“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
The intersection of Wyoming and Montana cedes America’s oldest and most well-journeyed public lands. The region is home to the Northern Rockies and the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone. Lesser known, but arguably more impressive, is Yellowstone’s sister park, Grand Teton National Park (GTNP).
Wyoming’s plains come to an abrupt end with the rising of striking and ancient Teton Range goliaths from flat grasslands. Founded in 1929, the more than 200 miles of thick forest, pristine lakes, and imperial snow-capped Rocky Mountains have served as a backbone to American Indians, early settlers, and an abundance of wildlife residing in the protected park’s parameters. While Yellowstone offers its own charming landscape, Grand Teton National Park renders fewer boardwalks and more rugged wilderness necessary for a proper escape.
The truly wild among us should consider a multi-day backpacking trip through the park’s backcountry for an honest, unfiltered experience. Regardless of your fitness level or athletic stamina, you’re sure to find a suitable Teton trail. Here are some suggestions for first-time backpackers planning to head north in the near future.
Pack light, but don’t skimp
Proper backpacking can be a burdensome financial investment. If you want to make your trip free of serious complications, you’ll need to buy some pricey gear to conserve space and pack weight. First, when choosing a pack, spring for brand-name. Brands like Osprey, Marmot, Gossamer Gear, and REI will offer ideal weight distribution and comfort. Next, check out multiple sporting goods stores for the best deals on small, compact tents, chairs, sleeping bags, thermal sleeping pads, and pillows. Many come in fist-sized bags, creating ample room for other necessities.
If you’re bringing a camping stove, pack easy foods like ramen, instant potatoes, and more than enough protein supplements. You’ll also need an abundance of gear you probably haven’t thought about if you’ve never camped backcountry, so look over this complete list for notes.
Layer clothes and check the weather prior to packing, but be aware that weather in the Tetons is unpredictable. The park is usually on the warmer side during summer days and cooler at night. Bringing several pairs of socks is a must given afternoon thunderstorms. Maps are imperative; there’s virtually no cell service once you enter the park.
Test all gear at least once
You shouldn’t be unwrapping any of your gear for the first time while packing for your backpacking trip. After half a dozen miles of walking, you’re going to want to know exactly how your tent assembles. Even if you’re just camping at a local park, plan a mock-trip to ensure all gear is in working order and be familiar with how you’ll assemble it.
Pick the right trail
GTNP is extremely popular in the summer months, so booking the right backcountry campsite may require reserving a spot months in advance. Sites along Cascade Canyon and Upper Paintbrush Canyon may be too strenuous for beginner backpackers, while Bearpaw Lake and surrounding sites along the Leigh Lake Trail are more moderate with less incline. The National Park Service’s website is a good place to start. It features maps and mileage of each site.
Be wildlife literate and know park rules
This park, in particular, pushes “bear awareness” more than the average bear country park. Bears are extremely active in the Tetons, and rangers require anyone camping backcountry to watch a short video on what to do if you encounter one. The majority of the bears you’ll see in the park are black bears, even if they’re a caramel color, one ranger advised. If your site doesn’t include a bear box for food and scented toiletries, bring your own to prevent attracting any wildlife to your site.
Here’s a complete guide to what to do if you encounter a bear in the wild. GTNP requires a permit for all backcountry sites, and doesn’t allow campers to burn their garbage, so be prepared to bring out everything you hike in. (A complete list of rules can be found on the park’s website.) Before securing your permit, check out these additional tips for hiking the Tetons backcountry.
If you forget something on your way in, downtown Jackson Hole, the park’s closest city, is objectively overcrowded with shops for nearly every need.