Teton Crest Trail Backpacking Guide

 

The Grand Teton Mountains are home to moose, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, black and grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, and many other species. But they also showcase one of the nation’s most scenic hiking routes: the Teton Crest Trail. This high route trail traverses ridges offering spectacular wide-angle views of towering granite peaks, glacier-carved canyons, crystalline lakes and wildflower-pocked meadows of penstemon, lupine, paintbrush, monkshood and western coneflower.

With mileage varying from 35 to 45 miles, depending on your route, the serpentine trail cuts through the Jedadiah Wilderness Area, two national forests — Bridger Teton and Caribou-Targhee—as well as Grand Teton National Park, rarely dropping below 8,000 feet. Along the way, you'll touch at least three ecological zones and circumnavigate a classic glacier with well-defined terminal and lateral moraines, crevasses, and a proglacial lake. For ambitious backpackers, using some creative side trails, the route can be extended to 75 miles. 

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 63 km (40 miles)
  • Days Needed: 3-5 days
  • Peak Elevation: 10,695 feet
  • Elevation Gain/Loss:  8,061’ ascent and -7,576’ descent, (average grade is 8%, with max grade at 34%)
  • Best Travel Time: July through early September
  • Permits: Required (see below)
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult

Highlights

  • Stunning vistas from the multitude of ridgelines and passes.
  • Beautiful sunrises and sunsets from most campsites.
  • Gorgeous high alpine scenery
  • Relative solitude, but expect to see a lot of other backpackers.
  • Challenging side trips (Hunt Mountain, Static Peak, Upper Cascade Canyon)
  • Good shuttle options from the start (consider parking a car at the exit and shuttling to the trailhead) 
  • Moose and bear sightings, if you’re quiet and lucky.
  • Excellent hiking temperatures.

Lowlights

  • Competitive permit process
  • Can be susceptible to quickly changing weather
  • Seasonal bugs and snow
  • Campfires prohibited
  • Some years, mostly wet ones, the flies are vicious.
  • In late August, many streams dry up making water options a bit sketchier (depending on rainfall early in the year). 
  • A few spots require stream fording (particularly South Fork Teton Creek). 
  • You’ll hike 31 miles before you gain the highest elevation on the crest trail, but that also means a fast and furious descent to the trail terminus over the last 8 miles.  
  • You may need to carry and know how to use an ice ax and microspikes for self-arrest to traverse several passes until late July. 
  • Parking at trailheads can be challenging. Inquire at the backcountry office for your best options that day. 

Photo Gallery

Best Time to Travel

In general, July through September is the best time to hike the Teton Crest Trail, but in some years you may still be able to safely hike as late as early October. Snowpack is a key factor for trip planning in this area, as snow can linger on passes until late in the year. Rain and snow can fall at any time of year here and freezing temperatures are possible as well. During the summer months temperatures can reach into the 80s during the day and drop down into the 30s at night.

As always, be prepared and diligent in monitoring current conditions as weather can change quickly in the mountains. Before heading out, check the National Weather Service for up-to-date conditions.

While snow conditions vary from year to year, snow usually melts on trail elevations below 6,700 feet by mid-June. At higher elevations up to 10,000 feet, depending on the year, the snow progressively melts, bearing ground by the third week in July. To safely traverse Paintbrush, Static Peak and Moose Basin Divides, and Hurricane, Mt. Meek and Fox Creek passes, you may need an ice axe and knowledge of its use as late as August. Microspikes can help add traction too. Always check in with the the Grand Teton National Park Service for the snow level and condition of the passes. 

Difficulty

  • Total Distance: 63 km (39 miles)
  • Total Elevation Gain/Loss: 8,061’ ascent and -7,576’ descent, average grade 8%, max 34%.
  • Overall Difficulty: Moderate - Difficult

We rate this hike as moderate to difficult due to two significant ascents and descents. As always, difficulty ratings depend on your experience, physical fitness, pack weight, and weather conditions. Although not a technically demanding hike, it requires careful planning for campsites and water resources. Like any backpacking trip, you should plan accordingly, train properly, know your limitations, brush up on your skills, and dial in your gear. Doing so will make for a safe and enjoyable adventure.

Permits

Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips in Grand Teton National Park. To obtain a permit, apply in advance — from the first Wednesday in January to May 15 each year. Submit your permit request using the website Recreation.gov where you can view backcountry campsites availability in real-time and apply for reservations. Groups of 1 to 6 people may apply for any of the camping zones along the way, while groups of 7 to 12 people must camp in designated group campsites. Zones are marked with a sign on each end and hikers with a valid permit are free to choose where they wish to camp once arriving at the zone. For groups of 7-12, you will be required to pay a $45 non-refundable processing fee, in addition to the $35 permit fee for groups up to 6 people. 

If you’d rather take a chance on a walk-in permit, your chances are fair. The park service reserves up to one-third of each camping zone (see maps) in advance and the remaining two-thirds are released for walk-in permits, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis one day before the start of a backcountry trip. No walk-in permits are available for same day starts, and keep in mind that during peak backcountry season (July and August), competition is stiff. We recommend having a backup plan if you choose the walk-in option. 

