Ihave photographed a lot of national parks, and Grand Teton National Park stands out not only as one the best national parks in the world, but one of the most beautiful mountain ranges on the planet. Located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, this national park and surrounding area of Jackson, Wyoming, which lies just south of the much larger Yellowstone National Park, is a mecca for outdoor, landscape, and wildlife photography.
Outside of Jackson, you will not find a town for miles, and human interference seems minimal for the amount of tourists that visit each year. In the off seasons — spring and fall — this place feels remote, wild, and free. It is a must visit for any photographer and outdoor lover, and a true American icon. Here are my top criteria for any National Park I photograph, and why I believe Grand Teton National is a park that should be at the top of your list.
Grand Teton National Park has straightforward layout. You turn left at Moose Junction coming south from Jackson on Route 191 and traverse the park by using the Teton Park Road, which gets you right next to the Teton Range. This beautiful, scenic road is the main road containing the stops for most park visitor centers, trailheads, and points of interest. The Teton Park Road opens in May and closes in November each year, which does limit your ability to travel through the park in the off season. However, Route 191 has a few popular vistas and viewpoints, like the Snake River Outlook and Mormon Row, an old Mormon settlement that runs parallel to the Tetons. So there are still things to do, even from November to May. Plus it doesn’t hurt to have one of the best towns and ski resorts in America — Jackson Hole — at the park’s doorstep.
Trails are very well maintained in the park as well, from the popular Cascade Canyon and Delta Lake trails that go deep into the Tetons, to the trails that wrap around the beautiful glacier-fed Jenny, Leigh, String, and Jackson Lake. It’s a hiker and backpacker’s paradise.
The weather in Grand Teton can be very tricky, and can turn as quickly and badly as any mountain range I’ve photographed. It is not commonplace for a storm to roll in or form around this range and stay put for several days, making visibility of the peaks nearly impossible and dropping rain, hail, and snow in heavy amounts. It can be frustrating when this happens, so make sure you plan ahead and know what the weather will be like before you attempt a trip to Grand Teton.
However, once you do get several clear, perfect days in Grand Teton National Park, you won’t ever forget them. Good, clear weather in the Tetons truly shows the vastness of this range and the intricate details of each peak, down to the trees and vegetation in the basin below. The photos you take on a good day in the Tetons will be hard to beat.
While Yellowstone has gotten all the attention as the hotspot for wildlife in the American West, Grand Teton is on par, if not better than its larger sister park. Since the park is in a vast alpine basin, it has superior visibility in many areas around the park, making it easy to spot buffalo, elk, deer, pronghorns, moose, wolves, coyotes, and brown and black bears. The National Elk Refuge also lies in the foothills of the park, and is normally filled with elk in the winter months.
Now with that being said, while there is a lot of opportunity for wildlife photography, there is also a lot of risk. People die every year from attacks by bears, moose, and buffalo. These animals are called wild for a reason, and should never be approached past their set minimum distances. Always respect these animals and their space, or you could end up in a very dangerous situation, if at least a hefty fine. Just pack a telephoto lens that zooms in at around 200-400mm, and you should be fine.
Because of its stunning scenery and close proximity to both Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park sees millions of visitors every year. However, after the summer months, those numbers tend to dwindle from late September to early November, and it can feel like you have the park to yourself, especially on weekdays and if you start early in the morning.
Mornings in Grand Teton are so special, not only for the alpine glow and golden hour that lights up the Teton range and sky around it, but also because animal activity is quite high. When the crowds are low, the animals are out, and the sun is rising in the sky, there’s a feeling of serenity and remoteness to this park that is incredible. It feels truly wild, and untouched, and that is hard to come in any location as popular as Grand Teton National Park.
In my opinion, Grand Teton National Park is one of the most photogenic parks in the country and is full of opportunities and locations to shoot. This park has historic photo locations, made famous by the late, great Ansel Adams, a world renown landscape photographer and environmentalist, whose dramatic, black and white images of the American West defined a century of landscape photography in the 1900s. To photograph locations like Oxbow Bend, Snake River Outlook, Mormon Row, and Schwabacher Landing, where generations of photographers captured their own take of these historic landmarks, and then add to that history yourself, is pretty special.
Outside of these historic landmarks, there plenty of locations to shoot that are easy to access, like Jenny, String, Leigh, and Jackson Lakes, and more difficult hikes to beautiful destinations like Delta Lake and Cascade Canyon, for more experienced hikers and backpackers. Adventure photographers will love the backcountry skiing and mountaineering opportunities on and around the nearly 14,000-foot Grand Teton, and of course, the wildlife photography opportunities are second to none. Simply put, Grand Teton National Park has photography opportunities for about any type of photography, at any skill level.
In summary, Grand Teton National Park, not only is one of the best national parks in the country, but also one of the best to photograph. It offers world-class landscape, wildlife, adventure, and lifestyle photography opportunities, with one of the most dramatic and beautiful mountain ranges in the world as your backdrop. If you come when the weather is clear and the crowds are down, you’ll experience one of the best travel destinations in the world.