Far away from the hustle and bustle of Grand Teton’s many popular day hikes and viewpoints lies a backpacker’s paradise: the Teton Crest Trail. This epic 40-mile point to point hike traverses the ridgeline behind the Teton Range from south to north, showing off all angles of the stunning jagged Teton Peaks. You’ll trek through open meadows filled with wildflowers, camp at beautiful alpine lakes, and climb mountain passes for views of the Tetons that most will never get the honor of experiencing. If this sounds like the type of adventure you’re looking for, keep reading. In this article, we’ll provide all the information you need to know to plan your perfect Teton Crest Trail itinerary, including details on the best campsites, trailhead and itinerary options, distances between key points and a detailed Teton Crest Trail map. 

Cascade Paintbrush Canyon Trail in Grand Tetons

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Article Contents

Teton Crest Trail overview

  • Distance | 40 miles
  • Elevation gain | 9,500 feet
  • Total time | 2 days/3 nights to 4 days/5 nights
  • Permits required | Yes, for campsites in Grand Teton National Park. Some campsites in Caribou Targhee National Forest do not require reservations.
  • Permit fees |  $45 per permit for advance permits, $35 per permit for walk-ins
  • Dogs allowed | No
  • Fires permitted | No
  • Epic-ness rating | 9.5

Find this hike on AllTrails: Teton Crest Trail

The first time we went hiking in Grand Teton, it quickly became one of our favorite places in the world. There’s just something magical about the massive triangular-shaped peaks jutting up from a perfectly flat meadow seemingly from nowhere. Every time we see the Tetons, we are blown away by their beauty all over again. 

So when we heard about the Teton Crest Trail, it skyrocketed to the top of our adventure bucket list. In August of 2022, we set off on a 4-day, 5-night trek from Phillips Pass to Leigh Lake, the “classic” Teton Crest Trail route. We fell in love with the Tetons all over again, and we can’t wait to share the experience with you. 

We know that planning a Teton Crest Trail itinerary can be overwhelming, with so many different campsites, trailhead options, and possible trip lengths. We’ve compiled all the information we wish we had when planning our trip in this article, and we hope it makes your planning a little smoother. 

Read more about Grand Teton


  • The trail provides amazing views of the Tetons from all different angles.
  • The views from Hurricane Pass and Paintbrush Divide are some of the best in Grand Teton National Park.
  • Many campsites with awesome views.
  • Most sections of the trail are farther than the typical day hiker ventures, offering the chance to find solitude. That being said, expect to see many other backpackers.
  • Some campsites located in the national forests do not require reservations.


  • Campsites in the national park are difficult to get.
  • Point-to-point hike means you need two cars or to hire a shuttle to get to the trailhead.
  • Trailhead parking fills up quickly.
  • Sections of Hurricane Pass and Paintbrush Divide may be snow covered through mid-July, requiring an ice axe to cross safely.
  • Lack of shade in several sections can make summer days grueling.

How difficult is the Teton Crest Trail?

The Teton Crest Trail is a challenging backpacking trip in Grand Teton National Park, with several steep climbs up to alpine passes. That being said, it’s really quite manageable if you plan your itinerary just right (and do not attempt to hike Hurricane Pass and Paintbrush Divide on the same day, like we did!).

To make the trip more moderate, you can take your time and space the trip out over 5 or 6 days, giving you the time to really soak in the views.

Water is typically plentiful on the trail, especially earlier in the summer. In August and September, there are sometimes stretches of a couple miles that are mostly dry, including Fox Creek, sections of Death Canyon Shelf, and sections of Alaska Basin. 

Enjoying a sunny September day on the Teton Crest Trail just above Marion Lake.

Best time to hike the Teton Crest Trail

The best time to hike the Teton Crest Trail is mid July through mid September. If you go any earlier in the summer, Hurricane Pass and Paintbrush Divide are likely to be impassible. Its possible for snow to linger into early-July, making the passes dangerous to cross. 

We crossed Paintbrush Divide in early July when there were still a few sections of snow remaining, and let’s just say it was a little hairy. Typically, the park rangers recommend microspikes and an ice axe to safely pass while the divide is still snow-covered. 

