Why you should visit Grand Teton National Park in the winter
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Towering over the valley of Jackson Hole in northwestern Wyoming, the spiny ridge of the Teton Range is the focal point of Grand Teton National Park.
During the peak summer months, the national park can see nearly 800,000 visitors. But travelers who brave the cold and snow are rewarded with a far more intimate experience. In February of this year, just over 53,000 people visited the parkland.
There are hurdles, to be sure. Most park services are closed during the winter, and many roads are closed to cars so they can be used for recreation and wildlife. For many travelers, however, those challenges are outweighed by the ability to cross-country ski and snowshoe in the foothills of the Tetons, and the chance to see moose, wolves and elk against the stark white snowpack.
Spring may be swiftly thawing the alpine peaks, but for travelers planning ahead, here’s why you should consider visiting Grand Teton National Park in the winter.
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What to see and do in Grand Teton National Park in the winter
When most people think of Jackson Hole in the winter, they think of skiing at the nearby mountain resorts. But Jackson Hole is a great gateway for a winter visit to Grand Teton National Park, too.
Here, you can cross-country ski and snowshoe across snow-covered roads and trails, or venture deep into the snowy backcountry for free, permitted camping. Many guides can take adrenaline enthusiasts backcountry skiing or snowboarding in the Tetons, and mountaineering programs are also popular for visitors who want to perfect their alpine skills.
During a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park in March, I enjoyed a snowshoeing tour to frozen Taggart Lake with The Hole Hiking Experience. It’s a surprisingly rigorous activity, and as the afternoon sun warmed up the air, we were all eager to pack up our jackets and take off our hats. Tours include snowshoe rentals, snacks and other amenities.
Though the program was canceled for the 2020 to 2021 winter season, visitors can usually arrange a snowshoeing tour with a park ranger, too.
Snowmobiling is also a popular activity for visitors to Jackson Hole and the Tetons in the winter, though you must book a tour with a permitted concessioner to do so. You can also snowmobile through the Togwotee Pass, which bisects the Gros Ventre and Wind mountain ranges, and snowmobile from Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park. In fact, snowmobiling is one of the only ways to access certain areas during this time of year, such as the Granite Hot Springs in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. (Otherwise, the hot springs are only accessible with cross-country skis, fat bikes or dog sleds.)
Dog sled tours that begin with a scenic drive through Grand Teton National Park are also popular for visitors who want to experience the mountain scenery while being able to bundle up and relax. Many of these tours will take you through the Bridger-Teton and Shoshoni National Forests.
With the stark white snow as a backdrop, winter is also a popular time for wildlife viewing and photography in Grand Teton National Park. Visitors can watch for elk (thousands of which comprise the Jackson elk herd living on the National Elk Refuge), moose, bison, deer, bald eagles, swans and wolves.
Getting to Grand Teton National Park in the winter
Winter air service to Jackson Hole (JAC) may be significantly pared down, but it’s still very easy to get nonstop flights from major cities across the country.
Delta typically operates daily nonstop flights from Atlanta (ATL), Los Angeles (LAX), Minneapolis (MSP) and Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah. American flies daily nonstop flights from Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York (LGA) and Charlotte (CLT) in North Carolina. And for United loyalists, it’s easy to get daily nonstop flights from Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), New York (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO). Alaska also now operates ski-season flights from San Jose (SJC), Seattle (SEA) and San Diego (SAN).
Generally, the winter schedules begin in mid-December and continue through late March or early April, with a few exceptions.
Jackson Hole Airport is the only commercial airport in the country to be located entirely in a national park, meaning you’ll get jaw-dropping views of the Tetons on departure and takeoff. There are also a handful of on-site car rental companies (Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise and National).
Where to stay near Grand Teton National Park
There are no park lodges open during the winter season, so visitors who want to visit Grand Teton National Park during the off-season should look at accommodations in the nearby towns of Jackson and Teton Village.
For travelers who plan to spend even more time skiing or snowboarding than exploring Grand Teton National Park, Teton Village may be a better — albeit more expensive — choice.
The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole regularly charges upward of $2,500 per night on winter dates. Rooms are rarely inexpensive but can drop to as little as $475 during the shoulder season.
In Jackson, where the hotels cater more to national park tourists than skiers and boarders, the Category 6 SpringHill Suites Jackson Hole can easily charge over $500 (60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) during the summer. Room rates in December, however, can easily drop to about $150 (or 40,000 points).
The Cloudveil is a Category 7 Autograph Collection property opening in Jackson in May. It will require 50,000 points on off-peak dates (much easier to find in the winter) and 70,000 on peak dates, typically during the busy summer months.
Even at the ultra-luxurious Amangani, the same pattern is evident. Rooms can drop to $800 per night in the winter but rarely dip under $1,600 per night during the summer.
If you’re planning to travel to Wyoming in the winter, you’ll need to pack your warmest layers and best boots. But the benefits — a crowd-free afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, plentiful animal sightings and steeply discounted hotel rates — are well worth saving space in your suitcase for.
But as with national parks all across the country, even winter visitation to the Tetons is on the rise. In 2020 — due, perhaps, to the coronavirus pandemic forcing Americans all across the country to get outside — Grand Teton National Park saw 61,416 recreational visitors in December, surpassing the record set for the month in 2002.
So if you’re dreaming of snow-capped peaks and quiet, frozen forests, don’t wait to book your trip to Grand Teton National Park next winter.
Feature photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy
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