Grand Teton National Park Must-Sees: Hikes, Views, and Landmarks, from Taggart Lake to Cunningham Cabin

by Amy Myers
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A trip to Grand Teton National Park is like a trip back to the 1800s when the west was still a pioneer’s dream and the lands still belonged to the bison, bears and the indigenous tribes that patrolled the treacherous conditions. Since those trying days, the park has preserved the wildest part of Wyoming for visitors to enjoy and appreciate the humans and animals who first called this region home.

Obviously, the most notable attraction in the national park is, in fact, the Grand Teton mountains. The range has some of the oldest rocks in North America, sharing the same relative age as other famous western mountain ranges like the Bighorns, the Gros Ventre and Wind River. The Grand Teton Range formed from 2.7 billion-year-old metamorphic rock called gneiss. These snow-covered peaks boast zebra-patterned stripes of dark and light gray, forever marking the incredible and intense transformation that occurred billions of years ago.

Today, there are over 250 miles of trails within Grand Teton National Park, and all of them give incredible views of the mountain range as well as the area’s meadows and lakes. However, with these vistas often come rugged terrain and steep inclines. While hiking through the national park, it’s important to have a sturdy pair of hiking boots with good grip and high ankle support to combat any loose rocks or ice that may be hanging around in spring.

Also good to keep in mind is the fact that the mountain range exists at a much higher altitude, so you may need to adjust to the change in oxygen. That said, you may want to start with one of Grand Teton National Park’s must-sees so that you can acclimate to the environment.

Moulton Barn, Grand Teton National Park. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Outsider’s Choice of Grand Teton National Park Trails, Easiest to Hardest

  • Mormon Row’s Moulton Barn
  • Cunningham Cabin
  • Taggart Lake Loop
  • Leigh Lake Trail
  • Hermitage Trail
  • Phelps Lake Trail
  • Teton Village Wildflower Trail to Gondola Summit
  • Death Canyon to Patrol Cabin
  • Garnet Canyon to Lower Saddle

Lakefront Trails at Grand Teton National Park

While Grand Teton National Park is mostly known for its larger-than-life namesake mountains, not to be forgotten are the many lakes that speckle the region like oases of crystal clear waters. Thousands of years ago, glaciers first formed the national park’s ponds and lakes. As these giant iceblocks shifted, they dug through the valley’s floor. Once they began to melt, the glaciers left depressions where they once stood tall, and soon, the massive frozen structures filled these dips and divets.

Now, these former glaciers serve as a habitat for species like cutthroat trout to crawfish as well as a source of nourishment for herons and bears. Not to mention, they’re also a great spot to cool off or enjoy a scenic lunch.

Leigh Lake Trail

  • Length: 7.0-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 111 feet
  • Duration: 2 hours

This trail follows the east side of Grand Teton National Park’s Leigh Lake and travels all the way to Bearpaw and Trapper Lakes. While the mileage on the Leigh Lake Trail may be a bit longer, visitors shouldn’t be intimidated. With only a little over 100 feet of elevation gain throughout the entire trip, it’s closer to a stroll than it is a rigorous hike. The first mile of the trail tends to be the busiest as you’ll run into an influx of people starting and finishing the route.

If you do plan on completing this route, consider arriving early, not only to avoid crowds on the trail but also to secure a parking spot. The nearby lot fills up pretty quickly and stays full for most of the day.

Taggart Lake Loop

  • Length: 3.8 mile-loop
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 419 feet
  • Duration: 1.5 hours

Not surprisingly, the Taggart Lake Loop is one of the most popular in Grand Teton National Park. Its glassy waters perfectly reflect the surrounding scenery, making the mountains appear even more massive as they extend across the surface of the lake.

Of course, because the trail is so popular, this means that it is also highly trafficked and is especially crowded during peak hours of the busy season, typically between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from late spring to early fall. That said, it’s best to plan a visit to the Taggart Lake Loop early in the morning or later in the evening. That way, you’ll get to experience a more dramatic sky while hiking, too.

An important aspect to note is that this trail begins with a steep climb with lots of large rocks. You may also see quite a few puddles along the way and perhaps even a few moose. From this area, you can also pick up Beaver Creek Trail for a longer route.

