Adventure Journal: Lakes and Loops, Hiking in the High Country of Grand Teton National Park

Summer is in full-swing and the upper reaches of the canyons in Grand Teton National Park are finally 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, in the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park.

First on the list is a favorite of many visitors and is considered to be the classic Teton overnight….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 await. Crossing Paintbrush Divide, which separates the two canyons, often involves snow travel so experience using an ice ax 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.

The Cathedral Group as seen from Cascade Canyon. Photo: Alex St.Clair

A second possibility which requires less climbing 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. It is common to ride the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Aerial Tram up 4,193 feet to the top of Rendezvous Mountain to start this trail. 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. If choosing to do it in a single push, head out the south fork of the canyon after visiting the lake and be prepared for thirteen to sixteen miles of moderate to difficult hiking. Mileage depends on whether you walk back to your vehicle at JHMR or shuttle to the Granite Canyon Trailhead.

The Teton Crest Trail regularly stays above 10,000 feet and offers some of the most dramatic vistas in the Tetons. Photo: Jenny King.

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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