Hiking and back country camping is the best way to enjoy the majestic beauty and the grandeur of the Grand Teton National Park. There are hundreds of miles of trails in this park but after numerous hours of research and advice from park rangers we narrowed down our list and here are our favorite hikes in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP).
Also see –
1. Leigh Lake + Paintbrush Divide / Cascade Canyon (PB/CC)
An unmissable multi-day hike which was the most memorable part of our 10 days in Wyoming. This is the best way to experience the scenic beauty of the Grand Tetons. Period. Leigh Lake trail and Paint Brush Divide / Cascade canyon Trail are two separate hikes but we combined them to extend our time in the sweet back-country that we were so craving for and we couldn’t have been happier with our decision.
Distance – Combined – 26.5 miles; Individual (Leigh lake – 6 miles RT; PB/CC – 20 miles)
Difficulty – Combined – Strenuous; Individual (Leigh lake – easy; PB/CC – strenuous)
Rating – 9 / 10
Start at the Leigh Lake trail-head which is located north of Jenny Lake. To reach the trail-head, turn west on Teton Park Road at the North Jenny Lake Junction which is about 10 miles south of Jackson Lake junction and follow signs for Leigh Lake trail-head (located relatively close to String Lake trail-head) (see location in Google Maps).
Day 1 – 3 miles
Start – Leigh Lake trail head at 5 pm
Arrive- Leigh lake campsite at 6 pm
Short walk from the parking lot (left side of the restroom) leads you to the start of the Leigh lake trail-head. After just a mile or so you will reach the start of the lake and then the trail hugs the lake for rest of the hike. The views all along the lake are just stunning – the crystal clear waters mirror the Tetons and the trees.
After 2.8 miles, you will reach the back country camping sites. If you are camping, we highly recommend sites 12C or 12B which have stunning views of the lake. Back country permits are required to camp anywhere in GTNP. (For more information see – how to prepare for back country hiking and camping in GTNP). These sites also house a bear box so you don’t have to carry bear canister for this portion of the hike.
If you are not camping, you can return to reach the parking lot or you can continue to Bear paw lake which will add about 4 miles RT to your hike. You may be day hiking or camping – either way, we highly recommend watching the sunrise over the Leigh lake. The golden sunlight reflects off of the lake and makes for a surreal experience.
Day 2 – 13.5 miles
Start – Leigh lake campsite at 7:30am
Arrive – North Fork Cascade Divide camping zone at 5.30 pm
This is a long day with a significant elevation change which is why most hikers break this section up into two days and camp at either Holly Lake or Upper Paintbrush canyon (~ 8.5 mile day instead of 13.5 mile day).
Head back on the Leigh Lake trail and instead of going straight to the parking lot, take a right towards the Paintbrush Canyon Junction (route follows west side of string lake). The trail now approaches the shore of the lake and then begins to climb. The steady ascent continues as you pass the Paintbrush canyon junction following signs for Lake Solitude. The trail meanders through the forest exposing beautiful views of Tetons from time to time.
The trail now enters Lower Paintbrush Canyon Camping Zone. You could camp here the night before to get a head-start but I stand by my choice of camping at the Leigh Lake. After the camping zone ends, the trail climbs steadily and you will see beautiful views of the lakes framed perfectly between the mountains.
About 5 miles from String Lake trail and 8.8 miles from the Leigh lake campsite, you arrive at a junction – right towards Holly Lake and left side trail continues to the Paintbrush canyon. Since the Holly lake rejoins the side trail and the distance is fairly equal, take the path towards the lake. If you plan to camp at Holly Lake, book in advance because the campsites fill up pretty quick at this strategically located scenic spot.
