Wyoming Fall Foliage Drive

Posted Oct 3rd 2013 03:00 PM

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teton range reflection on jenny lake
Shutterstock / Krishna.Wu
Famous for its simmering thermal features and abundant wildlife, the greater Yellowstone ecosystem doesn't get a lot of love for its trees, and with good reason. The high elevation of the world's first national park and surrounding area makes for a rather dull palette of tall, straight conifers, which keep their evergreen needles all year long. But just south of Yellowstone, in Grand Teton National Park, the comparatively low and wet valley known as Jackson Hole nurses immense stands of aspens, willows and cottonwoods that explode with color in the fall.

In September and October, the floor of Grand Teton is a flame-colored and photo-friendly wonderland, where moose look up from wooded creeks and the bugling of the elk echoes across the flats. In the surrounding mountains, early season snows put a picturesque frosting on the already knockout Teton tableau. This driving tour takes in some of the area's richest fall color -- bring a jacket and pack a lunch for the many picnicking opportunities along the route.

**At press time Grand Teton National Park was closed due to the government shutdown. You can still take in the area's fall scenery and wildlife along much of this route, but will have to detour around the park while it's closed.**

When to Go: Mid- to late September is the best bet for peak color, though autumn in the Tetons stretches from the start of the month through mid-October. Late fall visitors may miss the elk rut, but the trade-off is more snow in the mountains.

Driving Tip: Posted speed limits inside Grand Teton National Park (from 25 to 55 mph) are no joke, as wildlife occasionally make unexpected forays into the road. The Moose–Wilson Road between Teton Village and the Moose entrance gate is gravel, winding and narrow. Be aware of oncoming traffic and pull off to peep leaves or wildlife.


Start: Jackson, Wyoming || End: Jackson, Wyoming
Distance: 75 miles
Length of Trip: 6 hours


Stop 1: Jackson, Wyoming

Giant elk-antler arches on the Town Square welcome visitors to the West's glitziest cowboy town, an offbeat mixture of millionaire retirees, vacationing families and free-spirit ski bums. All seem to share an appreciation of art, music and food, making Jackson the cultural capital of the northern Rockies and an unexpected gourmand's paradise. Before hitting the road, tuck into a short stack of organic, blue-corn pancakes at the Lotus Café. At the end of the day, join the locals for a crisp Pako's IPA at the always buzzing Snake River Brewing Company.

From Jackson, head west on Highway 22 toward Teton Pass, with the graceful twin humps of East and West Gros Ventre Buttes on your right. Five miles outside of town, turn right on Moose–Wilson Road.

antler arch in Jackson Hole Wyoming
Jackson Hole Chamber of CommerceArches made of elk antlers in Jackson's Town Square

Stop 2: Teton Village, Wyoming

Just south of the park, Teton Village is the year-round hospitality circus servicing Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and you might spot late-season paragliders launching from the top of 10,449-foot Rendezvous Mountain. Through September, get a god's-eye view of Jackson Hole's stunning fall color by riding the resort's famed "Big Red Box" aerial tram. If you skipped breakfast, the mod little Teton Thai dishes up some of the best Thai food in the West.

Continuing north on Moose–Wilson Road, you'll cross into the park, though the gate is still 8 miles away. Here the fall color really begins, as the brilliant gold stands of aspen crowd the narrow road. The forest seems to shimmer as the leaves quake in the wind. Take it slow and watch for moose wading in roadside ponds and streams.

Bull Moose in Autumn Colors
Getty ImagesA bull moose in Grand Teton National Park

Stop 3: Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center
Grand Teton National Park

The park's newest and sleekest visitor center has cool, multisensory exhibits about the diverse forests among which the LEED-certified building is nestled. Learn about the aspens' shared root systems, which explain why whole stands of the papery trees turn color simultaneously. A flat and easy 8-mile trail network departs from the center to encircle Phelps Lake, a glacial jewel at the foot of the towering Tetons.

Five miles up Moose–Wilson Road is the park entrance station. After paying the $25 entrance fee, follow Teton Park Road for 20 miles. The snow-dusted Tetons loom over you to the left; red and ochre stands of cottonwood crowd the meandering Snake River to your right. Basic services are available at Jenny Lake village. At U.S. 89, turn right and continue just over a mile to the Oxbow Bend pullout.

sunset over Snake River at Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National Park Wyoming in fall
AlamySunset view of the Snake River and Tetons from Oxbow Bend

Stop 4: Oxbow Bend
Grand Teton National Park

Photographers gather at Oxbow Bend each night around sunset, hoping for that perfect shot of the Tetons' jagged profile against a blazing pink sky. The valley spreads out like a tapestry, the patchwork forest extends clear to the edge of the mountains and the Snake River makes a broad and slow S-curve, so the water's calm surface reflects like glass. Herons, egrets and even trumpeter swans are a common sight. It's truly one of the most legendary photo-ops in the National Park system.

Return to Jackson by heading south for 33 miles along U.S. 89, pausing often to admire the foliage and a slightly more distant, but equally impressive view of the Tetons.



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Filed Under: Seasonal, Road Trips

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