Winding along the base of the mountains between the Craig Thomas Discover & Visitor Center and the Granite Canyon Entrance Station, this scenic little road developed early in the valley’s history, and all of its original twists and turns remain today. It follows the contours of glacial moraines, curves around beaver ponds almost at water level, and cuts a narrow path through the forest. In many spots the roadway narrows to one lane, requiring the vehicle size restrictions that are posted at either end of the road. About a third of the road’s seven miles remain unpaved, and closes in winter.
Because of the close proximity of habitat to the roadway, and because of the slow driving speed required, wildlife can often be seen up close. Moose, beaver, and waterfowl inhabit the many ponds, and elk regularly cross the road. This is a prime area to listen for bugling elk during the fall mating season. Black bears are commonly seen along portions of the road when the hillside shrubs are ripe with berries. Other species sighted near the road include mule deer, Great Gray Owls, and porcupines.
Kelly Loop/Antelope Flats
The eastern part of Grand Teton National Park includes a flat, sagebrush-covered plain often overlooked by park visitors. Added to Grand Teton in the 1950s, it includes many historical homesteads and early ranches. Some of the better topsoil in the state exists along Mormon Row, but a short growing season and lack of water kept the homesteaders from flourishing. Signs of their old irrigation ditches, hayfields, and buildings remain. However, the soil supports dozens of native grasses and forbs, and wildlife thrives here. The road loops around the east side of Blacktail Butte, from the Gros Ventre Junction to the Antelope Flats Junction. The southern portion follows the Gros Ventre River, where Bald Eagles and moose are seen year-round, and it borders the National Elk Refuge for a few miles. Large herds of migrating elk cross the road during their spring and fall migrations. This road offers good viewing at any time of day. Out on the sagebrush flats is the best place for finding bison and pronghorns, especially on the northern part of the loop across Antelope Flats. In early summer, bison calves are easy to see, but pronghorn fawns are more difficult to observe. Moose, deer, coyotes, and badgers inhabit the area. Dozens of grassland and sagebrush bird species such as Meadowlarks, Sage Grouse, Northern Harriers, and Mountain Bluebirds nest here.
Moran Junction to Jackson Lake Junction
This five-mile stretch cuts through one of the richest wildlife areas of the park. It’s a great place to sit for a few hours at one of the roadside turnouts, at dawn or dusk, and watch for wildlife to appear. The road parallels the Snake River as it winds through glacial moraines and cuts through pine and aspen forests and dense willow thickets. A few sites, particularly Oxbow Bend and the Snake River just below Jackson Lake Dam, offer a chance to see wildlife most times of the day. The Teton Wilderness, home to grizzly bears and mountain lions, lies just a few miles north. Both those species pass through here on occasion. Oxbow Bend, an old channel of the Snake River well-known among photographers, produces frequent sightings of moose, Trumpeter Swans, American White Pelicans, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, and river otters. Curiously, the lush meadow just to the east of the Oxbow was once the site of an ill-conceived “wildlife display” concession in the 1950s and early 1960s, and bison that escaped from it in 1968 eventually re-populated the park. The willow thickets near Jackson Lake Junction form a favorite haunt of bull moose most of the summer and fall months. Two nearby spots, Christian Pond and Willow Flats, may have wildlife present any time of day.
Signal Mountain Summit Road
Hidden in Lodgepole Pines on the west side of Signal Mountain, this narrow little road winds its way through the forest up to the mountain’s summit. Originally built for a forest fire lookout station in the 1930s, the road was never intended for today’s recreational vehicles or trailers and remains closed to larger vehicles. Along the way to the summit, it goes through lush huckleberry patches where black bears feed, passes by a meadow and pond favored by moose, and offers a close look at the pine forest and its wildlife. Moose tend to keep their calves hidden while they’re small, but often bring them out of the forest to the edges of the little Signal Mountain pond. Mule deer inhabit the open forest along the lower stretch of road, making it a good place to see their fawns in early summer. Birds such as the Western Tanager, Goshawk, and Canada Jay live in this pine forest. Once on the summit, pines give way to Subalpine Fir, and a few Blue Grouse show up along the roadside or on one of the trails. One of the few places you can actually look down at birds in flight, Signal Mountain and its drifting air currents attract any number of large birds such as Golden Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks. Besides an intimate view of the forest habitat, this road offers several turnouts with unsurpassed panoramic views of Grand Teton National Park. The summit viewpoints are great places to observe activity down below, especially with binoculars. You can often see elk, bison, and pronghorns in the Potholes geologic area to the south, and Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Trumpeter Swans along the Snake River to the north.