Phelps Lake Trail

  • Length: 7.0-mile loop
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 725 feet
  • Duration: 3 hours

The Phelps Lake Trail is a fantastic introduction to Grand Teton National Park’s vegetation. Along the way, you’ll see a wide range of flora, from lush sagebrush and arid shrubbery to towering pine trees and aspens to vibrant, delicate wildflowers.

Naturally, all of the greenery invites plenty of wildlife to take refuge in between the branches and grasses. The Phelps Lake Trail is a hotspot for birdwatching. Here, visitors can see bald eagles, sage grouse and the sunset-colored Western Tanager.

Grand Teton’s Prime Wildlife Spotting Trails

Grand Teton National Park is home to 61 mammal species, over 300 bird species, five species of fish, four reptile species and five amphibian species. Of the vast amount of wildlife that the park has, elk, bears, moose, eagles and marmots tend to be the most frequently sighted. And while all of these creatures tend to naturally keep their distance from humans traveling through the park. However, if they feel cornered or threatened in any way, they can easily and aggressively close the distance.

Because of this, it’s incredibly important to take necessary precautions while traveling these and all trails in Grand Teton National Park. Here are a few tips for prime wildlife spotting in the park.

  1. Keep 25 feet from all wildlife. For bears and wolves, keep 100 feet away.
  2. Stay away from any nests, too. If a bird starts to shriek or circle around you, you’re too close.
  3. Bring a pair of binoculars. That way, you can still get great views of the animals without jeopardizing your or the creature’s safety.
  4. Don’t leave any food or trash behind on the trails. The less that animals depend on human resources for food, the better for all.
  5. Travel the trails quietly. You’ll have much better chances of seeing the park’s vast wildlife if you keep the volume (and your presence) to a minimum.

Hermitage Trail

  • Length: 9.6-mile loop
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 738 feet
  • Duration: 3.5 hours

The Hermitage Trail is a prime midday hike for those looking to enjoy a scenic lunch. Because this trail takes you past a variety of environments, such as woods, meadows, lakes and ponds, there are even more types of wildlife that travel through the area. Here, hikers frequently spot animals like bears, elk, eagles, mule deer, grouse and beaver. Even if you don’t see any animals up close, you’ll likely find evidence that they were there. On the trail, keep an eye out for tracks and skat of Grand Teton National Park’s wild residents.

While exploring the area, it’s a good idea to have bear spray on you just in case you come too close and can’t avoid confrontation with a large animal. There’s also lots of shade that provide plenty of opportunities for water breaks out of the sun.

Garnet Canyon to Lower Saddle Trail

  • Length: 12.3-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Elevation: 5,321 feet
  • Duration: 9 hours

The trek from Garnet Canyon to Lower Saddle Trail is an all-day kind of trip that will take lots of water, sunscreen and positive thinking to complete. With an elevation gain that reaches over 5,000 feet, this hike is no joke, especially on the way back when you experience most of the incline. However, the views and the wildlife are worth the heaving lungs and burning calves.

For much of the trek, you can cool off and dip your toes in the stream that flanks the trail almost the entire way. The natural water source tends to attract a wide range of wildlife, from birds to rodents to deer to bears. And the longer you stay on the trail, the more likely you are to spot animals in search of a drink.

When you reach the Lower Saddle, be sure to stay on the rocks and away from any vegetation growing nearby. The environment here is extremely delicate and one footprint can do permanent damage. Additionally, for those that want an easier trip can turn around at Garnet Canyon. Whichever route you choose, be sure to give yourself extra time for water and wildlife-watching breaks.

Death Canyon to Patrol Cabin

  • Length: 9.1-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 2,122 feet
  • Duration: 5 hours

The Death Canyon to Patrol Cabin trail is easily the best choice for wildlife spottings. Hikers regularly see wildlife along this trail, including bears, moose, elk and marmot. In fact, in the early morning, they may see more animals than they do people. Along with the vast wildlife spottings that occur on this trail, you can also find a few waterfalls to marvel at. Needless to say, there are always great photo opportunities along this trail. Just be sure to have enough energy for the way back. The incline is much more significant in this direction than the way in.

