Unencumbered by foothills, the Teton peaks rise dramatically from the prairie, forming spectacular granite pinnacles that tower 7,000 feet above the valley floor. The park, established in 1929, initially included only the peaks and a string of glacial lakes set tightly against the mountains’ steep base. In 1950 the adjacent valley floors were incorporated, as well as Jackson Hole National Monument, establishing the current footprint.
Grand Teton National Park is joined to Yellowstone by the 24,000-acre John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. Visitors often combine the two on their itineraries, but the extreme popularity of the latter results in a much more peaceful experience at Grand Teton. Kasey Austin, vice president of operations for tour company Austin Adventures
, has planned and led many trips in the park. “It isn’t quite as loved by the general public as Yellowstone because they just don’t know how special and amazing it is,” she says.
The town of Jackson (“One of the coolest towns ever,” Austin says) blends cowboy culture and an outdoorsy ethos – and is within an easy drive of the park. As for the park itself, the most popular times to visit – heading out late morning and returning late afternoon – will, predictably, mean getting caught in traffic. But if you adjust your adventure to avoid the main attractions at peak hours, you’ll have the park (almost) to yourself, and plenty of non-extreme adventure options with it. Here’s a guide to a few of its highlights – no ropes required.