Mention Yellowstone National Park and just about everyone has either been there or knows of its many natural wonders, including the most famous of all geysers, “Old Faithful.” Wildlife is another major draw, and it is one of the few places in the country where visitors may actually see wild, free-roaming grizzly bears and wolves.
But resting just a few miles south of Yellowstone's south entrance in Wyoming, via the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, lies another popular national park that is often overlooked by Yellowstone-bound visitors. It's called Grand Teton National Park, and mid-September to early October is truly one of the best times of the year to experience this national treasure.
Yellowstone and the Tetons share much in common, but are not the same. Each park has its own distinct features, and if you skip the Tetons you are missing some of the best Western outdoor grandeur in the National Park System.
The jagged peaks of the Teton Range can be seen long before entering the park. Once inside the park there are a number of popular viewing areas — Oxbow Bend, Cottonwood Creek, the Snake River Overlook and Coulter Bay, to mention a few. As dawn approaches, photographers from all over will gather at these sites to capture the first rays of the sun as it slowly brings the majestic peaks of the Tetons to life.
Elk, bison, pronghorn antelope and black and grizzly bear may be seen throughout the park. Moose, a park favorite, thrive in the valleys and are often seen feeding along the Snake River, and around the Oxbow Bend overlook area.
Just one of a number of camping grounds in the Park, and a good bet for moose watching, is the Gros Ventre Campground, just a dozen or so miles from the Town of Jackson. Nestled in the shadow of the Tetons and among the tall cottonwoods that line the Gros Ventre River, this spot provides all the makings for a great outdoor experience.
Bears, moose and other wildlife can usually be found along the Moose-Wilson Road near the south end of the park. In anticipation of the coming winter, bears will go on a feeding frenzy and gorge themselves in the numerous hawthorn and chokecherry berry bushes that line this stretch of roadway. Be prepared to face traffic jams and delays if a bear or moose is spotted. The road is narrow and will not accommodate many vehicles at a time, but who really cares?
Jackson Lake, Jenny Lakes, the Snake River and numerous other waters in and around the park provide excellent fishing. These pristine waters also provide opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and other outdoor activities. Hiking trails and picnic areas abound.
Mormon Row, near Antelope Flats, contains probably the most photographed barns in the country. With the Tetons rising in the background, these roughly 100-year-old-plus shelters are best seen and photographed with the morning sun. The Moulton Barn was featured in the Hollywood classic “Spencer's Mountain,” starring Henry Fonda, and has graced the pages of many a magazine and Christmas card. There is just so much history here to see and enjoy.
Timing is everything when it comes to catching the autumn colors, usually late September into early October. During the peak of the season, the countryside is ablaze with various shades of yellow, orange and red. It's absolutely breathtaking and a good time to be there.
Tony Lane, the former police chief of Castle Rock, is an avid outdoorsman and photographer.