The exact date that Paintbrush Divide becomes passable varies each year based on snowfall and recent weather conditions, but we can say that planning to hike in early July is a gamble. For current trail conditions, check the Jenny Lake Ranger’s climbing and backcountry information blog

Teton Crest Trail permits

Permits for campsites on the Teton Crest Trail that are located in Grand Teton National Park are available for purchase both online in advance or in the park up to one day before your trip.

Requests for advance backcountry reservations for the summer season open on the first Wednesday in January and are accepted through May, on recreation.gov. However, the popular campsites sell out almost immediately. We were logged in right at the time of release and still didn’t get many of the sites we wanted. 

The park reserves up to one-third of each camping zone in advance and saves two-thirds of each zone for first-come, first-served permits. Permits can be picked up in person up to one day before the start of a backcountry trip. 

There is a $45 fee for advance permits and $35 fee for walk-in permits. Competition for permits is high during peak season. Be ready to book your advance permits as soon as they become available and have a back-up plan if you are hoping to snag a walk-in permit.

If you missed the advance reservation window, you can still hike the Teton Crest Trail, but you’ll need a little bit of luck and a whole lot of flexibility. To give yourself the best possible chance of getting the walk-in permits you want, you’ll need to be lined up outside the permit station before it opens the day before you plan to begin your hike.

Remember that some campgrounds along the trail are located outside the national park, where you don’t need a backpacking permit or reservation. We’ve provided more detail on these campsites in the next section.

Campsites in Caribou-Targhee National Forest

The Teton Crest Trail crosses the Grand Teton National Park boundary and enters the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area (part of Caribou-Targhee National Forest) several times.

In the national forest, reservations are not needed for backcountry campsites, which gives you a little bit of flexibility. The two main camping areas in Caribou-Targhee National Forest are Fox Creek and Alaska Basin. 

When you reserve your permits on recreation.gov, you will select Alaska Basin or Fox Creek for the nights you intend to stay there, but there is no limit on the number of campers in these areas.

That being said, it is is VERY difficult to complete the full Teton Crest Trail without staying in the national park, which helps prevent overcrowding, even in the national forest. 

Weather on the Teton Crest Trail

During the summer, thunderstorms pose the biggest weather risk on the Teton Crest Trail. Afternoon storms are not uncommon, and many sections of the trail are rocky and exposed with little tree cover. Always check the weather forecast and do not attempt to hike over the passes if there are dark clouds in the sky. 

Because of the high elevation, temperatures can drop below freezing even during the summer and snow is possible (although not likely). When we hiked in August of 2022, it was unseasonably hot with little cloud cover, making for a blazing hot couple of days. 

Bear Safety

The Teton Crest Trail is grizzly (and black) bear county, so it’s important to be extra diligent about your food storage. A bear can is required for storing all food items and any toiletries that have a scent.

This includes sunscreen, bug spray, chapstick… anything that has even the slightest smell can attract bears. If you don’t have your own bear can, you can borrow one from the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

It’s also important that each hiker carries a can of bear spray, attached in an easy-to-access location. Bear spray is useless if you come upon a bear and it’s buried in your backpack!

Make noise while you hike, especially when walking through sections with thick brush, as to not startle an unsuspecting bear. It’s not recommended that you backpack alone in the Tetons due to grizzly bear risk. 

Teton Crest Trail Map

The map below displays the location of all the trailheads, campsites, and key landmarks along the Teton Crest Trail.

Note that many of the campsites are zone camping areas, meaning the campsites are spread out over a span of several miles. Grand Teton National Park has a backcountry planner that includes a nice map showing the location of the camping zones. On the trail, the start and end of the zones are marked with a sign.

If you plan to hike from Phillips Pass, the route is not included on many Teton Crest Trail maps that are available, including the National Park’s backcountry planner. The map we’ve created includes the section from Phillips Pass Trailhead to the national park boundary, as this is the route we took.

We’d also recommend purchasing a paper map to help plan your trip and navigate on the trail ( we always use these National Geographic maps – there’s just something about spreading it out on the floor as you plan your route). 

  • To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.
  • Note: This map includes general locations of key landmarks and campsites or camping areas along the Teton Crest Trail. Locations are NOT exact. This map is intended to help you plan your trip and should not be used for navigation purposes while on the trail. Please refer to official maps.  

Teton Crest Trail Segment Distances

In the section below, we’ve included distances for each of the key sections of the hike to help you plan your trip. 

