The Teton Crest Trail Guide For Hikers


Grand Teton National Park is a notable popular stop on any camper’s must-see list. And hiking the Teton Crest Trail while you’re there will present you with spectacular views and challenging terrain.

Explore the Tetons up close and personal while circumnavigating a glacier, playing in mountain lakes, and fording a stream or two. The journey will surely set the standard for all your future hiking adventures if you have the time and the fortitude.

Let’s check it out!

About the Teton Crest Trail

This 40+ mile loop trail takes hikers through the Grand Teton Mountain Range’s center. Hikers start at the Phillips Pass Trailhead and finish at String Lake. The journey can take five or more days, with designated campsites along the way. You’ll gain more than 8,000 feet in elevation.

And if your hike is planned before the snow melts on the mountain passes, you may find yourself using an ice axe! 

Hikers will enjoy meandering through the national park, as well as the neighboring Bridger Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests. Meadows full of wildflowers, rugged mountain geography, and undisturbed wildlife are just a few of the payoffs for this strenuous trek.

Hiking Teton Crest Trail

How Difficult Is The Hike?

The Teton Crest Trail is rated as a moderate to difficult hike. Elevation grades average 8%, but some sections have up to a 34% incline. In fact, there are two significant ascents and descents over the course of the 40 miles. Hikers will gain more than 8,000 feet at the highest point, then descend almost 7,600 feet by the journey’s end. Parts of the trail have no shade for several miles, and weather plays a big part in the trail’s difficulty. In fact, rain and snow are not unusual, even in summer.

Do You Need A Permit To Hike The Teton Crest Trail?

There’s a healthy competition for permits along the Teton Crest Trail. They’re required for camping in eleven designated “zones” and can be applied for in advance at Recreation.gov. The park accepts applications from the first Wednesday in January through May 15 every year.

Those wishing to take their chances on a last-minute walk-in permit can apply the day before their trek at the ranger station. Just be forewarned. The peak season in July and August is challenging. So bring your patience and plan on waiting several days to get that coveted permit!

When To Start Your Hike

The best time to travel the trail is between July and September, because the higher elevations shed their snow in late July. Anyone hiking before then should be prepared with an ice axe and crampons to navigate some slippery locations.

By the time late August rolls around, many of the streams that would normally provide fresh water are dry, so pack accordingly.

Trailhead Options

There are several trailheads accessed from Teton Pass Highway that will start you along the Teton Crest Trail. The most popular waypoint is Phillips Pass Trailhead. If you begin your journey here, you should finish the trail at Leigh Lake Trailhead. But hikers can start and finish their excursions from several points along the trail.

Many hikers forgo the first 5 miles (and a 2,500’ ascent) by riding the Teton Village Aerial Tram to Rendezvous Pass at 10,450’. Or start hiking at Moose Creek Trailhead, Granite Canyon, or Coal Creek Trailheads. They will all get you to your goal of hiking the Teton Crest Trail.

Pro Tip: These surprisingly common hiking mistakes can ruin your trip. Make sure you avoid them!

Food And Water

Because the Tetons are rich with grizzly and black bears, backpackers must keep any food or scented materials in bear canisters. You can borrow these for free from the ranger station with your Teton Crest Trail camping permit. It’s also a good practice to carry bear spray with you in case you come across Yogi in your travels.

Water is usually available along the trail through late August when smaller streams begin to dry up. But it’s always accessible from lakes. In fact, you can find water about every two hours, so it’s suggested that you carry enough drinkable water with you between sources. Use a lightweight water purifier, and remember to keep hydrated, especially at higher altitudes.

Campsites

Permits issued for Teton Crest Trail hikers are actually for eleven camping zones. Once you arrive at a zone, there’s a first-come, first-served system to set up camp at a designated spot within the zone. Listed below are the different zones where camping is allowed.

  • Cascade Canyon, North Fork
  • Cascade Canyon, South Fork
  • Death Canyon
  • Garnet Canyon
  • Granite & Open Canyon
  • Holly Lake
  • Lower Paintbrush
  • Marion Lake
  • Phelps Lake
  • Upper Paintbrush
  • Surprise Lake

Know Before You Go: This is our favorite free campsite near Grand Teton National Park.

What To Pack

Let’s start with equipment. Don’t forget to pack a lightweight backpacking tent and a comfortable, lightweight sleeping bag that can handle nighttime temperatures around freezing. A sleeping pad will provide better rest on hard ground. And, ensure your equipment fits into a (you guessed it) lightweight backpack that can accommodate all of your gear.

Add a small stove with a pot, plate, and spoon, a water purifier, a headlamp for those night trips to the loo, a map and compass, an ice axe and crampons, a pocket knife, a foldable shovel, and a first aid kit.

Remember, your food must be in a bear canister as you hike. So your supply should be small in size and big in protein and carbs to fuel you along the trek. Plan smartly!

Clothing should be planned in layers so that you can discard or add it as the weather changes. Include items like a fleece jacket, raincoat and pants, a pair of hiking pants and a pair of shorts, 2 t-shirts, a long-sleeved shirt, 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of underwear, hiking boots, a hat, warm gloves, and a down jacket.

Miscellaneous items can run the gamut from personal toiletries to a towel, insect repellent and a camera. 

Helpful Resources

The National Park Service website for Grand Tetons has several helpful maps, as do their rangers at the visitor center.

National Geographic’s “Trails Illustrated” series includes a handy topographic map of Grand Teton and the Teton Crest Trail.

Lastly, a paperback trail guide by Bill Schneider entitled “Hiking Grand Teton National Park” is an excellent resource for the Teton Crest Trail.

Immerse Yourself in Nature on the Teton Crest Trail

With Grand Teton National Park’s popularity growing every day, more and more visitors look for ways to get away from the crowds and experience its natural wonders. Hiking the Teton Crest Trail is the perfect activity to see the park at your own pace. You’ll certainly experience the best of Mother Nature’s creative handiwork in this small but powerfully scenic part of the country. 

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