Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park: Wildflowers, Wildlife and Water

August 6, 2009, 2:02 pm

Every year, nearly 4 million visitors travel to northwestern Wyoming to experience one thing: Grand Teton. Natural processes have created—and continue to shape—a striking mountainous landscape. This time of year, the warm weather brings the park to life with vibrant wildflowers, a flurry of wildlife activity and crystalline bodies of water.

There are only 60 frost-free days a year in Jackson Hole, so summer is a great time to come to Grand Teton to view wildflowers. This short summer creates a short growing season, and in turn, an ever-changing display of wildflowers.

The park’s wildflowers are dispersed amongst three distinct zones, each containing its own flower species. In the valley, skyrocker gilia, larkspur and Indian paintbrush bloom as temperatures rise in the spring and summer. Flowers like fireweed, columbine, monkshood and the rare calypso orchid flourish in the moist environment of park forests. In the alpine zone, small flowers tend to grow low to the ground, and examples include moss campion, alpine forget-me-not and sky pilot.

Summer is also a good time to view the park’s wildlife. The park’s 310,000 acres lie at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, considered one of the few remaining nearly intact temperate ecosystems on earth. This harsh environment is home to a thriving ecosystem of adapting and often competing animals.

All of the park’s animals provide a necessary role in its ecosystem, but it’s usually the mammals that people travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to see. There are 61 mammal species found within the park.

Uinita ground squirrels, least chipmunks, and red squirrels are species you’re sure to check off on your wildlife-watching list. You can often spot large ungulates like moose, elk, mule deer, bison and pronghorn from roadside vantage points. The park’s large predatory mammals—grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and mountain lions—are typically harder to spot, but there’s a chance you’ll encounter one while exploring a park trail. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the less commonly viewed mammals like badgers, pine martens, long-tailed weasels and wolverines. If you head up to the rocky regions, pikas, yellow-bellied marmots and golden-mantled ground squirrels abound. Muskrats, beavers and river otters also frequent the park’s waters. No matter where you go in the park, you’ll never be far from a critter.

Rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, marshes and swamps are also an integral part of the park’s ecosystem. Better yet, they provide vital habitat for the previously mentioned plants and animals in the parks, and also offer recreational opportunities for visitors who work up a sweat on the trails in the summertime.

Many of the park lakes and ponds were created thousands of years ago as glaciers pushed aside the region’s soil and dug into the ground. The aftermath—an indentation that filled with the melting glacial ice—created the lakes and ponds we see today.

Ponds and lakes also provide recreational opportunities for visitors. Some of the easiest and most popular hikes are around lakes and ponds. All of the lakes are open to swimming and non-motorized boating. Jackson Lake also allows motorized boats for recreational use.

For more information on history, nature, science and where to go and what to do in the park, go to OhRanger.com.