In summer of 2021, my boyfriend and I went to work in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, located just under Yellowstone. From early May to mid October, we got to live and work in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. I’m going to share with you my experience and give insight into what it’s like working there. Let’s get into it!
Location, Location, Location
Let’s start with the basics. Grand Teton National Park, or as I’m going to refer to it as the Tetons, is located in western Wyoming close to the boarder of Idaho. A more familiar landmark that the Tetons border to the south is Yellowstone National Park. Actually, Yellowstone’s south entrance is connected to the Teton’s north entrance.
The Teton range consists of many mountains and valleys and canyons, as well as some gorgeous lakes- some of them glacier-fed! The tallest mountain, Grand Teton, is 13,775 feet in elevation compared to an elevation of only 6,772 feet at Jackson Lake. Going from the north side of the park to the south, it would take about an hour and fifteen minutes by car.
History and Culture
So what’s so special about these mountains? Well, for one, they are still forming. The Teton range is relatively young, so these beauties are still growing and changing and look more jagged than your typical mountains. There’s also a rich history that comes with the national park that I won’t go into, but I’ll link it here if you are curious.
Basically, ranchers and trappers moved into the Tetons in the early 1800’s and it wasn’t until the 1920’s that John D. Rockefeller purchased the land to give away to the government to later turn into a National Park.
The Tetons are located where the Shoshone, Blackfoot, Crow, Nez Pierce, and Gros Ventre Native Americans used to live. Their culture is preserved and displayed in several museums and scenic overlooks.
Activities and Fun Stuff
So what is it like working here? Well, it’s honestly one of the most satisfying experiences ever. I chose to work in Signal Mountain Lodge, which is a lakefront resort just south of Jackson Lake. I got to live on the biggest lake in the park and enjoy all that the mountains have to offer. There’s so much hiking, biking, fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, horseback riding, and climbing you can do! Every weekend, my boyfriend and I made it a point to go hiking somewhere new. Expert tip- never hike alone and ALWAYS bring bear spray with you in the Tetons or anywhere that you know has bears.
Here are just a few pictures of the surroundings you can find in the Tetons:
Do you want to know the best part about working and living in the Tetons? It’s all the free stuff that comes with it. For example, since I worked right on the shores of Jackson lake, I got free kayak rentals and discounts on float trips, gondola tours, and horseback rides. Because many companies in the same area have some kind of business with each other, they have initiatives to discount employees.
If you want to go horseback riding, great news! There’s plenty of outfitters to choose from- Swift Creek Outfitters, for example, charges $55 for an hour long hike. If you want to take a scenic float, look no further than Solitude Float Trips. For whitewater rafting, Mad River Boat Trips is the company for you.
The Lakes: from warm and shallow to deep and glacial
If you want to go swimming, I suggest String Lake because it is the warmest (and shallowest) lake in the park. In the summer, I saw plenty of people hanging out on its pebbly shores and kayaking and having picnics. If you want a nice hike followed by a plunge into a beautiful, blue lake, look no further than Phelps Lake on the south side of the Tetons! And don’t forget about Jackson Lake with all its pristine islands and bays- it has multiple marinas including Signal Mountain Marina, Leeks Marina, and Colter Bay marina. The kayaking and paddle boarding is just phenomenal.
There are many lakes that are easy to get to and are at the base of the mountains, making for great views. Jenny Lake is cold but has a ferry shuttle service to Inspiration Falls (beautiful waterfalls that get many, many visits a year) and the Cascade Canyon trailhead.
Bradley and Taggart lakes are at the base of the mountains and are pretty easy to get to from their respective trailhead. Leigh lake is right above string and Jenny lake and has some BEAUTIFUL and SANDY beaches, if you are willing to walk for a bit to get to them.
For those of you who like a challenge, there are lakes that are more difficult to reach. Lake Solitude is cold but rewarding after an eight mile (fifteen round trip) hike through Cascade Canyon in the Tetons themselves.
Ampitheater and Surprise Lakes are also at the end of a rigorous five mile (ten round trip) hike from the Valley trailhead that starts at Lupine Meadows. That hike was intense- over 3,000 foot elevation gain! If you go right on one of the switchbacks during this hike and plow through two boulder fields, you will find yourself at Delta Lake, a glacier-fed lake that is crystal clear blue and framed by the mountains. Beware- this hike isn’t for the faint-of-heart. You won’t be able to do it in your crocs and with your 16oz water bottle.
The Trails: There’s One For Everyone
There are so many trails out there made for all levels of hikers! One of my all-time favorites is the Cascade Canyon trail that goes through a deep valley between Middle Teton and Rockchuck Peak. It’s fifteen miles round trip and around 2,300ft elevation gain. The views are absolutely insane and it’s worth it to go there. Another long hike is through Garnet Canyon, which is around twenty two miles long roundtrip. Pack some water, folks!
Other mentionable long hikes are Paintbrush Cascade Loop, Hermitage Point trail, Two Oceans trail, Death Canyon trail, and Holly Lake trail. Those are all long and have a decent elevation gain. In the early summer months, they are almost impossible to do because of the snow, and in July and August, they are quite hot, so come prepared!
Some easier trails include Hidden Falls and Inspiration point, which are about a mile from the ferry drop-off at Jenny lake, or about five miles if you choose to hike around the southern part of the lake from the parking lot.
