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Grand Teton National Park: Avalanche Canyon to Cascade Canyon

Link two of the park’s deepest and most spectacular valleys via a high pass.

Rating

Joining obscure, trailless Avalanche Canyon and popular Cascade Canyon gives as complete a Teton experience as anything described here. You’ll enjoy five-star scenery, a pass well above 10,000 feet, and adventurous but straightforward crosscountry hiking. This 17.4-mile, point-to-point trek can be done in a long, arduous day, but take two or three to enjoy great campsites at Lake Taminah, Snowdrift Lake, and the South Fork of Cascade Canyon.

From the Valley Trail north of Taggart Lake, turn west onto the unmarked use trail to Avalanche Canyon (it’s often blocked by sticks) just before the Valley Trail begins climbing the low ridge separating Taggart and Bradley Lakes. Obscured in spots and challenging to track across talus slopes (look for cairns), the use trail is otherwise obvious much of the way to Lake Taminah.

From there, you’ll navigate cross-country, but it’s an uncomplicated hike up the canyon. Find the breaks in the cliff bands below Taminah and Snowdrift Lakes to avoid any scrambling. (Hiking up Avalanche and down Cascade makes this routefinding much easier.) At 10,680-foot Avalanche Divide, pick up the good spur trail into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon, then follow maintained trail all the way to Jenny Lake.

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: Start at the Taggart Lake trailhead, three miles north of Moose Visitor Centeron Teton Park Road. Leave a second vehicle at Jenny Lake Visitor Center, just minutes farther up the road, or hitch a ride back to Taggart post-hike. Catch a shuttle boat across Jenny Lake from the Cascade Canyon boat launch to avoid hiking an extra 2.3 miles around the lake. See jennylakeboating.com for prices and schedules.

To Trailhead

1 Comment

  1. apopalis

    CAUTION: Not as simple as portrayed, at least for a couple from Tampa, FL. This description leaves out key details that describe the more difficult portions of the hike.

    The off-trail portion along Avalanche Canyon is fairly simple and easy as elevation change is very gradual. However, we hiked this in August of 2014, after a winter with heavy snowfall. There was, at some point, an avalanche (really, in Avalanche Canyon) that felled most of the large conifers along the use-trail. This obscured the trail significantly. We decided to head up the talus covered sides to try and go around the felled trees. This proved exhausting and added distance to the hike. The lesson: this trail may change drastically from year to year, making the trail hard to find and the hike more arduous. Also, stick close to the stream when in doubt (fallen trees are easier to deal with than talus slopes).

    Once at the base of the talus slope below Lake Taminah, you will ascend 2,200ft in 2.76mi. The final mile of that 2.76 will ascend roughly 1,300ft, which is, for those who do not live in areas surrounded by mountains, steep. We did not have previous experience with talus (large rocks and boulders that fall from higher rock formations) and were thus not mentally prepared for the challenge. The entire 2.76 miles is essentially a rock slide, you will be stepping from one rock to the next as though on an uneven flight of stairs. The cairns (stacks of stones that serve as markers) that the author mentions are not always maintained well. We had a difficult time locating the few existing markers and spent most of the ascent off of the use-trail.

    After this ascent, you will have achieved Lake Taminah. In order to climb to Snowdrift Lake, you will then traverse talus all the way to the base of a 1,000′ wall (not mentioned by author) that must be ascended before attaining Snowdrift. This wall is steep and, due to the heavy snowfall of the previous winter, was mostly covered in snow. We were unsure if the snow had covered the portions of the wall used to ascend it, and with storm clouds moving in, decided against the ascent.

    The numbers I have provided are from my use of Google MyTracks during the hike and are therefore fairly accurate.

    We were happy to have made the journey, however, felt misled by this author’s description of the hike. I believe that he speaks from much experience and thus neglects to highlight the more difficult portions of the hike, assuming readers to be of similar experience. Be aware that the trail can be difficult to follow and might even be destroyed by the weather of the previous year. Also note that the ascents are steep and covered in talus with poorly marked routes. If your goal for the first day is Snowdrift, then plan on making two steep ascents over talus totaling 3,200ft of elevation gain (this is not considering the elevation gained over more gradual terrain).

    Due to the detours from the “trail,” steep terrain, and our inexperience with talus slopes, the hike from the parking lot to Lake Taminah took us 9hr 56min. For comparison, the hike back took about 2 to 3hrs. We have summited Algonguin Peak in the Adirondacks, completed the Franconia Ridge Loop in the White Mountains and hiked to Amphitheater Lake in Grand Teton NP with ease. Lake Taminah alone is more difficult than any of these.

    This hike is rewarding, I simply wish the readers of this post with varying levels of experience to fully understand the challenges that await you, as they are mostly left out of the author’s description of the trip.

    Happy and safe hiking!

    Profile photo of apopalis

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