Adventure Journal: High Country Hikes in Grand Teton

Summer is in full-swing and the upper reaches of the canyons in Grand Teton National Park are beginning to melt out, opening up opportunities to explore the high country. The extensive trail system in the park encompasses over 300 miles of well-maintained footpaths for hikers and horse users to access high alpine lakes and mountain passes. With many options, we thought we would recommend a few hikes for anyone seeking to spend a long day, or multiple days, in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park.

Teewinot Mountain, Mount Owen, and Grand Teton as seen from lower Cascade Canyon.
Teewinot Mountain, Mount Owen, and Grand Teton as seen from lower Cascade Canyon.

Cascade Canyon - Paintbrush Canyon Loop: First is a favorite of many visitors and is considered to be the classic Teton overnight: the Cascade Canyon – Paintbursh Canyon loop. This eighteen-mile route brings you through multiple habitats including riparian areas, boulder fields, and alpine lakes. Dramatic views of the Cathedral Group and numerous waterfalls and cascades abound. Crossing Paintbrush Divide, which separates the two canyons, currently involves snow travel so carrying an ice axe, and knowing how to use it, is highly recommended. Be sure to check-in with a park ranger for the most up-to-date conditions before starting your journey. This hike can be done in one long day or you can choose to camp in a designated camp zone in either canyon. All overnight camping in Grand Teton requires a backcountry permit, which can be purchased at park visitor centers.

Granite Canyon: A second option to experience the high country of the Tetons is to venture into the higher elevations of Granite Canyon. From the trailhead, hike approximately 6.5 miles to the fork of the canyon trail. From here, you have the option to take the north or south fork trails which create a loop back to the junction. Meadows of wildflowers and broad high country views await. You can add a visit to Marion Lake to your loop, a 1.5 mile round trip from the Granite Canyon trail system, and part of the iconic Teton Crest Trail. Many opportunities exist for side hikes or connecting to other canyons via the Granite Canyon trail system, as well as multiple designated camping zones.

Place holder for photos from Maddy
The Teton Crest Trail provides dramatic views of the highest peaks of the Teton Range. Photo by Jenny King.

Teton Crest Trail: One final option for the most ambitious Teton backcountry enthusiasts is the forty-five-mile-long Teton Crest Trail. Traversing ridge lines and high mountain meadows, the Teton Crest is a desired goal for thousands of hikers each year. Much of this trail was constructed in the early 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and it remains largely intact. Running from Teton Pass to Paintbrush Canyon, this route promises continuous 360-degree views of the Teton Range, as well as impressive views of other nearby ranges such as the Gros Ventre, Absaroka, Wind River, and Wyoming ranges. If you are looking for an opportunity to live in the high country for a few days, the Teton Crest Trail is for you!

Always remember that weather and conditions in the mountains can and do change rapidly and you must be prepared for everything, no matter what time of year. Have a plan, be safe, and don’t forget your bear spray!


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