If Goldilocks went camping in Grand Teton National Park, I imagine she’d choose Signal Mountain Campground. She could, of course, go big (Colter Bay) or small (Jenny Lake, tent only), but of the six campgrounds in the park, Signal Mountain is the closest to being “just right.”
I was very much Goldilocks when I booked our two nights in this beloved park immediately south of Yellowstone. Towing a trailer and needing a reservation limited my options, but when it came time to click the confirmation button, I preferred the modest Signal Mountain Campground over the far larger Colter Bay Campground.
Location within the park was another contributing factor to my choice of campground. Grand Teton is an odd park. It’s small, for starters, at least compared to Yellowstone. It’s also irregularly shaped, jutting inward and outward through the mountains and valley of Jackson Hole.
Signal Mountain Campground and accompanying lodge are found on the eastern shore of Jackson Lake, towards the southern end, making it kind of centrally located. That was my logic, anyway. Besides, there was one particular campsite at Signal Mountain that would be absolutely stunning if I was able to snag it (spoiler alert … I did not).
Despite the prime location on Jackson Lake directly across from the northern section of the Teton Range, very few of Signal Mountain Campground’s sites have mountain views. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, only one can make any such claim, hence mine, and everyone else’s, desire to reserve it.
The remaining 85 campsites reside in a forest setting with varying degrees of tree cover, though I’d say most of them are well-sheltered.
I’ll say this about Grand Teton National Park; they keep signage discrete. Most government parks I’ve visited employ large, in-your-face signs at their entrances. You usually can’t miss them. In Grand Teton, they seem to have taken a less-is-more view on the matter.
Thus, approximately 5 km south from John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway on Teton Park Road, you’ll (hopefully) see a simple wooden sign hanging from a pole in the ditch informing you that you’ve arrived at Signal Mountain Lodge & Campground. The campground portion of the sign is in smaller font just to keep you on your toes. Blink and you’ll miss it.
On your right, to the north, is Signal Mountain Lodge and associated facilities. The campground is straight ahead and sprawls southward.
A paved pullout, also to your right, past the lodge access road, takes you to a small registration kiosk and information board. And I do mean, small. Labeled as the campground office, it’s not much larger than a closet. The neighbouring message and information board is larger in length.
Despite its modest stature, the campground office is staffed throughout the day. Depending on your arrival time, your check-in will be handled by helpful park personnel though self check-in is available for later arrivals.
A larger building immediately west of the above looks much more like a proper park office. On the campground map it is labeled as the “Campground Office” but there was no indication that entry was allowed or encouraged during our stay. Any official interaction with park staff was conducted from the smaller kiosk.
LAUNDRY AND SHOWERS
Directly behind the registration pullout is the laundromat and shower building. A log style structure, it looks to be a newer addition to Signal Mountain Lodge & Campground.
The laundromat is spacious and hosts large banks of coin-op washers and dryers. I didn’t use any of them, but they too appear to be newer and in good condition.
The number of washers and dryers present suggests that this facility serves more than just the campground and lodge. And indeed, the sign in front of the shower portion of the buildings refers to them as “public showers”.
Not surprisingly, the showers require payment as well, but you’ll need to trade in your bills and coins for tokens. At the time of our visit, $6 dollars would buy you 7 minutes of water flow.
The showers are individual, unisex rooms accessed from the front of the building. Inside is a single sink and mirror with a curtained-off shower stall at the back.
Like the laundering devices, I did not use the showers personally. A quick look at them implied that they are push button operated but offer some temperature control through a secondary handle. It was an odd setup that likely would have made more sense had I used the damned things.
