Thursday, October 20, 2022

Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail: A Photo Journal

I had biked through Grand Teton and neighboring Yellowstone National Parks on numerous occasions — once on a solo trip and three times leading trips for Adventure Cycling. I felt as though I knew The Tetons fairly well. And I did, as well as one can from the seat of a bicycle. But never had I ventured beyond where my steel steed could take me. So when my adventure partner, Alan, asked whether I'd be interested in backpacking the Teton Crest Trail, I gave him a hearty affirmative. "Sure thing, Alan!" It would, after all, be a pleasure to experience the Tetons from within the crest rather than gawking up at them from 4000 feet below.

The Teton Crest Trail.

The Teton Crest is often considered one of the top backpacking trails in the United States. More than 40 miles in length, the trail traverses the Grand Teton National Park, Jedidiah Smith Wilderness, and Bridger-Teton and Caribou Targhee National Forests. The route offers a lovely array of jaw-drop vistas, from granite peaks and wide-open meadows to aquamarine lakes and magnificent evergreens. To top it off, The Teton Crest would be painted in a rich palette of autumn colors when we planned to backpack the trail at the end of September. Yup, I'd be up for that!

The park requires a permit to camp in the backcountry. The permit window for the 2022 season opened January 5th at 8am. When Alan forwarded me the permit, I chuckled when I saw it was time-stamped just minutes after the window had opened. One thing is for certain: Alan don't mess around when it comes to permits. No siree!

As Alan had backpacked The Teton Crest the summer before, he was familiar not only with the route, but also with ideal places to camp. A couple of the sites he was hoping to reserve were unavailable when he obtained the permit and so he chose reasonable alternatives instead; he figured we might be able to swap out a few sites when we collected the permit in-person. Sure enough, when we picked up the permit at the Moose Visitor Center the day before our trip began, we were able to score every site we had hoped for. Yahoo!

Our permit for Marion Lake, Devils Canyon Shelf,
Alaska Basin, Cascade North Fork, and Holly Lake.

Alan is a firm believer that adventures should be as human-powered as possible...which is one of the reasons I appreciate Alan as an adventure buddy. As we planned to backpack the Teton Crest from point-to-point, Alan suggested we close the loop by bicycling from the exit point (at String Lake) back to the entry point (at Teton Village*) where we would park the van. Doing so would turn our 48-mile one-way backpacking trip into an 86-mile loop, 38 miles of which would be traveled on two wheels. The day before we set out on foot, we drove to String Lake and locked our bicycles to a bike rack so they would be available to ride as soon as we finished the Teton Crest Trail a week later. We then drove to the Teton Village, where we parked the van and began our backpacking trip.

DAY #1: Teton Village to Marion Lake via Granite Creek Canyon (11.4 miles, 3800 ft)

Fresh bodies and fresh faces in Teton Village
before heading out on the trail.

At our camp at Marion Lake.
Our faces are still fresh, our bodies less so.

DAY #2: Marion Lake to Death Canyon Shelf (4.7 miles, 840 ft)

Arriving at our camp on the Death Canyon Shelf with plenty of afternoon hours,
we both cracked open our books.
I read me some Thoreau, while Alan read a book about silence.

My most favorite gear: my new Hyperlite backpack.
My least favorite gear: my 15-year-old Asolo. Blisters galore!

DAY #3: Death Canyon Shelf to Sunset Lake via Alaska Basin Loop (8.1 miles, 1500 ft)

I peeked out the tent in the morning to find Alan
worshipping the rising sun as he glanced down towards Death Canyon.

We decided to hike a few additional miles around Alaska Basin.
We were so glad we did, as the scenery was superb.

The Alaska Baskin had a number of small lakes.
The first we chanced upon was our most favorite.

We spent quite a bit of time marveling at the fish in the lake,
wondering what it must be like to live in a lake at 10k feet.

After settling into our camp at Sunset Lake,
Alan enjoyed some feel-good stretches.

DAY #4: Sunset Lake to North Fork, including side trip to Avalanche Divide (11.5 miles, 2100 ft)

Posing before The Grand Teton.
Yes, we switched packs -- for funsies!

