Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail
DATE HIKED: 8/19-22
TOTAL DISTANCE: 40 miles
DIFFICULTY: MODERATELY DIFFICULT
REQUIRED PERMIT: YES
DOG FRIENDLY: NO
LOCATION: GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
RECREATION PASS: NATIONAL PARK PASS
I had researched how to obtain Teton Crest Trail permits and read that they go on sale the first Wednesday of the year. How their permit system works is you go on and select the campsites you want (it will show you what is still available) and then you purchase them right then and there. No lottery or waiting. I did log in the second they went on sale and did research on some of the prettiest and most sought after sites and I got the itinerary I wanted! I got 6 permits for 3 nights. We would plan to do the 40 miles in 4 days and 3 nights then. I probably could've used another day on this trail, it was so gorgeous! You can also do walk up permits, which some of my friends had luck with the same week. I'm not much of a gambler, so I like have the permits secured ahead of time.
The next piece to think about was how we would get there from Seattle and where we would stay before and after. Flying in and out of Jackson Hole is EXTREMELY expensive. The whole city is relatively expensive. We also had to fly to Minnesota a couple days later and wanted to put the entire trip on one itinerary to use our Alaskan companion fare so we had some wonky flights. We flew into Bozeman Friday night, picked up our rental car, drove 30 minutes and then found some place to sleep for a bit before continuing on to Yellowstone and Jackson. Bozeman is about 4.5 hours from Jackson Hole. We returned our rental car when we got into town so we didn't have to pay for it all week while we weren't using it. After we ended the hike we also picked up a rental car and then flew out of Salt Lake City (4.5 hours away as well). Jackson is the best place to fly in, but there are other options you can do like we did as well.
I then had to figure out where we would stay before and after the trip. Again, everything in Jackson Hole is very expensive. Even the Motel 8 was $200+! I found a hostel (The Hostel) and it so happened to be in walking distance to the start of our hike! I booked my group spots for the night before and after the trip. It is $55 for a shared room per person or you can get the quad room, which we did on our last night for much cheaper a person than that. The Hostel was great with access to a shower and bed and not having to pay a lot. Going out to eat is also very expensive in Jackson Hole. We ended up going to the Mangey Moose 3 times because of their great prices and comfortable dive bar feel.
One other thing I arranged ahead of time was buying the tram tickets. There are many access points for the trail, we wanted to take the tram up to cut off thousands of feet of gain. Some choose to hike from the bottom, but it was fun to start the hike on the tram! It is $35 a person for the tram.
And lastly we had to figure out how we would get back to the village after ending on the other side. We arranged a cab ahead of time with Jackson Hole Taxi. We gave them a time we thought we would be done for them to pick the 6 of us up on the last day. Many people hitch hike back and have no problem getting back. There is reliable service at the end of the trail to call for a ride too. We ended up getting done early and had them pick us up early.
With everything planned and ready, 6 of us made the trek from Washington, California and Minnesota to hike the Teton Crest Trail!
On the way to Jackson we drove through Yellowstone quickly. This was my third time here. I love the geysers and wild bison!
Morning we set our alarms for 7, although I woke up at 6 in excitement. Before our alarms could go off, Scott woke us up before our alarms could go off. I opened the door and he excitedly said "THERE'S A MOOSE OUTSIDE". We looked around the whole building and couldn’t find it at first. I kept looking and eventually saw it farther out in the distance! Such a way to be greeted by on our first full day in the Tetons. We packed up our stuff and checked out of the hostel. We got breakfast in town right by the start of the tram. Everything was quick walking distance from the hostel, which was great. We enjoyed our coffee and breakfast food before heading up. We got our tram tickets ahead of time saving $8/ person. I definitely recommend taking the tram as it cuts so much mileage and gain off of your day. We rode the tram and halfway up the 12 minute ride we saw a moose laying on the ground! Second one of the day and it wasn’t even 10:00! As soon as we got off the train Chrissy unfortunately felt really sick. We had gone from 6,000 feet to over 10,000 very quickly. She took her time to adjust and wanted us to start hiking, which we did. We started at the top of roundevous mountain and then made a steep drop for a few miles. 6 miles in was our first main goal to Marion Lake. On the way we saw another moose! We also saw such thick, amazing wildflowers on the way. We finally made it to Marion lake, which felt like it took forever. We only did 10 miles and 1,800 gain for the day, but the gain felt so hard. Our sea level bodies had a hard time adjusting to the high altitude. It was so hard to catch my breath and kept getting exhausted so easily. Marion Lake was a beautiful lunch spot (to have left over pizza!) and enjoy the view. Nikki painted a beautiful little piece of it as well. We pressed on for 4 more miles to get to Death Canyon Shelf- our camping zone for the night. The camping zone is apparently about 3 miles long. We wanted to get one with a good view, but also wanted to not keep walking. We found a nice site on the edge of the shelf with enough room for our 3 tents. As we awoke from an afternoon nap, a friendly neighbor came over and yelled there was a bear up on the hill! It was on some super steep talus field. So strange to see a bear scrambling. We thought for sure we wouldn’t have any bears up on the shelf that is basically a cliff, but we thought wrong. It kept its distance and never approached us. In our area we also passed no water any where near and our neighbors had also not found water. We all had about .5-1 liter left so we got really nervous. A little later another camper said he found a creek about 5 minutes away. Hallelujah! I used my big one gallon Sawyer bag to get water, which works awesomely. I loved being able to get so much water at once. We made dinner and then made sure all scented things were far from camp in our bear cans. Bear cans are required here. You can rent them for free from the ranger station. We all could barely fit our things in our bear cans. Tomorrow is our hardest day at 12-13 miles with lots of gain as well. The Tetons have surprised all expectations so far with the grand beauty of the talk peaks, endless wildflowers and so much wildlife!
