When I stepped on top of Hurricane Pass overlooking the Grand Teton and Middle Teton, I understood why the Teton Crest Trail was named one of the best, and most scenic hikes in North America.
When it comes to panoramic views, this hiking trail in Grand Teton National Park has it all: crystal lakes, towering granite peaks, rich pine forests, pocket fields of wildflowers, and an alluring variety of wildlife.
All 35-45 miles, depending on your route, of the Teton Crest Trail traverses Grand Teton National Park, the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness, and two national forests: Bridger-Teton and Caribou Targhee. While millions of hikers will just experience the surface of the Grand Teton Mountains, you’ll be fully immersed in her wild wilderness, away from crowds.
Mile for mile, this backpacking route will keep on delivering and maybe even bring you to tears. Okay, maybe tears are a stretch, but I definitely sobbed my way up to Paintbrush Divide. In the most beautiful of ways, this backpacking trip challenged me mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you hike this trail and happen to stumble across my little spot on the internet, please send me photos and share your experience with me!
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Teton Crest Trail Logistics
TYPE OF TRAIL | One Way
TRAIL DIFFICULTY | Moderate – Strenuous
HOW LONG IS THE TETON CREST TRAIL? 35-50 miles (route depending)
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN | 10,889 feet
TOTAL ELEVATION LOSS | 11,313 feet
LOWEST ELEVATION | 6,880 feet
PEAK ELEVATION | 10,695 feet
AVERAGE ELEVATION | 8,000 feet
TETON CREST TRAILHEAD(S) | Phillips Pass, Granite Canyon, or Aerial Tram
TRAILHEAD ELEVATIONS | 8,932 feet, 6,378 feet, or 10,450 feet
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HIKE THE TETON CREST TRAIL? 3-6 days (route depending)
TETON CREST TRAIL CROWDS | When starting from Philips Pass, you’ll likely see few to no other hikers until you enter the park and arrive at Death Canyon. When hiking from Death Canyon to Paintbrush Divide and down Cascade Canyon crowds will gradually increase. As popular as this hike is, it was shockingly quiet for the majority of the trail.
DO YOU NEED A PERMIT? Yes
ARE THERE WATER SOURCES ON THE TETON CREST TRAIL? Yes. Water sources are plentiful along the trail from lakes and streams. The streams tend to dry up around late August, but water will always be available from the lakes on the route.
the zesty view over Death Canyon
Teton Crest Trail Permits
Permits are required to hike the Teton Crest Trail. There are a handful of different ways to get them depending on where you are in the planning process: reservation online, or by walk up at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station or Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitors Center.
The most ideal way to get permits for the Teton Crest Trail is by reserving them online at recreation.gov. Reservations open at 8:00 am MST on the first Wednesday in January through May 15th. Although, most ideal reservations will fill the first day (read: seconds after) they open. It’s extremely competitive and it costs $45 per reservation.
This cost covers the reservation and the permit needed. When and if you have secured your permits online, you need to pick them up no later than 10:00 am the day before you begin your trip, otherwise they will be released.
When booking online, you want to have a few itineraries in mind because campsites book up FAST. They only reserve 1/3 of the campsites, so the other 2/3 are available for walk-up permits.
To get a walk-up permit, the day before you intend you hike, you need to go to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station and wait in line to get a permit. Chances for walk-up permits are quite fair as long as you get there are early as possible.
Confirm the opening time of the Ranger Station and then plan to get there around 2-3 hours before they open if you’re really serious about getting those permits. My friend and I arrived at the Ranger Station around 6:30 am, a few hours before they opened and there were already eight people in line.
My best tip for securing a walk-up permit is to have multiple backup routes/itineraries in mind just in case you cannot get the permits you want. I also recommend having questions prepared for the rangers about the trail: current conditions of Paintbrush Divide, bear activity on the trail, and if they have other recommendations. They are experts on the trail and you’ll have their full attention when securing your permits.
You’ll also need this information for your walk-up permit: license plate number, car make/model, parking plan, entry point, exit point, and campsite selections.
CAN YOU HIKE THE TETON CREST TRAIL WITHOUT PERMITS? Technically, yes. If you want to hike the entirety of the trail, beginning at Philips Pass, with no permits, you can camp at Moose Lake, Fox Creek Pass, and Alaska Basin. After Alaska Basin, there are no other free campsites for the rest of the trail. This can be challenging for the last day considering mileage and elevation gain over Paintbrush and Hurricane Passes, so only attempt if you’re experienced and physically fit. Alternatively, you camp at the three sites listed and hike out of Cascade Canyon for a more doable, and safer backpacking trip.