Trailhead Options

The Teton Crest Trail traverses Grand Teton National Park from Wyoming Highway 22, also called the Teton Pass Highway, to String Lake via Paintbrush Canyon. The trail can be accessed from many trailheads, but if you want do the it in full, start at the Phillips Pass Trailhead and end at the Leigh Lake Trailhead on String Lake. If this is the option you choose, parking can be found at a couple of turnouts halfway up Teton Pass, just west of Wilson.

Another very popular option is to begin the trail by taking the Teton Village’s Aerial Tram to Rendezvous Pass at 10,450 feet, which saves 5 miles and a 2,500-foot ascent. We decided to hike the Teton Crest Trail in full, beginning at the Phillips Pass Trailhead. Though extra effort, we thought it was nice to start the trail at the lower elevation because there were far fewer hikers and a higher likelihood of seeing wildlife on the ascent.

Other popular options for accessing the Teton Crest Trail include beginning at the Granite Canyon, Coal Creek, or Moose Creek trailhead.

Getting to Trailheads

In order to complete the Teton Crest Trail you'll need to use a bus/shuttle service, drive two cars and shuttle yourself, or hitchhike. Though we were able to find a hitch quickly, this can be an unreliable option and a personal preference based on your comfort level. There are some great bus and shuttle options in the area that make getting to and from your hike pretty easy. Our recommendation is below.

Shuttle To Begin Hike

BUS FROM JACKSON TO TETON VILLAGE

If you are starting your hike from the Teton Village Aerial Tram and coming from Jackson, the START bus service is an affordable and convenient way to begin your trip. If you are taking the aerial tram, the bus will drop you off near the tram and you can begin. As of writing this post, the bus costs $3 for a 22 minute ride from Jackson, which is completely worth it, in our opinion. If you are beginning your hike at a different trailhead near Teton Village, you will need to either use a taxi service or hitch to the trailhead. 

Check STARTBus website for latest prices and schedule info.

Shuttle To End Hike

You will finish your hike near the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and unless you parked a car here prior to your hike, you will need to find a way back to Jackson. We recommend using Alltrans Park Shuttle which will provide a ride from the Jenny Lakes Visitor Center to Home Ranch Parking Lot in Jackson. It'll cost you $14 for a one hour ride. 

Campsites

There are 11 campsites along the Teton Crest Trail. Once permits are secured and you're on the trail, all individual sites are first-come, first-serve within each zone for parties of six or fewer people. For more information on backcountry campsites, visit the NPS site. Group campsites may only be used by permit-designated groups (more than six people) specifically assigned to them, and marked with signage.

 Below are the campsites:

Below is a map provided by the Grand Canyon National Park showing mileage, campsites, and the general route elevation of the Teton Crest Trail.

Possible Itineraries

Most people complete the Teton Crest Trail in 4-6 days. Below are a few sample itineraries. For more information on mileage between campsites, please refer to the Teton National Park website.

Three Night Option

  • Starting Trailhead: Tram Trail
  • Camp 1 - Death Canyon Shelf (pick your own campsite)
  • Camp 2 - South Fork (designated campsites)
  • Camp 3 - Holly Lake

Four Night Option

  • Starting Trailhead: Granite Canyon
  • Camp 1 – Granite Canyon/Upper Granite
  • Camp 2 – Fox Creek
  • Camp 3 – Alaska Basin
  • Camp 4 – Holly Lake

Five Night Option

This trip itinerary allows for extra time to explore the spectacular region and take side trips to Static Peak and The Wall.

  • Starting Trailhead: Phillips 
  • Camp 1 – Moose Lake
  • Camp 2 – Death Canyon Shelf (pick your own campsite)
  • Camp 3 – Alaska Basin
  • Camp 4 – Kit or Snowdrift Lakes
  • Camp 5 -  Holly Lake

Maps & Guidebooks

The Grand Teton Crest Trail follows a well-defined and established route.  During peak season when the trail is heavily used the risk of getting lost is pretty low. Still, you should always carry a map since it provides additional useful information, as well as routes to side trips easily accessed off the main trail. Below are some helpful resources when planning your visit. 

Water

Water is plentiful along this trail and easily accessible from small streams until late August when some streams begin to dry up. Water is always available from the lakes. Typically, you’ll walk two hours between water sources. At high elevations, you’ll want to drink as much water as you can to stay hydrated or you may feel the elevation much more acutely.

Carry enough water to get from one source to the next and use a lightweight water purifier. We carried the SteriPEN Ultra and we were happy with its performance. By September, you’ll want a pre-filter (ex: pantyhoes) for getting debris out of your water. A lightweight water filter or chlorine dioxide drops or pills would be a good choice as well. Check out our best water purifiers’ list for our top recommendations.

Bears & Food Storage

Teton National Park, including the Teton Crest Trail, is home to a healthy grizzly and black bear population. You'll want to make sure each member in your party has bear spray stored in an easily accessible area (hipbelt or water bottle holster). We also recommend practicing how to use it (with safety cap on) so you will have reference in the rare occasion that you'd need to use it. Also, remember that you will not be able to fly with bear spray.

