One popular hike in Grand Teton is the 12.4 mile trek to Holly Lake, situated deep in the backcountry, just below the famous Paintbrush Divide. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails and dozens of beautiful lakes, so we know how difficult it can be to choose a hike in Grand Teton National Park. With so many awesome hikes to choose from, should Holly Lake be at the top of your Grand Teton hiking bucket list!?
We have hiked almost all the day hikes in Grand Teton National Park and explored much of the Teton backcountry, and in our opinion, the hike to Holly Lake alone would not be at the top of our list but makes for a great stop on a longer day hike or backpacking trip. If you are already going as far as Holly Lake, it’s worth extending your hike to at least see Paintbrush Divide even if you don’t hike all the way up.
Of course, any journey into the Teton backcountry is always an amazing adventure but with so many options to choose from, prioritization is key! In this article, we outline everything you need to know about hiking to Holly Lake in Grand Teton and explain why it is better done as part of a longer day hike or backpacking trip
- About Grand Teton National Park
- Holly Lake Grand Teton Hike Details
- Planning Your Trip to Grand Teton National Park
- Other useful resources
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
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About Grand Teton National Park
With over 300,000 acres, 200 miles of hiking trails, dozens of lakes, meandering rivers, iconic mountain peaks, and pervasive wildlife, there is plenty to explore in Grand Teton National Park. From the dramatic top of the Grand Teton to the depths of Jackson Lake and everything in between, we have yet to find a place as beautiful as Grand Teton National Park. It is definitely our favorite national park!
Located about 30 minutes north of the ever-growing Jackson, Wyoming and about an hour or so south of Yellowstone National Park, no visit to the West is complete without some time spent in the Tetons.
Overview: Holly Lake in Grand Teton
The hike to Holly Lake is challenging, covering 12.4 miles and 2,749 feet of elevation gain. Holly Lake is nestled at the end of Paintbrush Canyon between Mount Woodring (11,539 feet) to the north and the Jaw (11,365 feet) to the south. The trail winds around Rockchuck Peak (11,123 feet) before heading west into Paintbrush Canyon and deeper into the Teton backcountry.
While you absolutely can hike to Holly Lake and back to the trailhead as a day hike, we recommend extending your journey to either include the full Paintbrush Canyon Cascade Canyon Loop (21.9 miles, 4,229 feet of elevation gain for the full loop) or at least to Paintbrush Divide, which will add about 4 miles and 1,200 feet round trip.
The Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Loop is often completed as a two day/one night back packing trip and Holly Lake can make for a perfect place to spend the night. Some people complete the loop as a very long day hike.
In this section, we’ll first give you all the information you need to know to complete the 12.4 mile out and back hike to Holly Lake. Then, we’ll explain how you can extend your journey in the Teton backcountry to include even more epic adventure!
Holly Lake Grand Teton hike details
Hiking distance | 12.4 miles
Elevation gain | 2,749 feet
Total time | 6 – 8 hours
Epic-ness rating | 6
Difficulty | hard
Trailhead | String Lake or Leigh Lake
- find this hike on AllTrails: Holly Lake Trail
How difficult is the hike to Holly Lake?
Like most hikes that take you into the Teton backcountry, the trail to Holly Lake includes some legit elevation gain. The journey starts off with a gradual incline after passing String Lake, but becomes steeper and steeper as you get deeper into the mountains and closer to Holly Lake.
Of course, if you choose to only stop at Holly Lake as part of a longer trip, the difficulty increases with the additional miles and elevation. We will explain everything you need to know about the different ways to hike to Holly Lake in the sections below.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
This hike starts at either the Leigh Lake Trailhead or String Lake Trailhead. They are located right next to each other so it doesn’t matter too much where you start. Be aware that we found the parking lot closer to String Lake to be very crowded and it definitely fills up early during the peak season so plan to start your hike as early as possible.
That actually remains true for almost anywhere in the park – start early to avoid the crowds!
From the trailhead, you have two options to get around String Lake. You can head south towards Jenny Lake before winding your way around the southern tip of String Lake and in front of Rockchuk Peak (11,123). This is the way AllTrails sends you.
Alternatively, you can start north along the eastern banks of String Lake before turning west towards Rockchuck Peak. We started going right, or to the north, and really enjoyed the views across String Lake.
Starting the climb
The first three or so miles of the hike are fairly flat as you meander through the dense forest of lodgepole pines and into the mouth of Paintbrush Canyon. As the odometer moves past 3.0 miles, the climb intensifies and you will slowly, but doggedly, make your way farther into the canyon.
Make sure you take some time to turn around and enjoy the views back towards String Lake. In no time, the canyon will start opening up a bit and the vegetation begins to thin out. There will be more open space and low-lying flora, making it a prime area for seeing some of the iconic Teton wildlife. We saw two moose munching on some juicy shrubbery just dozens of feet from the trail!