Teton Crest Trail Map + GPX File
If you have your own GPS system, you can find the GPS tracks for my Teton Crest Trail map below to put into your navigation system. It starts at Philips Pass and ends at String Lake, and includes detours to Kit Lake, and Static Peak if you want to include that in your itinerary. The trail is well-maintained so you won’t be relying on this 100%, but it was nice to have to point me in the right direction and have a detailed visual of the trail ahead.
Best Time To Hike (When To Go)
The best time to backpack the Teton Crest Trail is mid-July through September. This can vary from season to season, so if you’re hiking in the early or later part of the season, pay close attention to weather reports for snow. One of the biggest factors in planning a TCT backpacking trip is the snowpack since it can linger late in the year.
One of the best tips I have for planning your trip is to keep up with the weather forecasts so that you can plan accordingly if there is surprise snow, storms, rain, closures, etc..
The snowpack varies year to year, but generally, the snow is melted in elevations below 6,700 feet by mid-June. For the higher elevations along the trail, the snow slowly melts progressively into mid-July. If you’re planning to complete this backpacking trip with snow at higher elevations, you may need an ice ax and microspikes, and know how to use them, to safely cross Paintbrush Divide, and Hurricane and Fox Creek Passes.
At higher elevations, snow can linger as late as August, so keep updated on the weather reports and you’ll be able to make the call closer to the day you begin the trail. Contacting the Grand Teton National Park Service is another great resource for first-hand advice and expertise on the current trail and pass conditions.
This Facebook group and these online reports helped me stay the most informed since there were updates almost daily with photos and personal experiences on the trail, plus some great tips for traveling around Grand Teton National Park.
When planning, I would shoot for the beginning to mid-August if you want great weather, wildflowers, and to (have a good shot to) avoid snow.
Getting To The Teton Crest Trailhead(s)
Whenever you get your permits from the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, they will give you a list of local taxi/ride options. Since you’ll be completing the hike at the Leigh Lake Trailhead at String Lake, you’ll need to use this list to organize some type of transport back to your car. There are a few ways you can go about this depending on your situation:
– Park your car at the end, String Lake, and have another car take you to the trailhead (local taxi, Uber, shuttle, etc.)
– If you’re hiking with a group and have two vehicles, park one at String Lake, take the other to the trailhead, then go and pick up the car at the trailhead once you’re finished.
– Hitchhike to/from the trailhead. This is the least reliable, and it can also be unsafe, so it really depends on your comfort level.
The most affordable option is going to be hitchhiking, obviously since it’s free. Taking the tram will set you back around $35 as long as you buy your tickets online, and getting a shuttle/taxi can cost up to $80.
AERIAL TRAM (Teton Village) – Google Maps Location
GRANITE CANYON – Google Maps Location
PHILIPS PASS (Philips Bench Trailhead) – Google Maps Location
camping at Kit + Snowdrift Lakes
Teton Crest Trail Campsites + Camping Information
The campsites on the Teton Crest Trail are plentiful which makes planning any length of a backpacking trip on this trail very seamless, especially if you weren’t able to reserve your ideal permits and have to grab walk-ups once you arrive.
Once you have your permits, the individual sites run on a first come first serve basis within the camping zones with hiking groups of six or fewer. Groups larger than six have to use designated group campsites specifically assigned to them by the rangers.
The Teton Crest Trail also has a few alternative camping spots, located outside the park boundaries, that you are able to camp at without a permit: Alaska Basin and Fox Creek Pass. Many backpackers choose these options because they either couldn’t get the permits they wanted or they are trying to complete the trail without permits.
Both of these areas are owned by the US Forest Service, so you can camp anywhere in these areas as long as you’re outside the park boundaries. Boundaries are clearly established with signs, so staying within them is easy. When choosing a backcountry camping spot, use sites that have already been established and make sure you’re 200 feet away from water sources.
Alaska Basin (No permit required)
Fox Creek Pass (No permit required)
When choosing your campsites, keep the number of days you’re hiking, physical capabilities, and elevation changes in mind so that you do not end up exhausting yourself.
Some good rules of thumb to keep in mind, courtesy of the NPS, is to expect to hike at about 2 miles per hour, adding in one hour for every 1000 feet of elevation gain, and to not cross more than one pass per day. Another rule of thumb that I like to use is to cap my daily mileage at around 8-9 miles every day. With these tips in mind and a variety of camping options, crafting an ideal Teton Crest Trail itinerary is no biggie.
The BEST campsites on the Teton Crest Trail are Death Canyon Shelf, Marion Lake, North Fork Cascade Canyon, Alaska Basin, Holly Lake, + Kit Lake.
These offer the best views and therefore will be the first to go for permits (besides Alaska Basin and Kit Lake).
Kit Lake is a pretty unknown spot to camp on this trail, but the location is just after Hurricane Pass on the map, behind the South and Middle Teton. You don’t need to do anything special to stay here, just let the person at the permit office know when you’re securing your other permits (they will know what you’re talking about). Once you arrive, please follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles to keep this lesser-known campsite nice for the next backpackers.
Pictured below is a better visual guide to all the campsites on the Teton Crest Trail, as well as mileage and elevation changes. There is a more in-depth PDF I recommend downloading here with the same information below, as well as some camping regulations, things to know, safety, etc. I had a photo of it saved onto my phone throughout my trip and it ended up being very helpful when looking for a general overview of the day ahead.
Teton Crest Trail Itinerary Options
Most backpackers complete the Teton Crest Trail in 4-6 days. Keep in mind, the most common route is the four-night option beginning at Granite Canyon, so those permits will be the first to go. My friend and I went with the 5-night/6-day option and we enjoyed having an extra day out there.
Luckily, there is a ton of flexibility when planning this backpacking trip due to the variety of camping options. Here are some great itinerary options:
Three Night Itinerary
TRAILHEAD | Aerial Tram at Teton Village
CAMPSITE 1 | Death Canyon Shelf / Fox Creek Pass
CAMPSITE 2 | South Fork Cascade Canyon
CAMPSITE 3 | Upper Paintbrush / Holly Lake
Four Night Itinerary
TRAILHEAD | Granite Canyon
CAMPSITE 1 | Granite Canyon / Upper Granite Canyon / Marion Lake
CAMPSITE 2 | Death Canyon Shelf / Alaska Basin
CAMPSITE 3 | South Fork Cascade Canyon
CAMPSITE 4 | Upper Paintbrush / Holly Lake
Five Night Itinerary
TRAILHEAD | Philips Pass
CAMPSITE 1 | Moose Lake
CAMPSITE 2 | Fox Creek Pass / Death Canyon Shelf
CAMPSITE 3 | Alaska Basin
CAMPSITE 4 | Kit + Snowdrift Lakes
*Or you can opt to spend another night in Alaska Basin and summit Static Peak Divide
CAMPSITE 5 | North Fork Cascade Canyon / Upper Paintbrush / Holly Lake
Challenges of Hiking the Teton Crest Trail
Before you leave and while you’re out, here are some things you’ll want to know about for your backpacking trip.
There is a variety of wildlife in Grand Teton National Park: black and grizzly bears, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, porcupines, marmots, and pika. You’ll want to be the most alert for bears and moose.
Throughout the entirety of your hike, you want to remain bear-aware and practice preventing encounters by keeping all of your food and scented items in your approved bear canister, packing out everything you pack in, carrying bear spray (and knowing how to use it), and clap or shout every so often while hiking to let any wildlife know where you are.
The Grand Teton National Park Service has an informative page on Safety in Bear Country that you can browse for all things bear safety. Read and review everything so that you can stay as safe as possible in the backcountry.
Bugs, while not a “hazard”, can be extremely annoying while you’re hiking. They’re the largest issue when hiking in lower elevations in the Tetons and they will turn your entire body into a buffet if you don’t pack any bug repellant. Even when I was wearing long sleeves, they were able to bite through my clothing, so make sure you bring bug repellant and consider treating all your clothes with permethrin spray.
One of the largest concerns when hiking the Teton Crest is crossing over Paintbrush Divide. Trekking poles were the biggest game-changer here since they gave me an extra sense of security and stability. Coming from Cascade Canyon is a lot easier than coming from the other way, so as long as you take it slow and keep your eye on the trail, you’ll get over fine. If snow is still on the divide, you should keep your experience in mind, and bring an ice ax and microspikes.
the view of the top of Paintbrush Divide
getting across Paintbrush (trail pictured in the middle)
Thunder + Lightning
You’ll rarely be hiking below 8-9,000 feet, so in the event of a thunderstorm or lightning, you want to make sure you know the proper protocol so that you can stay safe. There is a great, short informational video here to get you started on thunderstorm safety while backpacking.