Anyone camping below 10,000 feet will need to carry an approved bear canister and store all food, garbage and toiletries — literally any item with an odor that may attract bears — inside them. Canisters can be checked out at all permit-issuing stations for free with a backcountry permit. For a list of all approved portable bear resistant food canisters please visit the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website. Food storage stations (a large bear box for your small bear box) are available at some campsite sites. Limit your interactions with bears, and you’ll ultimately save bear lives.

Bugs

The big annoyance in the Tetons, near meadows, basins and waterways, but less so at higher elevations, are big green flies. People not otherwise bothered by insect bites will often welt up from this insect’s painful bite. Mosquitoes are seasonally present along the lower elevation sections and near lakes near the Teton Crest Trail. September offers the least contact with bugs. Use a combination of permethrin on your clothing and a small amount of DEET on exposed skin for full protection. 

Backpacking Gear

We prefer lightweight backpacking because it’s more comfortable and it allows us to cover more ground with less effort. For recommendations on our favorite lightweight backpacking equipment, check out the CleverHiker Gear Guide and Top Picks page.  

What to Pack

TENT: We used the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent on this trip for its lightweight livability and convenience. This tent is one of our all-time favorites and makes our list of the best lightweight backpacking tents.

BACKPACK: We used the HMG 2400 Southwest and the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 backpacks on this trek. Both are lightweight, convenient, comfortable, and make our list of the best lightweight backpacking packs.

SLEEPING BAG: We used the Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt and REI Magma 10 Men’s sleeping bags on this trek for night time temperatures around freezing. Both sleeping bags are lightweight, incredibly warm, and make our list of the best backpacking sleeping bags.

SLEEPING PAD: We used the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated sleeping pads on this trip. Both are light, comfortable, warm, and make our list of the best backpacking sleeping pads.

COOKING SYSTEM: We used the BRS StoveSnow Peak Mini Solo Cookset, and Snow Peak Folding Spoon on this hike, all of which make our top picks gear list and best lightweight stove list.

WATER PURIFIER: We used the SteriPEN Ultra as our main purification method on this trip. It's lightweight, works fast, and doesn't require any pumping/squeezing or chemicals. Check out our best water purifiers list for our other top recommendations.

SHOES OR BOOTS: We wore Saucony Peregrine 7 trail runners (men's and women's) on this trail and they were excellent. If you prefer boots, make sure they’re lightweight and break them in really well before your trip. Here’s why we prefer hiking in trail running shoes: 5 Reasons to Ditch Your Hiking Boots.

BEAR SPRAY: Grand Teton National Park is home to a healthy grizzly and black bear population. We recommend hiking with bear spray and knowing how to use it properly

HEADLAMP: A small headlamp like the Petzl Actik is an affordable, bright, and lightweight option.

FOOD: When backpacking the Teton Crest Trail you'll have to carry all your food and use an approved bear canister. When using a bear canister, make sure to choose calorically dense foods that won't take up too much space. Check out the CleverHiker Backpacking Food Guide for some of our go-to recommendations.

CLOTHING: Here are some of our favorite hiking/backpacking clothing items from our Top Gear list.

MAP &  COMPASS: The Grand Teton Crest Trail follows a well-defined and established route, and during peak season when the trail is heavily used, the risk of getting lost is pretty low. Still, you should always carry a topographical map for route finding, water sources, mileage, and possible side trips. For good map options, read Maps & Guidebooks section above. We always hike with a quality compass, though the trails were easy to follow and we didn’t end up needing it on this trip. 

FIRST AID KIT: Always bring a small personalized first aid kit. We use the Ultralight .7 Kit and add extras, like painkillers and personal medications.

SUN PROTECTION: Sunglasses (polarized recommended), sunscreen, and spf lip balm are an absolute must on every backpacking trip.

POCKET KNIFE: We brought along a small Swiss Army Knife, which came in handy here and there.

ICE AXE: You may need to carry an ice axe to safely cross over some divides and passes until around the third week of July. Always check in with the the Grand Teton National Park Service for the snow level and condition of the passes.  If required, make sure that you know how to use an ice axe.

OTHER ITEMS:

  • SMALL TOWEL: the Nano pack towel is great.
  • CASH and ID
  • PERMITS
  • PERSONAL TOILETRIES
  • HAND SANITIZER: Always apply after using a bathroom and before eating.
  • WET WIPES: These can be useful for cleaning up after hiking.
  • INSECT REPELLANT: At higher elevations insects weren't a problem for us at all. For lower elevations, a 1oz bottle of DEET will do the trick. You can also treat your clothing with Permethrin prior to your trip.
  • CAMERA: The Sony RX100 is our go-to camera for lightweight backpacking.

More Information

We hope this guide helps you plan a fun adventure along the Teton Crest Trail. As always, please leave a comment below if you have any recommendations, questions, or suggestions. And if you found this guide helpful, please share on social media and click the little heart button below to give us a digital high five! 

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