Grand Teton National Park’s backcountry trails have to be experienced to be believed. The famous view of the Tetons from highway US 89, is just one perspective on this impressive mountain range. On our trip to the Tetons in Summer 2015, we backpacked the trail over the course of three days. It was a phenomenal backpacking trip and we’ve provided the essential information you’ll need to plan a trip of your own backpacking the Teton Crest Trail!
Facts About the Teton Crest Trail
The Teton Crest Trail is a scenic backpacking trail in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The runs along the Southwestern edge of the park for about 22 miles. There are several trails to take to reach the Teton Crest Trail, each around 10 miles or less, and the trail doesn’t have to be hiked in a particular direction.
Depending on your route and skill level, the Teton Crest Trail can be done in anywhere from 3 to 5 days.
Getting a Backcountry Permit
In order to backpack the Teton Crest Trail, you’l need to camp in the backcountry and to reserve specific campsites on your itinerary. These reservations cost $35 for advance reservations and $25 for walk-ins. You can purchase a backcountry permit at any of the Ranger Stations in the park and hit the trails for the backpacking trip of a lifetime!
Though the park service sets aside about half of their camp site reservations for walk-in visitors, it’s still most likely easier to secure your backcountry permits during the off season. Keep in mind that outside of the peak summer months you also run a greater risk of colder, wetter weather and treacherous mountain passes along the Teton Crest Trail.
Planning Your Teton Crest Trail Backpacking Route
Some sections of the Teton Crest Trail are better than others. We found the Granite Canyon area, and the trail south of Fox Creek Pass to be pretty lackluster in comparison to the rest of the trail. Especially if you don’t have a lot of time or you’re worried about taking too long to complete the trail, these sections can be successfully bypassed without missing the best parts of the trail.
The most memorable parts of the trail stretched between Death Canyon Shelf and Paintbrush Divide, so our suggested route includes accessing the Teton Crest Trails at those points.
Death Canyon to Mt. Meek Pass
Begin at Death Canyon Trailhead and hike up through Death Canyon. You can camp in the Death Canyon camping zone or continue up Fox Creek Pass and camp in the Death Canyon Shelf camping zone. If you’re looking to camp on the shelf, check with a ranger about available water sources- there aren’t many in the camping zone.
Fox Creek Pass is at a lower elevation than some of the other passes, and so less of a risk when it comes to ice and snow. However, the pass gains elevation very rapidly- take it slow and don’t be shy about stopping to catch your breath.
The walk along Death Canyon Shelf is easy, and so is the descent down Mt. Meek Pass, if you’re heading south to north.
Mt. Meek Pass to Cascade Canyon
Hurricane Pass is likely to have some snow and ice, but the most risk comes when descending the pass on the northern side. Snow tends to pile up on the switchbacks, so use your hiking poles and go slow.
Both the North and South Fork Cascade camping areas are beautiful and great for camping.
Cascade Canyon to Paintbrush Canyon
Paintbrush Divide and Paintbrush Canyon are stunning pieces of trail. If you’re not in a hurry to get out, we recommend trying to secure a camping permit in the Upper Paintbrush camping zone. Paintbrush Divide is the most treacherous pass on the Teton Crest Trail, especially when immediately descending to the east. Be careful and use your poles!
If you’re short on time, you can easily descend through Paintbrush Canyon to String Lake in a few hours. It is a consistent downhill grade, and very easy hiking so, nice to save for the last day of your trip!
String Lake to Death Canyon Trailhead
We recommend getting a pick up, or a hitch, to take you from the String Lake trailhead to the Death Canyon trailhead, where you started. However, there is plenty of trail access between the two trailheads and you can certainly hike the distance back to where you started, it’s just likely to take another day as it is at least another 12 miles.
What to Bring
No matter the season (except for winter and early spring- what are you, crazy?!), sudden, inclement weather is always a possibility in the backcountry. It’s almost impossible to predict what the weather will be like in alpine environments like Grand Teton, but we’ve found that the higher up you are, the worse it gets.
Your best defense is to thoroughly research the weather before you set out on your trip, and to be prepared. This is why we advocate for walk-in reservations- who wants to plan a trip months in advance only to have to cancel because of a sudden snowstorm?
Teton Crest Trail Backpacking Essentials
- Hiking Poles: Poles are a must-have for safely getting over many of the mountain passes on the Teton Crest Trail. While we don’t advocate for venturing on this trail at times where there is enough snow to require an iceaxe, some snow is often unavoidable at higher elevations.
- Rain Jacket and Waterproof Pack Cover: The only thing worse than being cold and wet, is cold and wet at altitude- a recipe for hypothermia. Thunderstorms are common in the Tetons during the summer, and sudden, unpredictable precipitation is a characteristic of alpine environments. A waterproof rain jacket and pack cover will keep you and your gear protected in the event of a sudden storm.
- Sunscreen: What else gets worse at altitude? UV radiation. It’s true, though the air does feel cooler and crisper, it doesn’t mean that you’re safe from the sun’s rays. With the increase in elevation, the sun becomes more powerful and sunburn can occur much faster. Believe me, a sunburn in the backcountry is much more unpleasant than your run-of-the-mill beach day accident. Even a thin layer of sun protection will help!
- Warmth: Just like the weather, temperatures in alpine environments can fluctuate. Make sure you have a sleeping bag that protects against the lowest averages for the time of year you’ll be going, as well as a down or synthetic jacket designed to protect against the cold and insulate your body heat.
Grand Teton is Bear Country
Grand Teton isn’t just home to black bears, but grizzly bears. Even though many of you are likely terrified at this point, we’ll issue the, probably useless, advice of don’t freak out.
If you’ve never backpacked in bear country before, you need to know that there is generally not a huge safety risk as long as you follow the necessary precautions, which, incidentally, refer mostly to the proper storage of human food. In Grand Teton National Park, the Park Service requires the use of a bear canister for this purpose.
Aside from the canister, it is highly recommended that all hikers and backpackers carry bear spray. “Bear spray” is essentially a stronger form of pepper spray that can be administered in the case of a bear attack (don’t just go spraying bears). Bear spray can be purchased at various locations throughout the park. Talk to park rangers about when and how to use it.
What is a bear canister?
A bear canister is a durable plastic container used for storing food and smellable items when making overnight trips in bear country. Depending on the type of canister, a special locking mechanism is used to open and close the container, rendering it effectively secure from bears. Bear Canisters are required for all overnight backcountry trips in Grand Teton, and the ranger issuing your permit will also issue a bear canister.
To make the bear canister as effective as possible, place all food, toiletries and anything else with a scent in the canister, and leave it at least 100 feet away from your tent at night. Be sure to ask the park ranger any specific questions you have about using the bear canister or bear safety.
Want to research more of the trip? Check out the Backcountry Trip Planner provided by Grand Teton National. Don’t miss the trail map with mileages on the last page!
We hope this information helps you when planning your trip on the fabulous Teton Crest Trail! Have more questions or comments about the Teton Crest Trail? Share them with us i the comment section!