What To Pack
Tent: My Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 Tent is my GO-TO backpacking tent. It’s extremely lightweight and so durable that it made it through a wicked monsoon in Big Bend in one solid piece. Nuff said. The REI Co-Op Half Dome Tent is a good alternative and will save you a few Benjamins.
Backpack: I used the Osprey Eja 58L on this backpacking trip, which was a mistake since a bear can will take up about 3/4 of the space in this pack. Look at grabbing an Osprey Ariel AG 65L or an REI Co-Op Trailbreak 60L so you have enough space for everything.
Sleeping Bag: I sleep cold and brought my Kelty Cosmic 0 Sleeping Bag, which was a tad overkill but I was nice and toasty each night of the trip. I recommend the REI Magma 15, or any bag rated from 10-15 degrees.
If you don’t want to buy a new bag and yours isn’t rated low enough, you can pick up a sleeping bag liner to bring down the temperature rating of your sleeping bag.
Sleeping Pad: My tried and true sleeping pad is my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad. I bought this sleeping pad since it is lightweight (15oz) and need something a bit more supportive for my hips. If you don’t need something that hefty, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is another good option.
Trekking Poles: Trekking Poles are a personal preference. They give me extra stability and protect my knees, so I like to bring my Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles.
Cooking System, Fuel, + Fire Source: Campfires are prohibited on the entire Teton Crest Trail, so a cooking system is necessary for the trip.
My Jet Boil MiniMo has been my trusted companion on all my hiking and camping trips. If you’re in the market for a new stove I recommend the newer, and lighter, JetBoil Stash. You can pick up fuel locally in Jackson Holy before your trip or at one of the markets in Teton Village.
I’m normally not passionate about utensils, but the GSI Outdoors Essential Spoon proved to be one of my favorite purchases EVER for backpacking. It has a long handle so you won’t get your hands dirty while you eat and you’ll be able to get those last bits of drool-worthy penne out of the bottom of your dehydrated meal bag.
Water Purification / Hydration Bladder: A Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter is the best affordable water purification system. I love it because it’s lightweight and filters water as you drink. I also brought along Katadyn Purification Tablets for redundancy in case my main filter gives out.
For this trip, I also carried a 2.5L Osprey Hydration Reservoir. With these 2.5 liters, plus the two, 1L Sawyer Squeeze pouches, you’ll have 4.5 liters to get you to your next refill. Trust me, this is the most ELITE water setup.
Bear Spray: You can pick up a can of bear spray in Jackson Hole or at one of the convenience stores in Teton Village before you head out. A can of this is necessary for your own safety if you have a bad encounter with a bear, just make sure you know how to use it and practice before you head out.
Bear Canister: Bear cans are a required item on the Teton Crest Trail for your safety and the trail’s wildlife. I bought the Garcia Bear-Resistant Container since it’s the lightest and cheapest option. The other option is made by the brand Bear Vault in two sizing options: BV450 and BV500. I don’t think many people have a preference but I know the Garcia is more durable and approved for use in Alaska.
Headlamp: There isn’t a single hike that I’ll go on without my Petzl Tactikka Headlamp.
Clothing: These are some of my current favorite pieces of gear that have elevated my adventures in the backcountry
1 RAIN JACKET SHELL | Arc’teryx Beta Jacket
1 DOWN JACKET | Fjallraven Greenland Down Lined Jacket
1 FLEECE JACKET | Patagonia Retro Pile Marsupial Fleece
1 HIKING PANTS | Patagonia Centered Tight (linked similar)
1-2 HIKING SHORTS | Patagonia Baggies
5-6 UNDERWEAR | Anything that isn’t cotton.
3 SOCKS | Falke Trekking Socks TK2 (TK1 for sleep and TK2 to cycle while hiking to prevent blisters)
1 SUN HAT | Columbia Bora Bora Booney II
1 BEANIE / GLOVES | Patagonia Fisherman’s Beanie
1 SANDAL | Xero Z-Trail Sport Sandals (to wear around camp / by lakes)
1 HIKING BOOTS | KEEN Targhee III
SWIMSUIT | Whatever is the best option for alpine lake jumps.
Pocket Knife: Quite possibly my favorite item that I brought on the Teton Crest Trail was my Trango Piranha Knife. It’s compact in size and it came in handy a few times. I also used it to open and close my bear can.