Jumping for joy in front of the Grand, Middle, and South Tetons.

I found a rock that perfectly expressed
my feelings for this backpacking trip.

Alan looks up towards the Schoolroom Glacier.

We decided to ascend a few hundred extra feet
in a few extra miles to Avalanche Divide (10,680 ft).
As we were feeling crunched for time,
we fastpacked up to the divide.

At the top of Avalanche Divide, with Kit Lake in the background.

Alan crosses one of the bridges on the way
to our camp at Cascade North Fork.

We knew we were going to be hungry this night, 
and so we dined on our most favorite and highest calorie meals.

The view of the setting sun on The Tetons was intoxicating.

DAY #5: North Fork to Holly Lake (5.8 miles, 2225 ft)

A little early morning fun.

...while I marveled at the surrounding beauty.

Our view looking back towards The Tetons
as we climbed up Paintbrush Divide from Lake Solitude.
The valley was painted in various autumnal hues.

Soon we entered Paintbrush Canyon.

Alan captures our location -- Paintbrush Divide (10,700 ft).

The weather had been impeccable for us — perfectly blue skies with temperatures warm enough for shorts and t-shirts during the day. Though the nighttime temperatures were certainly cooler (especially at elevation), the temps never approached freezing. In the afternoon of Day #5, we noticed clouds beginning to gather in the sky and so we assumed the weather might be deteriorating. As we approached Holly Lake, we asked some folks camping nearby whether they were aware of the forecast. Indeed they were; the forecast predicted heavy rain with potential hail. Yikes! We decided to get an early start the next morning in hopes that we could finish our hike and bike back to Teton Village before the skies opened.

DAY #6: Holly Lake to String Lake (7 miles, 300 ft) + Bike ride String Lake --> Teton Village (38 miles)

Our view towards Leigh Lake as we backpacked out our final morning.
Though the lake appeared to be airbrushed in cheery pastels,
the sky looked ominous just to the south.

We emerged from The Teton Crest at String Lake, where we were pleased to see that both of our bikes were fully present and fully intact. We rearranged our gear, moving the heaviest items from our packs into our bear containers (a bear canister for Alan and an Ursack for me). We then strapped the bear containers to our bike racks and our backpacks to our backs, hopped on the saddles, and pedaled off towards Teton Village. 

Biking with our backpacks.

Because a section of Moose-Wilson Rd was closed for construction, what could have been a 19-mile ride to Teton Village ended up being twice as long since we needed to pedal the roundabout way. We felt a few raindrops fall onto our faces a few miles shy of Jackson, but fortunately, it wasn't until our final ten miles when we finally encountered rain. We stopped, donned our rain jackets, and continued pedaling back to the van.

All in all, the trip did not disappoint in providing the experiences we had hoped for, sweetened by perfect weather and fulfilling companionship. 

"Wait, wait, wait, before you go, did you see any wildlife?" you ask. Indeed. We saw lots of deer, some pika, some fish...and one bear.

We saw only one bear. We was munching on a tree
on the side of the road as we drove away from Teton Village.

* NOTE: Our backpacking route technically began at the Granite Canyon Trailhead. However, as both the trailhead and a section of Moose-Wilson Rd were closed for construction. we began our backpack trip instead at nearby Teton Village.


  1. Beautiful pictures & detailed report. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Rami. Let me know when you do The Wonderland -- I may want to join you. :)

  2. Thank you for the note, VW. I've had some fun adventures this summer -- I just haven't taken the time to write about them. I hope you had a great summer as well and are looking forward to the return of winter. Cheers!

  3. I really enjoyed my bike tour of the Tetons. I'm glad you had the legs & endurance to show me everything I missed from the road!

    1. So glad to have pedaled The Tetons with you in-person and to have had you along in spirit for the backpacking version of the trip. :)

  4. As always, so happy to follow along on another adventure. Thank you for taking the time to share such lovely experiences with us. I’ve missed your updates!

    1. Thank you for your note, Rusty. As always, great to hear from you.

  5. Looks totally awesome. Nice to see you getting out in the woods!


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