Begin your visit inside the dramatic new Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center (307/739-3300, www.nps.gov/grte ), where 30-foot-high windows pull your eyes outward for a spectacular Teton Range panorama.
Inside, you’ll find state-of-the-art exhibits showcasing the natural world; “video rivers” beneath your feet; a large three-dimensional map revealing the lay of the land, geology, and mountaineering displays; interactive child-friendly activities, and a Grand Teton Association bookstore.
The spacious auditorium presents an excellent film, Grand Teton National Park: Life on the Edge, shown every half-hour. (I won’t give away the surprise, but you’re bound to be pleased when the curtain rises at the movie’s end.) The visitor center is open daily 8 a.m.-7 p.m. early June-late September, and daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (except Christmas) the rest of the year. There’s free Wi-Fi, too.
The commercial center at Moose is across the Snake River bridge and just east of the visitor center. Here you’ll find a plethora of operations run by Dornan’s (307/733-2415, www.dornans.com ): a general store, gift shop, lodging, fishing shop, restaurant and bar, wine shop, bike shop (with rentals), canoe and kayak rentals, and a chuck wagon eatery. Also here are the sporting-goods store Moosely Seconds (307/739-1801) and a fishing shop, Snake River Angler (307/733-3699, www.snakeriverangler.com ). Moose has pretty much everything you might need for a day in the park.
Down a quiet dirt road just south of the visitor center is the home of Olaus and Mardy Murie, two giants of the environmental movement. Olaus was a pioneering biologist in Alaska’s arctic regions, and founder of the Wilderness Society. In 1945, the Muries bought the old STS Dude Ranch in Moose, Wyoming, and made it their home. Together they worked to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, pushed for protection of wilderness areas, and wrote the classic book Wapiti Wilderness.
Olaus died in 1963, shortly before the Wilderness Act was passed, but Mardy—the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaska—lived until 2003 (age 101) at her little log cabin in Moose. She wrote several books, played an important role in passing the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her conservation work in both Alaska and Wyoming.
Today, the historic ranch’s 17 structures—built in 1927—are part of a National Historic District. Befitting the Muries’ love of nature, they are managed as the Murie Center (307/739-2246, www.muriecenter.org ), which puts on a variety of conservation seminars and events throughout the year. Also here are the Murie archive and library. Park rangers lead free summertime historical tours of the Murie ranch on Monday and Thursday at 2 p.m. Winter snowshoe tours are also offered.
Just inside the South Entrance to Grand Teton National Park , a side road leads to the Chapel of the Transfiguration and Menor’s Ferry. The rustic log church (built in 1925) is most notable for its dramatic setting. The back window faces directly toward the Tetons, providing ample distractions for worshippers (or wedding guests). The bell out front was cast in 1842. Episcopal services are held on summer Sundays, with Eucharist at 8 and 10 a.m.
Menor’s Ferry is named for William D. Menor, who first homesteaded here in 1894 and later built a cable ferry to make it easier to cross the river. His old whitewashed store still stands. You can cross the river in a reconstructed version of the old ferry when the water level is low enough; check out the ingenious propulsion mechanism that uses the current to pull it across. For many years, Menor’s Ferry served as the primary means of crossing the river in the central part of Jackson Hole . Wagons were charged $0.50, while those on horseback paid $0.25. (William Menor’s brother, Holiday, lived on the opposite side of the river, but the two often feuded, yelling insults across the water at each other and refusing to acknowledge one another for years at a time.)
Also here is the 0.5-mile Menor’s Ferry Trail; a brochure describes historic points of interest along the path. Bill Menor’s cabin houses a small country store that sells the old-fashioned supplies he stocked at the turn of the 20th century. It is open daily 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. late May-September; closed the rest of the year.
Menor sold out to Maude Noble in 1918, and she ran the ferry until 1927, when a bridge was built near the present one in Moose. The Maude Noble cabin now houses an excellent collection of historical photos from Jackson Hole. Maude gained a measure of fame in 1923 when she hosted the gathering of residents to save Jackson Hole from development.
Heading northwest beyond the Menor’s Ferry area, the main road climbs up an old river bench, created by flooding from the rapid melting of the glaciers, and passes the trailhead to the turquoise waters of Taggart Lake. The land around here was burned in the 1,028-acre Beaver Creek lightning fire of 1985, and summers find a riot of wildflowers.
The River Road (a.k.a. RKO Road) is a rugged 15-mile dirt-and-boulders route through open sagebrush country along the Snake River. (The road got its alter-ego name, RKO, when several RKO movies were filmed here in the 1940s and early 1950s.) It’s a fine place to watch for bugling elk in the fall. Access the road off Teton Park Road from the south end near the Cottonwood Creek picnic area, and from the north end near Signal Mountain Road.
The road is sometimes closed in early summer due to active wolf denning, and is virtually impassable for most rental cars; you’ll need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle (or mountain bike) in the rocky draws. A highlight along the River Road is historic Bar BC Ranch (closed in 2010 for renovations), with its weathered log buildings and dramatic riverside setting. The ranch—the second dude ranch in the valley—was owned by Struthers Burt, who was instrumental in establishing the park.