Permit Guide for the Teton Crest Trail

Grand Teton | pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

Teton Crest Trail | pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

Hur­ri­cane Pass | pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

Death Canyon Shelf Camp Zone | pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

Bear in the South Fork Cas­cade Canyon Camp Zone | pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

Hol­ly Lake with­in Upper Paint­brush Camp Zone | pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

3‑Night Trip:

  • 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

4‑Night Trip:

  • 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

5‑Night Trip

  • 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
Lake Soli­tude | pho­to by Brad Lane

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.

Hik­ers descend­ing Paint­brush Divide | pho­to by Brad Lane

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: