The Teton Crest Trail has been called the best backpacking adventure in North America. I first heard about it several years ago when researching Teton NP hikes in a Falcon guide book. The description of the trek was so glowing that I decided-- then and there-- that I was going to do the hike. I just didn't know when.
When I began planning my long trip of 2018 I knew that I had to find the time to hike the Teton Crest Trail. The only problem was, I couldn't get a permit for any dates earlier than late September. This would be pushing the weather a bit, but I decided to get the permits for the earliest dates that I could. I would just wait and see what the weather would bring. I promised myself that if there was no snow, then I would go.
I arrived in the Tetons towards the end of August. Although the Grand received first snow on August 28th, warm, dry days and cold nights continued all the way until the end of September. Luckily, I had great weather for the hike. All 37 miles and 6 days were enjoyed without rain ,and just a little snow at Holly Lake on the afternoon and night of Day 5.
The Teton Crest Trail is one of the few backpacks that I would absolutely do again. Day 3-- Death Canyon Shelf to Cascade Canyon South Fork-- was one of the best days of hiking I have ever done. It's definitely top three all-time. Right up there with Laguna 69 in Peru and the Kalalau Trail on Kauai. All three treks are highly recommended.
Below are a few photos from the spectacular Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
String Lake, GTNP, Wyoming
I left my truck at the Leigh Lake/String Lake Trailhead and Picnic Area. I then walked to the main road where I dropped pack and hitched a ride. I waited for about 45 minutes before a kind, local woman and her cute, little dog stopped to pick me up. I threw my pack in the back of her Subaru and hopped in the front seat with a smile on my face. We talked story about Kauai and the Kalalau Trail and she gave me advice on the Teton Crest. She said, "If it feels wrong it is". She continued, "The energy up there in the mountains is so good. Trust yourself and the guidance she (nature? the Grand?) gives."
Day 1-- Hiking towards Marion Lake
I took the tram from the Jackson Hole ski resort to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, and began the hike around 1pm. That's late for me, but with the logistics of "park and hitch", there was very little I could do to start earlier. The tram was killer and it saved a ton of time (and about 3,000 feet of climbing!). It's was expensive ($40), but totally worth it. The first day of hiking wasn't that memorable, other than it was good to finally get started.
Day 2-- Sunrise from immediately behind my campsite just above Marion Lake.
A good omen for things to come-- bright sun and clear skies. Day two was a great day of hiking. The trail was completely above tree line with expansive views all along the Death Shelf.
Day 2-- Looking back at Marion Lake. The three campsites at Marion Lake are somewhat hidden inbetween the grove of evergreens on the left. A great spot to cook and eat is in the middle of the first group of trees. Your kitchen and dining area are right next to the lake!
Day 2-- On to the Death Canyon Shelf. Clear skies and clear views all day long.
Day 2-- First glimpse of the Grand. And the trail leads all the way there.
Day 2-- Near full moon on the Death Canyon Shelf.
I chose the very last campsite on the Death Canyon Shelf. It was just down a little hill and hidden away from the trail. It was super cozy; sheltered from the wind; and just opposite a running stream that provided fresh water for cooking and drinking. While the water looked fresh and clean, I boiled all water for cooking and used iodine tablets for my drinking water. I also left my bear can under a large table-like rock that was next to the stream, and about 50 yards from my tent.
Day 3-- Sunrise on the Death Canyon Shelf with the Teton Crest Trail leading into the Alaska Basin Wilderness Area.
This was an absolutely epic day of hiking. Perhaps the best day of hiking I have ever done. It began with this amazing sunrise and it just got better as one foot fell in front of the other. Highlights include the Alaska Basin, Sunset Lake, the incomparable Hurricane Pass, Schoolroom Glacier, and Cascade Canyon. It was fucking awesome. The hardest day of the trek, but absolutely the best!
Day 3-- The Alaska Basin. I'd like to spend more time here one day.
Day 3-- Somewhere in the Alaska Basin.
Day 3-- Sunset Lake
After lunching/lounging at Sunset Lake, I rounded the corner and the long climb up Hurricane Pass began. Hurricane Pass takes you right up next to the Grand, the Middle and South Tetons. If you look closely in the middle of the picture above you can see the tip of one of the Tetons. Not sure which one it is, but I bet it's the Grand. If you know for sure, let me know in the comments below. Thanks!
Day 3-- Approaching the Grand and nearing the top of Hurricane Pass.
Day 3-- The Tetons, the glacier pond and the trail.
Day 3-- Descending Hurricane Pass. Hurricane Pass is at 10,338 feet above sea level. It's windy, cold and simply stunning.
Along with being the most beautiful section of trail, I found Day 3-- Hurricane Pass to South Fork Cascade Canyon-- to be the most difficult of the 6. I was absolutely exhausted when I stumbled into cap, low in the Canyon. If I had to do it over again, I would have chosen a campsite higher up the descent, making the hiking day about an hour shorter. This would have also given me better views of the mountains and sky as night approached. As it was, being lower in the canyon, I had really easy access to water; lots of trees providing some shelter; but no views other than high granite walls. Oh well. The good thing about the site that I chose was that hiking on Day 4 was going to be short and sweet.
Day 4-- Waterfall at the Beginning of the Day
Day 4 was a pretty uneventful day of hiking. I started next to a waterfall and slowly made my way down the canyon and then up the North Fork. I met a few hikers and herd of deer along the way. The bushes lining the trail were beginning to turn and the clouds settled in.
Day 4-- A Colorful Portion of Trail
Day 4-- Campsite North Fork Cascade Canyon. Just me and no one else for what seems like miles and miles.
Since it was such a short day of hiking I chose the last campsite in the North Fork. I had the area all to myself. That's one of the great things about this trek-- there are very few people through hiking (at least at the end of September) so once beyond the day-hike-accessible sections you hardly see anyone on the trail. And with the exception of Marion Lake and Holly Lake, you are not camping near to anyone.
Day 4-- Low Light Shine through Canyon and onto the Grand.
Day 5-- Sun Rise on Camp
Day 5-- Sunrise lights up the Sky above the Grand and Paintbrush Divide
Day 5 takes you up to the highest point of the trek-- 10,720 feet-- at Paintbrush Divide. This is another epic day of alpine hiking.
Day 5-- A Look Back to Where I Was
Day 5-- About a quarter of the way up Paintbrush Divide.
Day 5-- Looking to Lake Solitude from Paintbrush Divide.
The large lake in the distance is Lake Solitude. The small glacier fed lake high on the left-- high on the mountain shelf-- is Mirror Lake. On my way up the Divide I met two women who were planning to hike up to Mirror Lake! How cool is that?!
Day 5-- View from atop Paintbrush Divide
Paintbrush Divide is a long climb. It just keeps going and going and going. You round a switchback-- thinking that the climb is almost over-- only to see another trail-lined-wall leading further up the mountain. But once done, the views are killer. On the day I descended, I crossed a section of snow that was about 30-50 meters long. It wasn't difficult, but I can imagine if you were to hike this section early in the season or later into October an ice ax and crampons (and knowledge of how to use them) would be necessary.
Day 6-- Holly Lake
Coldest days of the trek were on the afternoon/evening of Day 5 and the morning of Day 6. It snowed in the afternoon on Day 5. The lake froze that night and I woke to snow-dusted boulders and icy water for that morning's cooking. After breakfast I broke down camp; loaded up the pack; and hiked out shivering. It was a cold morning so I was happy to get moving. The descent to Leigh Lake was not difficult, but I can imagine the day hike to Holly Lake and back would be a long one. Views along this portion of trail were not as scenic as the middle portion because you leave the alpine vistas and re-enter the treeline. This section of trail could be prime grizzly and black bear habitat. I didn't see any bears, but I definitely sang some songs through a few hidden areas of trail.
Day 6-- The Way Out
The hike out to Leigh Lake/ String Lake is a long descent that just ambles on. Lots of time to think about what I saw and the effort I made. As I neared Leigh Lake I met a few day hikers and chatted a little along the way. I felt like Kerouac, preaching the Gospel of Wow.
Day 6-- Idyllic Leigh Lake
Random Notes on The Teton Crest Trail
If you any questions about this trek, thoughts or impressions or would like to share your experiences of the Teton Crest Trail, please feel free to leave a note in the comments section below. Mahalo!
Thanks for reading and Happy Trails.