  • Phillips Pass Trailhead to the turnoff for Moose Lake | 8 miles
  • Out and back to Moose Lake | 2.5 miles
  • Turnoff for Moose Lake to Marion Lake | 3.5 miles
  • Aerial Tram station to Marion Lake: | 5.5 miles
  • Granite Canyon trailhead to Marion Lake | 9 miles
  • Marion Lake to Fox Creek Pass | 2.5 miles, moderate incline
  • Fox Creek Pass to start of Alaska Basin | 4 miles
  • Start of Alaska Basin to Basin Lakes | 1 mile
  • Basin Lakes to Sunset Lake | 1.5 miles, solid incline
  • Sunset Lake to Hurricane Pass | 1.5 miles, steep climb
  • Hurricane Pass to South Fork-North Fork Cascade Junction | 5.3 miles, all downhill
  • South Fork-North Fork Cascade Junction to Lake Solitude | 3 miles, solid incline
  • Lake Solitude to Paintbrush Divide | 2 miles, very steep
  • Paintbrush Divide to Holly Lake | 1.5 miles
  • Holly Lake to Leigh Lake trailhead | 7 miles

Teton Crest trailhead options

There are three different trailhead options for the Teton Crest Trail, which we’ve outlined below. 

Philips Canyon Trailhead (a.k.a. Phillips Bench Trailhead)

  • Total Distance | 40 miles
  • Total Elevation | 9,500 feet

This is the “classic” Teton Crest Trail route and technically traverses the entire length of the Teton Crest. We started from Phillips Canyon because we wanted the satisfaction of saying we’d hiked the entire Teton Crest Trail. While Phillips Pass is very pretty, it’s certainly not the most impressive section of the hike but does tend to be much quieter. 

Granite Canyon

  • Total Distance | 40 miles
  • Total Elevation | 9,500 feet

One of the more popular trailheads to access the Teton Crest Trail is Granite Canyon. As of January 2023, the trailhead is closed and we aren’t sure when it will reopen.

Teton Village Aerial Tram

  • Total Distance: 35 miles
  • Total Elevation: 7000 feet

If you’re looking to shave off a little time or distance, you can take an aerial tram from Teton Village. It drops you off on the South Fork of Granite Canyon and saves about 5 miles in total. Riding the tram costs $43 per person and tickets can be purchased online.

Booking a shuttle for the Teton Crest Trail

Because the Teton Crest Trail is a point to point hike, you will need to either have two cars and park one at Leigh Lake trailhead, or hire a shuttle to drive you from Leigh Lake Trailhead to the starting trailhead of your choice. 

We used Teton Mountain Taxi and had a good experience. The cost for pickup from Leigh Lake trailhead and dropoff at Phillips Pass trailhead was $150 for the two of us.

Best Campsites on the Teton Crest Trail

When I’m planning a backpacking trip, the one thing I always want to know is where are the best campsites?! In this section, we’ll break down the good and bad of all the campsites and camping zones along the Teton Crest Trail (with pictures) so you can decide for yourself.

You may also want to check out the NPS detailed maps of each of the campsites in Grand Teton National Park on the NPS website.

Moose Creek

Meadow near the turnoff for Moose Lake. Moose Creek campsites are down to the left.
  • Reservations needed | No
  • Views | Nice views of the valley
  • Water | Available from Moose Creek
  • Other things to know | There is a limited number of good campsites in this area. There’s one really nice site near where the trail crosses Moose Creek to get to Moose Lake.

Moose Lake

The shores of Moose Lake are covered in thick brush, making it difficult to find a spot.
  • Reservations needed | No
  • Views | Personally, we found Moose Lake to be underwhelming (but fair warning, that may just be tired legs talking – it’s more uphill from Moose Creek to Moose Lake than we’d anticipated).
  • Water | Available from Moose Lake
  • Other things to know | 2.5 miles roundtrip out of the way, campsites are limited and can be difficult to find.

Marion Lake

  • Reservations needed | Yes
  • Views | Marion Lake is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes on the Teton Crest Trail
  • Water | Available from Marion Lake
  • Other things to know | These campsites are in high demand. They tend to sell out immediately upon release.

