Grand Teton National Park: Death Canyon Loop

Sleep in a lake-dotted basin and scale an 11,000-foot peak on this 28.2-mile lollipop loop in Grand Teton National Park.
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Sleep in a lake-dotted basin and scale an 11,000-foot peak on this 28.2-mile lollipop loop in Grand Teton National Park.

Want the secret to finding classic Tetons scenery crammed with craggy peaks, wildflowers, and mountain lakes—but not the crowds? Drive south nine miles from the easily accessed trails circling Cascade and Paintbrush Canyons to this less-traveled, 28.2-mile lasso loop. Start at the Death Canyon trailhead and hike west. The first mile climbs gently through conifers to a 7,202-foot perch overlooking the deep blues of Phelps Lake.

Descend the next mile to the mouth of Death Canyon, where black bears gorge on juicy huckleberries in late summer, and continue west into the canyon on switchbacks that gain more than 1,100 feet in a two-mile stretch to a small patrol cabin. Scan the sheer granite walls for rock climbers scaling some of the park’s most renowned multi-pitch climbs.

From the ranger cabin, go straight at the three-way junction for another 4.5 miles along the gently inclined valley floor, which brims with Indian paintbrush, columbine, and monkshood in July. Sleep in the upper reaches of the canyon near the edge of the Death Canyon camping zone.

The next day, hike half a mile to the head of the valley and start the .8-mile, 700-foot push to Fox Creek Pass at 9,600 feet. As you climb higher, the surrounding cliffs transition from granite to pocketed walls of limestone, remnants of the ancient sea that once submerged the area.

Cruise north from the pass along the Death Canyon Shelf, a broad, boulder-riddled ledge with skybox views of the Tetons. Three miles later, cross 9,726-foot Mt. Meek Pass and descend the Sheep Steps switchbacks to campsites in Alaska Basin, which neighbor lakes, granite slabs, and wildflower nooks.

You’ll tick off 12.9 miles on the last day: Hike north about a mile, then turn right for a 2.2-mile climb that leaves the lush basin for stark, high-alpine terrain. At 10,550-foot Buck Mountain Divide, contour 1.1 miles southeast. Drop your pack on Static Peak Divide for a half-mile out-and-back to Static’s 11,303-foot summit. Descend 4.1 miles through whitebark pines to the cabin and return to the trailhead.

INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/things2know.htm.

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations accepted ($20 administrative fee for permits during peak season). nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/back.htm

CONTACT Grand Teton National Park, (307) 739-3300; nps.gov/grte/

-Mapped by Molly Loomis

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 45.4

Waypoints

DTH001

Location: 43.655766, -110.781066

Start at the Death Canyon trailhead and hike west. The first mile climbs gently through conifers to a 7,202-foot perch overlooking the deep blues of Phelps Lake.

DTH002

Location: 43.657007, -110.799441

At this high point, stare down at Phelps Lake, a popular hang-out for moose and black bears. Next, descend to the mouth of Death Canyon.

DTH003

Location: 43.655061, -110.809839

Continue west at the mouth of Death Canyon, where black bears gorge on juicy huckleberries in late summer. Ahead, the trail gains more than 1,100 feet in a two-mile stretch to a small patrol cabin. Scan the sheer granite walls for rock climbers scaling some of the park’s most renowned multi-pitch climbs.

DTH004

Location: 43.664115, -110.831065

From the ranger cabin, go straight at the three-way junction for another 4.5 miles. The gently inclined valley floor brims with Indian paintbrush, columbine, and monkshood in July.

DTH005

Location: 43.651289, -110.893765

Sleep in the upper reaches of the canyon near the edge of the Death Canyon camping zone. The next day, hike half a mile to the head of the valley and start the .8-mile, 700-foot push to Fox Creek Pass at 9,600 feet. As you climb higher, the surrounding cliffs transition from granite to pocketed walls of limestone, remnants of the ancient sea that once submerged the area.

DTH006

Location: 43.646927, -110.910066

Summit Fox Creek Pass, a meadow with sweeping northeast views of the Tetons’s vaulted skyline (in July, lupine and columbine splash the scene with blue, purple, and yellow). From here, traverse north-northeast.

DTH007

Location: 43.652656, -110.901489

Death Canyon Shelf: Traverse this three-mile-long, 900-foot-wide ledge. A 500-foot-tall cliff band rises to the west and a 200-foot ledge drops into Death Canyon to the east. There are year-round springs and several campsites, all with views of the Grand Teton and other peaks. Tip: Find sites by a creek with some low trees for wind protection.

DTH008

Location: 43.684045, -110.874749

Cross 9,726-foot Mt. Meek Pass and continue north.

DTH009

Location: 43.692456, -110.867969

Drop down the Sheep Steps switchbacks.

DTH010

Location: 43.696731, -110.851579

Your campsite in Alaska Basin will neighbor lakes, granite slabs, and wildflower nooks. You’ll tick off 12.9 miles on the last day: Hike north about a mile, then turn right for a 2.2-mile climb that leaves the lush basin for stark, high-alpine terrain.

DTH011

Location: 43.706136, -110.855614

Turn right at the 3-way and climb out of Alaska Basin.

DTH012

Location: 43.687147, -110.829553

At 10,550-foot Buck Mountain Divide, contour 1.1 miles southeast.

DTH013

Location: 43.679576, -110.818583

Drop your pack on Static Peak Divide for a half-mile out-and-back to Static’s 11,303-foot summit.

DTH014

Location: 43.682552, -110.816179

Static Peak (11,303 ft.). Descend 4.1 miles through whitebark pines back to the cabin.

DTH015

Location: 43.664207, -110.831032

Turn left and retrace your steps to the trailhead.