Colter Bay Campground is the largest of the Teton’s four campgrounds. Whether that’s an advantage or disadvantage depends on the type of camping experience you want.
Colter Bay Campground Pros
- Accessibility to Jackson Lake—Jackson Lake is the largest of the Park’s lakes, and the only lake that allows motorized boats. If you plan to bring or rent a motor boat, this is the place for you. There’s also lots of shoreline access to the lake for walking, sitting and even swimming—assuming you can take the frigid temperatures!
- Close to marinas—Want to rent a motorized boat, kayak or canoe? A nearby marina is nestled in a protected bay with access to great paddling and boating areas.
- Amenities—There’s a large gift shop, a small grocery store, a nature center, restaurant, cabins, a bait shop, showers and laundry facilities next door to the campground. Even wifi if you feel you must check in once in awhile.
- An RV park with hookups—All RVs with generators are restricted to their own special area, leaving the largest part of the campground generator-free for those who prefer the quiet.
- Some very nice, quite private sites—Our family has camped here with our pop-up camper twice—in 2011 and 2017. We liked our 2011 site so much we snagged it again in 2017, too. It’s large and private, plenty of shade, a short walk to the bathrooms and water spigot (Loop A Site 9, if you’re curious!).
- Quiet hours are observed—Even though all the sites were full, it’s amazingly quiet at night.
- Wildlife in the area—This Park is known for its wildlife. Just a few miles from Colter Bay is home to 399, a mother grizzly bear that can routinely be seen with her latest batch of cubs. Just look for the “bear jams”! We drove a back road each evening and were awarding sights of elk, fox, deer and moose as well.
Colter Bay Campground Cons
- It’s very big with LOTS of people—If you want an intimate camping experience, this is not it! The amenities listed above may be cons for you if you don’t like camping near hundreds of other people.
- No reservations—This is true of all the campgrounds in this Park. Every site is first-come-first-served, and the campgrounds fill up quickly in the busy summer season.
- Some very small, un-private sites—I suppose every campground has its good sites and bad sites. Some parts of this campground are crowded with far less privacy than ours.
- Location from other Park highlights—Most of the Park’s best hiking and paddling spots are in the bottom half of the Park near Jenny Lake, a half-hour drive away. Jackson is a fun town to explore and shop, but is almost an hour from Colter Bay. On the other hand, it’s just a 20-minute drive to the South Gate of Yellowstone if your plans include getting up there, too.
What to Know Before You Go
Colter Bay Campground, like all the campgrounds in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, is in grizzly bear country. The Rangers are VERY strict about how your food, cooking gear and garbage is handled and stored—as they should be. Their goal is zero attraction for the local bears.
The campsites have bear boxes to store food, grills, cooking stoves, etc. at night or when you’re away from your site. Those are great!
When you hike, either stick to very well-populated trails during well-populated times or have bear spray with you. You can bring your own or rent cans at the Ranger Stations. If you plan to camp in the backcountry bear spray is a must.
There are strict rules about bringing pets into the Park. Dogs must be leashed when in your campsite, and they’re not allowed on any of the hiking trails, in the water or in rental boats. And they can’t be left unattended in your campsite. Plan to leave your dog(s) at home in a kennel or with dog sitter.
The Tetons have mountain weather—which means it’s often unpredictable and changeable. Nights can be chilly-to-downright-cold, even in summer, and days can be either chilly or hot. During our last trip in late June of 2017 the nighttime lows were in the mid-30s.
The altitude, even when you’re not actually IN the mountains, is high and the sun is very direct. So bring and wear plenty of sunscreen. Prepare for the day by dressing in layers.
The air is blessedly dry, coming from a Midwesterner! But with its many lakes and rivers there are some mosquitos, especially in the woods. We needed bug spray a few times, especially mornings and evenings at our campsite.
Grand Teton National Park is adjacent to Yellowstone. Plan to visit both Parks while you’re in the area, which you can do with one Park Pass.
People come to the Tetons from all over the world. Step out and meet them! Ask where they’re from, how they like it so far, where else they plan to visit. Everyone we talked to could speak at least a little English and were eager to meet us, too.
The Final Word
We like Colter Bay Campground because of its many amenities and its access to Jackson Lake, with its beauty and short hikes. Even though there are hundreds of campsites and hundreds of people, it’s possible to get a large, private site that makes you feel quite out-of-the-way.
Arrive early in the day and your chances of getting a nice site are good. Since it’s a National Park, the sites are only $30 a night with a 14-day limit (2017 prices).
Grand Teton National Park is absolutely stunning. If you love mountains, you definitely want to visit this Park at least once. While there are lodges in the Park, too, camping is a very affordable way for families to enjoy their time.