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More than just a side trip from Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park has a grandeur all its own, and it's a lot easier to see than its big sister immediately to the north. Most of the park lies on the eastern slope of the Grand Teton mountain peaks, the area including the Snake River Valley and Jackson Lake, which is formed by the river. Because of its relatively small size (485 sq. mi.), the park can be visited in much less time than Yellowstone, for instance. Grand Teton is famous for its magnificent mountain peaks, the pristine natural beauty of the mountain slopes, and the abundance of wildlife.

A French explorer named the mighty Grand Teton (13,770 feet high), using the French word for nipple, apparently because of its shape, and the name applies also to an entire range, a part of the Rocky Mountain chain itself. The park was established in 1929, but arguments over land John D. Rockefeller, Jr. wished to donate led to an impasse that was not resolved until 1950, when that area was added to the peaks and lakes of the original plot and the park as we know it today was finally re-established in 1950.

There are four visitor centers and one ranger station, all but one open only in season (May/June through September/October, depending on which location it is). The Craig Thomas Visitor Center, 12 miles north of Jackson, WY is open all year except Christmas Day.

Highlights

Check out the animals here. One of them, the pronghorn (similar to an antelope) is said to be the fastest mammal in the western hemisphere, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph. They hate fences and don't like to jump them, however, so are easy to keep herded in. In the summer, you can see them along Antelope Flats Road, but in fall, they migrate about 200 miles away to central Wyoming. It's against the law to approach within 25 yards of any wildlife (100 yards for a bear), by the way.

If you haven't much time, consider driving the Teton Park Road, a 43-mile loop that touches on many of the park's best scenic spots. You should check out Jackson Lake, of course, and drive up to the top of Signal Mountain for a grand 360-degree view. Good hiking can be had to Hidden Falls (2 miles each way), or to Moose Lake (a good day hike). Grand viewing is to be had also at the Glacier View Turnout and the Snake River Overlook, as well as at Oxbow Bend, the latter of which is great also for wildlife watching, they say.

Activities

This is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, with summer activities including hiking (some 200 miles of trails), wildlife watching, photography, backpacking, camping, climbing, fishing, swimming, boating, canoeing, and bicycling. In winter, skiing and show shoeing are popular. Some activities require fees, permits, licenses or registration. They include overnight backpacking, boating, floating, canoeing, fishing and snowmobiling, to mention the most-often indulged in. Check it all out at the visitor center or ranger station when you arrive. There are six camping sites within the park, of varying types of facilities.

Concessioners are licensed to provide the following activities and amenities for visitors: backpacking for young people, boat rentals, climbing guides, cross-country skiing & snowshoe tours, fishing trips, float trips, horseback riding, kayaking tours, lake shuttles, marinas, sailboat tours, and scenic lake cruises. You'll find them all on the park's website under Concessioner Activities.

Rangers

Park rangers offer hiking, slide shows, children's activities and wildlife viewing during summer months. There are also wildlife caravans in the fall to see elk, and if you want to see the sage grouse here, come in the spring. Also, from December through March, rangers offer guided snowshoe hiking from the Craig Thomas Visitor Center. Phone them at 307/739-3399 to make reservations.

New in 2008

There was record-breaking snowfall during the winter and early spring months, the park's website states, so you may find trails snow-covered during early summer, with mountain passes likely to be snow-covered into July this year. The same could be said for future years in which such high levels of snow fall in winter.

Visitors

The park's website says there were just under four million visitors in the last year counted.

Fees

You pay $25 for a 7-day pass for you, your vehicle and its passengers, slightly less for seniors, military visitors, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. In winter, you can get a day pass for just $5.

Contacts

The official website of the park is www.nps.gov/grte.

The Grand Teton National Park Foundation, which supports the park, has its website at www.gtnpf.org.

A good commercial website about the park is www.grand.teton.national-park.com.