Hiking the South Teton.

Ask Me: 8 Great Big Dayhikes in the Tetons

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Hi Michael,

I love your blog, very inspiring. I am taking a family trip out to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks with my family at the end of June/early July (about 10 days in the parks). I understand it is the most crowded time of year, but as a teacher and coach and with a wife in education administration, our time off is around the summer busy times. I have two girls age 8 and 10 and we will not be going as BIG as you normally do. We will be staying in various hotels/cabins in and near the parks, but we do intend on trying to get in many dayhikes and see both the popular spots and some off-the-beaten-path spots.

I have read your “Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone” post and it is excellent. I have a question about Grand Teton National Park.

While in Grand Teton, I am hoping to get one day to do a solo, big dayhike. I am looking for something in the 8-12 hour range.  I have done the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains twice, so something similar or maybe a bit less than that. Any suggestions? While in Grand Teton, we will be staying at Colter Bay.

Thanks for any help you can give and keep up the great blog.

TJ
Steep Falls, ME

Hi TJ,

Thanks for writing and following The Big Outside.

Yes, you’re going at a busy time in Yellowstone. But it’s a wonderful place, anyway, of course. You can avoid the crowds to some extent by getting out when most people don’t, in the early mornings and evenings and driving during normal meal times.

I’m glad you asked about long dayhikes in the Tetons; it’s a story I’ve had on my list of ideas for a while. For any hikers, the Tetons offer numerous five-star dayhikes. But for hikers capable of knocking off 15, 20, or more miles and 4,000 vertical feet or more in a day, the Tetons have some of the best long dayhikes in the country. I think you’ll find that trails in the Tetons, while not easy by any stretch, are not as difficult, step for step, as the Presidential Range. (I’ve done a lot of hiking in the White Mountains.)

Here are several long dayhikes in the Tetons that I’d recommend.

 

North Fork Cascade Canyon.

North Fork Cascade Canyon.

Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop

The Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon loop from String Lake Trailhead is 18 miles with a bit over 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. You’ll cross the highest point reached via trail in the park, 10,720-foot Paintbrush Divide, which has a panorama that takes in a huge swath of the Tetons, and pass Lake Solitude on your way down through very scenic North Fork and main Cascade Canyon. It’s probably the most popular backpacking trip in the park, but plenty of fit dayhikers and trail runners knock it off in a day. I’ve dayhiked and backpacked it. It also offers the convenience of a loop from one trailhead.

 

Avalanche Canyon to Cascade Canyon

The roughly 20-mile-long Avalanche Canyon-Cascade Canyon hike is arguably even more scenic than Paintbrush-Cascade, but a lot rougher because Avalanche Canyon does not have a maintained trail. But there’s an unofficial user trail up Avalanche that branches west just before the Valley Trail begins climbing the low ridge separating Taggart and Bradley Lakes (its start may be blocked by sticks). It’s obscured at times and challenging to track across talus slopes (look for cairns), but not too hard to follow to Lake Taminah if you’ve hiked off-trail before.

There’s no marked route from Lake Taminah up to Snowdrift Lake, so you’re navigating cross-country across talus and open terrain and have to find the easy break in cliffs just below Snowdrift. It’s straightforward cross-country from Snowdrift up to 10,680-foot Avalanche Divide, which has great views, where you can pick up a spur trail (shown on park maps) down into South Fork Cascade Canyon. You have to shuttle vehicles between Taggart Lake Trailhead and Jenny Lake and finish the hike in time to catch the ferry across Jenny Lake (or you’ll be walking a couple more miles). This short article I wrote for Backpacker provides some details.

 

Atop Static Peak

Atop Static Peak.

Hikes from Death Canyon Trailhead

The approximately 24-mile loop from Death Canyon Trailhead up Open Canyon Trail, over Mount Hunt Divide, up Granite Canyon to Marion Lake, then over to Fox Creek Pass and back down Death Canyon is a great hike if you’re looking for five-star scenery with very few other hikers around. The hike up to Mount Hunt Divide is relentless and strenuous, but worth the views once you break out above the forest. Granite and Death canyons both have moose, and the scenery and wildflowers along the Teton Crest Trail on the high plateau between Marion Lake and Fox Creek Pass, and in upper Death Canyon, are unique and as nice as anywhere in the park.

