With crowds growing, Grand Teton National Park wants to hear from you

With crowds growing, Grand Teton National Park wants to hear from you
With crowds growing, Grand Teton National Park wants to hear from you

With more and more people looking to explore Grand Teton National Park’s famous hiking trails, enjoy its majestic views and find parking in its crowded parking lots, park officials are considering how best to approach the future.

And they hope for feedback from the public to help them make their decisions.

The park is seeking public input on desired conditions for the park and certain management areas through August 12. The public can learn about the process on a dedicated webpage or submit comments here.

In addition, there is the opportunity to get information and ask questions at the following meetings:

  • In person: July 16, 4-6 p.m., Teton County Library in Jackson.
  • Virtual: July 23, 4-5 p.m., via the National Park Service’s Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website.

Grand Teton will use the feedback to better understand public perceptions and assess how to manage the increasing influx of visitors and ensure quality experiences. Neither Grand Teton nor its neighbor Yellowstone have indicated plans to use drastic management tools such as timed entry, tickets or shuttles – which national parks such as Yosemite, Zion and Glacier have already used to manage huge visitor numbers.

Accelerated trends

Grand Teton National Park’s current comment process allows the public to voice their ideas about the type of resource protection, infrastructure and services they would like to see in different areas of the park. It allows people to comment on specific quadrants – for example, road corridors like the Teton Park Road, fully developed “frontcountry” points like Colter Bay or the Taggart Lake Trailhead, or primitive backcountry areas with trails but few to no services.

A row of parked vehicles on the Taggart Lake Trail in Grand Teton National Park. (NPS photo/T. Chavis)

Recognizing the public’s desires helps officials strategically meet the park’s needs, the website says. This framework also includes management decisions and monitoring. The park is required by the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 to manage visitor capacity.

Although only Grand Teton asks for contributions, it’s almost impossible to separate its fate from that of neighboring Yellowstone Park. Managing visitor numbers in both parks has always been a priority for park management, but growth spurts in recent decades have underscored the challenges that arise when millions of visitors flock to the park each year.

Visitor numbers remained relatively constant for most of the 1990s and 2000s, but this began to change in the mid-2010s, fueled by factors such as the 2016 Find Your Park campaign, the growth of the outdoor recreation industry and the 2017 solar eclipse. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend even further.

Both parks reported record visitor numbers in 2021 – 4.9 million visits to Yellowstone and 3.9 million to Grand Teton. Visitation numbers declined in 2022 when historic flooding devastated areas of Yellowstone, but rebounded to 4.5 million and 3.4 million, respectively, in 2023.

While both parks have implemented measures such as camping reservations, vehicle limits in crowded parking lots and a pilot shuttle system, they have yet to adopt more drastic measures such as timed access systems recently implemented by Arches and Rocky Mountain National Parks.

However, growth does not appear to be slowing down. Yellowstone recorded 522,450 visits in May, 15% more than May 2023 and 10% more than May 2021.

According to a 2024 report from the Outdoor Foundation, participation in outdoor recreation activities in the United States increased 4.1% in 2023 to a record 175.8 million participants.

Studies, experiments

Grand Teton National Park studied traffic patterns, trail usage, and visitor experiences in 2021 and released a report the following year. Yellowstone conducted a visitor use study in 2016. Since then, Yellowstone has tested controlled visitor access in Norris and an automated vehicle shuttle in Canyon Village.

In 2023, supervisors at both parks said the parks’ traffic patterns and geography – both have multiple entrances, giving visitors multiple ways to enter and exit – make a transition to shuttle systems unlikely.

Visitors to Grand Teton National Park. (Grand Teton National Park)

This summer, Grand Teton Park staff asked the public for feedback on their visits to the park and their experiences and received 446 comments. When asked about challenges, respondents cited difficulty finding affordable lodging, the park being too crowded, long lines at entrances and not enough parking, according to a 2024 State of the Park report.

In a separate initiative, Grand Teton National Park began a master planning process for Colter Bay, located on Jackson Lake in the northern part of the park, in late 2023. Colter Bay was originally built in the 1950s but is “increasingly unable to accommodate the growing and diverse visitor numbers, changing environmental conditions, and the staffing needs required to maintain and operate this area of ​​the park,” related documents say.

The park collected public feedback on this process, which is being analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act.