NATIONAL PARKS: Grand Teton National Park

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

Grand Tetons © Jerry Ginsberg

Jackson Hole, with its sharply serrated Teton Range, is undoubtedly one of the most dramatic and striking scenes in all of North America. It is a great choice for a photo trip in at least three seasons.

Just south of iconic Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park is too often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor. Rather than making an outing in the Tetons merely an extension of a trip to Yellowstone, we photographers should think of both as being equally worthy of our time.

Grand Teton enjoys national park status and protection only after a good deal of controversy and some tough opposition by local folks in the 1940s who were afraid of federal control and losing their recreational privileges. Perhaps that is a lesson that nothing really worthwhile comes easily.

Today the park is there to model for all of us. The many views of the spectacular mountains are positively riveting. Their solid wall of granite rises abruptly and dramatically from the valley floor. The eye-catching jagged skyline of Grand Teton, Mt. Owen and Teewinot is called the Cathedral Group.

Cathedral Group © Jerry Ginsberg

When seen from the gorgeous valley known as Jackson Hole, the Teton Range faces toward the east. This means that sunrise photography here is the premier event of the day. There are many locations from which to compose wonderful images of the Tetons at sunrise. While the mountains themselves are the same, the different angles and foregrounds make for singular images.

The long list of the best sunrise locations includes:

  • Down along the edge of the Snake River at Schwabacher Landing
  • The steep walk to the shore of the Blacktail Ponds
  • Mormon Lane with its well-weathered and picturesque nineteenth-century barns
  • Snake River Overlook, an iconic view made famous by Ansel Adams
  • Jenny Lake along the inside road
  • Oxbow Bend with its broad expanse of the Snake River in the foreground

Hitting each of these great spots at the rate of just one per morning is certainly enough to keep you busy for several days. All are popular locations for photographers, so be sure to arrive extra early before the best spots are gobbled up.

Matriarch © Jerry Ginsberg

After considerable searching, the best location that I have found for late-day shooting is on Signal Mountain where the first overlook along the winding road offers a great vantage point looking across the valley toward Mt. Moran.

Besides the stunning landscape, there is varied wildlife in Grand Teton National Park. You will find bison, pronghorn, deer, elk, moose, coyotes and beaver in the lush valley. Geese, swans, cranes and other avian creatures also drop in, so keep a sharp eye.

Since the Snake River meanders its way slowly through the length of the valley, and glacially carved lakes abound, water has a big part to play here. If you have the time, consider taking a two-hour float trip on the river. This is not necessarily a great photo opportunity, but can be a real fun experience.

Behind the Jenny Lake Lodge you can catch the boat for the short ride across that lake. On the other side is the trailhead for a great hike up to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and ultimately Cascade Canyon.

Visiting here in late September will likely help you to enjoy both the best of the brilliant fall color on the many “quaking” aspens and the bugling of the bull elk in rut. It’s quite a show on both fronts.

When your plane touches down in Jackson, Wyoming, you will be in the only commercial airport located within a national park. Grab your rental vehicle and go. As you exit the airport, the town of Jackson is to the right. Or take a left and head north into the heart of the park.

Finding a place in which to stay in the Tetons is easy. The park itself boasts four great complexes ranging from luxury resorts like the Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake Lodges to the Signal Mountain Lodge and the more basic but very comfortable cabins of Colter Bay Village.

The town of Jackson has a gaggle of motels, but driving back and forth to and from the park is not convenient and quickly becomes tedious. Yet, after a morning of intense shooting, enjoying a hearty breakfast at one of the many eclectic eateries in town can be wonderful respite.


Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He has photographed every one of North America’s national parks with medium-format cameras and has been a national park artist-in-residence. His photographic archive spans virtually all of North and South America. More of Jerry’s images can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com.