Like Yellowstone, cheap hotel accommodation is not Grand Teton’s specialty. The Signal Mountain area of the park is home to both a campground and a lodge, both of which are awesome, and one of which I would consider affordable. It’s fun to splurge, but so is camping and saving some dollar bills. Signal Mountain Campground ended up being one of our favorite campgrounds ever thanks to its overall convenience and how insanely pretty it is.
Being conveniently located to amenities like showers, restaurants, and wifi usually comes at the price of beauty, privacy, or both. Not at Signal Mountain. Like at every national park, not all the campsites are particularly private, but they are all nested into an aspen and pine tree-filled forest, so it’s hard to complain.
If you’re planning a trip to Grand Teton, do your absolute best to get a spot at Signal Mountain. It’s much less touristy feeling than Jenny Lake (which is also under a lot of construction as of fall 2018) and open later in the season (which if you hate crowds is the best time to go).
Grand Teton National Park is in southwestern Wyoming, and Signal Mountain Campground is a 15-minute drive from the Moran entrance to the park. This is where you’ll likely be entering the park if you’re coming from the east or south. Signal Mountain is an eight-hour drive from Denver and an hour from the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
Except for the road that loops through the campground, all of the driving is on paved roads. The road around the campground is well-maintained, so you don’t need a four-wheel drive vehicle to access it. The campground is located right on Jackson Lake, the largest lake in the park.
The campground is fairly small, with one main loop and one generator-free loop, which is where we stayed. I would highly recommend doing the same if you are camping in a tent. It’s a nice separation from folks in RVs and therefore way less noise.
Every campsite has a fire ring and picnic table, but privacy varies a lot, so we were thrilled when we found a campsite surrounded by aspen trees and up a little hill from the campsite next door. The area for our tent was nestled away from the fire ring and the road, back in a little grove of aspen trees that in September were starting to turn golden. It was everything I think of when I picture a perfect campground. Plus, it was right by a trail that goes down to the lake, so we could easily drag our camping chairs down to the shore for some sunset beverages.
Firewood, kindling, and almost anything else you need can be purchased at the general store next to the lodge. Don’t let the small size fool you! It was surprisingly well-stocked with batteries and all kinds of gear, plus yummy food and a great beer selection. You can also get gas at the general store and pick up the lodge’s free wifi. This is all a five-minute drive from the far end of the campground, but totally hidden from view and not overly lit, so it doesn’t take away from your experience of being ~one with nature~.
Campground Fees and Reservations
You can’t reserve a campsite at Signal Mountain. This is actually the case for every campground at Grand Teton. There was significantly less competition for a site when we visited in late September. We arrived on a weekday and there were still spots available by 4 or 5 p.m. But Friday morning when we left, the campground filled up by 10 am. If you can’t get there early enough in the morning (we left Yellowstone before sunrise to make it), book your first night at a hotel and drive in as early as you can the next morning. You can always nap in your tent once it’s set up, after all! Lodging options include splurging on the Signal Mountain lodge or looking into hotels in Jackson or Dubois (about an hour away).
When you arrive, there’s an office on the right where you pay. Campsites are $32 per night for tents as of fall 2018, and payable by cash or check. That’s right – no credit cards! Bring cash with you, but in case of emergency, there’s an ATM at Signal Mountain Lodge right around the corner.
You’ll also need to purchase a national parks pass at whichever entrance you come in. You can pay with a credit card, and there are a few different options. Information about all the passes you can get are here on Grand Teton’s website.
Most excellent!! Electricity, flushing toilets, running water, the whole nine yards. Showers are in a separate building than the main bathroom and aren’t included in your campsite fee.
You’ll also need some cash money if you want to shower because you have to feed a token machine at the laundromat (all in the same building and very close together). For $6, you get about ten minutes. I purchased extra time in the shower and ended up not needing it, even though I took my sweet time under the hot water. You get your own bathroom, so the whole shower/sink area is private and very well heated. Everything was super clean and the water got hot immediately.
You’re in a national park, so you do not need to worry about being bored! The trail to hike up Signal Mountain is walkable from the campground, although we didn’t do that one. We did take advantage of the dock/marina back by the lodge and rented a canoe to paddle out onto Jackson Lake. This was super fun, beginner-friendly, and pretty affordable at $25/hour for the canoe rental.
The Taggart Lake trailhead is about 40 minutes from Signal Mountain Campground, and the also super-popular Jenny Lake is about 10 minutes closer. The town of Jackson (which is really fun to drive into one night!) is about an hour. All of these places are off the same main highway that runs through the park, so everything is easy to find and the driving is all on a paved, flat road. You’ll likely get cell service for Google Maps-ing once you get to the southern entrance closer to Jackson, but otherwise, you’ll need to connect to the wifi at the lodge or download the maps for the area for use offline – a handy feature of Google Maps.
The only less-than-ideal part of Signal Mountain was the dishwashing situation. I got spoiled in Yellowstone with the fancy dishwashing rooms, and at Teton there was a communal bucket you had to fill up with (ice cold) water and do your dishes in the bucket. It was a little too narrow to really fit a dish and a scrubber and your hands in the bucket, plus it was a pain to drag everything around. Annoying, but in no way a deal breaker!
Ok, let’s talk bears. I’m terrified of them (working on that) but we didn’t see a single one in Teton. Well, we saw a grizzly from the road between Teton and Yellowstone. But the rangers warned us about a family of bears living at the campground and neither my husband nor I saw them once, even when I went to the bathroom late at night.
You should still take bear safety seriously, though, and follow rules for food storage, take bear spray with you hiking, and make lots of noise (note: bells are not a good bear deterrent). We definitely were on our own a lot more often than when we were while hiking in Yellowstone, and I was honestly surprised we didn’t see bears on a few of our hikes. It was probably because I insisted on scream-singing the entire time just to make sure. You could probably ratchet it down a few notches and be fine.
We ate at both restaurants at Signal Mountain Lodge (Trapper Grill and The Peaks Restaurant), and both had very good food, but the Trapper Grill was a better value and both had beautiful views. The free wifi was also super clutch for checking our pet sitter’s updates and downloading more books for my Kindle. It was hard not to be on my phone more often when we were at the lodge, so do your best to stay unplugged!
Jenny Lake is another popular camping area in Grand Teton, but after spending the day there, we were very relieved we had chosen Signal Mountain. There are more dining options (of varying prices points) and you’re much more off the beaten path. Obviously, you’re in a national park, so it’s going to be busy, but Jenny Lake was SWAMPED with people (and currently under construction).
Signal Mountain felt a little less touristy (I know, I know, we’re all tourists) but still had all the conveniences you needed. The campground is secluded, beautiful, and a must-do for anyone planning a trip to Teton.