If the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park isn’t on your adventure list, it’s time to put it on the radar. Magnificent mountain scenes surround every step of this roughly 38 mile trail, and between the cascading glacial water, colorful alpine meadows, and dramatic views of the Teton Range, this top-rated hiking trail is filled with postcard memories.
Advanced reservation requests for this bucket-list hike are accepted between January 7 and May 15, 2019 and most prime season spots will fill up fast.
Fast Facts About the Teton Crest Trail
Hikers on the Teton Crest Trail often start their journey near Phelps Lake on the south side of the park and travel clockwise, circumnavigating the Teton Range from south to north. Adjustable in length and specific route, the Teton Crest Trail covers roughly 38 miles of rugged terrain with over 8,000 feet of elevation gain, lending to a typical trip length of 3–5 days. The short snow-free season for the Teton Crest Trail is between mid-June and August, with snow conditions remaining at the highest altitudes throughout the year.
What to Know About Obtaining a Permit
A third of all backcountry reservations become available January 7, 2019 via Recreation.gov. But before you put your name into the system, it’s highly advised to understand the terrain and plan a route. Utilizing the park’s Backcountry Planner is a great resource for planning a trip.
Most campsites along the Teton Crest Trail are found within specific Camping Zones that are permitted for a specific amount of hiking parties. When applying for a permit, users apply for each camping zone they’d like to stay the night at. Hiking parties over six people need to use specific group camping sites, which makes grabbing a permit more difficult.
Recommended Backcountry Camp Zones
You almost can’t avoid these camp zones while hiking the Teton Crest Trail—but why would you want to? High into the range and away from the normal crowds, these three camp zones and areas on the Teton Crest Trail are what backpacking memories are made of.
Death Canyon Shelf / Death Canyon
On the southwest edge of the park and lending access to the Alaska Basin, Death Canyon and its shelf deliver on inspiring terrain. The climb up through Death Canyon from the Death Canyon trailhead is a real thigh buster, but the view from the shelf is worth it. Sitting above the canyon, the Death Canyon Shelf is the camp zone to aim for, with impressive views of the canyon below and Grand Teton in the near horizon.
South Fork & North Fork Cascade Canyon
Opposite the Alaska Basin from the Death Canyon Shelf and branching in both ways atop Cascade Canyon, the South & North Fork Cascade Canyon Camp Zones deliver on pure mountain aesthetics. Moose, bears, marmots, and other wildlife are abundant throughout the Cascade Canyon area of the park. Also, the closest views of Grand Teton are found throughout this portion of the trail. The stunning Lake Solitude is also less than two miles from the North Fork Camp Zone.
Upper & Lower Paintbrush Canyon
As you descend from the steep and aptly named Paintbrush Divide, the alpine environment found within Paintbrush Canyon is nothing short of idyllic. Babbling mountain streams make their way through the brightly colored canyon, and the trail meanders through lush surroundings of wildflowers, woodland creatures, and rugged views of the surrounding mountain valley.
Three, Four & Five-Day Itineraries
It’s advised to only conquer one mountain pass a day along the Teton Crest Trail, leaving a handful of options to camp between the high elevation gains. Here are a few itineraries that will keep you moving with enough time to stop and enjoy the wild mountain flowers. Detailed maps of each Camp Zone can be found here.
- Starting Trailhead: Tram Trail (fee required for Tram)
- Camp Zone 1: Death Canyon Shelf
- Camp Zone 2: South Fork Cascade Canyon
- Campsite 3: Holly Lake
- Starting Trailhead: Granite Canyon Trailhead
- Camp Zone 1: Granite Canyon
- Camp Zone 2: Death Canyon Shelf
- Camp Zone 3: North Fork Cascade Canyon
- Camp Zone 4: Lower Paintbrush
- Starting Trailhead: Death Canyon Trailhead
- Camp Zone 1: Open Canyon
- Campsite 2: Marion Lake
- Camp Zone 3: Death Canyon Shelf
- Camp Zone 4: South Fork Cascade Canyon
- Camp Zone 5: Upper Paintbrush
Didn’t Get a Permit? Walk-Ups Are Available
If you didn’t nab a permit within the early reservation window, two-thirds of all backcountry permits are available one day before any trip on a first-come, first-serve, walk-up basis. The best advice for obtaining a walk-in permit is to show up early (really early) at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center or Jenny Lake Visitor Center a day before your trip with a rough itinerary in mind.
A Note About Teton Backcountry
With all the fun to be had, it’s worth noting the potential dangers found along the trail. Besides large animals like bears and moose that you’ll want to keep at a distance, it can sometimes feel like you can’t keep enough distance from the healthy collection of insects that also inhabit the park.
Fast moving storms are a common experience throughout the trail, too, and inclement weather is known to spread fast and without warning. The elevation gains and particularly the mountain passes are challenging for even skilled hikers, and keeping low mileage goals helps avoid excess fatigue and gives extra time to enjoy Lake Solitude.
Proper trip planning and gear need apply. Anyone interested in hiking the Teton Crest Trail should make themselves Bear Aware, adhere to all Backcountry Regulations, and watch this educational video put out by the park service regarding Teton backcountry travel: