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 Grand Teton National Park backcountry permit for a multi-day hike.
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.
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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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.)
Plan your next great backpacking trip on the Teton Crest Trail, Wonderland Trail, in Yosemite or other parks using my expert e-guides.
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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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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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.