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Ansel Adams’ famous image of Grand Teton National Park from the Snake River Outlook long tempted my imagination. To make the most of our time in the park, I consulted numerous professional photographers and workshop leaders to outline our three-day Grand Teton National Park itinerary and identify the best photo locations.
Use this detailed guide, along with my photography tips, to maximize your time and evoke the magic present throughout this 310,000 acre national park. For me, this park has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the top road trip destinations in the United States, along with Yellowstone National Park. If you decide to base yourself in Jackson Hole, my Jackson Hole travel guide will help you plan where to eat, stay and shop.
Day 1 Grand Teton National Park Itinerary
If you have only one day in Grand Teton National Park, this routing hits all the highlights. Additional days in the itinerary allow you to delve deeper into the park’s beauty.
Photography Spot 1: Sunrise Schwabacher Landing (16 miles/26 km – 23 minutes from downtown Jackson Hole )
Photographing sunrise at Schwabacher Landing is a perfect way to welcome the day as the sunrays caress and illuminate the craggy Teton mountain peaks jutting 7000 feet above the valley floor.
Ideally, you can scout the evening before to determine where you can get the best vantage point without grass interfering with the reflections; this is more challenging if you are petite like I am.
Since winds pick up in the afternoon, mornings tend to be best for calm waters and reflections at this photo spot. However, if you come at dusk, you might have a chance to witness the entertaining beaver family reinforcing their hard-earned beaver dam.
TOP TIP: Arrive at least 45-60 minutes before sunrise to set-up your tripod as this is a popular place with Type A photographers. Also, it’s soothing to watch the light shifting from a purplish hue during blue hour (30 minutes before sunrise) to soft pastels, imparting different moods to the serene scene.
Bring a headlamp so that you can see the trail in the darkness. Black Diamond headlamps are my favorite since they have both white and red light settings, which is key for night photography.
LOGISTICS: To reach this spot, turn left at the Schwabacher Landing sign and drive five minutes to the parking lot at the end of the gravel road, which has room for 20-30 cars. We encountered a couple large potholes, so drive slowly. If you see a restroom in the parking lot, you’ll know you are in the correct place.
Like usual, my husband, Jason, and I divided and conquered and chose different vantage points along the river. Despite arriving 45 minutes before sunrise, someone had already claimed the coveted spot I had pinpointed the afternoon before, hence my recommendation to arrive as early as possible.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Bring a 2 (0.6) or 3 stop (0.9) graduated neutral density filter to account for the fact that the Tetons will be much brighter than the surrounding scene as the sun starts to hit them. LEE offers great graduated neutral density filters. I prefer soft edge filters and use my 3 stop (0.9) most often. You can find my other favorite photo gear here.
An alternate spot, which we really enjoyed for sunset, tends to have fewer people and great river rocks. One to two minutes after departing the main parking lot, you’ll see a small lot on your right as you drive back towards the exit with space for 5-10 cars.
Photography Spot 2: Golden Hour Mormon Row
Plan to depart Schwabacher Landing 15-20 minutes after sunrise and head immediately to Mormon Row to capture the famous barns in the soft early morning light. Fortunately, a short 10-minute drive will deliver you to this famous location while the light is still magical and not too harsh.
Since most visitors don’t seem to arrive until 8:30 or 9AM, you can capture quintessential images without people, which is challenging mid-day and late afternoon. Given that parking is limited, arriving early ensures you aren’t waiting for a spot to open up.
Personally, I prefer the John & Bertha Moulton barn (rounded roof). I enjoyed framing the barn amongst willows in the foreground and could vary my perspective more than I could with the T.A. Moulton barn (pointed roof). The John & Bertha barn and Pink House are located on the north side of Antelope Flats Road while the T.A. Moulton barn is located on the south side of Antelope Flats Road.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: To get the coveted angle of the John & Bertha rounded barn, you need to position yourself further back in the field across from the barn. You’ll need to cross an irrigation ditch via a wooden plank hidden in the grass. Once you move back into the field, shift around to find the angle you desire.
This is also a great place to experiment with a 70-200mm telephoto lens to compress the shot and make the Tetons appear larger.
For another unique barn, check out the Thomas Murphy homestead, along with his gray stucco house. It’s just past the John & Bertha barn. We were delighted to have a herd of wild bison lounging and munching near the barn. To safely capture the scene, we kept our distance and used 200-500mm lenses to photograph.
SAFETY TIP: You should keep 25 yards (75 feet/23 meters) from bison. While they appear slow and lumbering, they can move quite quickly – at a speed of 35mph, the same as a horse!