CAMPSITES AT SIGNAL MOUNTAIN CAMPGROUND
As I mentioned, nearly the entire Signal Mountain Campground is forested with only a few sites at the north end more open to the sky. It’s primarily pine with a healthy ground cover of shrubs. Your site will inevitably have some kind of shade during the day, if not all the time.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t describe the campsites as being private. There are 86 sites positioned around three successive loops, both inside and outside. There are rare instances where sites are ridiculously close together, but most are not sardined next to each other. However, the distance between neighbouring sites is not particularly spacious. It’s a Goldilocks compromise in a way.
Lack of privacy becomes quite noticeable if, like us, you have an oddball site layout which forces you to place your trailer to the left of your vehicle. This had our trailer door opening right next to the neighbour’s site boundary which in turn was also set up backwards. It wasn’t terrible just a little disruptive. Not your typical camping arrangement.
The campground is also hilly, with elevation gaining towards the south and near the lake. The third of the three loops is noticeably up a hill. As a result, some campsites are tiered internally or have an identifiable elevation difference to their neighbours.
The result of all this topography, not to mention the age of the campground, is a wide variety of campsite layouts at Signal Mountain Campground. It’s something you’ll certainly need to be aware of when booking a site.
Sizing of your RV and tow vehicle can make or break the site you choose. Few have the familiar long driveway, while many sport a short but wide drive. You’ll park your vehicle beside your RV, rather than in front of it and the campsite amenities will be behind both. The depth and width of these parking spaces is tight and larger trailers and/or larger pickups won’t fit. Pay heed to the dimensions shown on the booking website.
Not surprisingly, almost all the campsites at Signal Mountain Campground are some kind of back-in site, though we did notice one pull-through. They’re also old and rather scrappy looking, with busted asphalt in the parking area for each site.
What at one time was gravel covered, is now reverting to dirt. The wood posts and parking barriers that limit where you can put your RV and vehicle are also well worn and sometimes broken. None of this is critical to your stay, just don’t expect pretty manicured campsites.
Each site comes with a wood and metal picnic table that you can move around. There’s a large, low-profile firepit with flippable grate. And a handy metal food storage bin is present. With limited site size, Signal Mountain Campground favours tent campers a bit and having food storage on every site is certainly welcome.
Most of Loop 1 has electrical sites. Loop 2 has no electricity and Loop 3 has no electricity and does not allow generators. That’s an interesting distinction and if I was tent camping, I’d make damn sure to be in Loop 3, as far from Loop 2 as possible. None of the sites have water or sewer.
Our campsite was on the east side of Loop 2 as snagging an electrical site can be difficult during peak season. Thankfully, we were not surrounded by annoying generators. Sometimes it’s good to be lucky.
As for the best site, that is unquestionably campsite 12. It may not be shaded, and it backs onto the lodge grounds so isn’t terribly private, but it does have the only legitimate view of the mountains and lake.
TENT ONLY CAMPING
Dimensions and layout of Signal Mountain Campground favours smaller rigs and tents, so the presence of tent-only campsites comes as no surprise. There are 12 of them, 3 in a designated tent only space (15, 16, and 17) and the remaining 9 scattered throughout the loops. The latter are tent-only purely due to site size.
The designated tent-only space is found at the southwest corner of Loop 1. It has a gravel parking pad to the side of the loop road and 3 sites in the woods next to it. Sites 16 and 17 are immediately next to the parking lot which isn’t ideal in my opinion. I’d take site 15, which is further back in the woods towards the lake.
A large portion of the west limb of Loop 1 is designated as a picnic area. This stretches from the amazing site 12 southward to two sites just prior to the tent-only area.
It’s an interesting day use area, sandwiched between the loop road and the lake. This wooded area is on a steep slope down to the water making for a lovely setting but potentially precarious trip down.
The picnic spots are at the bottom of the hill and offer picnic tables and firepits. Broad, wood enclosing gravel steps are present, but users appear to prefer a more direct approach and have worn pathways straight down to each spot.
Parking is parallel to the loop road. It’s just a narrow band of gravel to the west side. It doesn’t strike me as much room, and I’d worry about some yahoo with a bigger trailer clipping my vehicle on its way by. As it was, we never saw any day users at Signal Mountain Campground’s picnic area.