There’s another great, roughly 25-mile loop from Death Canyon Trailhead: Go up Death Canyon to Fox Creek Pass, north over Death Canyon Shelf, through Alaska Basin, then swing back over 10,800-foot Static Peak Divide, and return to Death Canyon Trailhead. Death Canyon Shelf is a three-mile-long plateau strewn with wildflowers and giant boulders that have toppled off soaring cliffs on one side, with long views to the high peaks of the Tetons. The trail from Alaska Basin over Static Peak Divide is all alpine, very scenic and remote feeling, with few hikers. This distance doesn’t include the half-mile (one-way), 500-foot, very worthwhile user trail to the summit of 11,303-foot Static Peak, an open summit with sweeping views of the Tetons.

A somewhat shorter but nice option from Death Canyon Trailhead is dayhiking out and back directly to Static Peak Divide, which is 19 miles and 5,300 vertical feet.

 

Amphitheater Lake and Garnet Canyon

I’d be remiss to not recommend combining the hikes on trail to Amphitheater Lake and Garnet Canyon, which form a “Y” from Lupine Meadows Trailhead. Amphitheater is 4.8 miles and 3,000 feet uphill one-way; then you’ll backtrack 3.1 miles and 2,300 feet downhill to where the trail to Amphitheater Lake splits from the trail to Garnet Canyon. From there, it’s an easier hike of a bit more than a mile to the area known as The Meadows in Garnet Canyon, which you reach after following the trail through a stretch of massive boulders where you’ll do some rock-hopping and scrambling.

Combining Amphitheater and Garnet as far as The Meadows is the easiest hike I’ll describe here. If you want to lengthen this one, consider following the good climbers’ trail from The Meadows up to the northwest (right) to the Lower Saddle on the Grand Teton, the highest base camp for climbing the Grand. The Lower Saddle is 6,000 vertical feet and about 11 miles round-trip from Lupine Meadows (not including the hike to Amphitheater Lake), so that makes it a burly day.

 

Climb the South Teton

Another option if you’re hiking into Garnet Canyon is to hike and scramble the highest non-technical peak in the Tetons, the 12,514-foot South Teton (see lead photo at top of story); but note that it’s non-technical only after most of the snow has melted out, usually by late summer. When there’s snow along the route, you’ll certainly want an ice axe and possibly crampons and to know how to self-arrest and make judgments about the safety of firmly frozen snow. I climbed the South Teton in late summer, and it was just a mostly snow-free hike that got steep and loose at times, but with very little third-class scrambling. Views from the South Teton’s summit encompass the big peaks—the Middle and Grand Tetons are in-your-face close—and much of the range. You’ll want a guidebook description of the route, which leaves The Meadows and ascends into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon. (The route to the Lower Saddle ascends the North Fork of Garnet Canyon.)

 

Table Mountain

It’s a long drive around, but a classic Tetons hike that belongs on this list is up 11,106-foot Table Mountain from the South Teton Trailhead at the top of Teton Canyon, above Driggs, Idaho. This hike is entirely on a good trail, 11 miles out-and-back with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. The open summit looks across the South Fork of Cascade Canyon directly at the backsides of the Grand, Middle, and South Teton.

Tough to choose, huh? You’ll just have to make multiple trips to the Tetons!

I hope that’s helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions. You’ll find all of my posts about the Tetons by entering “Grand Teton National Park” in the search box in the left sidebar at The Big Outside.

By the way, I had to Google Steep Falls to see where you are. I’ve done quite a bit of hiking in Maine, but hadn’t heard of your town.

Best,
Michael

Hi Michael:

Wow!!  Thanks for the comprehensive list.

Again, thanks for the response, now the hard part is choosing one!! Keep up the great blog!!!

TJ

Note: In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I’m receiving an increasing volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.

—Michael Lanza

7 Responses to Ask Me: 8 Great Big Dayhikes in the Tetons

  1. TJ Hesler   |  August 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Hi Michael:

    Just wanted to check in. You had given me multiple options for my long solo day in Grand Teton. We are back from almost two outstanding weeks in both Yellow Stone and Grand Teton. Had a blast, not enough time, but awesome. I had been hoping to do the first hike you had suggested up paintbrush canyon and down cascade. In talking with rangers and other people there paintbrush seemed above my capabilities. I have never used an ice ax to self arrest and was not eager to learn on my own!! So I opted for an out and back to Lake Solitude. I started at Jenny Lake (skipped the boat) went up past hidden falls and inspiration point to cascade canyon. After a detour due to a washed out bridge I went through the north fork trail and it got really cool with lots of snow. I got up to Lake Solitude and it was about 80 percent frozen.. about a 70-75 degree day and beautiful. About a 40 minute break then used my microspikes to semi jog back down. Went the other way around the lake ( I had already seen inspiration pt and hidden falls the day before also with my family, so I wanted a different trail back) for a 21 mile day.. an absolute blast, as was the entire trip, thanks for the advice.. We cannot wait to go back!!