As you ascend from Holly lake, the trail now enters the Upper Paintbrush Canyon Camping Zone. You also rejoin with the earlier side trail which forked at the Holly lake junction. As you ascend into the upper canyon, note that the weather can change pretty quickly. The intense winds, low temperatures combined with high altitude can make this section a bit difficult. Hang on, you can do it! The next section of the divide is covered with snow pretty much all year around and can be quite dangerous if you are not prepared. Consult the park ranger before hiking. You will initially meander along the slope and then steep switchbacks through the passage lead to the divide ridge. Enjoy the 360 degree panoramic views of the Tetons – you’ve earned it, but be mindful of the winds. We faced 50 mile winds and had to stay close to the ground. We managed to take a quick video between the strong wind gusts. Check it out –
At 1.75 miles from Holly Lake, you will reach the Paintbrush Divide located at 10,700 feet. After a short ridge walk, the trail descends steadily towards Lake Solitude. You face the north fork cascade canyon and Lake Solitude as you switchback through the rocky terrain. One of the big reasons for hiking this trail in a counter-clockwise direction.
The views of Lake Solitude cannot be described and pictures don’t do justice. Enjoy a short break near the lake or continue onto the relatively flat trail towards the north fork camping zone. After you cross a stream, the trail descends gradually and you will enter the camping zone. It’s been a tiring day and you might be tempted to pick one of the first few campsites but the sites towards the center or the end of the zone have unobstructed views of the Tetons and the cascade canyon. So if you have any energy left, I say go for it. A stream runs parallel to the campsites so there is a good water source. If you are day hiking, you are about 8.4 miles away from the string lake trail head via cascade canyon.
Day 3 – 10 miles
Start – North Fork Cascade Divide camping zone at 7.30 am
Arrive – Leigh lake trail head at 12 pm
This day is pretty easy with relatively flat terrain or gradual descends. The views between the north fork cascade camping zone and the north cascade junction are absolutely stunning and picturesque as you are face the Tetons the entire way. Another reason to hike this trail in a counter-clockwise direction.
Once you arrive at the North fork cascade junction, turn left and follow signs for Jenny lake via cascade canyon. The easy 4 mile walk through the canyon gives you views of the canyon walls in all directions. You can follow the signs for jenny lake outlet or take a short 0.8 mile RT detour to inspiration point (recommended). The relatively flat detour will lead you to great views of Jenny lake. Even though it is pretty it is not as inspiring as the views you have already seen in the past two days.
After the out and back, continue to Jenny lake which is a steady descend. At the junction, take a left and follow the signs for string lake trail-head. Walk along the lake here for another 0.5 mile to get back to your car at the Leigh Lake trail-head.
Ever changing terrain, stunning lakes and mountains, wildlife, great camping spots – This trail has it all. We give this trail a whopping 9/10.
2. Phelps Lake Loop
Distance – 7 mile loop or 2.6 miles out and back to the lake
Difficulty Level – Easy to moderate
Rating – 7.5 / 10
Getting to the trail-head:
Phelps lake is located on the southern end of the GTNP and is part of the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve, 4 miles south of the town Moose on the Moose-Wilson road (see location in Google Maps). There are limited parking spots here so arrive early during peak season. We arrived at around 10 am very late in the hiking season (3rd week of Sep) and barely got a spot.
The trail starts at the Laurence Rockefeller visitor center. We hiked this loop in the counter-clockwise direction which has more scenic views of the Tetons and the lake.
About 2/10th of the mile into the hike, there is a fork in the trail which is not clearly marked, stay on the right on this fork. About a mile into the trail, you will arrive at Woodland Trail / Lake Creek Trail junction. Continue the hike in the direction of the Woodland trail to continue in the counter-clockwise direction (recommended) or towards Lake creek to continue in clockwise direction.
At about 1.3 mile into the hike, you will reach the Phelps lake where you will see beautiful views of the Tetons in the lake. If you wanted to shorten the hike, you could just do a 2.6-mile round trip from this point.
At about 2.5 miles, you will notice a large boulder. Climb it! We had lunch here. Food and delicious snacks tasted even better with unobstructed views of the entire lake perimeter and the views of the surrounding mountains.