Intersection to Holly Lake
After about 5.7 miles, you will reach a junction in the trail. Head right to reach Holly Lake. Going straight will bring you more directly to Paintbrush Divide. After bearing right, you’ll have a steady incline for a half mile before reaching Holly Lake.
Make sure you take the time to admire the epic views of Rockchuk Peak, Mount Woodring, Mount Saint John, and the Jaw!
Once you reach Holly Lake, it feels amazing to take off your shoes (if you’re hot!) and dip your feet in the bone-chilling waters of Holly Lake. If you are even more adventurous, you can go for a quick swim!
Even if you are not keen for a freezing aquatic adventure, you can find a big rock and a few rays of bright sun and enjoy the surrounding views. Once you have had a snack, gone for a swim, or soaked up some sun, it is time to either head back to the trailhead the same way you came up or continue on towards Paintbrush Divide.
Continue to Paintbrush Divide
Paintbrush Divide sits at 10,700 feet and separates Paintbrush Canyon from the Northern Fork of Cascade Canyon. This means that you not only get epic views looking back towards Paintbrush Canyon, but you will also be able look down over Cascade Canyon as well. In our opinion, the view from Paintbrush Divide is one of the best in Grand Teton National Park!
Of course, nothing so beautiful comes with out a cost. To reach Paintbrush Divide from Holly Lake, you will tack on an extra 4 miles and about 1,200 feet of elevation gain. It is definitely worth the effort, but know what you are getting into before you set off and make sure you get an early start if you plan to take on the challenge!
Even if you don’t want to go the full way to Paintbrush Divide, we would definitely recommend going past Holly Lake for as long as you can because the views of the Teton peaks start to open up. Trust us – you don’t want to miss these views!
Continuing past Paintbrush Divide
If you have the time and energy, you can continue beyond Paintbrush Divide and complete the full Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon loop. This 21.9 mile hike is hands-down the best hike in Grand Teton! As you descend Paintbrush Divide towards Cascade Canyon, the Grand Teton herself will come into view. A towering monolith of granite and snow, the view of the backside of this epic peak should be on any hikers bucket list!
After descending into the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, you will follow the canyon to the south before turning left, or east, into Cascade Canyon and towards Jenny Lake. You will go past Inspiration Point and then head north back towards String/Leigh Lake Trailhead.
The hike is a beast but well worth it. You get to see Holly Lake, Paintbrush Divide, Solitude Lake, Cascade Canyon, the Grand Teton, and Inspiration Point. You are also sure to see plenty of wildlife – we saw about 5 moose on the whole loop!
Even better, few people complete the full loop, so while areas around the trailheads and closer to Inspiration Point will be crowded, you can expect to have some solitude deep in the Teton backcountry!
Holly Lake as an Overnight Backpacking Trip
We think the best way to experience the Teton backcountry is by spending at least one night under the stars on a backpacking trip. Luckily, there is a designated backcountry campsite at Holly Lake and you have a few options if you want to spend the night there.
The shortest and simplest option is just to split up the out-and-back hike to Holly Lake over the course of two days and spend the night camping at the lake. An even better option is to stop and spend a night at Holly Lake as part of the Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop.
Getting Backcountry Permits
You do not need a permit to day hike in the Teton backcountry. If you want to spend the night, however, you will need a permit.
Backcountry permits are available for purchase both online in advance or in the park the day before your trip. Requests for advance backcountry reservations for the summer season are accepted January through May, on recreation.gov. You can read more about backcountry permits here.
Planning your Holly Lake hike in Grand Teton
Below we’ll give you all the details to help your Holly Lake hiking trip in Grand Teton National Park go as smoothly as possible!
How to get to Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is conveniently located between the bustling mountain town of Jackson, Wyoming, to the south and Yellowstone National Park to the north.
The closest airport to Grand Teton is in Jackson, but there are few direct flights and expect to pay a bit extra for the convenience. You can also fly into Idaho Falls, which is about two hours to the west or Salt Lake City, which is a little less than five hours to the south.
Grand Teton Entrance Fees
7-Day Pass (per car) | $35
Annual Pass | $80
To enter Grand Teton National Park, you’ll have to purchase a $35 per car pass that is valid for 7 days. You also have the option to purchase an annual US National Parks Pass for $80, which is worthwhile if you plan to visit 3 or more national parks over the next year.
Where to stay near Grand Teton
Most people visiting Grand Teton opt to stay in Jackson or in the park either at one of the campgrounds or lodging options. For more info on lodging in the park, you can visit the NPS website here.
If you don’t want to camp, Jackson, Wyoming is the closest and most convenient place to stay while visiting Grand Teton National Park. Located just 15 minutes south of the main entrance to Grand Teton, Jackson is a cute town with many fancy restaurants and shopping options. It’s a great place to splurge on a nice dinner or spend an afternoon window shopping and people watching.
However, the convenience of Jackson’s located will come at a cost. It’s super expensive to sleep (and eat…) here, and for that reason we tend to stay across the Idaho border in the Teton Valley instead.
