Untamed wilderness in the Tetons

Story highlights

  • The Grand Teton park's highest peak is 13,770 feet
  • Visitors to the park may spot grizzly and black bears, moose and elk
  • Visitors shouldn't miss Cascade Canyon, and those with more time can try longer hikes

The grizzly bears that claim this park as their home demand respect. They're emblems of a tough and inspiring untamed wilderness.

So is the Teton Range, which rises 7,000 feet above the valley at Jackson Hole, amazing and humbling the day trippers and overnight campers who come to visit Wyoming's expansive Grand Teton National Park. While Grand Teton is the highest peak at 13,770 feet, there are eight peaks more than 12,000 feet in elevation. The forested mountainsides provide some relief to summer hikers.

The current-day park has existed since 1950, when Grand Teton National Park (created in 1929) and Jackson Hole National Monument (created in 1943) were combined under the Grand Teton name. In 1972, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway was established and is now managed by the park staff.

Park stats: Grand Teton National Park is the eighth most visited National Park in the country with 2.7 million visitors last year. (Great Smoky Mountains National Park came in first place with 9.7 million visitors.) The park's boundaries encompass 310,000 acres or 485 square miles.

Summer in the Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National parks face budget cuts
National parks face budget cuts


    National parks face budget cuts


National parks face budget cuts 01:21

The location: Grand Teton is located north of the town of Jackson and south of Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming.

If you go: A seven-day permit ($25 per vehicle or $12 per hiker/bicyclist) allows access to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The five developed campgrounds within the park charge $20.50 per night for a site, with limits ranging from seven to 14 days.

Meet our ranger: In 1993 Brian Bergsma worked a summer job at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan to pay for college. He got hooked on the national parks. The next summer, he decided he wanted bigger mountains, so he went to work at Grand Teton.

Although he was first hired permanently at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he finally made it back to Grand Teton in 2000. He worked for eight years as a "Trail Dawg" crew member (and later, 10 years as a trail crew supervisor), building and clearing hiking trails and building log and steel bridges and stone retaining walls by hand. The crews would sometimes hike 30 miles a day, carrying and using cross cuts, chainsaws and other equipment. He's served as the park's safety and occupational health manager for the past two years.

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For a day trip, don't miss: Cascade Canyon. "There are often several large bull moose in the canyon, and during spring and after storms many waterfalls cascade down the canyon sides," Bergsma says. "The views of the peaks are constantly changing also, and it is right by Jenny Lake, the most popular place in the park and readily accessible."

If you have a little more time and want a challenging hike, Bergsma recommends an overnight hike of Cascade and Paintbrush canyons. It's a nearly 20-mile loop that includes a 4,000-foot gain in elevation. (You'll need a backcountry permit, which are available first-come, first-served for the rest of this season.)

In addition to the wonders of the day hike, you'll see "some amazing sunsets and incredibly clear and vivid star-gazing," he says. "It's not for the faint of heart, but it blows me away, and I've hiked all over the world."

Favorite less-traveled spot: Grandview Point trail and summit. "It is less busy than many other areas of the park, has great views of the Tetons and the forest to the east and is a relatively short hike," he says. "It is densely forested, too, so it's good for shade on a hot summer day."

It's just 0.7 miles from the trailhead to the summit and a 4-mile loop, but Bergsma warns that the steep 15% grade can be tough on the knees.

Favorite spot to view wildlife: Bergsma recommends Moose-Wilson Road because of the plentiful moose and beavers and, increasingly, grizzly bears. (It's occasionally closed because of the grizzlies.) He also likes the Jackson Lake Junction to Oxbow bend section of the outer highway for grizzly bears, pelicans, elk and beaver.

Most magical moment in the park: His first day of work at Grand Teton, as a summer employee. "Driving to Grand Teton at 2 a.m. for my first day of work in May of 1994, I was blown away at the night sky and all the stars. On the first day of work, I built horse pasture fences all day surrounded by bison and had no sunscreen. I was totally fried by the end of the day. Blisters, sunburn and bison: It was the best first day ever."

Favorite other park to visit: Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. "It's great for hiking and canyoneering, for off-trail exploration and for the incredibly beautiful rocks," Bergsma says. "The waterfalls after a storm are amazing. It's just like Zion National Park (another favorite) but a little more remote so there aren't as many people."

What's your favorite national park and why? Please tell us in the comments section below.