In 2019, 3.4 million people flocked to the small town of Jackson, Wyoming to visit Grand Teton National Park, home to the incredibly distinctive Teton Mountain Range. As the eighth most visited park of the beloved U.S. National Park system, it should come as no surprise that Grand Teton offers world class hiking, ample wildlife viewing opportunities, and epic landscapes. But with 485 square miles, bursting with trails and wildflowers and moose, it can be challenging to decide how to spend your time if you’ve only got 48 hours in the park.
On a recent road trip through the Western United States, with stops in Idaho, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park, my husband, Justin and I spent two days in Grand Teton National Park and after a ton of time researching how to spend our precious hours there, I think we kinda nailed the itinerary.
So if you’re looking for some of the best hikes, photography spots, and swimming holes to cram into your two days in Grand Teton, I got you covered!
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Table of Contents
- How to Get to Grand Teton National Park
- Where to Stay when Visiting Grand Teton National Park
- When to Go to Grand Teton National Park
- What to Pack for Grand Teton National Park
- What to Do in Grand Teton National Park
- Is Two Days Enough in Grand Teton National Park?
- Where to Eat and Play near Grand Teton National Park
How to Get to Grand Teton National Park
Unless you road trip there like we did from our home in Washington (and I highly recommend doing so; there’s so much to see in this part of the United States), you’ll likely need to fly in. For a lot of national parks, you’ll need to fly into a major city and drive several hours to the parks themselves. Not so with Grand Teton- the Jackson Hole airport is the only airport in the United States that’s literally INSIDE of a national park, with regular service from United, American Airlines, and Delta.
Fun fact, though- the teeny town of Jackson, Wyoming, with a population of just over 10,000 residents, is the most economically unequal metropolitan area in the United States, with the richest 1% raking in an average income of $16.1 million per year- as such, the airport often acts as the literal runway for the super wealthy (I saw more than one private jet take off from the airport during our stay) and, given the small size of the airport, even the normal ol’ commercial flights for you and me can be pretty pricey (regardless of the destination, for the cheapest airfare, I swear by Skyscanner).
For a more affordable alternative, you can consider flying into Bozeman, Montana, about 206 miles or an approximately four hour drive from Jackson, especially if you’re interested in stopping in Yellowstone– you’ll have to drive right through it! The most affordable option will likely be flying into Salt Lake City, UT, which offers an stunningly gorgeous five hour drive north along the Wyoming and Idaho border.
In either capacity, when you fly into your airport of choice, you’ll need to rent a car to get around Jackson and the park, as unfortunately, there is no interpark shuttles, like some other national parks.
Where to Stay when Visiting Grand Teton National Park
First things first- I was really confused about what the difference between Jackson and Jackson Hole was. Should I be looking in Jackson? Jackson Hole? Both? So let me break it down for you- Jackson is the town right outside of Grand Teton National Park. while Jackson Hole refers to the entire valley in the region and includes towns like Teton Village, Wilson, the Aspens, Moran Junction, Moose, and other surrounding areas. If any accommodations are listed as being in Jackson Hole (rather than just Jackson), be sure to double check how far they are from the actual park- it might be a longer drive than what you’re willing to undertake.
I would generally recommend staying in the town of Jackson, which is a quick 15 minutes drive to the park and full of cute coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. Caveat, though- Jackson is generally EXPENSIVE. When we went in July 2020, we were looking for standalone accommodations with flexible cancellation policies, due to coronavirus concerns- the cheapest accommodations I could find was a 1970s RV on Airbnb that wound up costing us $550 over the course of three days!
So instead, I’d recommend staying at one of the following hotels that are budget friendly and highly rated on several platforms: Elk Country Inn, Elk Refuge Inn, or Cowboy Village Resort.
