Journal: Loops and Lakes, High Country Hikes in Grand Teton

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

Cascade Canyon is a common favorite among hikers and backpackers, providing astonishing views around nearly every turn.
Cascade Canyon is a common favorite among hikers and backpackers, providing astonishing views around nearly every turn.

First on the list is a favorite of many visitors and is considered to be the classic Teton overnight….Cascade Canyon – Paintbrush 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 await. Crossing Paintbrush Divide, which separates the two canyons, often involves snow travel so experience using an ice axe and crampons may be necessary. 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 any park visitor center or ranger station.

A second possibility is to go to Marion Lake at the head of Granite Canyon. This deep blue lake sits at 9,250 feet and welcomes hikers with a mixture of riparian and sub-alpine areas to explore. Given the remoteness of this lake, it is common for hikers to ride the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort aerial tram begin the hike. However, with the tram being currently closed for maintenance, it is likely that fewer people will be visiting the lake, so this could provide more solitude for the dedicated hikers coming from the Granite Canyon Trailhead. It is often the beginning of many backpackers’ trek along the iconic Teton Crest Trail, but can be easily turned into one long day or a single overnight in one of the forks of Granite Canyon. Mileage depends on your route, but be advised that the trail splits at roughly 8 miles in, near a park service patrol cabin.

View from the Teton Crest Trail near Hurricane Pass.
View from the Teton Crest Trail near Hurricane Pass.

One last 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 Crest Trail 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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