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American Classic: Backpacking The Teton Crest Trail

By Michael Lanza

That first full day was a tough one.

We had hiked lower than an hour into the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park the night time before, camping within the dense forest surrounding Phelps Lake, where we saw mule deer grazing at dusk and the wind howled by way of the darkish night time. Within the morning, in all probability drained from the long previous day of touring to Jackson, we acquired a sluggish start beneath packs heavy with too much previous, oversize gear. The solar begins baking the open decrease part of the Dying Canyon Trail by mid-morning; so our beautiful hike beneath soaring granite cliffs and along a roaring cascade shortly also turned a scorching, dusty climb.

Dying Canyon is just not the sort of place its identify conjures. One of the a number of main east-west-oriented canyons carved deeply into the japanese front of the Tetons, pouring creeks into Jackson Gap and the Snake River, Dying Canyon abounds with life. We noticed deer, moose, a lot of birds, and black bear scat. On the long ascent of the canyon’s headwall to Fox Creek Cross, we virtually waded by means of huge meadows of wildflowers.

Demise Canyon Shelf on the Teton Crest Trail.

And it solely received better from there. Knackered from the miles and the alpine solar and never but acclimated to the excessive elevations, we nonetheless felt pulled along the Teton Crest Trail over Demise Canyon Shelf, a 9,500-foot bench sandwiched between a three-mile-long, 500-foot-tall cliff and the deep trench of Dying Canyon. Boulders as massive as small houses lay strewn about this tableland, their sides and edges so neatly squared off they appear quarried. After pitching our tents close to the rim of Dying Canyon, with a view of the jagged Tetons in contrast to something these native Easterners had seen earlier than, we tried bouldering on these large rocks, however found that they had edges that sliced like razors.

After watching the sundown slowly paint the peaks golden, we turned in for a well-earned crash. However one of many locals decided to interrupt our rest. Through the night time, I heard heavy clomping just outdoors our tents, and unzipped the door to see a bull elk virtually close enough to lean out and contact it, staring back at us as if making an attempt to discern what method of beast lay before him. Within the frosty early morning, we sat on the rim of Demise Canyon with binoculars, counting upwards of a dozen moose several hundred ft under us on the canyon flooring.


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I fell in love with the Tetons on that first go to, virtually 20 years ago, when three previous associates and I backpacked from Demise Canyon Trailhead to Leigh Lake Trailhead, including a stretch of the Teton Crest Trail. It’s step for step one of the beautiful mountain walks in America, a real basic providing all the weather of an unforgettable journey: views of the incomparable skyline of the Tetons and deep, extensive, glacier-scoured canyons flanked by monumental cliffs; fantastic campsites, wildflowers, mountain lakes and creeks; and a very good probability of seeing moose, elk, marmots, pikas, mule deer, and black bears.

That’s why I maintain coming back.

Click right here now to get my e-guide The Full Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.

Alaska Basin, Cascade Canyon

Incredibly, the surroundings stored enhancing as we hiked north, following the Teton Crest Trail throughout the polished granite slabs of Alaska Basin. At Sunset Lake, I observed the pointed crown of the Grand Teton jutting up above a notch in a band of cliffs rising over the lake. That view caught with me, and every time I’ve handed that spot since, I’ve appeared for the Grand peeking at me via that notch.

We paused for an extended look from 10,372-foot Hurricane Move at the tiny Schoolroom Glacier and the green speck of its meltwater lake, and the Grand, Middle, and South Tetons lording excessive above the big cliffs and patches of green within the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. Years later, on one other hike by way of that canyon, I might discover soiled glacial ice visible in cracks in the dust and rocks masking a lot of the barren uppermost reaches of the canyon, the buried ice extending nicely past the Schoolroom’s obvious boundaries.

A backpacker above the North Fork of Cascade Canyon.Bill Mistretta above the North Fork of Cascade Canyon.

Near a campsite within the South Fork, we shivered in an icy creek and watched whistling marmots scurry round on talus. From our campsite within the South Fork, we hiked out-and-back as much as Avalanche Divide, one other cross properly over 10,000 ft, overlooking the emerald waters of Snowdrift Lake in Avalanche Canyon, under the long, formidable cliff band recognized on maps merely as The Wall.

