3 Great Day Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
The snow has finally melted (for the most part) in the mountains and the season for hiking is in full swing. For those who like to get out of the car and stretch your legs for a walk in the woods, I have detailed below 3 great opportunities to do so in Grand Teton National Park. Since the hikes are in the park, they are not dog friendly hikes. I also would like to remind you that it is important that you bring bear spray with you when you are hiking and to travel in a group of 2 or more people. Conversing with each other is a good way to keep the bears away because it decreases the chance that you will surprise the bear, which would cause the animal to be defensive and possibly aggressive. With that being said, hiking in bear country is relatively safe as long as your follow that advice. Below I have laid out 3 distinctly different hikes. A short one to a waterfall and view point (Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls), one long one to a high altitude lake (Lake Solitude), and one that takes you through a canyon with towering walls on either side of you (Death Canyon). Hopefully you can fit one of these adventurous hikes into your vacation!
Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls
This hike is hands down one of the most popular hikes in Grand Teton National Park. However, if you are looking to be one of the only ones on the trail, this hike is not for you. The trail head departs from Jenny Lake parking lot and the trail is marked on the GTNP map, which is given to you upon entrance into the park. It is relatively short (5 miles round trip) and the first half of the trail leads you around Jenny Lake before ascending a moderate grade to an overlook about 400 feet above Jenny Lake. The view overlooks the lake and provides sweeping views of the valley below. If you are short on time, a ferry which departs every 15 minutes may escort you across the lake for a small fee ($9 round trip for adults), and cut off the 3 mile round trip walk around the lake. After a moderate hike of .6 miles you will see a path to Hidden Falls on your left. Walk about a hundred feet and you will come across an 80 foot cascade. After visiting Hidden Falls the trail gets steeper. Continue .4 miles along the trail to reach Inspiration Point. This is a great place to hang out and have a snack while soaking in the view. Once you are ready to head back, retrace your steps to your car.
Having grown up in New England hiking in the White Mountains, I was under the assumption when I moved to Jackson that any hike over 12 miles could not be done in one day. However, I was proved wrong once I began hiking in the Tetons. Trails have a more moderate grade and include switchbacks, so a lot of ground can be covered in a shorter amount of time depending on your physical condition. This hike is a day hike, but it will take you the majority of the day so I would suggest that you start your hike no later than 10am. The trail is 18.4 miles round trip but with a boat ride across Jenny Lake, the trail is 14.4 miles. I would allot 8 to 10 hours for this hike depending on your physical condition and whether you take the shuttle across Jenny Lake. The trail to Lake Solitude takes you up Cascade Canyon, just past Inspiration Point: a steady but moderate ascent in a canyon sandwiched between Teewinot Mountain and Mt. St. John.
Once out of the canyon the trail splits into a north and south fork. Take a right onto the North Fork and continue the ascent. Shortly after the fork the landscape will change. The valley opens up and you will find yourself hiking through bush and grassy areas, as well as boulder fields. 2.7 miles after the split, the valley dead ends and you will find yourself at Lake Solitude. Rumor has it that there was still snow around the lake as recent as last week. The lake is pretty, however, the best view is looking back on where you came from. An unobstructed view of Grand Teton and the surrounding mountains in contrast to the lake and fields will take your breath away. If you are looking to do an overnight, it is worth getting a back country permit from the Visitors Center and camping in the Northfork Cascade Canyon camping area. Seeing the sunset on the back of the Grand is a life changing experience. Once you have spent enough time by the lake you may retrace your steps to your car.
Death Canyon / Phelps Lake Overlook
The beauty of this trail is that you can make it as long or as short as you would like! The best trail head to access Death Canyon is located on a side road off of the Moose-Wilson road (be sure to consult the GTNP Map for location). It is recommended that your car has 4 wheel drive because the road is dirt and the traffic on it during mud season often causes large divots. Smaller cars will have trouble reaching the trail head and campers are not allowed on the Moose-Wilson road.
The hike to the Phelps Lake Overlook is short (1.8 miles round trip) and relatively moderate, but past the Phelps Lake Overlook the trail becomes moderately strenuous as it continues up into Death Canyon. The Phelps Lake Overlook provides a sweeping view of the lake below and the valley floor. Continue on the trail to Death Canyon. Once in the canyon, the view from below is almost as stunning as one from above. The feeling is indescribable: feeling so small in comparison to the mountains towering above you. Also, the further you go, the higher you get, so as you look out the canyon you get a beautiful view of Phelps Lake and the valley below. This canyon is steeper than Cascade Canyon. You may hike as far as you would like and then have a snack or lunch in one of the boulder fields or by a stream that divides the canyon, and then head home. I would suggest that you allot at least 4 hours to hiking in order to make it worth the outing. In the boulder fields be sure to look for Yellow Bellied Marmots. These small tan colored animals tend to come out when you are eating and try to steal your food. DO NOT feed the animals. They become dependent on humans as a food source, which is detrimental to their survival in the wild.
So there you have it. 3 distinctly different hikes that can be catered to your time frame and hiking ability. You really can’t go wrong with any of the hikes. All provide gorgeous views and get you off of the pavement and into nature. Other hikes that we would recommend are hikes to Surprise and Amphitheater Lake and Jackson Peak. Another short mellow hike that I would recommend to those who don’t want to stray far from the car and have children is to hike to Bradley and/or Taggart Lake. If you are looking for a backpacking trip I would recommend doing the Teton Crest Trail or Paintbrush to Cascade Canyon. So lace up those hiking boots, grab the camera and a day pack and go take a hike!