Good-to-Go Meals make some of my favorite backpacking foods
Food: Some quality grub is going to make or break your backpacking experience. Since you’ll have to store all your food and smelly items in your bear can, you want to choose foods that are calorically dense to save space. When hiking in higher elevations and exuding a lot of energy, your appetite is going to be a lot lower than when you’re at home, so don’t try to cram as much as you can in there. The meals/foods I enjoyed most were the Good-to-Go Marinara with Penne, Good-to-Go Oatmeal, FILLOS Cuban Black Beans, GoMacro Bars, Louisville Vegan Jerky, and Dried Apricots.
Navigation: You should always have multiple forms of GPS with you while you’re backpacking. A basic map and compass are non-negotiables. I bought this waterproof topographic map for the trail and it made planning and reviewing the route so much easier. The regular park map doesn’t have the full trail details, especially if you’re starting at Philips Pass, so I highly recommend it.
I always bring my Garmin InReach Explorer+ (linked mini). This device allows me to communicate off-grid using satellites, check weather forecasts, send messages to loved ones, keep a GPX file of the trail, and much more that helps me feel more secure in the backcountry. If you are looking to buy one, I recommend buying a used one to save a ton of money.
And just because I like redundancy, I’ll also have a map on the Gaia GPS App. You can track your offline location and enjoy a ton of other nice features for only $40/year.
First Aid Kit: The Adventure Medical Ultralight Medical Kit 0.7 is my go-to for first aid. I love that you can order refills for this to keep everything uniform and compact as well. It supplies everything you need for a few days in the backcountry and weighs next to nothing! I will recommend packing a few extra bandaids in here before you head out since this doesn’t give you too many.
Sun Protection: Even if it isn’t unbearably hot, the sun can still have harsh effects on your skin at higher elevations. I thought I put my sunscreen everywhere and accidentally forgot my hands… Let’s just say they got toasted, but all my other extremities were protected with my favorite sunscreen. Chapsticks with SPF, sunglasses, and long sleeves (just in case I get too burnt) are also necessary parts of my backpacking checklist for sun protection.
Permits / ID / Cash: These are all necessary for your journey. You may be stopped by a ranger and they will ask for your permit and proof of I.D.
Toilet Paper, Sanitation Trowel, + Pee Cloth: While in the backcountry, you MUST pack out all of your toilet paper, and bury all food and human waste in a cathole that is at least 6-8 inches deep. These are the items you’ll want for having successful, mess-free movements outside: Kula Cloth (A MUST FOR MY GALS), trowel, and toilet paper. All my toilet paper goes in a gallon-size Ziploc, sealed, and then all the bathroom items I put in the bag that came with my sawyer squeeze.
Microfiber Travel Towel: On all my adventures I always take my REI Co-Op Multi Lite Towel. This towel is extremely light, quick-drying, and compact making it perfect for backpacking and hiking. The extra-large size is perfect for wrapping yourself up in a full-size towel and it only weighs eight ounces!
Wet Wipes: Don’t waste your time trying to clean yourself up with those dinky traditional wet wipes and get yourself some Epic Wipes. These are the best for backpacking because you only need one of these wipes to feel fresh and clean. One wipe can clean your entire body!
Hand Sanitizer: You’ll want to have hand sanitizer for clean hands after using the bathroom, before you grab your favorite snack, and before you begin cooking all of your meals.
Bug Repellant: At higher elevations, bugs aren’t really an issue, but you’ll definitely encounter them in lower elevations. I like to bring a small bottle in my pack and reapply frequently so I don’t turn into an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Camera: For this trip, I brought a 35mm lens (although I recommend something wider like 15-35 mm), my Canon DSLR, spare batteries, and an extra memory card.
Book, Card Games, + Downloadables: I prefer to get to camp early so I am not eating/cleaning up in the dark, which gives a good bit of time between setting up camp and hitting the hay for the night. Before I set out, I download some new books on Audible to listen to or pack a deck of cards. ‘Jitterbug Perfume’ is my favorite book if you’re looking for an exciting fiction listen. Otherwise, download the episodes of that show you’re binge-watching!
Portable Power Bank: If you’re using your phone to take photos or track your location, a portable battery will be important to stay online. You won’t have any service though, so put your phone on airplane mode to help save battery.
HELPFUL GUIDES FOR HIKING IN WYOMING:
LOOKING FOR MORE US NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT? CHECK THESE OUT:
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