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Taking It All In: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
The crowning glory of the Grand Teton National Parks, the Tetons glow in early morning light.
By Julia Connors
Whether you're a wildlife fanatic, a seasoned backpacker, a cross-country skier, or an RV-navigating sightseer, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have much to offer all year round. As America's first national park, Yellowstone hosts more than three million visitors each July and August, followed by a slew of off-season guestsand for good reason. When the western sun strikes the sheer canyon walls or a geyser erupts with full force, the park's primal beauty becomes unrivaled. Spanning Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana and encompassing 2,221,766 acres (899,117 hectares) of jagged peaks, canyons, alpine lakes, forests, geysers, and hot springs, Yellowstone is one of the largest national parks in the lower 48 states and is revered as a symbol of the great American wilderness.
Just down the road, the jarring peaks of Grand Teton National Parkthe highest of which soars 7,370 feet (2,246 meters) above the sagebrush valley floor of Jackson Holedominate the landscape and inspire wonder among observers. The fierce terrain is home to a range of rugged habitats including glacial streams, wetlands, forests, and alpine meadows blanketed with forget-me-nots. Grand Teton forms an area one-seventh the size of Yellowstone, but it still teems with plant and animal species such as aspen trees, black and grizzly bears, yellow-bellied marmots, and golden eagles.
The youngest mountains in the Rockies (at a mere ten million years old), the Tetons offer some of the best climbing opportunities in the country, with six summits scratching the sky at more than 12,000 feet (3,600 meters). From fishing to snowshoeing to countless photo opportunities, the park provides recreation for active outdoor-lovers as well as casual tourists.
Getting to Yellowstone
While Montana's West Yellowstone Airport is open only from June through early September, several others nearbysuch as Idaho Falls Regional Airport, Cody and Jackson airports in Wyoming, and Bozeman and Billings airports in Montanaserve the area year-round.
All five park entrances connect to Yellowstone's 142-mile (229-kilometer) figure-eight loop, but most are closed part of the year. Check out the park calendar at www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/orientation/travel/roadopen.htm for road closings before you plan your trip. And make sure to call (307) 344-7381 for current conditions just before you leave.
Getting to Grand Teton
Jackson Hole Airport is actually within the park. Just grab a taxi or shuttle
once you arrive. If you plan to rent a car, reserve it as early as possible.
From Jackson take U.S. Route 26/89/191 N to the entrance station at Moose. From Dubois take U.S. Route 26/287 to Moran Junction, where you'll turn west to the Moran Entrance Station. If you're coming from Yellowstone's south entrance, follow the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway.
Fees and Permits
How much you pay for entry fees into national parks depends on your mode of transportation. For $40 you can purchase a one-year pass for both parks. Or if you want to gain entry to all the national parks in the U.S., purchase a one-year National Parks Pass for $50. Go to www.nps.gov/yell/pphtml/feespermits.html for information on passes to Yellowstone only. To find the best rates for your visit to Grand Teton, click www.nps.gov/grte/pphtml/feespermits.html.
Best Time to Go
July and August are far and away the most popular months to visit both parks. Daytime temperatures in September and October are generally comfortable, though the nights are considerably cooler. But you can still see quite a bit of wildlife. May and June are often cold and wet, but you may get a chance to observe newborn animals. Although park access is restricted during winter months, there are still many opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Summer in Yellowstone
Activities in Yellowstone and Grand Teton seem endless during the summer months. Scenic drives, biking, boating, fishing, horseback riding, seminars, ranger-led programs, and museums are readily available. Yellowstone holds the greatest concentration of geysers in the world, so be sure not to miss them. Old Faithful, the park's most celebrated geyser and one of its most accessible, erupts about every 80 minutes. Yellowstone also offers a junior ranger program for kids. Check out more opportunities at www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/todo/index.htm.
If you're planning to backpack, you'll need to get a free permit from a visitor center or ranger station no more than 48 hours in advance. Or you can reserve a permit by mail. Click www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/todo/hikes/index.htm for more backcountry information on Yellowstone, or for similar information on Grand Teton, go to www.nps.gov/grte/trip/act.htm.
Summer in Grand Teton
Grand Teton offers excellent climbing for the adventurous. The best time to climb is from mid-July to late September. To hire a guide, call Exum Mountain Guides at (307) 733-2297 or Jackson Hole Mountain Guides at (307) 733-4979. For current weather and avalanche activity, call (307) 733-2664. For more information on activities in Grand Teton, click www.nps.gov/grte/pphtml/activities.html.
Take in winter scenery in both parks while snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Climb into a heated snowcoach for a leisurely ride through Yellowstone. Or hit the slopes near Grand Teton for great downhill skiing. For clothing suggestions and more information on winter activities, click www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/todo/index.htm.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
The park has 12 campgrounds. All except Fishing Bridge RV Park have a 14-day limit from May to October. During the off-season, a 30-day limit is imposed. While Mammoth is open year round, the others are open from late spring to early fall. A few campgrounds take reservations, but most are on a first-come first-serve basis. Plan on arriving early in the morning to find a vacancy. For a full listing of campgrounds, click www.nps.gov/yell/pphtml/camping.html, or call (307) 344-7311 for reservations.
Hotels and Cabins
Reservations for the following accommodations can be made online at travelyellowstone.com, or call (307) 344-7311. To contact the park, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (307) 344-7381.
With 540 private cabins and some rooms in Duraven and Cascade lodges, Canyon Lodge puts you only half a mile (one kilometer) from the sweeping scenery of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Prices range from $54 to $111. Open from early June through mid-September.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel
The hotel offers a scenic view of Yellowstone Lake. Prices range from $140 to $401. Open mid-May through September.
Old Faithful Inn
One of the best accommodations in Yellowstone, the hotel offers 327 guest rooms from $55 to $345. Open early May to mid-October.
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
In the winter you'll have easy access to ski and snowshoe trails from this location. Closed from mid-March to early May.
Where to Stay in Grand Teton
Grand Teton has five campgrounds. Jenny Lake is limited to seven days, but the rest will accommodate you for as many as 14 days and are generally open from mid-May to October. Fees are $12 a night, and availability is on a first-come first-serve basis. So get there early in the morning.
Hotels and Lodges
To contact Grand Teton National Park, e-mail GRTE_Info@nps.gov or call (307) 739-3400.
Signal Mountain Lodge
Choose from cabins ($95-$140) or rooms ($115-$180) plus the convenience of two restaurants, right on the southern shore of Jackson Lake. Open mid-May through mid-October. Reserve at (307) 543-2831, or visit www.signalmtnlodge.com.
Jenny Lake Lodge
This four-star lodge offers cabins priced from $340 to $590, which include breakfast, a six-course dinner, bikes, and horseback riding. Open from late May through early October. For reservations call (800) 628-9988, or visit www.gtlc.com.
Lost Creek Ranch
You can rent cabins by the week at the all-inclusive price of $5,395 to $12,860. Open from June through November. For reservations call (307) 733-3435.
Doran's Spur Ranch Cabins
This cabin facility on the Snake River offers year-round accommodations ranging from $140 to $200. For reservations call (307) 733-2522.