Teton Crest Trail
The Teton Crest Trail can be done many different ways; the full route is 39 miles, from Teton Pass on Highway 22 to String Lake in Grand Teton National Park, just north of Jenny Lake. Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail takes about three days but this hike is no place to rush if you can budget the time. Ambitious backpackers or horseback riders can extend the trip to seventy-five mile trek along the entire crest of the Teton Mountains with some creative trail daisy chaining. Much of the Teton Crest Trail cuts a serpentine path through Grand Teton National Park and the adjacent Jedediah Smith Wilderness, rarely dipping below 8,000 feet. This rugged mountain environmentês jagged spires, alpine meadows, glaciers, lakes and vistas provide a challenging trip with limitless and rewarding sections for off trail exploration.
Most start the Teton Crest Trail from the Phillips Pass Trailhead on Teton Pass however there is a myriad of other choices. A shortcut option is to take the Teton Village Tram and hike to Marion Lake and to pick up the Teton Crest Trail from there. Other southern starting points include Coal Creek, and Moose Creek trailheads.
After about 10 miles from the southern starting points you leave the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness and enter Grand Teton National Park, here Marion Lake makes a good camping spot. Marion Lake has limited campsites, which require a permit as do all Grand Teton designated camping spots.
Continuing north from Marion Lake you soon leave the park for a short time till you get to Fox Creek Pass 9,650 which drops you onto the scenic Death Canyon Shelf. Death Canyon Shelf is a broad bench below the crest of the Meeks Mountain range overlooking Death Canyon. To the west is a 3-mile-long escarpment of daunting cliffs and to the east the shelf abruptly plunges into the deep trough of Death Canyon over one thousand feet below.
After 3.+ miles of incredible views and fairly level hiking, you reach Mt. Meeks Pass (9,726') whish drops you into the head of South Teton Creek where you will find the Alaska Basin (9,500') 2.2 miles below. The Alaska Basin is another good place to camp and being outside of the park again you donêt need a permit, there is a designated area for camping with stock on the west side of the basin.
The ascent from Alaska Basin up Hurricane Pass is a bit grueling, the first half mile leaving Alaska Basin is a series of switchbacks until you reach the bowl that hosts scenic Sunset Lake which makes a good rest stop for your nest climb an 800 foot elevation gain. As you near the top the stark profile of Battleship Mountain serrates the western sky.
Cresting Hurricane Pass requires a catching of your breath not only from the altitude and climb but also from the breathtaking view,
Hurricane Pass rewards you with one of the most incredible views you will ever have and quite possibly the definition of awesome! Due east the Grand Teton (13,770'), Middle Teton (12,804') and South Teton (12,514') peaks tower over you about a half mile away. The views up Cascade Canyon that drops hundreds of feet below you are also spectacular. Crowning this northern vista are Mt. St. John, Mt. Moran, Teepee Pillar Nez Perce, Cloudveil Dome, Avalanche Divide and The Wall.
From Hurricane Pass you descend South Cascade Creek trail, there is camping in the South Fork Cascade Camping Zone. At the junction with North Cascade Creek Trail and Cascade Canyon Trail, (the Paintbrush Cascade Canyon Loop), here many opt to shorten their trip by dropping down Cascade Canyon to the trailhead.
For those with more ambition, time, or good boots North Cascade Trail has many rewards. Lake Solitude elevation (9035-feet) in my opinion is one of the most photogenic scenes to be found anywhere; a glacial moraine lake in a classic U shaped valley with the giant Grand Teton towering over the scene is simply breathtaking. Just short of Lake Solitude has some designated camping and is a good stop. For those not wishing to climb Paintbrush divide I still recommend a side trip to Lake Solitude.
From Lake Solitude you start a climb from 9,035 feet to head over Paintbrush Divide at (10,720') the trail heading out of the North Cascade Canyon stretches above you for what looks like miles as it ascends Paintbrush Divideês never ending switchbacks to gain 1500-foot of elevation. It is a glorious stretch of trail though, as the Grand Teton is right in front of you on every southerly heading switchback.
The decent from Paintbrush Divide treats you to great views of the peaks around Mt. Moran, as you descend Paintbrush Canyon through the alpine country you hit some ice fields that may require and ice axe and most likely will be impassable with horses. At 9,200-feet lies Holly Lake and the Upper Paintbrush camping zone if you wish to spend another night in this alpine wonderland.
Paintbrush Canyon will treat you to views of sub alpine forests of Douglas fir, Engelmann Spruce, Limber and Whitebark Pines; Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels, American Pikas, and Yellow-bellied Marmots, small glaciers, globeflowers, Glacier Lilies, and Alpine Forget-me-nots, the park flower may be seen in the area. A fine farewell to an awesome alpine experience.
Other Access Points for the Teton Crest Trail include Granite Creek and Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park, Fox Creek, Darby Creek and South Teton Creek trailheads on the west side of the Tetons outside of Driggs Idaho.
Grand Teton National Park Camping Spots
Marion Lake Designated Sites - Three sites are just east of the lake. A spur trail leads east of from the lake. Please camp on tent pads.
Death Canyon Shelf Zone - Extends from just above Fox Creek Pass to Mt. Meek Pass. Group site is 2.0 miles north of Fox Creek Pass. A large boulder is east of the trail.
South Fork Cascade Zone - Begins 1.0 mile above the Cascade trail fork and ends 0.5 mile below Hurricane Pass. Group site is 1.75 miles above the trail fork, east of the trail.
North Fork Cascade Zone - Extends from the second bridge above the fork to where the trail crosses the stream draining Mica Lake. Camping is prohibited at Lake Solitude. Group site is located 0.5 mile above the lower boundary of the zone on terraces east of the trail.
Upper Paintbrush Canyon Zone - Extends about 0.1 mile above the lower Holly Lake Trail Junction to the Paintbrush Divide headwall, on the main canyon trail. From the lower end of the zone to the upper Holly Lake Trail Junction, camp only on the south side of the trail (the left side as you hike up the canyon). From the upper Holly Lake Trail Junction to the Paintbrush Divide headwall, you may camp on either side of the trail. Lower Paintbrush Canyon Zone - Begins 2.6 miles from the Spring Lake Parking area, 0.25 mile below the first crossing of Paintbrush Creek. The upper camping zone boundary is 1.0 mile below the lower Holly Lake Trail Junction.