Photography Spot 3: Snake River Outlook
If you are a fan of Ansel Adams’ stunning black & white photography, you’ve likely seen his iconic photograph of the s-curve Snake River leading to the Tetons. While you can’t capture the identical photo due to tree growth that has obscured the bend in the Snake River over the past 75+ years, it’s a worthwhile historical stop.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: For the best vantage point, position yourself along the stone wall just to the right of the historic Ansel Adams photograph at the far end of the parking lot.
Photography Spot 4: Oxbow Bend Turnout
Arriving early AM at Oxbow Bend before the winds pick up is key to capture Mt Moran reflections. Since this is another coveted sunrise spot, we scouted mid-day to determine the best location to shoot.
If you are photographing in late September, it’s beautiful to capture the changing fall foliage reflected in the water. We found the trees had just started to shift from green to yellow between September 11th and 19th. We’ve heard from other photographers the third week of September is typically the peak of fall foliage.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Walk down the pathway from the parking lot to the shoreline for the coveted Mount Moran reflection. By positioning yourself beneath the stand of trees, you can get a nice S curve leading up to the reflection and trees beyond. While the water is often calm and glass-like at sunrise, the surface has more ripples later in the day as the winds pick up.
Photography Spot 5: Jackson Lake Overlook
While not as visually stunning as some of the other locations, this is a worthwhile place to stop on your circuit within Teton National Park.
Despite the harsh, high contrast, mid-day light and ripples on Jackson Lake, we really enjoyed listening to the waves lapping the shore.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Use a shallow depth of field to focus on some of the willows in the foreground and blur out the lake and mountains behind for a different perspective.
TOP TIP: If they are open, stop at the Pioneer Grill at Jackson Lake Lodge, a 1950s style diner, for their famous huckleberry milkshake. Or, opt for the Blue Heron Lounge at Jackson Lake Lodge for their huckleberry margarita and panoramic Teton views. After discovering huckleberry ice cream in Missoula, Montana, a few years ago, I’m obsessed with all things huckleberry.
If you want to stay inside the park, consider Colter Bay Village’s rustic cabins as they offer horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking along Jackson Lake’s eastern shore.
Also, stop by Colter Bay Visitor Center to see Native American artifacts within the David T. Vernon collection.
Photography Spot 6: Signal Mountain Road
After checking out Jackson Lake, head to Signal Mountain Road for a sweeping Tetons panorama. During this five mile (20 minute) drive, you’ll serpentine your way up the curvy road to the summit. Since it’s a narrow, windy road, RVs and trailers are not permitted.
TOP TIP: Use binoculars or your telephoto lens to try and spot wildlife that might be refreshing themselves at the lakeshores beneath you.
Photography Stop 7: Mountain View Lookout
Although we almost passed this parking lot, this location provides a layered view of Mount Moran and the Grand Tetons. If you are mesmerized by layers like I am, this is definitely a worthwhile stop.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: To add scale to your photos, wait for cars or RVs to round the bend to contrast their teeny size in relation to the impressive Tetons behind.
If you continue a couple minutes past this lookout, you’ll find turnouts where you can pull off and photograph cyclists zipping along the path. The cyclists are another perfect scale element for your photos and a fun way to experiment with panning!
Photography Spot 8: Jenny Lake Overlook & Loop
Prior to our visit, we hadn’t realized Jenny Lake is the most popular location in Grand Teton National Park. The cars lining the shoulder will alert you to the fact you’re approaching the overflowing parking lot.
During our next visit, we look forward to undertaking some of the beautiful hiking in this area. Cascade Canyon is at the top of our wish list.
SAFETY TIP: Be sure to have bear spray with you for any Grand Teton National Park hikes as you might encounter black or grizzly bears.
Be aware you can’t bring bear spray aboard flights in carry-on or checked luggage. Since we were driving, we bought ours with holsters from REI. Holsters are key to ensure your bear spray is quick access. If you need to rent bear spray, Teton Backcountry Rentals, conveniently located on Highway 191 as you drive from Jackson Hole into Grand Teton National Park, rents it.
Don’t miss driving the Jenny Lake loop. While you can’t stop on this road, keep your eyes peeled for small pullouts/parking lots where you might find a spot and can wander down to the waterfront.
Despite visiting here mid-afternoon, we found this location much calmer than Jackson Lake – still enough to capture reflections. Not sure this is always the case, but worth looking for!
Photography Stop 9: Chapel of the Transfiguration
Although the chapel was closed when we visited, it was worth stopping to frame the chapel and Tetons beneath the bell. The silhouette and shapes add an interesting element to your image.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: When the chapel is open, be sure to use the chapel’s altar window to frame the Grand Teton mountains.