If you’re a budget traveler, camping is also an option. There are six campgrounds and one RV park within Grand Teton, with only Colter Bay RV Park and the Headwaters Campground & RV Sites at Flagg Ranch taking reservations (see the National Park Service site for more information). Most of the park’s campgrounds are only first come, first serve and fill up QUICKLY (the Jenny Lake campground often gets filled before 8 AM!). I have read, however, that the Gros Ventre campground is large and rarely fills up, but for a few busy weekends in the summer months.
Alternatively, you can snag a permit to go backcountry camping in the park for $45- one-third of reservations are held for advance requests, which can be booked from early January through May (check this website for more details), with the other two-thirds being held for walk-up permits. You will be required to carry a bear canister for your food, which the National Park Service will provide you. If you’re interested in backcountry camping, but not sure where to start, check out my guide here.
Finally, if you’re a Nervous Nelly like me and can’t stand the idea of not having a reservation, there are a plethora of campgrounds outside the park. For whatever reason, it seems like most campgrounds in Jackson are non-reservable, but you can reserve a spot at the Jackson Hole/Snake River KOA.
When to Go to Grand Teton National Park
If you’re planning on hiking around the park, I’d recommend planning to visit between mid-June and mid-October, as, outside of this window, snow may impact your ability to get around the park.
As for the best times to visit, July and August are warm and perfect for taking post-hike dips in the park’s gorgeous lakes.
Additionally, I’d argue that Grand Teton is one of the best national parks to visit in October, thanks to its plentiful aspens that turn flaming gold at the beginning of the month, as well as its wildlife, which become much more active as they prepare for winter.
It’s worth noting that Jackson Hole is a skier’s and snowboarder’s paradise in the wintertime, but most of the roads in Grand Teton are during the winter season. As such, this guide focuses on visiting the Tetons in the summertime and fall.
What to Pack for Grand Teton National Park
Besides the essentials for any hiking trip (i.e., hiking boots, backpack, etc.), here are some odds and ends that you should definitely pack for a trip to Grand Teton National Park:
- Layers: Justin and I went to Grand Teton in mid-July and I was SHOCKED by how cold it was at night and in the early morning. While you’ll certainly work up a sweat while hiking up a mountain in the middle of the day, I’d definitely recommend bringing some layers to wear when it gets a bit chilly. I brought along a vest like this one (here’s a similar one for men), this beanie, and a cozy zip-up like this one. You’ll likely not need them during the day, but come nighttime, you’ll be thanking me! We also always keep a blanket in our car for picnics or to wrap around ourselves as we watch the sunset.
- Bug spray: My current homebase of the Pacific Northwest is pretty non-buggy, so I was a bit taken aback by the swarms of mosquitoes that came out at night and crashed both of our sunset-watching sessions in the park. I’d definitely plan on bringing along some bug spray– remember to pack one that’s under 3.4 ounces if you’re taking it in your carry-on while flying.
- Sun screen: Given the chilly nights and the bison roaming about, Jackson doesn’t really feel like a place you have to be worried about sunburn. But with Jackson sitting over a mile above sea level, those UV rays are REAL. Pick up some reef-safe, vegan-friendly sunscreen like this one before you hit the trails. On a similar note, did you know the number one reason that people need to get rescued from the park is not bears, wolves, or derelict cowboys, but actually dehydration? Be sure to pack in lots of water- I bring along a big boy Nalgene bottle, like this one, to make sure I’m nice and hydrated, even on the beastliest of hikes.
- Binoculars: We saw some wildlife in the park, but besides some cute new chipmunk friends, most of our viewing experiences were from a significant distance (which, frankly, is a good thing- friendly reminder that you should view bears and wolves from at least 100 yards away and all other animals from at least 25 yards away). On my “to buy” list are these binoculars– we’re planning on visiting a lot more national parks in the coming year and I know they’ll come in handy! Drop a comment below if you’d recommend a particular pair for travel.
- Headlamps: Given the lack of light pollution, Jackson is a great place to stargaze (and, with the stunning Tetons as a backdrop, the perfect place for astrophotography!). If you’re planning on stargazing, camping, or even doing some early morning or evening hikes, I’d recommend bringing along headlamps. Justin and I have these rechargeable ones and I absolutely LOVE them.