Fox Creek

  • Reservations needed | No
  • Views | Catch the first glimpse of the Tetons from Fox Creek. Some sites have really nice views. 
  • Water | Typically not available. Must carry all water needed for the night. 
  • Other things to know | Most good campsites are located fairly close to Fox Creek Pass

Death Canyon Shelf

  • Reservations needed | Yes
  • Views | This is a huge camping zone so views vary, but it’s one of the most beautiful sections of the Teton Crest Trail so you are almost sure to have a nice view nearby.
  • Water | Available sporadically from small creeks. We’d recommend stocking up whenever you see water.

Basin Lakes

  • Reservations needed | No
  • Views | Beautiful alpine lakes with views of Buck Mountain 
  • Water | Available from Basin Lakes
  • Other things to know | Because permits are not required, Basin Lakes tends to get crowded so plan to arrive early to secure the best spot. Remember there are multiple lakes so you can spread out beyond the first one.

Sunset Lake

  • Reservations needed | No
  • Views | Beautiful alpine lake with a tiny view of the Grand. It’s also the perfect campsite for getting to Hurricane Pass at sunrise.
  • Water | available from Sunset Lake
  • Other things to know | Because permits are not required, Sunset Lake tends to get crowded so plan to arrive early to secure the best spot. There’s a really nice spot on the hill before you get to the lakeshore.

South Fork Cascade

  • Reservations needed | Yes
  • Views |Amazing views of the granite peaks towards the top of the zone (closest to Hurricane Pass). Farther into the zone, the views disappear and campsites become tree covered. 
  • Water | available from the South Fork Cascade Creek

North Fork Cascade

  • Reservations needed | Yes
  • Views | Stunning views of the Grand higher up in the zone. Lower campsites tend to be tree covered. 
  • Water | available from the North Fork Cascade Creek

Upper Paintbrush

The Upper Paintbrush Zone begins around the treeline here.
  • Reservations needed | Yes
  • Views | Some really nice views of Paintbrush Canyon towards the top of the zone (closest to Paintbrush Divide), lower campsites are mostly tree covered. You could hike up to the viewpoint shown in the photo above for a really nice sunrise view.
  • Water | available from the North Fork Cascade Creek

Holly Lake

Watching the sunrise on a backpacking trip to Holly Lake in Grand Teton
Enjoying the view at Holly Lake on the Teton Crest Trail
  • Reservations needed | Yes
  • Views | Located near the shores of Holly Lake, a pretty alpine lake (though not quite as impressive as other lakes on the Teton Crest Trail)
  • Water | Available from Holly Lake

Lower Paintbrush

  • Reservations needed | Yes
  • Views | Mostly tree covered
  • Water | Available from the North Fork Cascade Creek

Teton Crest Trail Itinerary Options

In this section, we’ll lay out what we feel are the absolute best itinerary options for 3, 4, 5 and 6 days on the Teton Crest Trail, with all the best campsites. Of course if you don’t get one of the campsites listed, you’ll have to adjust the itinerary accordingly.

6 Day Teton Crest Trail Itinerary

  • Day 1 | Phillips Pass Trailhead to Moose Lake: 9.5 miles
  • Day 2 | Moose Lake to Death Canyon Shelf: 9 miles
  • Day 3 | Death Canyon Shelf to Sunset Lake: 4.5 miles
  • Day 4 | Sunset Lake  to South Fork Cascade: 5.5 miles
  • Day 5 | South Fork Cascade Canyon to Holly Lake: 7 miles
  • Day 6 | Holly Lake to Leigh Lake Trailhead: 7 miles

5 Day Teton Crest Trail Itinerary

  • Day 1 | Phillips Pass Trailhead to Moose Creek: 8 miles
  • Day 2 | Moose Creek to Death Canyon Shelf: 7.5 miles
  • Day 3 | Death Canyon Shelf to Sunset Lake: 4.5 miles
  • Day 4 | Sunset Lake to Upper Paintbrush Zone: 8 miles
  • Day 5 | Upper Paintbrush zone to Leigh Lake trailhead: 12 miles

4 Day Teton Crest Trail Itinerary

  • Day 1 | Granite Canyon to Marion Lake: 9 miles
  • Day 2 | Marion Lake to Basin Lakes: 7.5 miles
  • Day 3 | Basin Lakes to Upper Paintbrush Zone: 10 miles
  • Day 4 | Upper Paintbrush zone to Leigh Lake trailhead: 12 miles

3 Day Teton Crest Trail Itinerary

  • Day 1 | Aerial Tram station to Death Canyon Shelf: 11 miles
  • Day 2 | Death Canyon Shelf to Upper Paintbrush Zone: 12.5 miles
  • Day 3 | Upper Paintbrush zone to Leigh Lake trailhead: 12 miles

Teton Crest Trail Itinerary without campsite reservations

So you missed the early January release of campsite reservations for Grand Teton National Park? We feel you! 

