Ask Me: 8 Great, Big Dayhikes in the Tetons
I love your blog, very inspiring. I am taking a family trip out to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks with my family this summer (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.
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- to 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. I have read your “Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone” post and it is excellent.
Steep Falls, ME
Thanks for writing and following The Big Outside.
Yes, you’re going at a busy time in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. But they’re wonderful places, 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.
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Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop
The Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon loop from String Lake Trailhead is 19.7 miles with nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. You’ll cross one of the highest points 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; both are worthy and different experiences. It also offers the convenience of a loop from one trailhead.
Get the right gear for your dayhikes. See the 7 best daypacks and all of my reviews of hiking shoes.
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; if you’re getting into steep scrambling, you missed the easiest route. 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).
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.
Hike stronger and smarter. See my stories “Training For a Big Hike or Mountain Climb”
and “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier”
Amphitheater Lake and Garnet Canyon
I’d be remiss to not recommend combining the hikes on trail to Amphitheater Lake and Garnet Canyon (lead photo at top of story), 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, roughly a 12-mile day. 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.
Yearning to backpack in the Tetons? See my e-guides to the Teton Crest Trail
and the best beginner-friendly backpacking trip there.
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; 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.)
Want more? See “The 20 Best National Park Dayhikes” and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”
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 North 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. See all of my stories about the Tetons at The Big Outside for more ideas.
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.
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Wow! Thanks for the comprehensive list. Now the hard part is choosing one!
Keep up the great blog!
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