Grand Teton National Park has an area of 489 sq mi (1,300 km2) and is located in the state of Wyoming (U.S.). Its name comes from the tallest mountain in the Teton Range, namely Grand Teton, which is 7,000 ft (2,100 m) above Jackson Hole. Located at 10 mi (16 km) from Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park is known, among others, for its prehistoric species of flora and fauna, the over 200 mi (320 km) of trails, 1,000 drive-in campsites, and for being part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
How It Got Here
The earliest data available shows that the area was already inhabited by Paleo-Indians 11,000 years ago. It appears that the first inhabitants spent their summers in Jackson Hole and the winters in the valleys west of the Teton Range.
In the 19th century, the area attracted fur trading companies and the first permanent European settlers arrived in Jackson Hole in the 1880s. At the time, the area was inhabited by the Shoshone people. The group later relocated to the Wind River Indian Reservation, located at 100 mi (160 km) southwest of Jackson Hole. It was also in this century when the Teton Range got their name from the French-speaking trapper-les trois tétons, which means the three teats.
The Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929, although the Jackson Hole valley remained in private ownership until the 1930s. Initially, conservationists wanted to expand Yellowstone by including the Teton Range. The residents of Jackson Hole did not like the idea of a larger Yellowstone and preferred a separate national park that would include not only the Teton Range but also six lakes located at the base of the range. Jackson Hole was gradually bought by John D. Rockefeller through the Snake River Land Company. President Franklin Roosevelt eventually established the Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943 using the land from the Snake River Land Company and additional territory from the Teton National Forest. The monument and the park were finally combined in 1950. Yay!
The park has a subarctic clime, which is not as cold as it sounds. For instance, the average temperature is 26.3 °F (-3.2 °C) in January and 77.3 °F (25.2 °C) in July. The average precipitation rate is 4.12 in (105 mm) in January and 1.26 in (32 mm) in July.
Wild Wild Life
There are 61 known species of mammals that for some reason live in Grand Teton National Park, including the American black bear and grizzly bear, gray wolf, coyote, bison, elk, bighorn sheep, cougar, wolverine, lynx, river otter, and least chipmunk, among many others.
Serious looking wolverine
Very serious looking lynx
The park has more than 300 species of birds, including bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcon, American kestrel, great horned owl, black-billed magpie, American white pelican, and whooping crane. Here you can also find the smallest bird species in North America, the calliope hummingbird, as well as the largest waterfowl, the trumpeter swan.
American kestrel looking at something
This golden eagle appears to be posing
If you are afraid of reptiles, you will be glad to know there are only four known species of them in the park, namely, the wandering garter snake, the rubber boa, the valley garter snake, and the northern sagebrush lizard (but let’s see if you can find more). There are six amphibian species, namely the boreal chorus frog, bullfrog, Columbia spotted frog, tiger salamander, northern leopard frog, and boreal toad.
A garter snake social group
Flora varies according to the ecological zone. The park includes an alpine tundra zone where several types of pretty wildflowers, grass, lichen, and moss can be found. In the subalpine zone, spruce-fir forests dominate and limber pine, whitebark pine, subalpine fire, and Englemann spruce can also be found. In the valley floor, you will find sagebrush plains, deciduous and conifer forests, lodgepole pine, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, aspen, blue spruce, willow, cottonwood, and alder, among others. Wetlands are common in the valley floor adjacent to rivers and streams and near some lakes.
When you see a lot of lichen you know you’re in the tundra zone
The blue spruce is also called green spruce (seriously)
One of the best ways to travel between Grand Teton and Yellowstone is through the scenic road John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. This highway passes from the southern boundary of Grand Teton to West Thumb in Yellowstone. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, along with the surrounding National Forests and related protected areas make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which at 18,000,000-acre (7,300,000 ha) constitute one of the largest intact mid-latitude ecosystems on Earth. Visiting the entire ecosystem must be quite a trip.
Grand Teton National Park is known for its mountains, as all the major peaks of the Teton Range and the Jackson Hole valley are within the park. You can see the Teton Wilderness and Gross Ventre Wilderness of Bridger-Teton National Forest in the northeast of the park and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness of Caribou-Targhee National Forest along the western boundary. The largest peak is Grand Teton, which is 13, 775 ft (4,199 m) above the sea level.
The Jackson Hole valley is 55-mile-long (89 km) by 6-to-13 mile-wide (10-21 km) and has an average altitude of 6,800 ft (2,100). The valley is formed by the Gros Ventre Range on the eastern side and the Teton Range on the western side. Jackson Hole is relatively flat but contains a few hills such as Signal Mountain and buttes such as Blacktail Butte.
If you are in Grand Teton during winter you might want to visit the National Elk Refuge, located in the southeast of the park, where herds of elk migrate there (hence the name). The famous Cathedral group is composed of eight peaks located between the Avalanche and Cascade Canyons. A famous peak is the 12,605 ft (3,842 m) Mount Moran.
Mount Moran and Jackson Lake
You can also take a boat or similar and head to the Snake River, which is very popular for rafting and other water activities. The river starts from Two Ocean Plateau in Yellowstone, enters Grand Teton National Park near the boundary of the park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and exits the park west of the Jackson Hole Airport. Tributary rivers include Gros Ventre, Pacific Creek, and Buffalo Fork.
Most of the lakes you will find in Grand Teton National Park were formed by glaciers, with the largest of them being located at the base of the Teton Range. The largest lake in the park is Jackson Lake, which is 15 mi (24 km) long, 5 mi (8 km) wide and 438 ft (134 m) deep. Other lakes include Two Ocean, Emma Matilda, Bradley, Jenny, Leigh, Phelps, and Taggart lakes. At high altitudes, you can find Lake Solitude (9,035 ft/2,754 m) and Icefloe (10,652 ft/3,247 m), the later being frozen for most of the year.
The park also has several canyons that can take you into the heart of the range, including Cascade, Granite, Paintbrush, Moran, Death, and Webb canyons.
Grand Teton National Park contains many glaciers, with the largest being Teton Glacier, located below the northeast face of Grand Teton. Teton Glacier is 3,500 ft (1,100 m) long and 1,100 ft (340 m) wide and surrounded by most of the tallest summits of the range. As you suspect, it offers very interesting views and a visit to the park should arguably include a visit to this glacier.
Teton Glacier is located to the right of Grand Teton and below Mount Owe
If you want to see glacier depressions known as kettles, head to the southeast side of Jackson Lake. For a wild west experience, feel free to visit the town of Jackson, which is located at the southern end of the valley. For skiing and other activities, you may also want to consider Jackson Hole Hole Mountain Resort.
The town of Jackson Hole
Hiking & Camping in Grand Teton National Park
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