- Bear spray: As many signs around the park will be quick to tell you, Grand Teton is bear country- home to both black and grizzly bears. Both kinds of bears will generally try to move away from you if they hear, see, or smell you approaching, but certain factors, such as the noise from a stream or the wind, can make it harder for them to know you’re hiking near them. Bears are generally not aggressive, but may act aggressively if their young is near or if you have startled them. Because of this risk, I leave bear spray (which is used much like pepper spray to temporarily deter, but not permanently injure aggressive animals) in my car and take it with me wherever I go hiking in bear country. Although we thankfully have never had to use it, we have this one. Note that you cannot take bear spray on airplanes, so if you’re flying into Jackson, I suggest renting a can at Teton Backcountry Rentals. It’s also best practice to make noise while you’re hiking- by chatting to your hiking partner, intermittently clapping, or clipping a bear bell onto your bag (I like this one, as it comes with a magnetic silencer for when you’re not trying to scare away bears).
- A swimsuit: When I was planning our trip to the Tetons, I mostly intended to hike and didn’t really have swimming on the brain. But I’m so glad I had packed a swimsuit for the portion of our road trip where we explored Idaho’s hot springs, as Justin and I had an awesome time splashing around in the park’s lakes! So be sure to bring one along- I’m planning on getting one of these in red and white for next summer. For the fellas, I like that you can rock these from the trails to the fanciest saloon Jackson has to offer.
- Travel towel: If you’re going to go swimming in the park, you’re also going to need a towel, which Justin and I notoriously forget to pack. Luckily, travel towels are super light, packable in even the smallest of carry-on luggage, and quick drying. If you don’t want to be like Justin and me (we wound up buying a car drying towel from Walmart to save money #classy), these ones have solid reviews.
- A cooler: The park has several restaurants (check out their menus, hours, and locations here), but like any national park, you should expect to pay premium prices for not-so-stellar food within park limits. And while the park has the benefit of having Jackson close by, the high prices extend to the city as well- a modest lunch at a Mexican restaurant wound up costing Justin and I about $60. As such, if you’re roadtripping here like we did, I’d highly recommend packing a cooler (we picked up one very similar to this for our three road trips in 2020 and have been using it all the time!) to keep in your car with some breakfast and lunch to cut down on costs. Jackson has several fun breweries to try, so we also packed some beers in the cooler to drink while splashing about the lake- 10/10 would recommend!
- Camp chairs: Another one if you’re roadtripping from home- camp chairs! Justin and I always leave at least two chairs in our car for picnics, watching the sunset, or wherever our little Prius and the wind may take us. They’re perfect for your time in the Tetons, whether it’s chilling by the lake, sitting around a campfire, or stargazing as the sun goes down. We honestly just buy crappy ones from Home Depot but for how much use we get out of them (and how uncomfortable the cheap ones can be), I’ve been thinking about buying two of these guys.
- Offline maps: A lot of the park has spotty cell coverage, so I definitely recommend downloading offline maps on the Google Maps app before heading here.
- America the Beautiful Pass: For one car, it costs $35 for a one-week pass into the park. However, if you have plans to stop by a couple of U.S. National Parks within a year span, these fees are included if you pick up an America the Beautiful Pass, an annual pass that costs just $80 and gets you into more than 2,000 U.S. national parks, forests, shorelines (and on and on) .
The proceeds support the National Park Service and if you plan to go to at least three national parks per year (which usually cost around $30-$35 per car per visit), picking up one of these bad boys is a no brainer. You can either pick one up here, at your local REI, or at most staffed entrance stations at U.S. National Parks. Obviously, if your adventures this year don’t include some National Park visits other than your trip to Grand Teton, purchasing a pass probably doesn’t make a ton of financial sense.
