildlife. Visitors must follow the instructions of on-site rangers and volunteers, even if they are are more strict than printed rules and documentation.
  • Click Here to view the GTNP Map
  • 18-12 Changes to Entrance Fee to Address Infrastructure Needs & Improve Visitor Experience.pdf
  • Check the Daily Journals in the list below to help plan your trip:
Daily Updates Archives: ~
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Alsenglow

2: Get up early for the most elbow room, best light, and most wildlife!

  • The Teton Range runs north and south along the west side of the valley. Landscape photography is often best early in the morning as the range wakes up with spectacular morning light.
  • Wind is often calm during the early morning hours. Be out early to have your best chances of getting mirror reflections in still or slow moving water.
  • If you are willing to get up EARLY, you’ll miss the bulk of the crowds. During peak times of the year, you can expect long delays getting through the gates. How early is early? Early means being somewhere of interest as the first rays of light clears the top of the eastern mountains. In mid-June, that’s around 5:41 am.
  • Wildlife, especially moose, deer, and elk, are usually most visible in the early hours. Moose can bed down in the sage or pull back into the river bottoms not long after first light. Deer and elk move out of the open and back into the shadows of the forest. Other large mammals, like Bison and Pronghorns, are often visible during the bright hours. Bears can be visible during random daylight hours.
  • The Jenny Lake’s Visitor Center area will continue to be under construction in 2018. Unless you get there very early, expect full parking areas there and at String Lake. If the ferry is running between Jenny Lake and Cascade Canyon this year, be there for the first ferry and take advantage of the discounted “early bird” first run and be one of the first to hit the trails to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls.

Monday Morning Grizzlies

3: Buy an Annual Pass!

  • A seven day pass into just Grand Teton National Park will cost $35. If you plan on continuing into Yellowstone, the two park weekly pass is $50-$55 (2018 rates are still being formulated). A single pass is good for a whole carload of people. This might be an acceptable option, but if you travel the country much at all, consider purchasing an Annual Pass for $80 (only $20-$25 more). This inter-agency pass good for all* National Parks, Historic Monuments, Grasslands, and National Wildlife Preserves for a full year from the date of purchase!. For those 62 years and older, a Senior Lifetime Pass is available for $80.
  • Remember, you can purchase the Annual Pass at any National Park, National Wildlife Preserve, or National Monument along your way to the Grand Teton National Park and then use it at any of Wyoming’s three National Parks. (Note: There are a couple of Parks, like Mt. Rushmore, that require a parking fee)
  • Grand Teton National Park offers a Satellite Pass option for $10 to anyone buying an Annual Pass. If your family splits up, the Satellite Pass will get them into the Park if the primary pass is with another member. My wife and two kids each have a Satellite Pass, which comes in handy if they want to go to the lake for the day while I in other parts of the valley. The Satellite pass, like the full Annual Pass, will get a whole carload of people into the park!
  • Annual Pass
  • Click Here for GTNP Pass and Fees Info
  • *Click Here for a List of FEDERAL RECREATION AREAS covered with an Annual Pass!

Bison Crossing

4: Be open minded!

  • Especially during the peak months, the Park can become crowded. Not all visitors share the same values and a concern for others. Some will enter a shot you have been waiting for hours to get. Kids might throw a rock into a mirror reflection. Over the years, I’ve found I can usually out wait them, but in general, a little patience and forgiveness can help.
  • The park spans just over 310,000 acres. If one area is uncomfortably crowded, consider some of the side roads and lesser traveled zones.
  • Some visitors, especially photographers, have a laundry list of scenes and wildlife visions they’ve seen in a book, magazine, travel guide, or web site and are hoping to recreate it. Those photos might have taken the original photographers weeks to get and most likely a little luck was involved. Be open minded—and be opportunistic!

Sunrise

5: Stay a night or two in the Park!

  • There are numerous campgrounds and lodges within the boundaries of the Park. If you book early enough, staying inside the Park for a night or two might give you some advantages over tourists leaving town each morning. Obviously, lodging inside the park means you can sleep a little later and still be first on site at the popular spots!
  • A new “roundabout” will be under construction in 2018. Expect 15 to 30 minute delays all year at Gros Ventre Junction. Moose-Wilson Road, which usually opens on May 1st will be delayed to mid May for road construction, and even when the road is open, expect extra heavy traffic on the road with travelers trying to miss the roundabout construction project. Staying “inside” the Park offers even more value this year.
  • Click Here for a List of In-Park Lodging Options

399 and Cubs

6: Bring a Telephoto Lens

  • As mentioned before, GTNP (and all National Parks) have minimum wildlife viewing distances. Many of the professional wildlife photographers have telephoto lenses—used for many of the closeup images seen online and in books and magazines. If close photos of wildlife are on your wish list, spend the money to buy or rent a telephoto lens. Rangers have little tolerance for someone getting too close with a cell phone.

