As the crown of the Rocky Mountains, photos barely do Grand Teton National Park justice – but these shots, along with the land’s fascinating history, come as close as possible.
Home to some of the most dramatically beautiful scenery in North America, let alone Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is a national treasure that belongs on every American’s bucket list. Whether you’re a chaser of mountain vistas, a hardcore adventurer, skier, or simply love scenic beauty: Grand Teton has something for everyone – and then some.
Encapsulating lands sprawling with alpine peaks, pristine lakes, and rich wildlife, this national park stands as a protector of the Teton Mountain Range and all within in. With over two hundred miles of trails spanning all of the former to boot, Grand Teton holds enough beauty to keep an explorer busy for an entire lifetime.
For now, let’s take a look at some of the absolute best photos of Wyoming’s most stunning locale, courtesy of the park’s remarkable team.
The Incredible (and Hilarious) History of the Name Grand Tetons
Besides the remarkable scenery showcased by the Grand Teton Mountain Range above, the first thing people generally notice about Grand Teton is the unusual name. While it feels fitting, “Teton” isn’t English, and as such leaves most Americans searching for how the park and mountain range received such a name.
The first wordage attributed to these peaks in North America would be “Teewinot”. Meaning “many pinnacles”, the word belongs to the Shoshone people. Anthropologists believe the Shoshone have inhabited the Tetons for at least 10,000 years, and as such – if anyone’s going to be naming these mountains – it should be them.
Leave it to a group of French explorers, however, to completely undo this name with something far more…. buxom.
Although “Teewinot” is similar to their current name, Teton or Tetons has a direct translation in French. Anyone fluent in the language knows exactly where this little etymology lesson is headed, too.
Simply put, “Grand Tetons” means “big teets” in French. You read that right. As with English, this terminology is used to refer to, well, breasts on the whole. In short: these majestic mountains were definitely not named by a woman.
In fact, legend has it that an intrepid group of worn out French Canadian explorers came across the pointed peaks deep into their travels. Missing the comforts of home and the (ahem) perks that come with, these weary gentlemen saw the Grand Tetons for the first time and, well, named the peaks after what we can only assume they saw in them (and were missing) most.
And now you’ll never look at these mountains the same way again.
The Dramatic Formation of Grand Teton
One of the most famous – and gorgeous – locales within Grand Teton National Park is Jackson Hole. Photographed above is one of Jackson Hole’s many brilliant views in wintertime. Such magnificent rivers and valleys have been around for far longer than our human eyes have been appreciating them, too. But how did they form to be as stunning and staggering as they are?
Teton’s gorgeous canyons and lakes at the base of its mountains were shaped by the recession of Pleistocene Glaciers of the last great Ice Age 10,000 years ago. The mountains themselves, however, are far older.
Geologists estimate that about 10 million years ago, our planet’s crust began to stretch and thin out. As it did, faults formed – which in turn caused earthquakes. These earthquakes caused the plate of earth to the west of what we now know as the Tetons to shoot up. As it did, the Teton Mountains were formed as the Earth’s crust shot upward. When it did, the earthen crust to the east was simultaneously forced downward. As a result, it dropped some 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) down to form the valley of the Tetons.
While it may sound old to us, this 10 million year timeframe makes the Tetons but babies in the eyes of time. To put this into perspective, the last great extinction event that killed off most of the dinosaurs was 65 million years ago. That makes Grand Teton 55 million years younger than the dinosaurs.
Moreover, the youngness of Teton accounts for their remarkably jagged appearance, as well. Young mountains still show the sharpness of their intense shaping through harsh geological activity because they’ve had less time to be eroded and smoothed over by the elements.
Thanks to this tectonic terraforming, the Teton Mountains now house some of North America’s highest peaks. Grand Teton peak sits at 13,775 feet (4,199 meters) and is the highest point of the Teton Range. This is the second tallest peak in Wyoming after Gannett Peak. Other peaks, such as Middle Teton and Mt. Moran, reach incredible heights of near 13,000 feet, as well.
Grand Teton: Wildlife Paradise
Let’s get back to photos for a moment, however. We are here to celebrate photographic evidence of Grand Teton’s majesty, after all, aren’t we?
Pictured above is one of the grandest photos ever taken in Grand Teton National Park (in this author’s opinion). Here, we see a cow and calf moose crossing the pristine waters of Schwabacher Landing. Behind them tower the peaks of the Teton Range in full glory. This photo truly has it all.
Similarly, Grand Teton has everything such wildlife could ever want or need. The same diversity that creates Teton’s varying vistas also forms many different habitats for animals, plants, and other organisms. As a result, the park’s lands host incredible biodiversity.