Luckily, there is still a way to backpack the Teton Crest Trail with NO national park campsite reservations. The Teton Crest Trail meanders over national park boundaries and into neighboring Jedidiah Smith Wilderness several times. 

In the national forest, backcountry campsite reservations are not needed. While the itinerary is not ideal, it is possible. 

There are a few different ways you could do it, but here’s what we’d recommend:

  • Day 1 | Aerial Tram to Fox Creek. Camp at Fox Creek
  • Day 2 | Fox Creek to Sunset Lake
  • Day 3 | Sunset Lake to Leigh Lake (19.5 miles via Paintbrush Canyon)

Teton Crest Trail Details

With all the logistics out of the way, let’s talk about the hike! Here’s what to expect from each section of the Teton Crest Trail. 

Getting to the trailhead

We started our morning before the sun rose and met our shuttle driver at 6:00 AM at the Leigh Lake Trailhead, the final destination of our Teton Crest Trail trek.

From there, the shuttle drove us to Phillips Pass Trailhead (also referred to as Phillips Bench Trailhead), a journey that takes about 1 hour. The Phillips Pass trailhead is a small turnout off Teton Pass highway between Moose, WY, and Victor, ID, just before you reach Teton Pass. 

Phillips Pass to Moose Creek

Fireweed on the trail to from Phillips Pass

The hike gets off to a quick start with a fairly consistent elevation gain over the first mile or so. With heavy packs loaded up for the days ahead, it can feel a bit demoralizing to start off struggling. Soon enough you’ll catch a reprieve as the trail drops down into the forest for several miles, with rolling mountain views peaking out here and there.

At about 4.5 miles, the elevation picks up again and you traverse a huge open meadow covered in wildflowers. We hiked during late summer, so most of the flowers were dying but we can only imagine how beautiful this section is earlier in the season!

The rolling meadows dotted with pine trees and wildflowers are really quite beautiful and unlike the scenery you’ll find along the rest of the Teton Crest Trail.

At just under 8 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach Moose Creek and the junction for Moose Lake. There are a few campsites available here close to Moose Creek. In fact there’s one spot tucked behind a tree with lovely views of the valley that we wished we’d stayed at!

Fun Fact | The tall pinkish-purple plant you’ll see a lot of in this area is fireweed (officially called Chamaenerion angustifolium), so called because it is often the first plant to grow in an area affected by forest fires as it thrives from the mineral layer exposed by the fire. 

Moose Lake

Sunrise at Moose Lake on the Teton Crest Trail

If you prefer to camp at Moose Lake, it tacks on about 2.5 miles round trip to your hike. To get there, you have to backtrack slightly down Moose Creek Trail in order to cross Moose Creek and join the spur trail up to Moose Lake.

If we’re being completely honest, we’re not sure that it’s worth the effort, especially if you have a long hike tomorrow. It’s a bit of a climb to reach Moose Lake and good campsites are few and far between.

We ended up wandering around for close to an hour trying to find a good spot… not exactly how you want to spend the evening after a long day of backpacking!

Nonetheless, Moose Lake is quite pretty. Don’t miss the sunrise illuminating the rocky walls surrounding the lake in the morning!

Moose Creek to Marion Lake

From the intersection to Moose Lake, it’s about 3.5 miles to Marion Lake. This segment of the trail starts off with a steady climb as you switchback your way out of the valley.

Grand Teton National Park Entrance

Entering Grand Teton National Park for the first time on the Teton Crest Trail!

Soon enough, the trail flattens out again and you’ll enter Grand Teton National Park for the first time! Here, you’re once again greeted with lovely rolling meadows and progressively rockier mountains in the distance.

If you are hiking from the Granite Canyon trailhead or the aerial tram station, you’ll intersect the Teton Crest Trail shortly after this point, before reaching Marion Lake.

After a brief flat section, the trail drops quickly down into a valley before a rather steep climb up to Marion Lake. During this section we kept thinking we had to be there, only to be disappointed by section after section of incline. When we finally arrived at Marion Lake, we were greatly in need of a lunch break!

