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Ask Me: Where Can I Backpack in the Tetons Without Needing a Permit?

Ask Me: Where Can I Backpack in the Tetons Without Needing a Permit?

Hello Michael,

Could you please recommend a four- to five-day backcountry trip in the Grand Teton Range that could include campsites located outside of the park (maybe the Jedediah Smith Wilderness area), so I would not need to get an overnight permit in the park? I do have a one-night permit for Paintbrush Canyon, so I was hoping to make that my last night for camping inside the park, then walk out to Jenny Lake on the last day. I was thinking the starting point could be around the top of Rendezvous Peak via the tramway? I have done day hikes in the Tetons, but never a backcountry trip, so I would appreciate your input. I’m going to be going the last week of August. I have basic skills with compass and map reading, so some off trail hiking is okay. I’m looking for solitude and will be solo hiking. Thank you for your time. Much appreciated!

Gary
[Originally posted as a comment at thebigoutside.com/ask-me]

Hi Gary,

Take a look at a map of Grand Teton National Park and you’ll see that you have limited options for camping outside the park and still reaching Paintbrush Canyon for your last night. You can start at the top of the Jackson Hole Ski Resort tram and hike down into Granite Canyon, but that’s inside the park; to get outside the park to camp, you’d have to hike a bit south on the Teton Crest Trail out of Granite Canyon, and I’m told that Moose Lake in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness is a nice spot to camp. Then you’d turn around the next day and hike north on the Teton Crest Trail to Alaska Basin, which is outside the park, to camp your second night.

Above the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.

Above the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, Teton Range.

From Alaska Basin, it would be a big day, over 13 miles with two passes (Hurricane Pass, which is easier, and Paintbrush Divide, which is a big climb), to reach Upper Paintbrush Canyon camping zone.

But it’s easier to get a first-come permit for camping in the southern areas of the park than it is for Paintbrush Canyon, which you already have. My suggestion: When you arrive at the park, go to the backcountry desk and try to add nights in the park to your existing permit for a night in Paintbrush. Death Canyon Shelf and South Fork Cascade Canyon offer some of the park’s best camping.

I have not backpacked much in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness (only the southern end of the Teton Crest Trail and a dayhike up Table Mountain from Teton Canyon on the west side). If you want to explore that area, you’ll see there are trails through it on the west side of the Tetons, but only a few spots where they link up with trails in the park. The vehicle shuttle is also much longer and more complicated (or expensive) if you start and finish at trailheads on the west and east sides of the Tetons instead of trailheads in the park (east side).

See my story about backpacking the Teton Crest Trail, which has more information and a helpful exchange in the comments section, and all of my Ask Me posts about Grand Teton National Park.

Good luck.

Best,
Michael

In Ask Me, I share my response 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 receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly. Scroll through my Ask Me page and All Trips pagesskills stories, and gear reviews for answers to your questions before writing to me.

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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.

5 Comments

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  1. michaellanza

    Good advice, Gary and Mike, thanks.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Love this area. It was one of my first areas to hike. I know live in Europe and am enjoying this area but something about the Rockies that always is near to the heart. Great blog!

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    We just completed a Teton backpack trip last week. We went 800 miles to get there without any permits. We were able to get permits for a loop trip and all the good camp zones. I thought we were unlikely to get a permit for Death Canyon or the Shelf and planned to stop at Phelps Lake and Alaska Basin. Instead no permit for Phelps Lake, but the canyon and shelf. Go early and ask!

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    Gary,

    I was just in the Park this weekend (Saturday, August 8th) and stopped by the permit desk at the visitor center to inquire about my own hike from the top of the Tram to String Lake via the Teton Crest Trail and Paintbrush Canyon. We are hiking in early to mid September. The Ranger said that getting a permit shouldn’t be an issue, even for August. He said Marion Lakes fills up quickly as there are only three camping spots.
    He said you have to come in to get your permit the day before you hike. I would call the permit desk and see what they have to say about your scheduled dates. Maybe getting permits for two or three other spots won’t be an issue.
    If you camp at Basin Lakes, the best sites are on the north end of the lakes.

    Good luck with your trip and have fun.

    Mike Ryan

    Reply

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