The Jackson Hole area boasts three amazing ski areas–Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee Mountain Resort—but equally as thrilling is Grand Teton National Park, a place that in winter you can explore without cars and throngs of visitors. If you aren’t a skier, or if you’d like to experience Jackson Hole from a different perspective while you’re here, consider a day (or two) exploring Grand Teton National Park in a wide variety of ways; it will enrich your visit.
As the snow drapes a wintry blanket across the Teton Range, a peace settles over the landscape, offering a sharp contrast to the busy summer season. Much of the Teton Park Road (also called the inner park road) is closed to vehicles during winter. The unplowed section of the road from the Taggart Lake Trailhead parking area to Signal Mountain Lodge—a distance of 15 miles—is open to non-motorized use only (skiers and snowshoers). The park's main roadways, Hwy 89/191 and Hwy 26/287, are plowed and open for winter travel from the town of Jackson to Flagg Ranch just south of Yellowstone National Park.
With the park accessible for the most part under one’s own speed (on cross country skis, snowshoes, skate skis), you can see winter wildlife and photograph some amazing scenery in a different way than during summer. Here is some information on those winter activities and more.
Grand Teton National Park provides innumerable photo opportunities year-round, but its winter landscape is especially dramatic and a favorite of amateur and professional shutterbugs alike. If you are an amateur photographer who aims to improve your skills—or just wants the opportunity and accessibility to take pictures of both the park’s wildlife and jaw-dropping scenery up close—consider booking a private photo tour or workshop with a professional guide/photographer.
Half-, full- or multi-day tours are available from several outfitters, such as Alpen Glow Tours, Grand Teton Photo Tours and Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, among others. You will explore landscape, wildlife and scenic photo opportunities at sunrise and/or sunset, depending upon the tour you choose. Your guide will explain all aspects of photography technique and camera equipment.
Prices start around $595 for a half-day (per trip, not per person). Multi-day trip prices include lodging.
Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
With the park road closed from Taggart Lake Trailhead to Signal Mountain Lodge, you are free to cross country ski or snowshoe on the 15-mile, intermittently groomed, packed surface. Other places to enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the park include Colter Bay, Antelope Flats Road and Flagg Ranch. If you plan to ski or snowshoe the Moose-Wilson Road, park at the Granite Canyon Trailhead (the road is closed to vehicular traffic past this point).
Are you curious about winter ecology or snow science? A snowshoe walk with a naturalist is the perfect way to be introduced to winter in the Tetons and experience the fun of traveling on snowshoes.
- Ranger-guided snowshoe walks: Park naturalists provide guided snowshoe walks from the Taggart Lake Trailhead when snow conditions permit, usually late December to mid-March. Call the park at 307-739-3399 Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to make reservations. Snowshoes are available for a rental fee of $5 for adults and $2 for children, 8 years or older.
- The Hole Hiking Experience: Jackson Hole’s original and oldest nature hiking company, The Hole Hiking Experience offers three different snowshoe/cross-country ski tours in Grand Teton National Park (and Bridger-Teton National Forest), from “The Sampler,” at $98 per person, to the 6-hour “The Trekker” for approximately $200; price includes snowshoe rental. Hole Hiking takes you literally and metaphorically beyond a basic tour of the park's winter landscape. Call 307-690-4453 for more information and reservations on snowshoeing and cross country skiing tours.
- EcoTour Adventures: EcoTour Adventures — one of Jackson Hole’s most popular wildlife tour operators — offers half- or full-day, naturalist-led tours on snowshoes or cross-country skis. These interpretive excursions offer an authentic, winter wildlife viewing experience. Half-day snowshoe tour is $135; full-day private (one to five guests) snowshoe or cross-country is $1,000. A combination of snowshoe and wildlife safari van tour costs $240. Call 307-690-9533 for reservations.
If you decide to set out on your own for a day of cross country skiing or snowshoeing, be sure and check out JHNordic.com for trail maps and daily trail grooming reports.