    Also just to fill you in on another pretty cool adventure I did with a couple buddies locally earlier in June. We biked from our houses in Steep Falls to Mt Washington (56 miles) hiked up Tuickermans/Lions Head and down, then biked home (another 56 miles) in one long 15 hour day. Another great day.

    Next big day planned is my trip to Baxter State Park in August. In between a couple camping trips and a lake cabin with the family. Then back to work (teaching and coaching) hopefully I can get in another presidential traverse at some point this season. Thanks again for the advice and I’ll keep on reading “the big outside” for inspiration.

    TJ

    • michaellanza   |  August 10, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      Hey TJ, I’m glad it went so well. Gotta love the Tetons. Keep in touch.

  2. Paul   |  August 2, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    A couple of other great death marches, both starting at the Death / White Grass trailhead:

    -Take the Alaska Basin trail over the divides, into the basin, and then out Cascade Canyon. Sneak onto the Jenny Lake boat or walk the last 2 or 3 miles around the lake to the parking lot (this is a long and unhappy 2-3 miles, but the rest of the hike is glorious). (about 24 miles, 5 or 6000 vert. ft. if you skip the lake loop)

    -Take Death Canyon trail over fox creek pass, to Marion Lake, to the Granite Canyon Trail (either directly or via the Middle Fork Cutoff trail), and up to the top of the ski hill. Get a free tram ride down … at the summit your just 15 minutes from a milk shake in the village. (about 20 miles, 6000 vert. ft. via upper granite canyon trail. The cutoff trail saves you from losing some altitude, but I haven’t done it that way)

  3. Paul   |  August 2, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Great post! I just did the Static Divide / Alaska Basin / Death Shelf / Death Canyon loop and wanted to share some thoughts. I did it counterclockwise, which I’d highly recommend … this lets you begin the day with the biggest climb and end it with a gentle descent. Going clockwise, you end the day with your high-point (lightning late in the day, etc.) and then a pretty grueling descent down the switchbacks to Death Canyon.

    Any time before mid-August there’s likely to be a lot of snow between Static Divide and Buck Divide. A lightweight ax makes things go a lot faster (the runouts on the snow here are for the most part not dangerous, but when I made this traverse without an ax it really slowed me down).

    My GPS tracking software pinned the route at 27.7 miles, taking the shortest cutoff through Alaska Basin, and skipping the summit of Static.

    Super awesome route.

    • michaellanza   |  August 4, 2014 at 4:47 am

      Hey Paul, thanks for sharing these two comments, good stuff.

  4. Keith York   |  May 1, 2014 at 10:31 am

    TJ – I know I’m not helping but, in case you like summits, there’s another one I suggest.

    Mt St. John is immediately north of the Grand Teton and requires you to hike up and through Hanging Canyon – one of my favorite settings in the Tetons. The hike starts from the North Jenny / String Lake trailhead but pretty quickly veers off the main trail to a climbers trail. Almost immediately you’re out of the trees (go early so it’s not too hot) with unencumbered views of the mountains and the valley. It’s a steep hike so by the time you get to Hanging Canyon you may just want to sit beside Lake of the Crags in solitude and bag the summit. Stunning stuff. If you want to summit, though, turn right and scramble up. Not many summits offer views of the Tetons from the north so soak it up.

    Quick word of caution. Having lived there the last 4 years I can tell you the Tetons in June and early July are frequently still very snowy. Don’t be surprised if you see folks skiing. Have gaiters and be prepared for some lengthy snow field crossings. Hiking poles and/or an ice axe would be advised. And if you want a hiking partner access me through this blog (Mike knows how to find me). I rarely find folks who want to go big with me.

    Keith

    • michaellanza   |  May 1, 2014 at 10:38 am

      Great suggestion, Keith. Hanging Canyon and Mount St. John have been on my to-do list. Maybe we should get up there this summer?

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