Grand Teton National Park may share a border with Yellowstone, but the two parks might as well be worlds apart. Yellowstone is known for its geothermal weirdness, where as Grand Teton is more peaceful. You don't have to worry about geysers or supervolcanos at Grand Teton-- all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the rugged mountains, beautiful valleys, and wilderness wonder that the park offers. And don't forget to bring your camera... because even you won't believe just how pretty Wyoming can be!
The park is home to one of the most photographed barns in America-- the T.A. Moulton Barn. You've inevitably seen it (well, a picture of it, at least) before-- the weathered wood, grassy valley, and blue mountains (and herds of bison, if you're lucky!) in the background make it insanely photogenic, but even though many have seen it and snapped its picture, few know the history behind it. It's located at the Western end of Grand Teton's very own ghost town, AKA Mormon Row Historic District, where many Mormons settled as they moved to form communities outside of their home base at Salt Lake City. Thomas Alma Moulton and his sons built the barn as part of a larger farm between 1912 and 1945-- it's now the only building on the Moulton family homestead, and was one of the last parcels of land sold to the NPS for Grand Teton. It's not hard to see why the family wanted to hang on to it for as long as possible-- it really is a gorgeous view!
Life's a beach
Grand Teton certainly isn't wanting for breathtaking lakes: there's Jackson Lake, String Lake, and Jenny Lake, but if you head a little ways off the beaten path, you'll find that Leigh Lake is undoubtedly one of the prettiest. And... it has a beach! Of course, instead of panoramic ocean views and rolling waves, you'll have to settle for the surrounding mountain scenery and crystal clear lake waters. It's a decent length hike, but it's level and relatively easy. Besides, I can't think of a better reward for a brisk hike than enjoying a picnic and a swim on the sandy shore.
Grand Teton is home to some pretty incredible wildlife: wolves, elk, moose, big horn sheep, coyotes, and more have called the park home for centuries, but it's only recently that the park's population of grizzly bears has begun to boom. There are only about 1,500 grizzlies in the continental US right now, and 600 of them live in the Yellowstone-Teton area. If you're looking to see them in the wild, they can be best seen in June and July at Willow Flats. And, just in case you have an encounter with one, brush up on your bear safety! Don't make eye contact with it, act agressively, or run; instead, back away slowly. And remember to bring bear spray and bear-proof containers for food.
Unlike some National Parks, Grand Teton is located pretty close to town: Jackson, in the stunning Jackson Hole valley. With the National Parks in the area, Jackson has taken on a Gatlinburg-esque resort feel, and it works out perfectly for visitors who want to enjoy the beauty of nature without sacrificing the excitement of a city: you've got great dining and nightlife options, like Snake River Brewing, world-class accomodation options, like The Antler Inn and Amangani, and plenty to do; they've even got a Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Of course, said city is still a city in Wyoming-- the Antler Arches of Jackson and awesome National Museum of Wildlife Art won't let you forget that anytime soon.
Wyoming Balloon Company
Mountaineering is one of the most popular activities in the park (the peaks are easily accessed by the roads, so an experienced climber can tackle a climb in under a day), but climbing isn't the only way to get a picture-perfect view of the park. If "physical activity" isn't your cup of tea (or even if it is) then consider a hot air balloon tour of Grand Teton National Park from the Wyoming Balloon Company. You'll see a totally different side of the park from so high up... and the pilots are total pros, offering all kinds of extra info on the balloon, the wildlife and the park itself!
Grand Teton National Park used to be filled with dude ranches, but today Triangle X Ranch is the only remaining ranch inside the park. They offers accomodations in adorable rustic cabins, meals are included in your stay, and they plan excursions for their guests-- fly fishing trips, horseback riding lessons and tours, river floats, and much more. There are countless other dude ranches nearby as well, like the remote but exciting Goosewing Ranch and the breathtaking, luxe Flat Creek Ranch.
Header via Flickr/Jeff Gunn