Marion Lake

Looking over Marion Lake on the Teton Crest Trail towards Fox Creek

Marion Lake is a little alpine lake on the Teton Crest trail, and one of the most sought-after campsites. In fact, we tried, without success, to snag one of the three campsites available at Marion Lake.

Marion Lake is the perfect spot to rest and enjoy lunch with a view. There are plenty of rocky areas around the lake to drop your pack and take a well-deserved break.

When you’re ready to hit the trail after your rest, you’ll start once again with a pretty hefty climb. Don’t forget to look back over your shoulder every now and then – we thought the views of Marion Lake from above were the most impressive, where you can really see all the vibrant shades of green, teal, and blue on the lake’s surface.

Fox Creek

First glimpse of the Tetons from Fox Creek on the Teton Crest Trail

Less than a quarter mile from Marion Lake, you’ll once again exit Grand Teton National Park and enter Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

This section was one of our favorites of the Teton Crest Trail because it’s where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the iconic Teton peaks, from a very different angle than you’ve ever seen them! As you cross the Fox Creek area, you’ll have head on views of the Tetons that only get better as you go.

There are a few spots to camp in the Fox Creek Area, most of them located closer to the Fox Creek Pass side. This area is very wide open, with limited tree cover so it may be difficult to find a spot that’s reasonably blocked from the wind.

Also note that there is typically not any water in the Fox Creek area, so if you plan to camp here, be sure to carry in all the water you need from Marion Lake.

Fox Creek Pass

About 2.5 miles past Marion Lake, you’ll arrive at Fox Creek Pass. This pass isn’t what you’d typically expect from a mountain pass – it’s a fairly gradual climb most of the way with a brief steep push to the top.

From Fox Creek Pass, you’ll have an incredible view of Death Canyon Shelf ahead, and you can really see why it’s called a shelf. The Teton Crest Trail ahead hugs the cliff to the left with a gentle incline up the shelf for the next 4 miles or so.

Tip | Fox Creek Pass marks the National Park Boundary, so if you plan to camp in the National Forest, make sure to find a spot before you get here!

Death Canyon Shelf

Entering Death Canyon Shelf from Fox Creek Pass

From Fox Creek Pass, the trail drops briefly before continuing at a gentle incline along Death Canyon Shelf. This is easily one of the most beautiful sections of the Teton Crest Trail, and the campsites here have killer views!

Mount Meek Pass

The end of Death Canyon Shelf and the start of Alaska Basin is marked by Mount Meek Pass. Mount Meek Pass feels a bit more like a hill than a mountain pass, and the views are not particularly better than those enjoyed traversing Death Canyon Shelf.

Alaska Basin

Alaska Basin is part of Jedediah Smith Wilderness, meaning you don’t need reservations to camp here. There are two popular alpine lakes to camp at in Alaska Basin: Basin Lakes and Sunset Lake.

As you make your way through Alaska Basin, the view of the Teton peaks starts to disappear behind a ridge and Buck Mountain dominates the view.

Basin Lakes

We got engaged at Basin Lakes so it will always be a special place to us!

After entering Alaska Basin, you will arrive at the first of the Basin Lakes in about one mile. The first lake is visible from the main trail and features a rocky shore with a beautiful view of Buck Mountain towering overhead.

Basin Lakes is an awesome place to set up camp. Don’t forget that there are several other lakes right nearby, so do some exploring to find your ideal spot!

P.S. We got engaged on day 4 out of 5 of our Teton Crest backpacking trip! It was sunrise at Basin Lakes in Alaska Basin when Matt popped the Q. No manicured nails for me!

The night before we had awoken in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke and laid awake for hours wondering how close the forest fire was. We woke up to a beautiful sunrise at Basin Lakes, and a short window of clear skies before the thick smoke rolled in again… the highs and lows of backpacking, right?!

Sunset Lake

From Basin Lakes, it’s about another 1.5 miles until you reach Sunset Lake.

Sunset Lake is a picturesque alpine lake tucked up against the western side of the Tetons in Alaska Basin with beautiful bright teal waters and a small glimpse of the Grand peaking up over the surrounding ridge.

As the name suggests, the sunsets here are spectacular and we’d highly suggest camping here if you have the chance.