Day 2 Grand Teton National Park Itinerary
If you have two days in Grand Teton National Park, this allows you to experience another epic sunrise location, explore some other photogenic spots within and outside the park and search for more wildlife. In addition to the spectacular colors and scenes on display at sunrise and sunset, this is the most active time for wildlife so being able to experience a few sunrises and sunsets is ideal.
Photography Spot 10: Sunrise Oxbow Bend Turnout (32 miles/ 51km – 41 minutes from downtown Jackson Hole)
Oxbow Bend Turnout is one of the other quintessential sunrise locations. On clear days, you get Mount Moran reflecting in the river with a lovely leading line along the shore. And, during the fall you can get beautiful foliage surrounding the area.
Just after sunrise we saw a juvenile bald eagle hopping along the shore, clutching a fish it had caught. Shortly after, a majestic adult bald eagle appeared, soaring and banking above us. Honking geese and quacking ducks glided through the misty fog shrouding the banks.
Apparently, this is a good place to spot moose crossing the river. One photographer mentioned he saw a bull elk hidden amongst the trees.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: For the landscape shots, you’ll want a wide angle 12-24mm or 16-35mm. However, for wildlife imagery, we alternated between a 70-200mm, a 200-500mm and a 500mm prime. If you have two camera bodies, this is a good place to be set up with both so that you can quickly alternate focal lengths to suit your desired subject.
When we were at Oxbow Bend Turnout, we narrowly missed Grizzly 399 and her four cubs as well as her offspring Grizzly 610. What a treat they would have been to see!
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Since the elk, moose and bears might be in the trees and tall grass on the far bank, your best (and safest) bet for spotting them is to position yourself on the road’s edge up above the river.
Photography Spot 11: Snake River Canyon
Two different proprietors in Jackson Hole encouraged us to drive the Snake River Canyon south of Jackson to see the mountain maples’ brilliant red and orange hues, which only lasts a few days each fall. Traversing this route in mid-September treated us to breathtaking and vibrant kaleidoscopic colors.
Since wildlife photography in Grand Tetons is best at dusk and dawn, this is an ideal mid-day drive to do when all the animals are taking their afternoon siestas.
TOP TIP: To make an easy 90 mile/145km loop, program Alpine into your GPS (47 miles /75 km (~ 1 hour south of Jackson). You’ll follow the road through Palisades to Swan Valley, Idaho, head over the Pine Creek Pass into Victor and return to Jackson via the Teton Pass.
We spent four hours in the afternoon doing this drive, jumping out at numerous places to admire and photograph the brilliant foliage. Bring a 70-200mm telephoto lens to capture and compress the trees. Be aware you’ll be photographing from across the highway and want to eliminate the road from your shots.
You might even spot mountain goats while you are down here!
Photography Spot 12: Lunch Counter/Kahuna Overlook
Be sure to pull out at the Lunch Counter/Kahuna overlook to see kayakers and surfers braving the rapids. Hearing kayakers hooting and hollering as soon as I parked, I raced down to the viewpoint. I didn’t have to wait for the next group to appear, capturing some great shots of them emerging from the churning foam.
Photography Spot 13: Teton Village
When you are heading back into Jackson after coming over the Teton Pass, detour to Teton Village to see this famous ski resort. Then, head up into the hills behind to gawk at the gargantuan mansions and their impressive views. In addition to being an amazing ski area, Wyoming doesn’t have income tax. As a result, lots of wealthy people are purchasing or building second homes in Jackson Hole.
Be on the lookout for moose grazing in the yards and devouring tree leaves.
Photography Stop 14: Moose – Wilson Road
After perusing Teton Village, drive 5 miles/8 km (8 minutes) to Moose Wilson Road. Shoot to arrive for golden hour (an hour before sunset). This eight-mile scenic drive is narrow and windy, so no RV or trailers are allowed. 1.5 miles of the road is unpaved and pockmarked with large potholes, so drive slowly and carefully.
Moose Wilson Road is known to be a great place to spot wildlife. We saw a moose wading in the river, glimpsed a grey owl perched in a tree and heard a black bear had wandered over a hill just before we arrived. Keep a close eye for bears indulging on the chokecherry bushes lining the road.
TOP TIP: Be aware this is a narrow gravel road with NO pull outs and you are NOT allowed to stop, so the passenger should have his/her camera ready. The road is closed from November 1st to mid-May.
Photography Stop 15: Moose Habitat Overlook
Just before or after Moose Wilson Road (depending on the direction from which you are coming), stop at the Moose Habitat overlook.
Since people are always parked here, relaxing in camp chairs, you can’t miss it. Scan the marsh grasses on the banks with your binoculars or zoom lenses to see if moose are chomping on water lilies, one of their favorite foods. We spied a female moose wading through the water, enveloped by willows here.
