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

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, 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, 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, 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 and climb out of the tiered basin, skirting turquoise Marion Lake 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, 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 for another mile to one of the park’s most spectacular—and remote—backcountry camps 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, 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 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 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, then dive into the secluded confines of Avalanche Canyon to Snowdrift Lake. 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. 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 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. 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.

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 Michael Lanza

TO TRAILHEAD: 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.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 82.6

Waypoints

TET001

Location: 43.655702, -110.781112

From the Death Canyon trailhead, hike west on the Valley Trail. In one mile, crest a 7,202-foot perch overlooking around the northern shores of Phelps Lake, a popular watering hole for moose and black bears at dawn and dusk.

TET002

Location: 43.654987, -110.805101

Bear left, heading south toward Phelps Lake.

TET003

Location: 43.65269, -110.804634

Turn right at the 3-way.

TET004

Location: 43.648513, -110.808556

Bear right at the 3-way.

TET005

Location: 43.642908, -110.806174

Make a hard right onto Open Canyon Trail. Ahead, you'll climb more than 2,600 feet in 4.9 miles, to a quiet pass at 9,710-foot Mt. Hunt Divide.

TET006

Location: 43.642473, -110.814672

Turn right at the T-junction, and continue west into Open Canyon.

TET007

Location: 43.62918, -110.850763

Mt. Hunt Divide (9,710 ft.): This remote pass rises far from the bustling canyons to the north.

TET008

Location: 43.627234, -110.853869

Turn right to 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, one of the few peaks bordering this route that doesn’t require technical climbing.

TET009

Location: 43.630717, -110.861213

Mt. Hunt (10,783 ft.): Preview your upcoming route along the Death Canyon Shelf to the northwest.

TET010

Location: 43.623554, -110.875473

Cross the outlet stream of Indian Lake, which sits in a hanging lake basin to the northwest.

TET011

Location: 43.619887, -110.884693

Find a campsite within the Mt. Hunt Divide camping zone. The next day, descend farther into the depths of the canyon to North Fork Granite Creek.

TET012

Location: 43.618084, -110.90967

Turn right, heading northwest.

TET013

Location: 43.618242, -110.929649

At the head of the valley, turn right on the Teton Crest Trail, and climb out of the tiered basin,

TET014

Location: 43.622975, -110.928511

Pass turquoise Marion Lake (and potential campsites) on a grassy bench. Ahead, watch for elk roaming through the next lonely, five-mile stretch.

TET015

Location: 43.628651, -110.927196

Cross a small saddle at mile 15.2, and continue north for less than two miles to Fox Creek Pass.

TET016

Location: 43.646091, -110.910094

Cross 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.

TET017

Location: 43.650004, -110.905523

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.

TET018

Location: 43.654033, -110.900317

Campsite: One of the park's most spectacular—and remote—backcountry camps.

TET019

Location: 43.65615, -110.89845

Potential campsite

TET020

Location: 43.657583, -110.8987

Reliable spring

TET021

Location: 43.684074, -110.874753

Make the gentle, 200-foot climb over 9,726-foot Mt. Meek Pass (you may not even notice it), then descend into Alaska Basin.

TET022

Location: 43.691925, -110.868187

Descend the Sheep Steps switchbacks.

TET023

Location: 43.694891, -110.853601

Pass popular campsites at Basin Lakes in Alaska Basin, speckled with granite and a cluster of lakes.

TET024

Location: 43.706042, -110.855699

Continue straight, heading north.

TET025

Location: 43.709793, -110.857174

Continue north past Sunset Lake (possible tentsites on flat slabs) and cross a high plateau.

TET026

Location: 43.728253, -110.850719

Linger at 10,372-foot Hurricane Pass 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.

TET027

Location: 43.731147, -110.838921

Turn right at the 3-way junction, heading south, to grab one of the uppermost sites in South Fork Cascade.

TET028

Location: 43.73035, -110.838817

Campsites in the upper reaches of South Fork Cascade Canyon. The next day: Take a layover day and hike to two alpine lakes (it's a 7.4-mile out-and-back). Climb 1.7 miles south to the end of the maintained trail on 10,680-foot Avalanche Divide.

TET029

Location: 43.717272, -110.834885

Avalanche Divide: Dive into the secluded confines of Avalanche Canyon to Snowdrift Lake.

TET030

Location: 43.708402, -110.821214

A scenic campsite is located on the eastern edge of Snowdrift Lake, but it's exposed. Next, 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.

TET031

Location: 43.708478, -110.803835

Turn around at Lake Taminah. Roughly 300 feet to the southeast, Shoshoko Falls, formed from the outlet creek of goldfish-shaped Lake Taminah, flows down Avalanche Canyon into Taggart Lake. Return to camp for another night.

TET032

Location: 43.733669, -110.83509

Descend switchbacks into South Fork Cascade Canyon.

TET033

Location: 43.764462, -110.816903

Turn left into North Fork Cascade Canyon. Roughly a mile later, claim one of the first established camps for neck-cramping views of the Grand—5,500 feet overhead.

TET034

Location: 43.777044, -110.825443

Campsite. Get an early start the next day to beat the afternoon heat on the relentless, 2,000-plus-foot climb to Paintbrush Divide.

TET035

Location: 43.785696, -110.83103

Potential campsite near cascades and pools

TET036

Location: 43.791977, -110.841494

Pass Lake Solitude, set in a stone cirque.

TET037

Location: 43.793092, -110.818105

Crest Paintbrush Divide. (Got an extra night? Camp in the upper reaches of the canyon.) Next, descend 8.3 miles past cliffs—striped in browns, grays, and muted reds—to your shuttle car.

TET038

Location: 43.789905, -110.801478

Stay left at the fork.

TET039

Location: 43.791706, -110.797453

Holly Lake

TET040

Location: 43.788538, -110.79124

Turn left at the T.

TET041

Location: 43.796329, -110.738282

Swing left.

TET042

Location: 43.797336, -110.729098

Cross String Lake, then turn right, heading south.

TET043

Location: 43.792457, -110.725644

Continue straight.

TET044

Location: 43.78867, -110.730638

The route ends at the trailhead east of String Lake. Pick up your shuttle car to return to the Death Canyon trailhead.