I set my alarm for 6:00 hoping to catch an amazing sunrise. The colors weren’t mind blowing, so sleep won for another half hour. I got out of the tent and was the only one up. I had the shelf and mountains all to myself. I eventually corralled everyone out of their tents and we packed up and got on the trail a bit after 8. The start of the day was nice and flat and the views of the Grand Teton got closer and closer. We made it down into Alaska Basin, which reminded me of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington with all the slabby granite and trees. We took a nice break here before proceeding. We hiked up to Sunset Lake and right before there a girl from another group told us she saw a bear. We all proceeded slowly and talked loudly, but we never saw it. By the time we got to the lake the predicted rain came in and we all had to don our rain jackets and pack covers. It was so sad to not be able to sit and enjoy the alpine lake, but it was not very enjoyable in the rain. 10 minutes later it cleared up and it was sunny and nicer than it had been all day. The weather in these mountains comes and goes so fast! We then made the biggest climb of the day up to hurricane pass, which sits at over 10,000 feet. The views were the best of the trip so far being so up close and personal the grand Teton herself. Below the mountain laid tarns and a beautiful glacier blue tarn. We wanted to stay here and enjoy the view but strong wind and rain came in so we couldn’t stay long. The rest of the day would mostly be a decent, but a long one. It continued to drizzle on and off but nothing awful. We walked through South Fork Canyon, which seemed to last forever until we finally got to our zone for the night- North Fork Cascade. The hike seemed endless. The first few campsite were all taken. We were getting discouraged we would have to keep walking too far for a site. It was almost 6 pm at this point. Luckily the 4th campsite was open and one of the best with an amazing view of the mountains and right by a creek. We set up camp and enjoyed the views. We made a few trail friends so far, one of them being Adam a solo hiker from DC. We hiked with him for much of the day and then invited him to camp by us for the night at our huge campsite. We had a full house of 7 people and enjoyed the festivities of drinking wine and playing card games. This place is so magical and wild. The mountains here are so powerful in size and awe. I can’t wait for the next two days of the trip. We ended up doing 14.5 miles and around 2,500 gain. The longest day but also the day with the the most beautiful views so far!
We knew we had a short day ahead, so we slept until 8. We lounged, Nikki painted and we took our time getting out of our beautiful campsite. We didn’t start hiking until 12, but it turned out to be fine. We hiked up through the beautiful valley filled with meadows and flowers and waterfalls. It was a dream. A short 1.5 miles later and we were to Solitude Lake. There wasn’t much solitude to be found there today. So many day hikers and backpackers soaking up the view. All 6 of us got in the ice cold water and "swam" (went in for as long as tolerable). It was freezing but refreshing. We looked up the canyon wall and couldn’t believe we would be hiking up it. It looked like so much gain straight up the mountain. This day would deliver around 2,300 gain and only 5 miles. The climb was consistent, but not unbearable. We slowly climbed into the high alpine and all the way up to Paintbrush Divide. 10,700 feet! The views were so stunning. 360 degree views of mountains all around. We then descended steeply into loose rock that was a little sketchy. There was even a small snow field to cross. After this we entered the Upper Paintbrush zone and walked a bit until we found a nice area to call home for the night. This area was so stunning with tarns, giant cascading peaks and meadows and marmots all around. We set up camp and enjoyed our last night on trail. There was full cell phone service here as well.
Day 4 we woke early to strong wind, then rain, then thunder and lightening. We stayed in the tent until it mostly pattered off. We packed up quick and then hit the trail. It was 7-8 miles out to the String Lake Trailhead. We booked it out as it was pouring rain the entire time. Even with rain paints and a rain coat, everything got soaked. There was puddles in my shoes. We finally got to the trailhead and still had to wait almost an hour before the cab arrived.
This trail was one of the most scenic hikes I have done and most enjoyable. I can't wait to go back and explore more of Wyoming!