Part of the reason this route sees so much wildlife is that it’s a bit more remote compared to other more popular trails. Because of this, you may need to invest in a car rental with four-wheel drive and high clearance. The road to the trailhead can be a bit dicey and may not be driveable for smaller vehicles.

Unique Views and Attractions within Grand Teton National Park

Once you’ve thoroughly explored all of the park’s natural resources, the next must-sees on your list should be the few manmade structures that have survived through the years. This includes cabins, barns and farms that settlers built in hopes of a better, more fruitful life. Now, the remnants of their lifestyle remain as a reminder of how much these people gave up a new start.

Also in Grand Teton National Park are more modern attractions that bring a new aspect to the beauty within the mountains. These little treasures help bring a bit of front-country comfort to an otherwise wild region without taking away from the natural experience that the area has to offer.

Cunningham Cabin

  • Length: 0.2-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 6 feet
  • Duration: 5 minutes

Among Grand Teton National Park’s unique structures is the Cunningham Cabin, named after John P. Cunningham who purchased the property with his wife Margaret in the late 1800s. By 1888, the couple built the cabin that still stands today, which at the time served as an abundant farm until drought claimed the land. When Cunningham could no longer profit from his land, he decided to team up with 97 other ranchers in the area to petition a buyout in order to create 35,000 acres of national recreation lands. Now, the cabin serves as a tribute to what Cunningham and his cohorts gave to ensure that future generations could enjoy the beauty of Wyoming’s environment.

The trail to the cabin is pretty short and really isn’t so much a hike as it is a quick walk to the cabin. There also isn’t a designated pathway, but you can clearly see the footpath that previous hikers have created. Once you’re at the cabin, be on the lookout for groundhogs that like to burrow close to the building. You may also catch a few grazing bison in the early morning hours.

Mormon Row’s Moulton Barn

  • Length: 0.2-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Elevation: 3 feet
  • Duration: 5 minutes

In the 1890s, a group of Mormon homesteaders arrived in Jackson, Wyoming and settled in the eastern portion of Blacktail Butte. Two of these settlers were John and Thomas Alma Moulton who built two barns on adjacent properties. For 30 years, the pair worked diligently on their land before John ultimately decided to trade in his rustic home for a more modern dwelling closer to town.

Today, Mormon Row’s Moulton Barn happens to be the most photographed barn in Jackson, and given how many gorgeous, wooden structures there are in the area, that’s pretty spectacular. The area is most known for its unbelievably beautiful sunrises that cast a golden, alpine glow on the Teton Range. The contrast of the spring-green grasses and purple mountains is enough to have you paralyzed on that plot of land for hours but be warned, you won’t be the only one caught in the sunrise’s majesty. Each morning, dozens of photographers and visitors gather at the sight to watch the daily show. Because of this, you won’t likely find peace and quiet to go with the serene views. Still, you should try to respect others’ experiences and keep the chatter to a low level.

Like the Cunningham Cabin, Mormon Row’s Moulton Barn doesn’t have a very long trail. The barn is also a frequent spot for groundhogs, so be sure to watch where you step if you venture closer to the building. Be sure to keep at least 25 feet from any bison grazing nearby.

Teton Village Wildflower Trail to Gondola Summit

  • Length: 8.0-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Elevation: 2,742 feet
  • Duration: 5.5 hours

The Teton Village Wildflower Trail to Gondola Summit will definitely take the breath from your lungs in more than one way. The route takes you to the top of the gondola line where a restaurant and bar greet you at the top. That said, because it follows the gondola’s route, the trail is 100 percent uphill on the way in, and it’s pretty steep.

Towards the bottom, you’ll find fields of purple and blue wildflowers that invite grazing wildlife like deer and bison. As you get higher, you may find a few patches of the pathway with shade, but for the most part, you’ll be exposed to the sun. There are also quite a few switchbacks, which may make the trail seem tougher, but in reality, these zig-zags help save your knees from a more strenuous incline.

Also at the top are a scenic tree swing as well as a picnic table, offering the perfect opportunity to catch your breath only to have it stolen away once again with the vistas. Restrooms and a water station are available, too.

If you’ve used up all your energy on the trip up, you can ride the gondola back down for free. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the bottom, and along the way, you can see the park from above the treetops.

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