Surprise! You actually don’t have to take a day off from downhill skiing pursuits to visit Grand Teton National Park—rather just a day’s break from the groomed steeps of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Leave the lift lines and crowds behind to experience the solitude and beauty of the Teton backcountry in Grand Teton National Park. Both Exum Mountain Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides can lead the way to high mountain traverses or untracked powder, tree gladed skiing. If you’re so inclined (and an expert skier and experienced ice climber) you could even ski the Grand Teton for major bragging rights.
Note: All backcountry users, regardless of their chosen mode of travel—Alpine or Nordic skis, snowboard or snowshoers—need to be educated about every possible condition and scenario, especially avalanches. Always check the avalanche conditions first at jhavalanche.org.
Roads open to cars in winter in Grand Teton National Park: The park's main roadways, Hwy 89/191 and Hwy 26/287, are plowed and open for winter travel from the town of Jackson to Flagg Ranch just south of Yellowstone National Park. The park's Moose entrance is open to vehicular traffic from gate to Taggart Lake Trailhead only.
The 15-mile, intermittently groomed, snow packed surface from Taggart Lake Trailhead to Signal Mountain Lodge open to cross country skiers, snowshoers and skate skiers only.
Park winter entrance fee: $5 (daily)
Though the bears are still hibernating, winter is a good time to see large animals in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Elk and moose migrate to lower elevations in winter and the lack of leafy cover combined with the valley's snow pack make for easy viewing.
For the best chance of seeing critters of all shapes and sizes, embark on a half- or full-day trip with one of the area's experienced wildlife safari outfitters. Guided by a trained biologist and conducted from the comfort of a specially equipped van with spotting scopes and a large sunroof, you will remember this excursion forever. You'll definitely catch more drama in the winter and never more so than during the chilliest months of December and January. Competition for space and food is increased, while predators like wolves and mountain lions take advantage of prey weakened by the harsh conditions. Late winter is also mating season for wolves, coyotes, bald eagles, owls and ravens.
Recommended wildlife touring outfitters include: Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, Teton Science Schools Wildlife Expeditions, Scenic Safaris, and Eco Tour Adventures.
Where To Stay In the Park in Winter
You can easily spend several days in Grand Teton National Park if you so choose and a fun way to do that is to stay overnight in the park. Although only two options are available for lodging in the park in winter, both are steeped in Western tradition, adding another texture to your whole Jackson Hole experience.
- For more than 90 years, Triangle X Ranch has been a premier Wyoming dude ranch located in Grand Teton National Park. Ideally situated to enjoy both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, there is a one-night minimum stay in one of the cozy cabins during the winter season (December 26 through mid-March). With the option of staying at Triangle X, you can take a wildlife or photo tour one day in the park, then embark on a cross country ski adventure in and around Taggart Lake the next. The ranch also boasts a four-star dining experience. Call 307-733-2183 for more information.
- Dornan’s Spur Ranch Cabins are located in Moose, mere minutes from the entrance to Grand Teton National Park. The cabins sit in a snowy meadow with bang-on, stunning views of the Teton Mountain Range. Dornan’s is easy driving distance of the town of Jackson (12 miles) and Yellowstone National Park (45 miles). Each cabin comes with a fully-equipped kitchen. Call 307-733-2522 for more information.
- Park campgrounds are closed during winter, however primitive winter camping is allowed on the parking lot next to the Colter Bay Visitor Center from December 1 to April 15. Pay $5 at the self-pay station by the restroom.
The Last Word
Spending time in Grand Teton National Park should be a must-do for any visit to Jackson Hole in the wintertime. Whether you take a half-day wildlife or snowshoe excursion, or a full day exploring the backcountry skiing opportunities, this grand and beautiful national park is a treasure not to be missed.
FINAL TIP: Even though the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center at the entrance to Grand Teton National Park is closed during the winter (it re-opens in early April), the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center on Cache Street in the town of Jackson is open year-round.