Among the most photographed national parks in our country’s system, Grand Teton National Park has been immortalized in the work of countless photographers over the years, most notably Ansel Adams whose photo of the Tetons and Snake River is instantly recognizable to so many of us. It can be a humbling experience to stand in the same location as so many greats that have come before you and attempt to do justice to one of the most photographed landscapes in the world. Yet, a trip to photograph the Tetons simply isn’t complete without hitting a few key spots.
Often called the “most photographed barn in America”, the Mormon Row Barn is actually a pair of barns built by T.A. Moulton in an area called Antelope Flats in the southern portion of the park. The north and south barns can be found off a gravel road called Mormon Row which lies between Antelope Flats Road and Gros Ventre Road, a few miles east of Moose Junction. As you travel through this area, it is hard to imagine a more beautiful location than the land on which these barns lie. There are only a few houses on the road, but please respect the local owners if you make it this way. It is safe to say they see their share of tripods as this location is often crowded with photographers year-round.
Geographically, the spine of the Tetons runs north-south, making for dynamic shots both at sunrise and sunset at most of the popular locations. The Mormon Row Barns are most often seen photographed at sunrise when the sun is directly hitting the side of the barns, as well as lighting the majestic mountain range that serves as their backdrop. Yet, some of the best shots I have seen of the Mormon Row barns are at late afternoon and sunset when storms and dramatic skies can turn this over-photographed scene into something truly special.
I like to get a round of photos of the barns as the sun peaks over the mountains and turns the world alight, then head north to what could be easily be one of the most well-known locations in all of the national parks- the Snake River Overlook. Whether Ansel Adams’ famous photograph or the work of so many others, this location has been repeatedly photographed over the years for a reason- it’s gorgeous. With the Snake River winding into the foreground and the Tetons towering over the valley, this location is near perfect.
The Snake River overlook is located just off Hwy 191 between Moose Junction and Moran Junction. Its proximity to the highway makes it a popular stop, though most people only linger a few minutes. The overlook is rather large with several different viewpoints from which to gaze or photograph. You can usually find a few photographers here, both at sunrise and sunset, as either time can make for a beautiful photograph. During our three-day stay at Grand Teton National Park, I spent two sunsets and one sunrise at the Snake River Overlook and most always shared it with a few others, including one of National Geographic’s top landscape photographers.
A few miles south of the Snake River Overlook, just past the Teton Point Overlook, is the turn-off for Schwabacher Landing. At the end of this short gravel road lies some of the best sunrise photo opportunities to be found at Grand Teton National Park. Schwabacher Landing is a series of channels and beaver dams which perfectly reflect the Tetons on a calm, still morning. Whereas other locations only enjoy “magic lighting” for a short window of time, Schwabacher Landing presents fantastic photo opportunities as late as 9am.
Without going backcountry, it is hard to imagine a better place than Schwabacher Landing to photograph the Tetons at sunrise. I usually spend the first few hours of the morning just walking along the creeks and dams searching for the photographic opportunities that are constantly appearing. On a still morning, there are mirror reflections of the Tetons nearly everywhere you look and the hardest decision is often which direction to point your camera.
I will admit I am not a fan of crowds and unfortunately you will find them at all of the locations I have listed, as these are quite simply the most popular locations for photographing the Tetons. Yet, one advantage to Schwabacher Landing is that while the parking lot may be packed with cars, there is plenty of space to explore and you won’t be competing for tripod space with other photographers. Wander along the trails, creeks, and beaver dams to discover new and wonderful perspectives, but be aware that this is bear country and take the proper precautions to avoid any unnerving encounters.
If you would like to know more about Schwabacher Landing, I would encourage you to check out my corresponding entry entitled “Photographing the Tetons at Sunrise“, found in the Wyoming section of my blog. There you can see more photos and read about my first experience photographing the Tetons at sunrise from this beautiful location.
Another popular spot for photographing Grand Teton National Park is Owbow Bend, located just inside the Moran Junction entrance to the park. This turn-off can easily be identified by the line of cars you are likely to find here, both at sunrise and sunset. Owbow Bend is a looping meander of the Snake River which often holds a beautiful shadow of the Teton Range, in particular Mt Moran. Its location makes it easily accessible from several campgrounds, contributing to its popularity, but also saving you a half-hour of driving to the Mormon Rows Barns and Snake River Overlook if you are staying inside the park.
I have mentioned just a few of the most popular locations for photographing Grand Teton National Park. These are easily accessible for anybody and require little planning and just a bit of gas. But there are photo opportunities galore on the numerous trails within the park where you can find views of the Grand Teton and surrounding peaks that most photographers will never see. I hope this article provides some useful information for photographing Grand Teton National Park and I wish you the best of luck in finding all this extraordinary park has to offer.