What to Do in Grand Teton National Park
Alright now that you have your fancy ‘70s RV accommodations booked and bear spray acquired, how are you going to spend your two days in Grand Teton National Park? While I could find itineraries online focused on driving around the park and enjoying the gorgeous scenery from viewpoints, I struggled to find any comprehensive blog posts about how to best spend your 48 hours in the park hiking and having a bit more adventurous exploration of the landscape. So, if getting your boots a bit dusty is more up your alley, I gotchu.
Early morning: If you’re a history buff or photographer, start off the day bright and early with a stop at the ever iconic “Mormon Row.” Named after followers of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that settled the land in the late 1800s, six homesteads built by the settlers still remain today. The Moulton Barn is the most famous of the standing buildings and creates a postcard- ready foreground as the early morning sun casts a pastel glow on the Tetons, rising dramatically in the background. This is also an excellent place to spot bison roaming about.
Morning: Let’s ease into hiking with the easy loop trail, Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake. Clocking in at 4.1 miles and less than 500 feet elevation gain, this is a great hike for beginners or for families. The trail offers a great mix of hiking through a forest straight out of a fairy tale, a pristine lake perfectly reflecting the Tetons, and, of course, sweeping views of the mountains themselves. For the most scenic hike, I’d recommend doing the hike counterclockwise, so the Tetons are always right in front of you.
Afternoon: You’re not done with lake hikes for the day! Next up is String Lake, a 4.4 mile hike with only 291 feet elevation gain throughout (perfect for trail running!), is absolutely STUNNING and provides some of the best scenery in the park, in my opinion. String Lake is glacial-fed, with its water a crystal clear emerald color. The trail meanders through a beautiful forest and a meadow of aspen trees (definitely not to be missed in September and October!).
- Wanting a bit more of a hiking challenge? There’s a hidden gem along the southwestern portion of the String Lake trail, an offshoot trail to the gorgeous Laurel Lake. You can see the 0.7 mile (one-way) out-and-back trail in the All Trails map for String Lake, which is accurately geographically marked. Alternatively, you can follow these directions: assuming you leave the String Lake trailhead in a counter-clockwise direction, keep your eyes peeled for a footbridge. Once you cross this bridge, you’ll continue 0.25 mile until you reach an intersection where you’ll take a right to remain on the String Lake trail. After turning right, continue another 0.35 miles to a boot trail which splits off to the left and heads straight up the mountain.
This is a boot trail (i.e., created only by erosion from other hikers), so it’s a bit more steep than your average maintained trail- rising a whopping 800 feet in 0.7 miles(!!!) and may even require a bit of bushwhacking. However, unlike other “hidden gems” in the Tetons (I’ll talk more about that below), this trail is still pretty under the radar and you have a good chance of getting it all to yourself!
- String Lake is a popular place to launch kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards and is close to the park’s most famous lake, Jenny Lake. As such, the parking lot gets CROWDED, especially in July and August (when we went, there was literally a lady who set up a camping chair in the middle of a parking spot and waited there for at least 20 minutes to save a spot for her husband’s car to show up). If you don’t like fighting to the death over a parking spot (I’m still a bit salty at you, Camp Chair Lady), you might want to shuffle this hike to earlier in the day. Otherwise, you’ll definitely be able to snag a space here- just know that you’ll probably have to circle around the parking lot for a bit before you score one.
Evening: Pick up some dinner to go in Jackson (see the Where to Eat and Play section below) and head back towards the park to watch the sunset over the Tetons. There are several excellent scenic overlooks to watch the sunset along Highway 89- Justin and I stopped at the Albright View Overlook, but some other good options are Blacktail Ponds Overlook, Glacier View Turnout, or Teton Point Turnout (with the latter choices being accompanied by views of the Tetons rising over the Snake River). Justin and I cracked open some beers, sat on the roof of our beloved Pruis, Gracie, stuffed pizza in our faces, and watched the dazzling light rays as the sun sank beneath the jagged peaks.
