10 Great, Big Dayhikes in the Tetons

By Michael Lanza

The Tetons stand out for many reasons, most of all that iconic skyline of jagged peaks and spires that invites comparisons to cathedrals—although these cathedrals reach over 12,000 and 13,000 feet high. But while backpackers flock to the Teton Range for multi-day hikes and these peaks offer numerous five-star dayhikes of “normal” length, they also harbor some of the best long dayhikes in the country.

Thanks to a unique combination of the trail network and trailhead access, hikers capable of knocking off 15 to 20 or more miles and 3,000 to over 4,000 vertical feet in a day can explore virtually the entire range on one-day outings—holding enormous appeal for hikers and trail runners seeking that level of challenge or fit backpackers who fail to obtain a highly coveted backcountry permit for a multi-day hike in the park.

This list of the 10 best big dayhikes in the Teton Range includes popular spots like Garnet Canyon, Lake Solitude, and the Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon loop, as well as some trails and peaks you may not have heard of—some of which see little traffic.

These picks draw from my numerous trips dayhiking, backpacking, and climbing all over the Tetons over more than three decades, including 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. Use this story as your guide and you will see the best scenery in the Teton Range that’s accessible on one very big day of hiking.


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Please share your thoughts or questions about any of these hikes or your own favorites in the Tetons in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

A backpacker on the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park.
David Gordon hiking the Teton Crest Trail toward Paintbrush Divide in Grand Teton National Park. Click photo to learn how I can help plan your next trip.

Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop

The 19.7-mile Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon loop from String Lake Trailhead, with nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, ranks as probably the park’s most popular backpacking trip and possibly the second-most popular long dayhike. (See my e-guide to backpacking this loop.) It crosses one of the highest points reached via trail in the park, 10,720-foot Paintbrush Divide, where the panorama that takes in a huge swath of the Tetons, and passes Lake Solitude on the descent through the stunning North Fork and main stem of Cascade Canyon.

Offering the convenience of a loop from one trailhead, with no shuttle needed, this loop attracts a significant number of fit dayhikers and trail runners. I’ve dayhiked and backpacked it; both are worthy and different experiences. Do it counterclockwise because the descent of Cascade inflicts less pounding than going down Paintbrush. Start early for cool temps on the ascent of Paintbrush Canyon, where the lower section can get hot.

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Dave Simpson on a late spring hike in Garnet Canyon.
Dave Simpson on a late spring hike in Garnet Canyon.

Amphitheater Lake and Garnet Canyon

Combining the hikes to Amphitheater Lake and Garnet Canyon (lead photo at top of story), forming a “Y” from Lupine Meadows Trailhead, marries two moderate dayhikes into a roughly 13-mile day that follows mostly good trails and isn’t as hard as others on this list.

Hiking only out-and-back to Garnet Canyon (not including Amphitheater Lake) is one of the park’s premier dayhikes, about nine miles round-trip from Lupine Meadows with about 2,200 feet of uphill and downhill. The out-and-back hike to Amphitheater Lake alone is just over 10 miles with 3,000 feet of up and down.

To combine them, from Amphitheater, backtrack about two 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 easy walk of a bit more than a mile to where the maintained trail ends with a breathtaking perspective on Garnet Canyon.

A use trail continues a bit farther, involving some rugged scrambling through large boulders, to the area known as The Meadows in Garnet Canyon, where there’s a creek, grass, and wildflowers in a cirque of towering cliffs and peaks, with the 12,804-foot Middle Teton rising high above the head of the canyon.

To lengthen this hike, follow the well-used 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 combining all of these trails makes for a burly day. Reaching the Lower Saddle also involves using a fixed rope for safety to walk up a steep headwall just below the Lower Saddle. (You can turn back before that.)

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Lake Solitude, North Fork Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.
Lake Solitude in the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park. Click photo for my e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.”

Lake Solitude

Granted, Lake Solitude does not often deliver on the promise in its name: On a nice summer day, you will see many dozens of hikers and backpackers on this trail. But there are good reasons so many people take the short boat shuttle across Jenny Lake and make their way to this high mountain lake: ringed by tall cliffs, this blue gemstone caps a beautiful hike in the beating heart of the Tetons. The views down the North Fork of Cascade Canyon are among the best in the entire range. A bracing swim provides a welcome therapeutic effect on fatigued muscles and hot feet.

Plus, this beautiful walk happens to be at a distance and difficulty within the abilities of many hikers—just over 15 miles and 2,300 feet out-and-back from the boat landing on the west side of Jenny Lake. Tip: Catch the first boat across Jenny Lake to get a jump on the crowds and possibly enjoy a window of solitude at the lake; you’ll also improve your chances of seeing wildlife like moose along the trail. Plus, you want to get back in time to catch a boat back across Jenny Lake or you’ll hike two extra miles around it. See jennylakeboating.com/boat-trips/shuttle-service.

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A hiker on the summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park.
A hiker on the summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park.

