Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming may be the most scenically spectacular national park in the lower U.S.—a magnificent 40-mile (64-km) stretch of snowy glacier-strewn peaks rising abruptly to 7,500 feet (2,287 m) off the valley floor. Much of the same wildlife as in neighboring Yellowstone find welcoming habitat here ranging from lush marsh to desert to alpine peaks. Wildflowers display in brilliant sweeps at all levels and in most seasons—sagebrush buttercups, scarlet skyrocket gilia, Engelmann asters, alpine sunflowers and forget-me-nots, purple larkspur, lupines, fireweed, Indian paintbrush.
Elk and mule deer graze. Eagles scream and sometimes dive on ospreys to steal their fish. Trumpeter swans, world’s largest waterfowl, carry young cygnets on their backs. River otters scoop trout from rushing eddies along the Snake River.
Mountain bluebirds pluck insects from grassy fields also favored by sage grouse and stately sandhill cranes. Dippers, America’s only aquatic songbirds, dive to clear-stream bottoms, wings propelling them to underwater prey.
But it is the visual power of the jagged, dramatic Teton Range (many peaks more than 12,000 feet/3,650 m high) seen from almost every part of this 485 square miles (1,256 km2) in northwestern Wyoming that is forever memorable.
It almost failed to become a national park. Local ranchers opposed it as a government takeover. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. quietly bought private tracts, assembling some 52 square miles (134 km2) which he planned to give to the National Park Service. Local resentment to “outside interests” prevented its acceptance until President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared parts of Jackson Hole a national monument in 1943. Resulting tourist dollars quickly melted opposition.
Now more than 300 kinds of animals and 700 plant types find homes here, sharing waterways with eared grebes, Barrow’s goldeneyes, buffleheads, redhead and ring-necked ducks, green-winged and blue-winged teals. Canada geese swap young—some pairs, more parentally inclined, take over others’ broods and may care for 35 goslings in one family.
Bright songbirds include western tanagers, pine grosbeaks, warbling vireos, Steller’s jays, raucous black-billed magpies, redpolls, MacGillivray’s warblers, and sociable Clark’s nutcrackers.
Bighorn sheep spring lightly about upper slopes where tiny pikas gather grass for winter food supplies. Swift pronghorns watch for danger on Antelope Flat with wide-placed eyes covering 360 degrees at a glance. Beaver dens on rivers create willow marshes for moose. Coyotes accommodate themselves to all habitats except extreme high elevations—and occasionally are found even there.
Elk, which summer in surrounding high country, come down to spend winters in National Elk Refuge just north of Jackson.
All year is interesting. July–August can be crowded, less so in cooler September–October. Winter is spectacular but can be cold, stormy, some roads closed (Moose Visitor Center open all year, also main road US 26/89/191). The park has comfortable lodges, cabins, campgrounds (some close seasonally Oct. 1; reserve well ahead); also some nearby outside the park.
Scheduled air goes to Jackson Hole; from there take US 89/191/26 to south entrance; from Yellowstone take the scenic highway through John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway to the north boundary. East entrance is on US 287/26. Good roads; also 200+ miles (320+ km) of trails in park (permits needed for overnight). Hikers are warned of treacherous ice and snow, even in summer. Most trails start at 6,800 feet (2,074 m)—high enough for shortness of breath.
Compromises had to be made in park establishment, resulting in many inholdings, continued grazing, water draw-downs of Jackson Hole for irrigation. This is the only U.S. national park permitting hunting, also with a commercial airport.
Several other refuges are nearby:
National Elk Wildlife Refuge, adjacent southeast of Grand Teton; established to replace historic elk wintering grounds displaced by ranches and residential development. The world’s largest wintering elk herd—up to 10,000—come down from high country to spend cold months here.
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, 50 miles (80 km) west of Yellowstone, with trumpeter swans, nesting bald and golden eagles, sandhill cranes, moose, elk, stunning scenery.