Historic cabins offer simple but charming accommodation and a “summer camp” vibe at Grand Teton National Park
Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park offers a summer camp meets homestead vacation with a stay in the historic Colter Bay Cabins. These charming log homes were actual homestead cabins built as America expanded westward in the late 1800’s, and adventurous homesteaders settled under the shadow of the Tetons Range.
Congress created a park here in 1929, to protect the mountains and nearby lakes. But it wasn’t until twenty years later, when John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated the adjacent land, that present-day Grand Teton National Park was born.
Rockefeller’s commitment to creating the park included moving cabins from their original homesteads to a single location that would become Colter Bay Village.
Colter Bay Village at Grand Teton
There are lots of accommodation choices at Grand Teton. I picked the Colter Bay cabins for a summer trip with my husband and kids because I loved their connection with the park’s history.
And with two adult-sized boys, a two-bedroom cabin was more appealing than four of us in a single lodge room. Camping, also available here, is a little too down to earth for me. If you do want to camp at Colter Bay, all camping must be reserved ahead. Booking details are available here: Grand Teton camping.
Beyond the cabins, the setting on Jackson Lake looked lovely and Colter Bay seemed to offer almost as many activities as a summer camp.
How to Book Colter Bay Village Cabins
The Colter Bay Village cabins are open from mid-May to early October and reservations can be made up to a year in advance. I booked about four months ahead and cabin choice was somewhat limited at that time, so book as far ahead as you can. Reservations for Colter Bay Cabins are made online or by calling 307-543-3100.
Grand Teton has a flexible cancellation policy which I appreciated. That is not always the case at popular summer resorts, so it’s an upside here. Here is a link to all lodging within the park: Grand Teton Lodging Reservations.
Cabins at Colter Bay - The Options
There are about 200 cabins at Colter Bay and each is unique. They sleep between and 2 and 10 people – some have ensuite bathrooms and others are simply sleeping cabins and guests use a shared bathroom.
You can see all of the cabin types here: Colter Bay Village. (Scroll down until you see the image of a cabin and click on it to view all cabin types.) Obviously if it’s in the budget it’s nice to have your own bathroom, so make sure to look for that, when you are booking. If you don’t mind a shared bath, it’s a nice way to save some money.
Our 2-bedroom Cabin at Colter Bay
We stayed in the two-bedroom cabin with an ensuite bath. Although there were things I liked about it, I would instead recommend the single room cabin with four beds (pictured above) for up to four people. Why? The two-bedroom cabin had no common space, just two small bedrooms, joined by a narrow hall. I will say that since every cabin is different, some may have larger bedrooms which might give you space to congregate together in the evenings.
Our cabin, number 10, had small bedrooms, and although they were charming and the beds were comfy, we had nowhere to play cards or a board game in the evening. That was a real downside.
But the bedrooms were really cozy and the bathroom was modern enough, although the shower was a little small. If it had a little living area, with a dining table and a couple of armchairs, it would have been perfect. There is a larger two-bedroom cabin with two double beds in each bedroom. It wasn’t available for our dates but this would be another good option for a family or group of friends.
During the day we spent time outside on the porch area. (Note: bring a hammock if you have one as well as a couple of folding chairs for this reason.) In contrast, the single room cabin puts you all in the same room but it’s very large and then gives you space to hang out together.
We were near the main office; if you have a choice of location you may want to request to be closer to Jackson lake which is also near the marina, the visitors center and the amphitheater (more on those below).
Cabins include linens, towels, but do not have coffee makers or mini-fridges. Hairdryers and irons are available upon request at the cabin office. And the lack of TV’s and wifi (the latter available at the camp office and the restaurant) made it easy for this to feel like summers of my childhood. It was one of the things I appreciated about the experience.
Amenities and Activities at Colter Bay Village
Colter Bay Marina
The Marina at Colter Bay is a short walk from the cabins, depending on where in the village you are. The scenery at this bay of Jackson Lake is truly stunning with the mountains on the other side of the lake.
Here you can reserve kayaks, canoes and motor boats. You can not reserve ahead unfortunately, and it can be very busy. Details can be found at Grand Teton Kayak/Canoe Rentals. Rentals come with life jackets, maps and a radio.
