Wyoming: Grand Tetons - Cascade/Paintbrush Loop
Many first experience the Teton Range
as a visual drive-by on their way to Yellowstone on Route 89. Stop
next time and experience first hand the geologically-recent, dramatically
uplifted mountains with canyons sculpted by glaciers. This
is the European Alps, the Colorado Rockies, the California Sierra
Nevadas, the Himalayas in compact form
and hikeable on well maintained, gently sloped switch back trails.
This 19 mile-hike, is up one neat steep
canyon to a mountain divide, down to a alpine lake nestled with views
of the 3 Tetons, then further down a stream-riveted canyon back to
the beginning. Not only
is this the best scenery in the park, but also, this hike is one
of the best rigorous day hike loops anywhere
This July 8, 2001 day hike began late
due to DayHiker watching a 5-set Wimbledon final. Starting
out at 9am violated the normal crack of dawn early start
for an extreme day hike. But there was another reason
for the tardiness. Grizzly bears are noted to be
in the area. A later start might find the bears already fed and doing something
other than pestering a hiker. Some
folks suggest carrying pepper spray for such
an encounter. Most people, in my informal but
complete survey, said if you stay on the trail you should be OK. I
went with the majority opinion, and didn't bring pepper spray.
But be aware there have been bear attacks on hikers. Read this information from the National Park Service regarding prudent preparation and actions where bears live.
Another possible impediment, according
to most write-ups on this 2-day overnight hike, is ice/snow
near the divide, often in July. I was lucky and found only three
100ft snow patches that were easily traversed without the need of
an ice axe (trekking poles are always useful on extreme day hikes
and made the small snow excursions even easier).
It's best to go up the Paintbrush Canyon
first because it allows for turning around if the quicker if ice/snow
at the divide is a problem. Also, its steeper which is more
pleasant to go up than down, and gets the hard part over with while
you are still fresh.
To get to the trailhead turn west at the
North Jenny Lake Junction off of the Teton Park Road. Take
the String Lake turn to the right before the Jenny Lake Lodge (would
be a nice place to stay but book 9 months in advance) is reached. The
trailhead to Paintbrush Canyon is opposite the furthest parking lot. Walking
swiftly by the Bear Sign, with the encouraging words, " ...
your safety is not guaranteed," take the east side of
the String Lake forest trail and cross the bridge between String
and Leigh Lakes.
At 1.6 miles, go right on the Paintbrush
Canyon Trail and begin a moderate climb (550 feet/mile) of 4.6 miles
to Holly Lake. If you want to save a few minutes and
vertical feet, take the lake bypass to the left.
Along the way the spectacular views of
the towering canyon walls are contrasted with panoramic views below
of Leigh and Jackson Lakes. Small meadows planted in the rocky
landscape contain many wildflowers including the name-sake for this
canyon, the Indian Paintbrush, the Wyoming flower.
The steeper climb, but still on well-laid
out switchback trails, reaches the Paintbrush Divide (10,645ft) 2.4
miles from Holly Lake. The views from this pass are breath-taking,
not only from the altitude, but also from the amazing towering rock
walls on Mt Moran to the north, and the rock needles of mountains
to the south.
Then it's a breeze ... all down hill. First,
a 2.4 miles descent on broad switchbacks to reach Lake Solitude (9035
ft), a small alpine lake perched in the steep-walled basin forming
the blunt end of Cascade Canyon. Heading down through the U-shaped
glacial valley views of Mt Owen (12,928 ft), the Grand Teton (13,770
ft), the Teewinot Mountain (12,325 ft), are impressive. The
trail gently drops through meadows, forest, and ponds while cascading
streams flow from the canyon sides.
Just before Inspiration Point, a trail
to the left, not shown on some maps, will lead straight to the String
Lake parking lot, bypassing the Jenny Lake boat dock and a lot of
This great hiking loop will take most
experienced hikers about 7-10 hours, assuming acclimation to altitude
and reasonable physical conditioning. As always, plan, use
caution, bring layered clothing, and get advanced information about
snow/ice on the divide, thunderstorm activity, and bears.
If the above is not enough, there are
two other ways into Cascade Canyon that will fulfill your need for
an "extreme day hike in the Tetons."
1. Cascade Canyon/Death Canyon via
Static Peak Divide
2, Teton Village Tram to Cascade Canyon via
Teton Crest Trail
Note: Both of these are rate 2-3 nights in
most literature, but are possible doable in one day for the person
in the right mental and physical condition.
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