At about 3 miles, you will reach a small beach area. Even though a beach on a hiking trail around a lake sounds fun but it sucks to get sand in the hiking boots early in the day so we just tip-toed our way into the beach for a quick looksee and headed back on the trail.
After passing the beach, you will now veer towards the west side of the lake. You can find pretty windflowers as the season progresses. We went late in the season and saw beautiful fall colors. This was the only part which had a bit of elevation change. The rest of the trail is relatively flat.
About 5.5 miles into the hike, you will reach the Lake Creek junction trail. Take a right here to complete the easy 7-mile loop back to the visitor center.
We did not encounter any animals except for a couple of deer. Jamie was hoping for a bear encounter while Hemali wanted to stay as far away from them as possible which makes this one a win for Hemali!
We give this trail 7.5 out of 10 rating owing to the stunning views of the lake and Tetons, relatively flat elevation profile and easy access.
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Other honorable mentions
3. Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake
This loop hike visits two lakes ringed by glacial moraines. You can go up to Taggart Lake and back (3 miles) or up to Beaver Lake and back (6.9 miles) or up to Bradley Lake (8.9 miles)
Difficulty Level – Easy to moderate
Rating – 6.5 / 10
4. Jenny Lake / Inspiration Point
Rating – 7 / 10
Option 1 – Jenny Lake Loop
A shuttle boat crosses Jenny Lake to the mouth of Cascade Canyon. Purchase tickets at the South Jenny Lake boat dock. Fee Charged. Gently rolling trail skirts lake shore.
7.1 miles RT, 4 hours, 700 ft total climbing
Difficulty – Easy
Option 2 – Hidden Falls
Popular trail follows Jenny Lake’s south shore, then climbs to view of 200-foot cascade.
5.2 miles RT, 3 hours, 550 ft total climbing. Via shuttle boat: 1.2 mile, 1½ hours, 150-feet total climbing,
Difficulty – Moderate
Option 3 – Inspiration Point
Follow trail to Hidden Falls, then continue climb to Inspiration Point overlooking Jenny Lake.
6.0 miles RT, 4 hours, 800 ft total climbing. Via shuttle boat: 2.0 miles RT, 2½ hours, 420 ft total climbing
Difficulty – Moderate Strenuous
5. Death Canyon / Static Peak Divide
Rating – 7 / 10
Option 1 (Phelps Lake Overlook) –
Trail climbs moraine to overlook Phelps Lake.
2.0 miles RT, 2 hours, 450 ft total climbing,
Difficulty Level – Moderate
Option 2 (Phelps Lake) –
Trail climbs to overlook, then descends to Phelps Lake. Return involves steep hike up to overlook.
4.2 miles RT, 3 hours, 1050 ft total climbing,
Difficulty level – Strenuous
Option 3 (Death Canyon-Static Peak Trail Junction)
Trail climbs to overlook, drops toward Phelps Lake, followed by a climb into Death Canyon to patrol cabin.
7.9 miles RT, 4 hours, 2150 ft total climbing,
Difficulty level – Strenuous
Option 4 ( Static Peak Divide)
From patrol cabin climb switchbacks through whitebark pine forest to high ridge. An ice axe may be necessary until August.
16.3 miles RT, 10 hours, 5250 ft total climbing,
Difficulty level -Very Strenuous
6. Teton Crest Trail
The 45-mile Teton Crest Trail passes through all of the best, most iconic landmarks in Grand Teton NP and neighboring Jedediah Smith Wilderness: Death Canyon Shelf, Alaska Basin, Cascade Canyon, you name it. One of the best routes on the Crest Trail is from Death Canyon to Static Peak Divide to Cascade Canyon. It’s about 25-miles and it hits Alaska Basin and Hurricane Pass. IT takes 2 – 5 days to complete this trail
Difficulty Level – Very Strenuous
Rating – 9/10