Afterwards, hang out for a stargazing session, waiting until the sky turns dark and the Milky Way twinkles into sight. Some great places to stargaze in Jackson Hole is back by the Moulton Barn or alternatively, taking the Antelope Flats Roads, past the town of Kelly, where you’ll find several scenic pull-offs. If stars aren’t really your thing, head into Jackson to explore a bit or hit the hay early- you have another action-packed day tomorrow!
Morning: You’re going to wake up bright and early this morning for a tough, but OH SO WORTH IT, hike to the incredible icy blue waters of Delta Lake! A portion of this 8.8 mile out-and-back trail is unmaintained, meaning it’s not an official trail of the National Park, so you may come across a downed tree and will definitely have to scramble across several boulder fields along the way.
I wrote an entire post about how to hike the trail to Delta Lake, but at a high level, you’ll need to start in the Lupine Meadows trailhead parking lot. You’ll take the Lupine Meadows trail, staying straight (towards Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes) when you reach the Valley Trail junction and then turning right (again towards Surprise and Amphitheater) when you reach a junction towards either the lakes or Garnet Canyon.
Once you make this right hand turn, at the end of the first switchback along the trail, you will find the stairs that leads down to the “unmaintained portion” of the trail (or if you count how many switchbacks there are from the very start of the trail, the Delta Lake offshoot is at the end of the sixth switchback). Totally easy to find if you’re looking for it- not so easy to find if you’re not!
Note that the unmaintained portion of the trail isn’t always the easiest to follow- you’ll need to keep an eye out for cairns (little piles of rocks created by other hikers) that will lead you in the correct direction across boulder fields. Given the elevation gain towards the end of the trail (2400 feet throughout the entire hike, which mostly feels like it’s reserved for the last couple of miles) plus the navigation issues (a bit more on that below) that’ll take you all the way up to the lake, I’d categorize this as a challenging hike.
- The last bit of the hike is pretty high up in the mountains and STEEP. While your vantage point provides you a spectacular view of Jackson Hole, the steepness can be a little unnerving, especially on the way down. If you’re really uncomfortable with heights, this hike may not be for you- while we were hiking, a woman was so terrified on the way down that her husband had to tell her where to place her feet. She wound up falling and hurting herself (not badly, but still!). Remember that going up is weirdly the easy part- and that whatever comes up must come down. For this same reason, I would absolutely not do this hike in shoes without good traction (looking at you, sneaker hikers of the world) and I’d avoid going if the ground is wet or icy.
- The parking lot for Lupine Meadows fills up quickly and if you go in the summertime, this may be an uncomfortably warm climb in the midday heat (did I mention this hike was steep?). As such, I’d strongly recommend getting here first thing in the morning. On our way down from the hike, we passed hikers who looked absolutely miserable slogging their way up the switchbacks as the sun beat down on us. No thank you!
- The views along the trail and at the top are absolutely gorgeous- it took Justin and I way longer than it normally would have because we kept stopping to take pictures. I’d recommend budgeting a big chunk of your day for this one and make sure to pack a lunch to enjoy at the lake!
- Final piece of advice- I found countless blog articles and posts about how, given the trail’s unmaintained status, that it was a “hidden gem.” I was so nervous about finding and following the path- I was kind of expecting for Justin and me to be bushwhacking an untrodden trail, scanning the landscape for cairns in the untamed Wyoming wilderness. Instead, following the unmaintained portion of the trail was no problem at all as there were constantly several groups mere feet ahead (and behind) us. Frankly, it was one of the busiest trails we went on in the park- and we went early on a Tuesday! The lake itself is absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of room to spread out, and despite the crowdedness, I would highly recommend hiking it (and honestly, I’m a bit thankful for the amount of people on the trail as finding the way was super easy). But I just want you to have reasonable expectations heading in- you will almost certainly not have Delta Lake to yourself.