Teton Valley, Idaho
If you want to save a bit of money and escape some of the touristy crowds, while still enjoying mountain views and easy access to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, consider staying just over the border in the Teton Valley of Idaho. We love the towns of Victor, Driggs, and Tetonia and definitely recommend staying in one of the many AirBnbs (think cute cabins!) on the western side of the mountains.
The Teton Valley is a bit farther from Grand Teton National Park than Jackson, but still quite manageable for day trips into the park. Depending on exactly where you stay, it’s about a 40 minute to one hour drive to the main entrance to Grand Teton.
Campgrounds in the park
There are a total of six campgrounds inside Grand Teton National Park. All campgrounds must be reserved in advance, and reservations are made available 6 months in advance of your stay. Campgrounds in the park fill up well in advance, so be sure to book as soon as reservations are released to secure a spot!
For more detail on camping options, you can read more here.
Dispersed camping in nearby national forests
If you want to save some money or weren’t able to secure a spot at the campgrounds, there is also dispersed camping available in the Bridger Teton National Forest. The benefits to camping in Bridger Teton are that its free and you can often find more solitude than a campground offers. The downsides are lack of amenities (ie. toilets) and a farther drive to most of the trailheads in Grand Teton.
Read more about dispersed camping in Bridger Teton here.
When is the best time to hike to Holly Lake?
The best time to visit Grand Teton National Park is from June through September. There may still be some snow on the trails in early June, especially at higher elevations, but Holly Lake should be okay. For reference, we weren’t able to hike past Paintbrush Divide until the first week of July due to snow.
June is springtime in the Grand Tetons, making it an incredible time to visit as the wildflowers are absolutely beautiful. In September, the fall leaves will generally have just started to change colors.
What to pack for hiking to Holly Lake
The hike to Holly Lake is steep, challenging and will have you on your feet for the good part of the day. To make sure you have a great hike, be prepared with the appropriate gear:
Essentials for everyone
- Water Filter (Katadyn BeFree) | Since there are plenty of water sources along the trail and the hike to Holly Lake is long (and even longer if you continue to Paintbrush Divide), we recommend packing a water filter to save some water weight and refill along the trail.
- Bear Spray (Counter Assault)| The Grand Tetons are home to both black and grizzly bears – you should have a can of bear spray for each person on the hike to Holly Lake, attached some place that is easily accessible (ie. at your hip, NOT in your backpack).
- GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini) | Always good to have in case of an emergency on a long hike in the Grand Tetons.
- Bug Spray | The mosquitos on the shores of Holly Lake can be brutal, so don’t forget to pack your bug spray!
- Bathing suit | If you’re bold enough to jump into the freezing waters of Holly Lake, it can be a great way to cool off on a summer day (Matt says it was worth it, though his screams as he hit the water would say otherwise…)
- Towel (PackTowl lightweight towel) | Make sure to have a towel to dry off with if you do decide to take a swim in Holly Lake.
- Microspikes | Especially important if you are continuing to Paintbrush Divide, where snow is likely through early July. Parts of the trail are steep and slippery, so you will need microspikes to pass safely when the trail is snow covered.
His & Hers
- Hiking poles (Hers: Black Diamond Distance Z poles, His: Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles ) | The climb to Holly Lake and Paintbrush divide is steep, and having trekking poles makes it just a bit more bearable on the knees. We both use Black Diamond poles and can’t recommend them enough!
- Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L) | We both use a similar Camelback backpack for day hiking (Sarah has the women’s version, Matt’s is unisex) – they’re comfortable, lightweight and hold all the essentials for a long day hike.
- Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | You should not attempt to hike Paintbrush Divide with a pair of hiking boots with good traction.
- Hiking pants (Hers: Athleta Headlands pants, His: PrAna Stretch Zion Pants) | These Athleta pants are Sarah’s absolute favorite! They’re comfortable and durable for hiking, and all the pockets make them more stylish, so they can double as normal pants.
- Down Jacket (Hers: Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody Women’s Down Hoodie, His: Cotopaxi Fuego) | If you hate being cold (like me), the Arc’teryx Down Hoodie is the jacket for you! With 850 fill down, it’s incredibly lightweight, high quality and totally worth the extra warmth. The Cotopaxi Fuego is also a great option – at 800 fill down, it’s not quite as warm but comes in at a lower price point.
Other Useful Resources
Planning a trip to the Grand Tetons? Be sure to check out these other cool things to do in Wyoming and Idaho:
- Grand Teton | The Perfect 2-day Grand Teton Itinerary
- Grand Teton | How to Hike to Delta Lake in Grand Teton
- Sawtooth | How to Backpack the Stunning Alice Toxaway Loop
- Sawtooth | Alice Lake Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
- Idaho | How to Kayak to Shoshone Falls in Southern Idaho
For all things Wyoming: Wyoming Travel Guide
Have you hiked to Holly Lake in Grand Teton? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below!