Static Peak

The out-and-back hike up 11,303-foot Static Peak is a Tetons testpiece for strong hikers: about 17 miles round-trip with close to 6,000 feet of vertical gain and loss from the Death Canyon Trailhead, at 6,800 feet. Following the Valley Trail and Death Canyon Trail to the mouth of Death Canyon, turn right onto the Alaska Basin Trail, which climbs through several switchbacks to cross Static Peak Divide at about 10,700 feet, an elevation equivalent to Paintbrush Divide on the Teton Crest Trail.

From that pass, walk the unmarked but fairly obvious use path leading another 600 feet uphill in about a half-mile to the summit of Static Peak, where the views span most of the southern Tetons.

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Backpackers in Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.
Backpackers hiking up Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park.

Granite Canyon to Death Canyon

The 20.5-mile, point-to-point hike up Granite Canyon, along a section of the Teton Crest Trail, and down Death Canyon does not attract nearly as many hikers as the Paintbrush-Cascade loop or the dayhike to Lake Solitude, but it otherwise shares many similarities. It gets you into the Teton high country on a scenic piece of the Teton Crest Trail and a high point at 9,570-foot Fox Creek Pass, and it explores two big, deep canyons known for dramatic cliffs and moose and other wildlife.

From the Granite Canyon Trailhead at nearly 6,400 feet, you’ll gradually ascend a total of about 3,200 feet—modest by this list’s standards—and descend some 3,000 feet to the Death Canyon Trailhead, entirely on good trails. This hike passes two pretty lakes, Marion and Phelps, and remains at elevations that won’t greatly affect many hikers. It requires a short shuttle of several miles between the two trailheads; or you can add about three miles and make it a complete loop from the Granite Canyon Trailhead by following the Valley Trail south from the north end of Phelps Lake.

Want more? See “The 25 Best National Park Dayhikes
and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”

 

See all stories about Grand Teton National Park at The Big Outside, including, “A Wonderful Obsession: Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail,” “5 Reasons You Must Backpack the Teton Crest Trail,” “How to Get a Permit to Backpack the Teton Crest Trail,” and “The 5 Best Backpacking Trips in Grand Teton National Park,” as well as my expert e-guides to backpacking the Teton Crest Trail and the best short backpacking trip in Grand Teton National Park.

See also my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan any trip you read about at The Big Outside.

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12 thoughts on “10 Great, Big Dayhikes in the Tetons”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for typing up this list; this is real helpful! Will be visiting the park next week and plan to do a few of these. I would love to camp on Table Mountain; given that I have not yet been up there do you know if there are any good spots to camp up there? Also, to get the alpenglow on the Tetons from Table Mountain, would this occur during sunrise or sunset? Sunset is my guess. I then plan to hike from Table Mountain to Hurricane Pass.

    Also planning on doing South Teton. One option I read is there is a route that goes from the Teton Crest Trail from the Avalanche Divide Spur Trail to the summit (as opposed to going up Garnet Canyon). Do you have any familiarity with this route? If not, I will probably stick with the main Garnet Canyon trail.

    Lastly, I am going to try to get a walk up permit for either South Fork or North Fork Cascade Canyon along the TCT. I know both of these camping zones are superb but is there one in particular you think is best?

    Will buy your Teton Crest Trail e-guide in a bit so looking forward to that!

    Appreciate your help!

    Jason

    Reply
  2. Great list here Michael! There are several that I’m going to add to the list — the Avalanche Canyon hike sounds like a great one to get away from people. I live here in the Tetons and wanted to suggest an edit for the Table Mountain hike.

    First, this is the Teton Canyon trailhead (I was a bit confused when you said South Teton Trailhead… made me think I was supposed to be starting from the east side in the Park) AND it is not the South Teton Canyon Trail, but the North Teton Canyon Trail. If you start off going up the south, you will see Table Mountain… but not before meandering miles through a beautiful meadow and climbing Devil’s Staircase… and you’ll never get to it — not a bad mistake, just a different destination 🙂

    This past summer I did my longest dayhike yet of 23.5 miles around Alaska Basin to Buck Mountain Pass and then to Sunset Lake and back down.

    Reply
  3. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your posts about Grand Teton. They’ve been very informative.

    I am doing the Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop and Death Canyon TH – Static Peak Divide there and back, as mentioned on your day hike post.

    My question is.. what is the water situation at Paintbrush and Static Peak Divide? Can I bring a water filter or should I plan on carrying enough water for the entire day?

    Thanks again,
    Melissa

    Reply
    • Hi Melissa, thanks for following The Big Outside, I hope you subscribe. The trail to Death Canyon parallels a strong creek up into the mouth of the canyon, then leaves the creek and climbs up many switchbacks to Static Peak Divide. You won’t find water above Death Canyon. You’ll have water access most of the hike up Paintbrush Canyon, then no water for maybe two hours over Paintbrush Divide down to Lake Solitude, then water most of the rest of that hike.

      Best advice I can offer for either hike, as with other long ones in the Tetons, is to start early for cool temps. The ascent up Paintbrush Canyon and the hike from Phelps Lake up into Death Canyon are both very sunny and hot early.

      Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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)

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
  7. 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

    Reply
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