You can get a fishing licence at the marina. Details regarding can be found at Fishing – Grand Teton.
Swimming in Jackson Lake
Just a ten-minute walk from the cabins (depending on where in the village your cabin is located) is the largest lake in the park, Jackson Lake. With the snow-capped Grand Tetons towering above and the green of the pine trees at the lake’s edge, it is absolutely stunning. And surprisingly warm.
I am used to the glacial lakes of Colorado which are almost always too cold to swim in. So I waded in with trepidation but was amazed to find it was pleasantly warm (for a mountain lake). It is rocky at the entry so I suggest bringing water shoes if you plan to swim.
To access the Jackson Lake swim beach, park at or walk to the Colter Bay Visitor Center and take the trail which is just beyond the center – follow it down to the water and marina. Turn right. Walk along the forested trail until you see the water ahead. Turn left at the water and walk to the point of land. This is where we swam.
The Colter Bay Visitor Center & Amphitheatre
The Colter Bay Visitor Center is worth stopping in. There are exhibits and lots of information and the works of Native American artists are featured here. At the Colter Bay Amphitheater, Ranger Programs run throughout the summer (check if these are running, as they were cancelled in 2020). Apparently the astronomy program is especially worth seeing. A complimentary guest shuttle is also available to popular park locations and to the town of Jackson.
Dining at Colter Bay Village
There are two restaurants onsite: The John Colter Cafe Court and the Ranch House Restaurant. We had dinner at John Colter Cafe and it was good not great. Again, this was summer 2020 so dining was limited. I did like the airy layout of the space and the big windows. And there are picnic tables set just outside, so you can order your dinner to go and eat in the open air, or take it back to your cabin. (Note: it’s buggy at dusk). The Ranch House Restaurant has a more extensive menu as well as a bar you can saddle up to for a drink. It opens at 6:30 for breakfast, serves lunch and is open for dinner until 9 pm. Neither location takes reservations.
Colter Bay Village Cabins: Pros & Cons
The Colter Bay cabins were charming and the beds very comfortable – it felt like upscale camping and we appreciated having our own restroom. I loved the historic nature of this experience. If I were just going with my husband I would have loved to stay at the Jenny Lake Lodge. It is rustic as well, but also elegant. It’s on my bucket list for a future trip.
The location on Jackson Lake was terrific; an early morning swim in the lake was a highlight for me.
The trail that goes around the lake is great for walking or running and offers incredible views. That said the property is quite spread out, but you can park close to the lake by the visitor’s center, if your cabin is quite a distance.
The onsite Marina is convenient if you want to rent kayaks or canoes. And the grocery store had quite a good variety of items – more than I was expecting.
I didn’t like that the two-bedroom cabin we rented had no common space to hang together and play games in the evening. During the day, we spent time outside in the shade of the pine trees, but at night it gets very buggy.
I didn’t like that there was no mini-fridge to keep snacks and drinks cold. We used a cooler for this. Also, I would have loved a kettle to boil water for tea.
I thought the food was just ok. That said, it was during the pandemic, so they may have had less choice than usual. Unfortunately, Leeks Marina, which is said to have great pizza, was closed when we visited but should be open now during the summer season.
I thought the price was a little expensive, considering how rustic the cabins are – up to $275 a night in high season for four people.
Do I Recommend Colter Bay Cabins?
You might have guessed that yes, I would recommend the Colter Bay Cabins, with some exceptions. We really enjoyed our time there and I loved the setting on Jackson Lake. It’s ideal for swimming and Colter Bay offers lots of activities. And we visited during the summer of 2020, when many things were closed due to the pandemic. It would be even better normally.
The cabins are charming but basic. If you want upscale lodging, I would look at booking Jenny Lake Lodge, or Jackson Lake Lodge if you want something more western in feel.
I would also say these can be pricey for a family. For example, cabins that sleep four range in price up from $200 to $275 a night in summer. So despite this being rustic, it’s not inexpensive.
For us, it was a great experience. There’s something special about staying in a cabin reminiscent of the time when Americans moved west, drawn by the promise of a new life and great adventure in this stunning mountain landscape.
Planning a trip to Wyoming? You might like: A guide to Grand Teton National Park.