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Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

Best Week: Granite Canyon to Paintbrush Canyon

Take a grand tour of the Tetons on a six-day trek past pinnacled peaks, wildflower meadows, and secluded lakes.

by: Michael Lanza



Wrap around the rows of toothy, 12,000-foot peaks that form the centerpiece of the Teton Range on a 51.3-mile point-to-point hike with off-trail scrambles, good odds to see A-list wildlife, and near-constant views of cliff-flanked canyons. From the Death Canyon trailhead (1), hike west on the Valley Trail around the northwest shores of Phelps Lake, a popular watering hole for moose and black bears at dawn and dusk. Swing right on Open Canyon Trail 2.8 miles in, climbing more than 2,600 feet in 4.9 miles to a quiet pass at 9,710-foot Mt. Hunt Divide (2), which rises far from the bustling canyons to the north.

As the trail emerges from lodgepole and fir stands, the towering cliffs on Mt. Hunt’s northeast face appear to the west. Crest the pass at mile 7.6, then .2 mile later, tackle a class 2, off-trail climb (more than 1,000 feet in half a mile) to the rarely visited 10,783-foot Mt. Hunt (3), one of the few peaks bordering this route that doesn’t require technical climbing. Back on the trail, descend a couple more miles before picking a site within the Mt. Hunt Divide camping zone.

The next day, descend farther into the depths of the canyon to North Fork Granite Creek. At the head of the valley, turn right on the Teton Crest Trail (4) and climb out of the tiered basin, skirting turquoise Marion Lake (5) on a grassy bench. (Watch for elk roaming through the next lonely, five-mile stretch). Cross a small saddle at mile 15.2, and continue north for less than two miles to Fox Creek Pass (6), a meadow with sweeping northeast views of the Tetons’ vaulted skyline (in July, lupine and columbine splash the scene with blue, purple, and yellow). From here, traverse north-northeast for another mile to one of the park’s most spectacular—and remote—backcountry camps (7), on the three-mile-long, 900-foot-wide Death Canyon Shelf. A 500-foot-tall cliff band rises to the west and a 200-foot ledge drops into Death Canyon to the east.

On day three, make the gentle, 200-foot climb over 9,726-foot Mt. Meek Pass, then descend into Alaska Basin (8), speckled with granite and a cluster of lakes. Continue north past Sunset Lake and cross a high plateau. Linger at 10,372-foot Hurricane Pass (9) for top-of-the-world views of the Grand, Middle, and South Tetons, which rise just two miles to the east. Descend past Schoolroom Glacier, and grab one of the uppermost sites (10) in South Fork Cascade Canyon to cap off a 9.2-mile day.

Day four: Take a layover day and hike to two alpine lakes. Climb 1.7 miles south to the end of the maintained trail on 10,680-foot Avalanche Divide (11), then dive into the secluded confines of Avalanche Canyon to Snowdrift Lake (12). Pick your way through cliff bands (you’re off track if you hit terrain that requires using your hands to downclimb ledges or steep slabs) to reach Lake Taminah (13). Return to camp for another night.

On the fifth day (a cruisy 5.1 miles), hike northeast, then turn left into North Fork Cascade Canyon. A mile later, claim one of the first established camps (14) for neck-cramping views of the Grand—5,500 feet overhead.

The last day features a relentless, 2,000-plus-foot climb to Paintbrush Divide (15). Pass Lake Solitude, set in a stone cirque, and roll over the divide into Paintbrush Canyon. (Got an extra night? Camp in the upper reaches of the canyon.) Descend 8.3 miles past cliffs—striped in browns, grays, and muted reds—to your shuttle car (16).

Trip Planner
Shuttle car From Jackson, go north 12 miles; turn left on Teton Park Rd. In 8.5 miles, turn left on Jenny Lake Rd. In 2.5 miles, turn left on String Lake Rd. Park in .3 mile.

To trailhead Return to Teton Park Rd. and turn right. In 7.8 miles, turn right on Moose Wilson Rd. In 3.1 miles, turn right on Whitegrass Ranch Rd. Bear left after .7 mile. Park in .9 mile.

Permit Required for backcountry camping; first-come, first-served (up to a day before the hike). Reservations accepted Jan. 5 to May 15 every year; $25 fee per trip.

Contact (307) 739-3300; nps.gov/grte

Trip data backpacker.com/hikes/1636666

Online exclusive See the highlights of this route in a slideshow at backpacker.com/tetons-bestweek.

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