If you’re put off by the unmaintained or steep bit of Delta Lake, you could alternatively continue along the route described above to Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes (an 8.9 mile hike that, while challenging, is well-maintained the entire route). If you’re looking for a more moderate hike, try one of the most popular trails in the park to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point from Jenny Lake. This hike is still six miles, but you can choose to take a shuttle boat across the lake (see rates and hours here), cutting the mileage down to only two.
Afternoon: Now that your legs properly feel like Jello, it’s time to kickback and have a more relaxing afternoon exploring the park. If it’s July or August, I’d recommend getting up close and personal with one of the frosty lakes at the foothills of the Tetons. We slipped into our swimsuits and actually went back to String Lake, due to its gorgeous scenery and the fact that its waters are some of the warmest in the park.
If floating in water of any type isn’t your thing, I’d recommend doing a driving tour to the most epic viewpoints in the park. You can find some of the best views at Schwabacher Landing, Snake River Overlook, and Blacktail Ponds Overlook.
Evening: End your day by exploring the charming town of Jackson. Grab some dinner, a delicious microbrew or two, and poke around the adorable shops lining the streets of downtown.
Is Two Days Enough in Grand Teton National Park?
I’ve been to Grand Teton twice, both only for a handful of days apiece. While I think three or four days in Jackson Hole would probably be ideal to explore the park more in depth and enjoy the town at a slower pace, I feel like we really hit most of the major highlights and got a good feel for the park in our two days there. So if you’re on a bit of a short timeline like us, not to worry- I totally still recommend it!
Where to Eat and Play near Grand Teton National Park
Jackson is such a quirky, charming town and, for a city with 10,000 residents, has an astounding array of restaurants, breweries, and saloons. As mentioned above, I do want to caution that I was pretty taken aback by how expensive food and drinks are here- there’s definitely a tourist tax! Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth exploring Jackson but a bit during your time in Grand Teton.
Note: Justin and I follow a vegan diet, so I only recommend places that offer some vegan or vegan-izable dishes (and when possible, I try to find establishments that also offer gluten-free options) that I think everyone will find delicious and enjoyable!
Persephone Bakery– Super cute Instagram-able cafe to pick up a matcha latte and some fresh baked goods
Cowboy Coffee– Try coffee that is roasted in-house “Old West”-style (believed to be the only roaster to use this method west of the Mississippi!) and get a shot of huckleberry flavoring along with your cup of joe.
Picnic: A stylish and airy space dishing up fresh eats, like avocado toast with microgreens and watermelon radishes or a tri-colored quinoa bowl with cucumber tomato salad and roasted kale.
Cultivate Cafe: Located in one of the oldest buildings in Jackson with a decided “cowboy” flair, this all organic eatery serves up comfort food and Western dishes for breakfast and lunch.
Hatch Taqueria and Tequilas: Offers a modern take on Mexican food, Jackson’s largest selection of tequilas and mezcal, and surprisingly yummy margaritas (and I’m very picky about my margs!)
Hand Fire Pizza: Delicious wood-fired pizzas made with fresh, organic ingredients and served in an adorable vintage theater.
FIGS: An upscale restaurant dishing up Lebanese food, including what the Washington Post crowns “the best hummus in Wyoming” (I mean, how do you even compete with that?!)
Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream: Scooping up 24 rotating flavors of ice creams and sorbets, like the local huckleberry or loganberry ones!
Snake River Brewing: With around eight taps pouring delicious house-made brews and house-infused liquors, this is a must stop for any beer lover.
Melvin Brewing: A laid back brewery located inside of a Thai restaurant. Definitely for those of you that can’t get enough hops.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar: For the full blown cowboy experience (I’m talking Western dancing and live music from legends like my main man, Willie Nelson), this bar, established in 1937, is not to be missed.
The Rose: If you’re a lady/gentleman after my own heart and love you a fancy cocktail, the only spot in town is this speakeasy-esque spot, with chandeliers, velvet booths, and all the overpriced libations your body craves.
Whew- what an action-packed two days exploring Grand Teton National Park! Are there any highlights or actual hidden gems that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!
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