We spent our third night on the Teton Crest Trail at Sunset Lake and found the most amazing campsite perched on the hill overlooking the lake, with a little view of the Grand. We arrived at Sunset Lake early and had time to wash off in the lake and enjoy some downtime soaking in the beautiful scenery.

Hurricane Pass

Amazing views of the Tetons at Hurricane Pass on the Teton Crest Trail

Hurricane Pass was hands down our favorite view of the entire Teton Crest Trail, and we’d even go so far as to say our favorite view in all of Grand Teton National Park!

From Sunset Lake, you’ll begin a grueling climb up to the ridge. Suddenly the tip of the Grand Teton appears from behind the hill and then slowly more and more of the Tetons come into view.

From Hurricane Pass, you have a stunning up-close view of the backside of the Grand, South and Middle Tetons.

We hiked up to Hurricane Pass from Sunset lake early in the morning, and the sun was just starting to peek out from behind the Tetons (we wish we’d arrived ~10 minutes sooner!). Sitting there alone watching the sunrise with this magical view of the Tetons remains one of my all-time favorite backpacking memories.

South Fork Cascade Canyon

Hiking down from Hurricane Pass into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon on the Teton Crest TRail

From Hurricane Pass, the Teton Crest Trail drops down into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. The next 5 miles are entirely downhill, offering a nice reprieve after the climb to Hurricane Pass.

From the upper section of the South Fork Cascade Canyon, the views of the towering Teton Peaks continue. As you descend farther into Cascade Canyon, the views slowly disappear, and the trail enters a forested area.

North Fork Cascade Canyon

North Fork of Cascade Canyon in the Grand Tetons
One happy backpacker enjoying views from the North Fork of Cascade Canyon

Cascade Canyon forms a “Y”-shape, with the base at Jenny Lake and Inspiration Point, one arm going north toward Lake Solitude, and the other reaching south towards the South Teton.

At just over 5 miles from Hurricane Pass, the South Fork and North Fork of Cascade Canyon intersect. Here you’ll turn left and begin the slow, steady climb up towards Lake Solitude.

With towering peaks on both sides, the trail cuts down the middle of the canyon through the dense forest of lodgepole pines. This was definitely one of our favorite parts of the hike. You are deep in the backcountry with very few other hikers around.

Here you have straight on views of the backside of the Grand Teton, surrounded by stunning peaks in almost every direction.

The North Fork of Cascade Canyon has some pretty incredible campsites, with the best ones located further north towards Lake Solitude. We didn’t camp here during the Teton Crest Trail hike, but we stayed here while hiking the Paintbrush Canyon Cascade Canyon Loop and our campsite had an amazing view of the Grand right around the corner.

Lake Solitude

The Tetons peak out from behind Lake Solitude in Grand Teton National Park

After 3 miles of solid incline up the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, Lake Solitude is the perfect resting spot before the brutal climb up Paintbrush Divide. We had lunch on the shore and took our boots off for a few minutes to cool our feet off in the lake – the most amazing feeling by day 4 of a backpacking trip!

Lake Solitude is a popular spot, but it’s still far from any trailheads, meaning most day hikers don’t make the journey. There’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy some…solitude.

Lake Solitude to Paintbrush Divide

Enjoy your time at Lake Solitude because the toughest part of the Teton Crest Trail lies ahead. From Lake Solitude, it’s a consistently steep and rocky 2-mile climb up to Paintbrush Divide. The trail here is much steeper than up to Hurricane Pass, and your already-tired legs make it that much more challenging.

We had the unfortunate luck of tackling both Hurricane Pass and Paintbrush Canyon on the same day, an endeavor we would certainly not recommend. Since we were not able to snag a campsite in either the North Fork or South Fork camping zones, we had no choice but to squeeze the two passes into one day.

Let’s just say we were glad that this wasn’t our first time seeing Paintbrush Divide, because by the time we got there, we had little energy left to truly enjoy it.

Paintbrush Divide

When you arrive at Paintbrush Divide, you’ll be immediately rewarded with incredible 360-degree views of the Tetons! We talked to a fellow hiker who told us that they cried the first time they saw the view from Paintbrush Divide, and frankly, we can kind of see why…

Now, I don’t think either of us cried, but the view was definitely one of the most spectacular sites we have ever seen!

