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Ask Me: 8 Great, Big Dayhikes in the Tetons

Ask Me: 8 Great, Big Dayhikes in the Tetons

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 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.

TJ
Steep Falls, ME

Hi TJ,

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.


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Hiking off-trail past Snowdrift Lake in upper Avalanche Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.
Hiking off-trail past Snowdrift Lake in upper Avalanche Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.

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).

Want more? See “The 20 Best National Park Dayhikes” and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”

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

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.

Dying to backpack in the Tetons? See my e-guides to the Teton Crest Trail and
the best short backpacking trip there.

 

. . .

 

I can help you plan this or any other trip you read about at my blog. Find out more here.

 

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.

Best,
Michael

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Hi Michael,

Wow! Thanks for the comprehensive list. Now the hard part is choosing one!

Keep up the great blog!

TJ

 

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About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

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  1. Avatar

    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. MichaelALanza

    Thanks for pointing out that error, Aaron, I’ve now corrected the story.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    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
  4. Avatar

    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
    • michaellanza

      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
  5. Avatar

    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
    • michaellanza

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

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    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
  7. Avatar

    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
    • michaellanza

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

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    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
    • michaellanza

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

      Reply

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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