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Hike of the Week: Teton Crest Trail

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This is a weekly series that highlights an outstanding day hike or backpacking trip. The goal is to inspire you to want to get out and see these places for yourself. I know for us, just seeing amazing photos and reading about a great hike is enough to get us motivated.

This week's hike is the Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.

Featured Photo: Grand Tetons (photo by Greg Holtfreter)

Why this hike?

If you’ve never seen a photo of the Grand Tetons, then it makes sense that you would be asking this question. The jagged peaks and lush, green valleys are enticing enough to spend weeks nearby. This 5-day hike will give you a taste of the high points and low points of this National Park trail.

  • Total distance of 39 miles
  • Easy access from nearby Teton Village
  • Well-known, well-mapped area
  • National Park amenities and ranger contacts
  • Many different camping areas

However, keep the following in mind:

  • Strenuous and lengthy hike with varying elevation
  • Peak season is late July through mid-September
  • Teton country is bear country, so a bear canister is needed.
  • Need to arrange transportation from String Lake Trailhead back to Teton Village

How do I get there?

First things first, getting to the trail. Flying into the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is the easiest way to get to the area. From the airport, renting a car is the most convenient option and what we'd recommend. This allows you to get around more easily before you head out on your trek. You’ll need a car to pick up your permit and gather the last of your supplies, including bear spray and fuel. Note that your permit must be picked up at one of the National Park Visitor Centers, which are not located in Jackson.

If you'd like to try public transportation, the START Bus serves Jackson and the nearby Teton Village where you'll be starting your hike. However, it does not serve Jenny Lake or String Lake, so you can't rely on it to get back to Jackson. The area has a lot of taxi services which you can use. The National Park rangers maintain a good list, so ask for it when getting your backcountry permit. The final option is to hitchhike, which is actually a reasonable way to go. The park sees a lot of traffic during peak months, so there is a very good chance that you'll be able to get a ride back to Jackson or Teton Village. As far as hotels on a budget go, The Hostel is a good option and less than a mile from the trail head.

Map

The following map shows our recommended route.


We recommend a 5-day, 4-night itinerary, each with a full 8-hour day of hiking. That will also give you plenty of time to explore and check out the beautiful landmarks along the way. The total distance is about 39 miles.

Here are a couple of other map resources:

The Hiking Project - Teton Crest Trail
Grand Teton National Park Backcountry Trip Planner

There are three different ways you could start this trek and all three are about equidistant. They all begin at Teton Village. You could hike right out of Teton Village along the Valley Trail and north toward the Granite Canyon Trailhead. If you do this, make sure to park your car at the Ranch Lot which is the long-term parking area for Teton Village. You could also get someone to drop you off at the Granite Canyon Trailhead, and come get you from the final trailhead at String Lake. Or third, you could take the Aerial Tram from Teton Village west toward South Fork.

  • Day 1 - Granite Canyon Trailhead to Marion Lake (8.3 miles).
  • Day 2 - Marion Lake to Death Canyon Shelf (6.3 miles)
  • Day 3 - Death Canyon Shelf to South Fork Cascade (7.8 miles)
  • Day 4 - South Fork Cascade to Upper Paintbrush (9.5 miles)
  • Day 5 - Upper Paintbrush to String Lake Trailhead (6.5 miles)

If you have difficulty getting a permit for Marion Lake, which is a very popular site with limit space, you can opt for the Upper Granite Camping Zone which is less than a mile before Marion Lake.

Trail Description

This renowned hike of Grand Teton National Park winds and climbs along the interior ridge of the Teton Mountain Range. Jam-packed with divides, passes, peaks and valleys, this is a trek for anyone who wants to experience all points of a mountain range.

The trail is riddled with interceptions of alpine lakes, like Marion Lake and Leigh Lake. Once upon the summit of Rendezvous Mountain or upon entering Hurricane Pass, the iconic three peaks of the Grand Tetons are framed for the next several miles of the hike.

Since the hiking season for the trail is so brief, it coincides with a time of magnificent bursts of foliage color, lupine beds and bubbling mountain streams daintily lined with bluebell flowers.

The mix between peak and valley hiking provides endless views of nearby Jackson Hole, Teton Village, and the Teton peaks. Then you follow up the spine of the craggy Tetons. By the time you hit the ending trailhead, you’ll have taken in the foliage at its finest and the mountains in their most vast and intimate form.

What will I need?

This trail is one of the more well-known US hikes, so the routes are well mapped and in good condition. However, Teton country is bear country, so having a bear canister is required. The Grand Teton website has a list of approved bear canisters, too, to make your search for the perfect food storage easier. The park will even lend you one for free if you don’t have one, but this is based on first-come-first-serve.

The best times to hit the Teton Crest Trail are August and early September. July could be mosquito-y and late September onward could be filled with unpredictable weather and sno. This is a multi-day trip so the whole backpacking gear shindig is necessary. Luckily, we have prepared our Ultimate Backpacker’s Packing List which is full of recommendations and comes in an easy, printable checklist.

Do I need a permit?

Yes! You can apply for a permit into the Grand Teton National Park between the first Wednesday in January until May 15. Checking out the backcountry reservation website will provide you with the most recent information on the trail and the link in order to reserve a permit. If you aren’t able to reserve a permit for the dates or routes that you want and if you have a flexible schedule, first-come-first-serve permits are available, too, 24 hours prior to your hike.

Resources

Jackson Hole Airport
START Bus
The Hostel
Virtual Hiking Tour
Permit Information
Bears and Backcountry Food Storage

Have you hiked the Teton Crest Trail? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.

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