We then knocked off the hardest day of our journey, going from the South Fork of Cascade over to Paintbrush Canyon, together with the recent, arduous climb over 10,700-foot Paintbrush Divide. But on a trip the place the scenery just appears to maintain getting higher day-after-day, today might have been the zenith. We cooled off—truly, went mildly hypothermic—in Lake Solitude. And we managed to avoid tripping and falling off the trail zigzagging up out of the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, regardless of the distraction of staring down that U-shaped glacial trough at the arrowheads of the Grand Teton and Mts. Owen and Teewinot rising greater than a vertical mile above it.

On our last night time within the Tetons, camped in Paintbrush Canyon under cliffs streaked with geologic strata, I lay awake for I’m unsure how long, listening to large gusts building from excessive above us and growing in volume for a number of seconds earlier than slamming into our trembling tents with a roar like a practice passing close by. I had not yet heard the term katabatic winds, but when later I discovered what it meant, I remembered that night time.

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The Teton Crest Trail on Death Canyon Shelf.The Teton Crest Trail on Dying Canyon Shelf.

The Crest of the Tetons

The Teton Crest Trail presents a few harmless deceptions. To begin with, it does not persist with the Teton crest, if there even is one contiguous crest linking these densely packed spires and boulder heaps. That might require rock-climbing gear, superior expertise, and a excessive degree of emotional consolation with seeing a pair thousand ft of air beneath your heels. However the Tetons do comply with a north-south orientation that, no less than on a map, varieties one thing of a crest. And the Teton Crest Trail follows the course of the vary, principally sticking to alpine terrain, but in addition touring by means of two of probably the most spectacular clefts ever carved into granite, Cascade Canyon’s north and south forks.

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The other misleading notion is looking the trip a trek of the Teton Crest Trail—it’s merely a very good, simplified description and the identify approximately describes the journey. But it isn’t strictly that; because the TCT lies deep in the mountains, mountaineering it requires linking with different trails as nicely. The good news is the number of options for trips of different length and character created by accessing the TCT by way of trails leading up a few of the vary’s parallel, roughly east-west canyons. Granite, Open, Dying, the primary Cascade, and Paintbrush Canyons are all worthy destinations, as are the canyons in the adjoining national forest land that access the path, together with Phillips, Moose, and Teton. Or begin at the southern terminus of the TCT, off WY 22 simply east of Teton Move. You might uncover, like me, that one hike right here is like one potato chip: not almost sufficient.

Can’t Get Enough

Since that first trip, I’ve returned to the Tetons some 20 occasions—and counting—backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing, and taking lengthy dayhikes on pieces of the Teton Crest Trail and the varied feeder trails that entry it. One of the crucial pleasant was one in every of my most recent: taking my youngsters, then age eight and six, on a three-day loop of Paintbrush and Cascade Canyons—their first backpacking journey in the Tetons—capped off with a sighting of two massive bull moose on our last day.

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After so many visits, I nonetheless haven’t grown jaded about these mountains—I can’t appear to get sufficient of them. There are peaks and climbs still on my tick list, and hikes I need to repeat with my youngsters. I’ve explored many corners of the vary, however nonetheless contemplate a multi-day journey on the Teton Crest Trail one of the best adventures in America.

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See my story “5 Reasons You Must Backpack the Teton Crest Trail” and my story about backpacking a piece of the Teton Crest Trail with my household and a couple of previous buddies. And get my e-guide The Complete Information to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.

THIS TRIP IS GOOD FOR beginner to intermediate backpackers with a average degree of fitness—the healthier, the extra you’ll benefit from the more durable days. Backpacking experience is less crucial because trails are apparent and well-marked, so anyone capable of studying a map gained’t get misplaced. Summers typically deliver secure, steadily sunny climate, though one of many challenges is the afternoon thunderstorms (see Considerations under). Different challenges embrace acclimating to elevations usually between 8,000 and almost 11,000 ft, and defending your food from bears (see Considerations under).

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