We both think Hurricane Pass has the slight edge in terms of the “wow” factor, but Paintbrush Divide certainly holds a close second. The views here are truly stunning!

Take the time to really soak in the views from Paintbrush Divide. You may be tired and ready to get to your campsite (like we were!), but this will be one of the last big views of the trip.

Descending Paintbrush Divide

Trail through scree fields down Paintbrush Divide to Paintbrush Canyon
Crossing Paintbrush Divide in the snow
Crossing Paintbrush Divide in the snow

Next comes the most infamous section of the Teton Crest Trail: descending Paintbrush Divide into Paintbrush Canyon. This section of the trail is steep and exposed – it wouldn’t be a great place to lose your footing! If you have a fear of heights, this part may make you nervous, but the good news is that the sketchy section doesn’t last long.

Before hiking the Teton Crest Trail, we’d crossed Paintbrush Divide before during early July 2021, when part of the trail was still snow covered. As someone with a tendency for panic attacks, the comments and reviews I had read about it beforehand made me really nervous.

There was one section about 5 feet long (see us about to cross it below), that was very narrow due to lingering snow with loose footing and a sharp drop off on the side.

When we crossed Paintbrush Divide during our Teton Crest Trail trek in September 2022, we felt the trail was in much better condition. The park rangers had definitely been working on making the trail safer, building in some rocky steps where there previously was just loose scree. While it’s still a little sketchy, it definitely felt more secure this time around.

Holly Lake

View from Holly Lake in Grand Teton

From Paintbrush Divide, it’s all downhill to Holly Lake, and for the rest of the hike for that matter! We spent our fifth night on the Teton Crest Trail camping at Holly Lake. If you can arrive early, it’s a nice spot to spend the afternoon cooling off and relaxing by the lake.

While Holly Lake is quite pretty, it’s not the most impressive lake you’ll see along the Teton Crest Trail in our opinion. We’d personally rank Sunset Lake, Basin Lakes, and Marion Lake above Holly Lake.

Holly Lake to Leigh Lake Trailhead

Sunrise over Leigh Lake

Once you reach Holly Lake, you’re in the home stretch with just 7 miles completely downhill to go before arriving at Leigh Lake Trailhead. Along the way, you’ll have a nice view looking over Leigh Lake. Just before arriving at the trailhead, you’ll walk along the shores of String Lake offering one last beautiful view before your time on the Teton Crest Trail comes to an end.

Tip | If you’re heading to Idaho after finishing the Teton Crest, make a pit stop at Big Hole Bagels in Driggs. Is there anything better than a cheesy breakfast sandwich on a bagel after several days in the backcountry?!

A reflection on String Lake, just before completing the Teton Crest Trail.

Teton Crest Trail packing list

In addition to your standard backpacking gear, below are a few important items to make sure you bring for the Teton Crest backpacking trip:

  • Warm Layers (Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody) | Even during the summer, it gets quite cold at night in the Tetons. Pack a warm sleeping bag and extra layers for when the sun goes down. The Arc’teryx Cerium down jacket is incredibly warm, lightweight and packs down small!
  • Bear Spray | Since there are grizzlies in the area, carrying bear spray with you is a must. Each person in the group should have their own can and carry it within arm’s reach (ie. attached to your hip – it’s nearly worthless packed away in your backpack)
  • Bear Can (BearVault) | You will need to fit anything that smells (food + toiletries) into a bear can. Since the Teton Crest is a longer trek, you may want the larger can. Bear cans are also available for rent at the ranger station.

P.S. We’ve compiled a complete list of our backpacking essentials to help you pack for your trip!

Other useful resources

Looking for more great hikes in Grand Teton?! You may also be interested in these resources:

For all things Wyoming: Wyoming Travel Guide

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The Teton Crest Trail is a dream for backpackers looking to get off the grid and up close and personal with the majestic mountains. Have questions about planning your Teton Crest Trail itinerary? Drop us a comment in the section below!

Sarah Vaughan

Hello! I'm Sarah, one half of the couple behind Two Outliers! In 2023, I quit my job as a Data Scientist to travel around the world on an epic 15-month journey in search of the world's greatest hikes and outdoor adventures. Matt and I started Two Outliers in 2021 as a place for visitors to find concise, accurate, and honest information to plan their own adventures. We hope our experiences inspire you to hit the trail! Happy Hiking! Sarah


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