Food: Picnic with a Purpose


To satisfy multiple senses, pack a picnic and head out on a self-directed wildlife-watching adventure.

// By Samantha Simma
The ultimate picnic unfolds at the Wedding Tree in the Gros Ventre. Photo by Price Chambers

Wildlife biologist and photographer Tenley Thompson (@jacksonholeecotours) has been sharing her passion for the animals and landscapes of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for thirteen years. “Every day is different,” she says. “Every day is an adventure, and I never know what surprises are in store when I wake up.” Make wildlife watching even more of an adventure by pairing it with a picnic. 

The Spots

Lupine Meadows: At the base of 12,326-foot-tall Teewinot, a mountain south of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), Lupine Meadows lives up to its name. In the summer, this area, usually dominated by sage, teems with blooming lupines—and often wildlife. “It’s rare to visit and not see mule deer, elk, moose, [or] pronghorn antelope,” Thompson says. There are several turnouts along the dirt road that leads to the trailhead you can pull into for a tailgate picnic.

Willow Flats Overlook:
An easy pull-off for a picnic from Highway 191 in GTNP between Colter Bay and Jackson Lake Lodge, this overlook is slightly elevated above an expanse of willows and grasses that meets the shores of Jackson Lake in the distance. “Below, it’s very common to see moose and elk,” Thompson says. While some overlooks in GTNP do have picnic tables, this is not one of them, so make sure to bring a blanket or chairs.

 Hayden Valley: If you want to see bison, the drive to Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley on the eastern side of the park’s Lower Loop is worth the effort. “See bison thundering below and bald eagles flying overhead,” Thompson says. You might also see bears or wolves here. While you’ll need a few camp chairs for this spot, there’s an official picnic area a few miles south, before Fishing Bridge.

The Feasts

Antelope Flats: If you have the time, drive the entire loop between the Gros Ventre Road and Antelope Flats, picking a pullout that suits your fancy for a tailgate picnic. Bison herds tend to graze on the meadows of Antelope Flats. 

Pioneer Grill at Jackson Lake Lodge: Thompson likes the Thai chicken wrap here, and she suggests you grab a huckleberry milkshake, too. 
Open 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily May 17–October 3; 101 Jackson Lake Lodge Rd., Moran; 307/543-3100,

Dornans in Moose: Thompson recommends you drive by Dornans on your way to each of the wildlife-watching spots. A historic, family-run compound of businesses, Dornans includes a small grocery store with a big deli. 
Open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily; 12170 Dornan Rd., Moose; 307/733-2415,

Picnic: A sister restaurant to Persephone, the valley’s favorite bakery cafe, Picnic’s menu includes highly transportable sandwiches and salads and an array of sweet treats. Thompson likes the Cobb Salad and Kouign Aman pastry. 
Open 7 a.m.–3 p.m. daily; 1110 Maple Way; 307/264-2956,

Creekside Market: According to Thompson, Creekside Market is an absolute must for stocking your picnic basket. It offers made-to-order, build-your-own, and specialty sandwiches, salads, and sloshie frozen cocktails. 
Open 6 a.m.–8 p.m. daily; 545 N. Cache St.; 307/733-7926,

Wildlife Watching Guidelines: 
1/ The law requires you keep a distance of at least twenty-five yards between yourself and most animals; for bears and wolves, it’s one hundred yards. These are just estimates, though; if an animal is reacting to you, you’re too close, even if you are farther than what the law says. 

2/Do not approach or pursue animals, and back away from animals that move closer to you.

3/Utilize roadside turnouts and parking areas so you do not block traffic.

4/Never position yourself between an adult animal and its young. 

5/ Do not feed wildlife; it is illegal and can get the animal killed. JH 

Receive Published Stories In Your Inbox

Enter your email address below to subscribe to published stories.