Despite the rustic vibe of the campground, I’m happy to report that the bathrooms are not pit toilets. Yay, flush toilets! There are 5 in total, 2 in Loop 1, 1 in each of the other loops, and 1 in the boat launch parking area.
From the exterior, they look reasonably new and robust, with tin roofs, wood fascia, and a brick façade with concrete walkway. Inside, though, they’re dated, cold, rather ugly places all of which you’ll ignore thanks to flushing toilets.
There are women’s and men’s sides to the building. Inside the men’s bathroom in Loop 2, there’s a single sink, single urinal, and single stall. The hot and cold taps have been replaced by a single push button cold-only faucet. Lighting is dim and there is no hand dryer or even paper towels.
A clean-up station is present in a solitary room at the front of each bathroom. It’s nothing more than a concrete box with a single, old-school sink offering no counter space to stack dishes or wash bins. It’s the very least a kitchen station could possibly be.
Out front is a potable water tap. It’s styled to look like a handpump but is in fact a running water faucet. The “pump” handle turns on and off the water. They also have a strange nozzle on them that takes a bit of investigation to figure out.
There is also electricity available at the bathrooms and some enterprising campers will make use of this in novel ways. During our stay in powerless Loop 2, someone used an extension cord from the bathroom to the platform by the water tap to connect an ice cream making machine. I kid you not!
One distinction needs to be made for the Loop 2 bathroom. It is handicapped accessible with wheelchair friendly paths from three handicapped accessible campsites (43, 44, and 55) also in the loop. The other loops do not offer this service.
Campers with RVs may choose instead to use their onboard facilities. For them, Signal Mountain Campground has a dump station located in a pullout near the entrance.
It’s a single outlet dump station, so there’s potential for longer waits if it gets busy.
Fresh water for filling RV tanks is also available here.
Another park campground with a fancy amphitheater that I have no idea if it is being used or not. The one at Signal Mountain is quite nice, built on the slope at the northwest end of Loop 2 almost looking out over Jackson Lake.
The benches could use some paint, but the stage building and grounds look relatively well kept. I just can’t tell if it ever gets used. There is a sign by the entrance path indicating interdenominational worship services on Sundays (tell me you’re in America without telling me you’re in America). We weren’t there on Sunday so I can’t confirm these actually happen.
As for other park-related presentations, I saw no evidence that any exist. They may, but they aren’t widely advertised.
A small, gravel parking lot for the amphitheater is located on the other side of the handicapped campsites.
BOAT LAUNCH & BEACH AT SIGNAL MOUNTAIN CAMPGROUND
The only recreational option at Signal Mountain Campground is the boat launch found at the far south end of the campground. The area also doubles as a beach, though it’s not designated as such.
Access to the boat launch is via a long, separate road beginning just past the registration kiosk area. Rather than turning right into Loop 1 you continue forwards and wind your way around the eastern side of the campground property before swinging west to the lake. This tells me the boat launch is for public use, not just the campground.
At the bottom of a hill, the access road opens to a paved parking lot serving a huge concrete boat launch. It’s easily the largest boat launch I’ve ever seen in a park and can easily accommodate two vehicles loading/unloading side by side.
A floating dock juts into the water from the right side of the launch.
Around the parking lot is a flush toilet bathroom and some oddities like a fishing line recycling box. Again, something I’ve never seen before and never would have imagined existed.
A secondary parking lot back up the hill provides longer term parking for boats and trailers. The official map calls it the 3-Day Lot, so I’m guessing it’s for campers with boats as there is obviously no room for boats on the campsites.
South of the boat launch, you’re likely to find sunbathers using the rocky shoreline as a beach. It’s a lovely shoreline, but hardly a pleasant beach. You take what you can get.
