Best of the Tetons

Tipi and Stars

When Things Seem Slow in GTNP: Options and Suggestions

Come to Jackson Hole!

Sunrise Moose

You can “expect” to see towering mountain peaks, panoramic vistas, moose, deer, elk, bison, pronghorns, bears and wolves! You “can” see all of them on the brochures and guide books, but it can take a bit of luck and a lot of persistence to actually see them.

There are days when I am driving around and think to myself that I am glad I don’t have a Best of the Tetons Photo Tour that day. The animals, aside from a few ravens or magpies, are simply not visible. It can be perplexing—even for someone who has lived here over 30 years!

If you scroll through the years of images and pages on Best of the Tetons, it is evident the animals are here. Likewise, the magnificent mountains on the west side of the valley never move. There are times, however, I might not see the Grand for a week to ten days. Sometimes it feels like Mother Nature is pushing back! So, what do you do when things seem slow?

Options and Suggestions

1: Stay open minded. Really, that is the overriding theme of this article. It just might not be “your day” to see some of the subjects you have in your preconceived vision of your trip. Generally speaking—think small! Look for marmots, pine martens, chipmonks, foxes, and coyotes. They can fill in time until the larger animals reappear. Stay flexible and don’t get bogged down looking only for moose, bears, bugling elk, and wolves!

Frosted Gros Ventre

2: Try something else! There’s a saying in fly fishing, “If whatever you are doing now isn’t working, try something else.” Move upstream, move downstream, try a streamer, try nymphing, or use a jumbo fly and a dropper. Those are just a few examples. In photography, simply driving to a different zone might reveal other possibilities. Some people don’t like foggy days, but on cold days, hoar frost forms on river bottom trees and can be mystical once it lifts. Look for opportunities and take advantage of them when you find them, but otherwise, I find it best to keep moving!

Country Road

3: Switch into “reconnaissance mode” for a while. Many visitors stay on the main roads, seldom taking a dirt road or side road “just to see what’s there”. Those roads, like the one to the Spaulding Bay campsites and boat launch, are less traveled and can have a variety of wildlife and scenic possibilities. Store up a few “go to” places in your head for times when a storm starts rolling in, or places to go for a sunset experience. The rule of thumb in GTNP is you can drive on any road unless there is a sign saying you can’t go there—or if the road is barricaded. You can walk past barricades unless there are signs saying “No Human Presence Past this Point”. There are a few “Winter Closure” areas that aren’t overly well signed. Check the maps.

Granite Falls

4: Adapt to what Mother Nature is offering. Conditions can change quickly in the Northern Rockies. Be prepared. Some of the most dramatic periods happen leading up to a storm and immediately afterwards. If it is overcast, consider going somewhere you can do long exposures on a cascading stream or waterfalls. On a rainy, day consider taking photos of water dripping from leaves and flowers. Watch for drops forming rings in a pond. Better yet, look for ducks at a pond at a place like Schwabacher Landing and let the rings add an extra touch to the photo. Be prepared to catch a moose or bison shake the water off them when they get up after a rain storm.

Badger

5: Listen (and ask questions). I like to stop into some of the convenience stores in the Park. I might buy a soda or cookies, then ask the cashier if they’ve seen or heard of any bears (or moose, or foxes, etc) lately. Other tourists are often eager to tell them what they have seen. You can often hear people talking to each other at an overlook. Did someone say “badger”?…I’m all ears! They will tell you as eagerly as they tell a cashier.

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6: Switch from wildlife and scenic mode to “activities” mode. In the summer, there will be sailboats on the lakes. Kayakers and whitewater rafters will be on the rivers. Hikers, bikers, and climbers will be scattered around the valley. Fishermen make great subjects in all kinds of weather, including fog, snow and rain. Jackson Hole is constantly hosting some sort of race, contest or event. Dude ranches move horses around regularly. Watch for the cowboys and wranglers. You’ll see hot air balloons in the early mornings near Teton Village.

Leeks Marina

7: Go out at night. On a clear night, find a foreground subject and aim to the skies! Trees, mountains, and barns stay put, while wildlife can be unpredictable.

Grizzly Morning

8: Point down! Throughout most of the summer, wildflowers are sprinkled all over the valley and mountainsides. Wildflowers, along with berries, cones, and reflection pools can make great subjects, even on overcast days. It never hurts to add an animal if you can find it, such as a butterfly, bumble bee, or chipmonk. If it is windy AND overcast, you might still find opportunities to let the flowers blur in the wind.

The American Flag

9: Experiment and have fun! Slow periods can be good for doing some depth of field tests. You could even set up next to the highway and learn how fast your shutter speed needs to be to freeze a car zipping by. Then move either closer or farther from the road and see if it affects the results (it will). Or, try the other extreme…practice panning at slow shutter speeds! If nothing else, just relax and breathe in some of the fresh air and enjoy the beauty and solitude of the park.

Side Trips

Hidden Falls

1: Take the ferry to Cascade Canyon. It’s relatively inexpensive and you get to see parts of the valley most people don’t. Hike up to beautiful Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.

Canoes

2: Rent canoes at Colter Bay. See parts of the park from much less traveled areas. Take a picnic lunch AND your camera. Tip: Invest in a waterproof case for you camera and lens.

3: Take a ride on the Tram to the top of the mountains at Teton Village. You will find great views and it’s fun to boot. Snow King also offers summer rides to the top of Snow King Mountain.

4: Take a wildlife tour. Numerous companies shuttle groups around in vans to many areas of the park. They might not be seeing wildlife that day either, but at least they will be telling you where to look. Remember, I offer one-on-one photo tours! I can help you learn where to look AND usually help you with your photo skills.