SAFETY TIP: Maintain a distance of at least 25 yards (75 feet/23 meters) from moose, especially females who are VERY protective of their calves.
Photography Stop 16: Moose Junction
Shortly after you leave the Moose Habitat Overlook, you’ll take Teton Park Road East to Hwy 29/86/191 to get back to Jackson.
Watch for moose amongst the willows on the right hand side of Teton Park Road. East of the Snake River, we saw a moose with twins! Make sure the passenger is constantly scanning, especially later in the day as sunset approaches. As soon as it starts to get cooler, animals become more active.
After we turned East onto Hwy 29/86/191 and passed the roundabout at Gros Ventre Junction, we saw numerous cars pulled over. After a quick inquiry, we discovered a bull moose wandering amongst the brush five minutes from the road near the Gros Ventre River. One of our best wildlife observations during our trip!
Photography Spot 17: Night Photography Mormon Row
If you have the energy and your timing coincides with new moon and dark skies, it’s definitely worth experimenting with night photography at Mormon Row. A tripod and remote release (or using the two second timer on your camera) will be key.
A strong flashlight is key to light paint the buildings with side light for additional visual interest. Be mindful of where you step as large badger holes are interspersed with bison poo, creating a challenging obstacle course.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Be sure to download the PhotoPills app and use augmented reality to see where the Milky Way will emerge. While you won’t be able to capture it over either of the famous barns (John & Bertha Moulton or T.A. Moulton), you could capture it over John & Bertha Moulton’s pink house or the log cabin behind.
Day 3 Grand Teton National Park Itinerary
Photography Spot 18: Sunrise Mormon Row
As a result of the mountains and the angle of light, Grand Teton National Park is best positioned for sunrise photography.
In terms of visual storytelling, Mormon Row is my favorite location in Grand Teton National Park. If you have three days, it’s definitely worth revisiting the barns for sunrise.
We loved visiting it during the morning and afternoon golden hours as well. Note the light and shadows shift dramatically throughout the day, lending very different feels to your imagery.
Photography Stop 19: Gros Ventre or Gros Ventre Campground
If you haven’t spotted moose during your trip yet (or want to see more) head to Gros Ventre Road or Gros Ventre Campground after sunrise at Mormon Row. Since these are both frequented by moose, they might still be wandering in the cool morning hours.
Photography Stop 20: Cascade Canyon Hike
Cascade Canyon is a moderately difficult ~10 mile/16 km hike that will take you to the base of the Tetons. It includes the added bonus of a scenic boat ride across Jenny Lake (or you can hike back). Experience Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point from this trail. Many consider this one of the best hikes in Grand Teton National Park as a result of the variety it offers.
TOP TIP: Since this trail gets busy, plan to arrive by 8AM to secure parking and get an early start. Make sure to bring bear spray as people have encountered bears on this trail.
Photography Stop 21: Taggart Lake
If 10 miles/16 km sounds like a bit much for you, opt for the 4 mile/6km Taggart Lake hike, which will treat you to forest and Tetons views.
TOP TIP: Download the FREE Grand Teton National Park app, which has lots of great info on what to see and a super helpful self-guided tour. Since internet can be spotty in the park, be sure to download the version that will work offline.
TOP TIP: If you plan to visit both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, make sure to buy an Annual Park pass. We bought the America the Beautiful Pass for $80 from REI. This pass is good for 12 months from the month you buy it. Therefore, purchase it in the month you are visiting to maximize its value.
Since a 7-day pass to Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park is $35 each, this annual pass made more sense. We plan to fully recoup our costs by visiting Yosemite, Glacier and Utah National Parks during the next year.
TOP TIP: When you come through the gates, they will ask you if you want a Grand Teton National Park map. Definitely get this as cell service is spotty in the park and your Google maps won’t always work.
If you aren’t camping or in an RV, you’ll base yourself at a lodge within Grand Teton National Park or in Jackson Hole. This charming mountain town is located only 20 minutes from the park. Check out my Jackson Hole travel guide for the best places to stay, eat and shop.
While many national park travelers road trip like we did, you can opt to fly into Jackson Hole or to a nearby airport and rent a car. Your closest airports are:
- Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) – 15 minutes from Jackson Hole. American, Delta and United Airlines all fly into here
- Idaho Falls (IDA) – 1.5 hours from Jackson Hole
- Salt Lake City (SLC) – 5 hours from Jackson Hole
I hope this post helped you identify all the must sees in Grand Teton National Park. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below which tips you found most helpful for planning your Grand Teton vacation.