The shoreline to the north is similar, narrowing slightly as you continue to the northward alongside the campground. It’s good for rockhounding and we spent a few hours scouring the shore for cool stones.
The water must be cold, but we found a swimmer one day. They appeared to be wearing a full wetsuit with an orange buoy attached for protection from boaters. I’d just as soon go for a hike.
There aren’t many trails within Signal Mountain Campground. Aside from the short trails to the bathrooms, there isn’t a genuine trail network around the campground with the exception of a dirt paths worn into the woods leading from the south end of the campground to the boat launch area and secondary boat parking lot. They’re not amazing hiking trails, but they’re a little something for those exploring the campground.
For serious hiking, the only option short of leaving the campground entirely, is the Signal Mountain Summit trial which has a trailhead in the campground. This 3-mile hike takes you up Signal Mountain to a gorgeous viewpoint looking out over Jackson Hole and Jackson Lake. We drove to the summit (boo) and highly recommend you get there by car (again, boo) or by foot. The view is well worth the effort.
Campground hosts don’t seem to be a thing yet at American national parks. There wasn’t one at Signal Mountain Campground, at least. With only 86 campsites, perhaps it’s not deemed necessary.
Nor is there a playground, a not uncommon situation at national parks on both sides of the border.
The campsites themselves may be lacking in mountain views, but with little effort you can get to the lakeshore and see them. The boat launch and beach area is the most obvious choice, but a scramble down the picnic area or behind the amphitheater will also put you in prime viewing position for the Tetons and the amazing sunsets to the west.
Wildlife is omnipresent, with birds chirping away most of the day. You’re also likely to witness fox and deer (elk?) right in the campground wandering through the woods doing their thing. Stay safe but enjoy the proximity to nature.
Garbage and recycling stations adorn each loop, often at intersections between them.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN LODGE
Signal Mountain Campground does not have a store. Not entirely shocking considering its modest size. Fear not, your consumption needs are more than met by the services offered at Signal Mountain Lodge right next door.
Like many “villages” in the Wyoming national parks, Signal Mountain has all your needs met … for a price. There’s a gas station with convenience store and coffee bar, a full-service restaurant, a small grocery store, and a large gift shop.
The store sells beer and liquor along with the usual foodstuffs. Boxes of firewood can be purchased at the convenience store (there appears to be no wood sales directly in the campground).
The lodge offers older log-style cabins and somewhat newer, wood-sided condo-style cabins for rent. I had no opportunity to see inside any of them, so I can’t comment on their quality.
Unlike the campground, the lodge property is lightly treed with the main central service area and much of the shoreline completely treeless. The same rocky shoreline offers a “beach” to play on and I suppose you can try swimming.
The lodge also has a marina with myriad boats tied up just offshore. You can also rent boats here, which I imagine is popular with the lodge guests. Or at least with those that have the money to rent a boat. They’re never cheap.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely motivated to stay at Grand Teton National Park. As I’ve said before, it’s overrated in my opinion. Still, I felt obliged to camp here since we would be driving right through it anyway.
With our campground choice pretty much limited to Signal Mountain or Colter Bay, I’m happy with my choice of the former. It’s not a perfect campground, but it served us well during our short stay. I’ll give Signal Mountain Campground 3.85 Baby Dill Pickles out of 4.
I should be the last person to complain about flush toilets, but the washrooms here were rather rundown inside. The lack of hand drying devices was a negative.
The odd site orientations were also a pain in the ass. It made booking a site incredibly stressful as I was constantly having to check which sites could fit our relatively small camper and tow vehicle. There’s just a little too much nuance involved in picking a site here for my tastes.
That said, the view from the shore is lovely. If you are lucky enough to get site 12, I imagine your rating would push up into the 4s, easy. If you enjoy slightly more glamping in your camping but don’t want to deal with a monstrous campground, then Signal Mountain Campground is a good choice for your Grand Teton National Park stay. You might say, it’s just right.