Bull Elk in Gold

7: Take a Guided Tour!

  • A guided tour might be a great option. There are several types of tour operations inside Grand Teton National Park and there are numerous options for each. Some of the tour companies offer relatively inexpensive trips, carrying 6-12 people in vans and small buses. Most have trained and qualified guides to explain the valley’s wildlife and geology.
  • Photography Tours and Workshops offer more intimate tours, heavily weighted towards photographic aspects.
  • Click Here for: Best of the Tetons Photo Tours. These are customized photo tours / photo workshops for one or two people.

Chapel of the Transfiguration

6: Visit the Park’s Museums and Historic Sites

  • Watch for the cultural and historical displays at the Craig Thomas Visitor’s Center at Moose Junction and the museum at Colter Bay. They are free! Volunteers, Rangers, and display signage can offer a range of information about the Park. The Park also offers guided tours—some of which are free.
  • Additionally, visit the Park’s historic sites like the Chapel of the Transfiguration, Mormon Row, Cunningham Cabin, and the Luther Taylor Cabin (also known as the Shane Cabin).
  • Don’t forget the JH Wild West Shootout and JH Rodeo in the Town of Jackson.

Yonder Sign

Milky Way Over String Lake

9: Think about doing a coffee table book!

  • Numerous companies offer custom printed books, using your images. Photos can be uploaded into templates—or design your own pages and layouts. These books are a great way to show off your trip to the Park.
  • Keep a possible coffee table style book in mind on your visit and you will likely be trying to fill it with not only the “obligatory” photos (the standard shots everyone takes), but also smaller filler shots like spider webs, pine cones, bark, textures, leaves berries, and the pint sized critters like ground squirrels, weasels, and even butterflies. Stop to “smell the flowers” and come home with many more memories of your visit!

Kamas Meadows

Great Gray Owl

10: Practice with your camera before your trip!

  • Many of the “special” moments in Grand Teton National Park are extremely fleeting. A short list of these special events might include a rainbow, a passing storm, and changing light on a beautiful sunrise. If lucky, you might find a pair of bull Moose fighting, a Grizzly standing, or a large mammal crossing a stream. It’s NOT the time to be fiddling around a camera’s menus to make the necessary changes. It can help tremendously if you practice before your Park trip!
  • As I discuss this issue with my photo tour clients, I suggest they spend time at their local youth soccer fields to become comfortable using their camera. It helps to understand the settings to freeze both near a far action, along with the various focusing options. After evaluating the results on a large monitor, the shooting data can reveal a wealth of information that can improve the photographer’s skills. Best of all, the photos have little or no long-term value. Delete them, then go back over and over until you have a good understanding of the camera’s settings. Learn how to make changes quickly!

Summer Rainbow

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Add Your Suggestions Below!

I thought about this list quite a while before writing the page, but I am sure I missed some good suggestions. If you have one I missed, please post a comment below with yours!


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Comments (4)

  1. Really excellent article, Mike! Spot-on advice.

  2. If you are going to visit Grand Teton National Park this post by Mike Jackson is a MUST. My wife and I visited the park for 30 years and then decided to move her 6 year ago for retirement. I wish I had read this article before I came. It includes all the key issue to think about as part of your plan before you come. Thanks Mike, this includes all the issues for folks to consider ! ! Great job.

  3. This will be my 9th consecutive year going to the Grand Teton National Park. I can honestly say that what Mike has posted here is spot on. Not only does he know the park like the back of his hand, he is a fantastic photographer and a terrific teacher as well. Two years ago I had the good fortune to spend a day with him on a Customized Tour. It was simply Fantastic! The photography tips he shared have made my photography much better. It’s great to read his posts but even better to spend time with him. If you can, I highly recommend it!

  4. Lowell Schechter

    Mike , wonderful advice for people who want to visit this great national park . The one thing that stuck out in your comments was about getting your camera settings ready for wildlife photography before you leave to go to the Tetons or any national park . Also , good advice on practicing before you get there. We were coming back to the Tetons and Yellowstone but decided to stay on the east coast this year.

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