Bradley and Taggart Lake trail is around five miles roundtrip and nearly flat. There are also some small loops by Jackson Lake Lodge and Colter Bay, both of which are on Jackson Lake.
How to Work In Grand Teton National Park
So, to work in a National Park, you don’t need a forestry degree or be a ranger. It’s much simpler than that. My boyfriend and I went on to Coolworks and both applied to the same place after doing some research and narrowing down what we wanted from a seasonal job.
The company listing was everything we were looking for- it had couples housing, three meals a day, free kayaking and float trips, and other arranged activities for the staff to get involved in.
The application process was like any other, and after sending them a follow-up email, we received a call and were hired after a thorough phone interview. It took my boyfriend two interviews to get hired because he was going for the front desk position, which is a bit more high stakes.
The HR gave us a start date and told us everything we needed to bring with us to be hired (typical two forms of ID) and to live there. We got occasional emails telling us more about the job and the resort itself.
If you want to learn more about Coolworks and seasonal work in general, check out my introductory post here.
Working in Grand Teton
Working in Signal is definitely nice because, for most departments, you get a set schedule and you have the same days off each week. Boyfriend and I got Wednesday and Thursday off each week and got paid on Friday biweekly, so every other “Monday” for us was something to look forward to.
Working as a housekeeper was fun, but hard sometimes. Because the property is set up in a way where the cabins are outside, we had to lug our linens, cleaning supplies, and dirty laundry in wooden carts, and sometimes, it rained or snowed. When it did, it was hard to keep everything dry, so we had to put tarps on everything and put our linens in trash bags.
Most days sped by, especially if I was paired with someone fast, since you work in a team of two to clean rooms. If my team was lagging behind, other teams that got done before us would jump in and help. The two supervisors we worked with were also extremely helpful and would sometimes even clean a whole cabin for us.
I also got to work in a kitchen while in Signal- sometimes, when there weren’t enough dishwashers, they would pin up a list of available shifts that anyone could pick up. The kitchen was a loud, busy mess, with line cooks jostling for room as they cooked and waitresses twirling around each other as they stacked plate upon plate on their trays.
Living in Grant Teton
Signal Mountain Lodge is very accommodating and generous to its staff. The EDR (Employee Dining Room) is always on top of their game when serving food and have snacks in the dining room and community fridge between meals. In the fridge, you can find things like string cheese, yogurt, and leftovers from previous nights.
What is really convenient is that you can take these leftovers to your room and then just leave the container in your dorm’s entry lobby, where the “dorm dad” picks up trash and dirty dishes every day.
There’s a little space between the three dorms called “The Quad” where everyone hangs out late into the night (until quiet hours, anyways). It’s just picnic tables and wooden chairs, but it’s homely.
There’s a laundry room and even a small gym for those who aren’t fulfilled enough by the call of the wild. I did try to make it a regular thing to visit the gym during my time there, but it was very hard to do being a full time housekeeper and adventurer.
The dorms are kept clean and the dorm dad is the one you go to when problems arise. Our room got ants in it after a heavy rainstorm and the dorm dad helped us with pest control and even assisted us in moving into a new room. There’s a rec room, which, unfortunately in COVID season wasn’t used, but looked like a wonderful place to hang out otherwise.
Overall, the company I worked for was great and made sure I was well taken care of. I urge you to do your research when it comes to finding a seasonal job because not all companies are this tailored to their staff members’ needs.
DISCLAIMER: not every seasonal job out there will have dorms and an EDR provided- some will require you to find your own housing, and some won’t have readily available food. Most of the lodges I know of in the Tetons do have these accommodations, but there might be some family owned ones that don’t have the budget or staff size for housing and a cafeteria.
When my boyfriend and I weren’t working, we would be out on the trails, or on some nearby lake chilling on our hammock. Sometimes, we would go for a long weekend trip to Yellowstone or even Big Sky, Montana to visit friends from previous seasonal jobs.
A couple times, we went kayaking on Jackson Lake since it was free, and one time, we even went on a river float on Snake River. I even got to go on a horse ride with my friend one day.
The Culture in Grand Teton
At any seasonal job, you are going to encounter a lot of versatility when it comes to people. You’ll find young hippies fresh out of college who just want to party, old retirees who just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life, and even military vets with a lot of stories. Whether you are an introvert who wants a hiking buddy or a social butterfly who wants to do and see new things with others, there’s a place for you here.
It’s really easy to make friends with the people you work and live with. During the week, expect to be invited to short hikes and drinks at the bar. During the weekend, it’s a little tricky because different people have different days off. But in most cases, you can request to have specific days off so you and your friends can have backpacking adventures and go see the sights.
The companies in the Tetons all know and respect one another. Every week, two opposing teams from two companies get together to play softball! When you work and live in the Tetons, you become a family, one that cares for and looks after its people, You work together, are housed together, eat together, hike and camp together, and, sometimes, those friendships extend to other seasonal jobs.
The Tetons are a great, wonderful, magical place to work, and I’m not just saying that cause I got a bonus at my job. But this experience has been one of my favorites and for good reason. The people, the experiences, and the memories made there made that summer one of the best ever, and I am looking forward to doing it again. If you’re considering seasonal work, the Tetons are an absolutely amazing place to start.