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5: Take a hike. There are several licensed hiking companies. Similarly, there are books and web sites that can help you find hikes that fit your time constraints and fitness level. When off the beaten path, no telling what you’ll find. Consider a hike from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve to Phelp’s Lake or a hike from Taggart Lake trailhead to Bradley and Taggart Lakes. Or just take an easy, level hike along String Lake to Leigh Lake. Remember to take you camera.

Sleigh Ride

6: In the Winter, take a sleigh ride on the National Elk Refuge. If you are feeling like you are getting skunked in other areas of the park, spend $23 and take the sleigh ride into the wintering herd. You are almost 100% guaranteed to see elk at close range.

7: During the Winter, if you have the budget, consider a snowmobile trip up Granite Canyon to Granite Hot Springs. Most trips stop next to Granite Falls before going to the hot springs and pool. Take your camera! The touring companies supply the snowmobile and all helmets, boots, gloves, and outerwear, plus transportation to the locations.

8: In the Summer, you might consider a Scenic Float Trip through the heart of Grand Teton National Park. There are only a few public access points for much of the Snake River. Float trips take tourists to some of the most beautiful spots in the park. They are not allowed to stop, so figure on fast shutter speeds to compensate for the movement of the rubber boat. Expect both scenic and wildlife opportunities.

Some of My “Go To” Alternate Spots

1: In the Winter, I like to make a regular run out to the National Elk Refuge. I never know if I will be seeing bighorn sheep, elk, bison, eagles, coyotes, wolves, or and occasional fox. The odds are relatively high I can photograph “something”. The Historic Miller House can make a great photo subject during a variety of lighting and weather conditions.

Bald Eagle

2: Flat Creek Wetlands is located just north of the Visitor’s Center. There’s almost always something to photograph, including possible eagles, herons, otters, swans, ducks, and songbirds. It can be equally good in all seasons.

3: The National Fish Hatchery is located a few miles north of town on the National Elk Refuge. They offer tours of the hatchery, and the stocked pond is home to numerous waterfowl. Eagles can be seen fairly often along the buck rail fences. Foxes can be in the area, too. The gates are usually locked at 4:00pm.

Trumpeter Swans

4: Boyle’s Hill Swan Pond is managed by the local Wetlands Society. It’s located a few miles east of Jackson and is home to around 23 “grounded” breeding swans and numerous Canada Geese. Additionally, another 30-50 wild swans fly in and out of the area on most winter days.

5: During Winter months, I occasionally like to take a gamble and go down the Snake River Canyon to see and photograph mountain goats. I get skunked about as often as I see them, but the rewards can be worth the gamble. While some animals like moose bed down after mid-morning, the goats can be out and visible at about any time of the day.

Grizzly Sow and Cub

6: Togwotee Pass is located east of Moran Junction. There are nice vista views of the Teton Range (if not clouded in) during all seasons. You might see moose and grizzlies in the summer and possible Great Horned and Great Gray Owls. There are many Winter snowmobile options on Togwotee, too.

Fences

7: During three of the four seasons, I can always find subjects at the GTNP’s Mormon Row. Antelope Flats road closes during the Winter months. People can snow shoe, hike, or cross country ski into the area during the winter months. I also like to photograph the barns along Spring Gulch Road and South Park Loop Road. They are privately owned, but still offer decent subjects. Spring Gulch Road can have a variety of raptors, coyotes, and ungulates throughout the year.

When Things Seem Slow

Many tourists and photographers are in Jackson Hole for only a day or possibly four or five days. The attitude can often be, “I want to see it all, and I want to see it all now!” Some have pre-envisioned shots they “need” (often based on seeing the photo somewhere else already). It might have taken the other photographer a week, or even weeks to get the image. Some of those shots are earned, not given. You may need to invest time and energy to get your shots, too!

Gros Ventre Crossing

The local weather and wildlife seldom follow the script we prepare. The trick is to be mentally prepared to adapt to the actual conditions and opportunities. Go out with charged batteries, empty memory cards, and a “blank canvas”—then let that day’s offerings shape the results. It’s great to end the day with cards full of big game and large predators, but that doesn’t happen as often as people might think. Remember too, animals are not always right beside the roads. When it is slow for some of that group, it might be hoppin’ for others that hiked a ways off the roads.

Lastly, IF I come home with no shots, I reluctantly admit to myself it was MY FAULT. There is always something to photograph in a place like Jackson Hole!

Hopefully, this page will give you some food for thought on where to go and what to do if things seem slow to you!

Related Pages on Best of the Tetons

Below are lots of links to pages I’ve created over the years of publishing this site. They will give you a lot more info on some of the topics briefly mentioned above.


If you are interested in taking a Best of the Tetons Photo Tour with me, click the photo below! For inquiries, send an email to info@bestofthetetons.com. Book early for September…slots fill fast!

Best of the Tetons Photo Tours

 

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Comments (2)

  1. Good info, seems all involve slowing down and focusing on what’s at hand. Great reminder for those of us with busy, fast American Life styles. Keep shooting! I look for you e-mails and smile when I see one has arrived.

  2. This is CLASSIC Mike Jackson ! ! You are always there (actually here) to help us find a place to take great photo images. Tomorrow morning I’m going out on a photo shoot with the peer mentors. According to the weatherman/woman the weather is not supposed to be all that nice for photos. But this article will help us stay motivated. Focus on what’s at hand … great suggestion. I hope to see you tomorrow.

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