Within, visitors will witness much of the last remaining wild megafauna (see: huge animals) in America. Grizzly bears are prominent here, as are black bears. Bison (buffalo) herd here, as do elk and pronghorn. Moose also thrive in Grand Teton, as well, as seen above.
Countless species of songbirds also make their home here, alongside birds of prey. According to the Audubon Society, “many year-round and migratory bird species can be spotted in the park, including the Calliope Hummingbird, Trumpeter Swan, Bald Eagle, Western Tanager, and Osprey.”
Wolves also roam Teton, specifically in Willow Flats.
Grand Teton and the First Americans
Where other mammals settled, humans were sure to follow. And judging by the view above, who could blame us?
As mentioned above, the phenomenal canyons and lakes of Teton were created by the exit of Pleistocene Ice Age glaciers 10,000 years ago. While Earth warmed, these massive chunks of ice melted, retreating north. As they did, canyons, lakes, and valleys were either directly carved out by them, or left in their wake.
Coinciding with the exit of cold and ice was the arrival of the first peoples to newly habitable lands. Today, we know them as the Clovis people. Other distinct groups left evidence of their early activity, as well, such as the Folsom people.
Moving forward in time from here, the park’s lands became home to the indigenous peoples of North America. Many of their Native American tribes still call Teton home today. Congruently, Grand Teton’s team does a fine job of teaching the area’s varied history to the public. Within their Instagram, Teton’s experts give a summary of modern human history within the park.
“The geology of the landscape affected where people lived, ate, and their cultural practices. By 8,000 B.C., two distinct cultural groups formed in the region: One, the ancestors of the Tukudika Shoshone (Sheepeaters), who adapted to the mountain and foothill environment and maintained a mountain sheep and mule deer diet,” their team begins. “The other, the ancestors of the Kuccuntikka Shoshone (Buffalo Eaters), who adapted to the open plains and developed sophisticated, communal bison-hunting techniques.”
Moreover, Teton clarifies that “the Tukudia and Kuccuntikka weren’t the only folks to call this mountain home. Grand Teton National Park recognizes the 24 affiliated tribes to the park who have connections with this land.“
“Indigenous Americans lived in harmony with these mountains for millennia until they were forcibly removed to live on reservations. In their creation, National Parks also forced tribes off their ancestral lands. As more and more homesteaders moved to the region in the late 1880s, Native Reservations were forced to give up even more of their land for White Americans to settle on it.”
“Today, we tell the history of native peoples in the park, but we need to do better,” the park concludes. A mantra all Americans should adopt, don’t you think?
Mt. Moran: What’s in a Name?
The last, utterly brilliant photos on our list is of a particularly storied mountain for the park. Here, we see Mt. Moran as viewed from the equally brilliant Leigh Lake.
While the history of Mt. Moran’s name isn’t quite as… randy… as Teton, it is fascinating, all the same. Moran is named after Thomas Moran, an English-American painter who’s life became one with Grand Teton.
An immigrant from England, Moran came to the United States with his family at seven years of age in 1844. As a young man, his studies in the styles of European landscape painting would prepare him for his life’s work, which would eventually make him famous for his time.
According to the park, “In 1871, Moran joined the US Geological Survey lead by Ferdinand V. Hayden. Moran journeyed with the Hayden party through what is today Eastern Idaho and Northwest Wyoming. His paintings of Yellowstone helped influence the creation of the first national park. Moran continued to travel throughout his life, often painting the dramatic scenery of the American West.”
As he did, Moran eventually made his way to the western side of Grand Teton, where he would paint their majesty. While doing so on an excursion, Moran wrote “The Tetons have loomed up grandly against the sky. From this point, it is perhaps the finest pictorial range in the United States or even North America.”
And with that, there’s no better quote to end an exploration of this staggeringly beautiful national park.
Ready to Explore America’s National Parks?
- Check out our recent Best Photos and Facts of Oregon’s Breathtaking Crater Lake National Park.
- Similarly, we’ve gathered the most incredible photos & facts for Utah’s Legendary Bryce Canyon National Park.
- For our New England friends, thesegorgeous photos from Acadia National Park will have you visiting Maine.
- Or, if you’re looking for somewhere even more iconic, Yosemite National Park awaits.
- Carlsbad Canyon is calling for those looking for more incredible rock formations, as well.
- Our celebration of International Mountain Day includes the Grand Tetons, as well.
For everything outdoors and the latest on our U.S. National Parks System, keep with us here at Outsider.com.