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Category: Wyoming

Growing up in Utah, Wyoming was a neighboring state we drove through to get to the High Uintas. During my college years, we thought of Wyoming as a lawless prairie – a place to buy explosives and kegs.

In 2015, I went backpacking in the Wind Rivers for the first time and it changed the way I thought of Wyoming.

The Cowboy State is a sparsely populated place with immense wilderness areas to explore. It’s home to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, the Wind Rivers, and the Bighorns.

If you are planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park, be sure to do these hikes:

And if you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, read about our July 2019 trip, where we saw 13 bears!

Trip Report: Teton Crest Trail

Trip Data

  • Dates: Thu, Jun 24, 2021 to Sun, Jun 27, 2021
  • Route: Phillips Canyon Trailhead > String Lake Trailhead
  • Weather: Afternoon rain on Days 1-2. Partly cloudy on Days 3-4.
  • Distance Hiked: 42 miles
  • Time: 4 days
  • Camp Zones: Middle Fork, Death Canyon Shelf, North Fork Cascade Canyon
  • Passes:  Phillips Pass, Fox Creek Pass, Mount Meek Pass, Hurricane Pass, Paintbrush Divide

Map

Background

In March 2021, Jason broke the news to Justin, Clay, and I that we weren’t awarded permits for the John Muir Trail.

In our group chat, Clay messaged, “So what’s the summer backpacking trip now that the JMT is out?”

Justin suggested we do the Uinta Highline Trail again, except in four days and in reverse, from Mirror Lake to Leidy Peak. At the time of me writing this, we are three weeks away from hitting the trail for this.

Additionally, I suggested the Teton Crest Trail or Southern Sierra High Route. The group was more interested in the TCT, so I applied for permits in April and got ’em!

Leading up to the trip, I wanted to get an up-to-date snow report from the backcountry rangers but couldn’t get in touch. Finally, a week before we hit the trail, I got ahold of a ranger. He told me we would need ice axes and crampons to climb over the passes, which were still covered in snow.

There was some trepidation about this from the group, but I went ahead and reserved ice axes and crampons from Teton Backcountry Rentals. I did my best to reassure everyone that we would be fine. Thankfully, nobody dropped out.

From left to right: Joe, Clay, Justin, Max (the author), Alex
From left to right: Joe, Clay, Justin, Max (the author), Alex

Summary

The evening before our hike, Clay, Joe, Justin, Alex, and I all met up at a disbursed camping spot near Grand Teton National Park.

We watched a beautiful sunset over the Tetons and slept in our vehicles that night.

The next morning, we left Justin’s Subaru and Alex’s Tacoma at String Lake, piled into my F-350, picked up our gear rentals in Jackson, and parked at Phillips Canyon Trailhead, halfway up Teton Pass.

Day 1

Distance: 10.5 mi
Ascent: 2,530 ft
Descent: 1,415 ft

We started hiking at 12:45 p.m. and reached the top of Phillips Pass (8,932 feet) in about three hours. By this time, imposing clouds had moved in and we could see streaks of rain in the distance. By 7:00 p.m., it was raining steadily. Justin and I were well ahead of the group so we stopped to wait for everyone to catch up. Once we were back together, we found a good place to camp in the Middle Fork Zone. We were all soaked!

Looking east from the Phillips Canyon Trail
Looking east from the Phillips Canyon Trail

Day 2

Distance: 7.3 mi
Ascent: 1,323 ft
Descent: 868 ft

The next morning, the sun came out and we put out all of our wet gear to let it dry. This would be our easiest day, so we hung out at camp for a while and talked over breakfast and coffee.

My brother Alex pauses to take in the view
My brother Alex pauses to take in the view

On the climb between Fox Creek Pass and the Death Canyon Shelf, we saw a bighorn sheep! We also saw a ton of marmots throughout the entire trek.

Once we were on top of the shelf, it started raining. We took cover under some trees and pitched Clay’s pyramid tarp, the TrailStar by Mountain Laurel Designs.

The storm passed and we covered a few more miles before setting up camp at a picturesque spot on the northern edge of the Death Canyon Shelf camp zone.

Looking northeast from our campsite on Death Canyon Shelf
Looking northeast from our campsite on Death Canyon Shelf

Day 3

Distance: 13.3 mi
Ascent: 2,318 ft
Descent: 3,286 ft

This was our hardest day on the Teton Crest Trail! On our way to Hurricane Pass (10,338 feet), we crossed several snow patches, one of which required us to use our ice axes.

A snow patch on Mount Meek Pass
A snow patch on Mount Meek Pass

We also had our first opportunity to glissade in Alaska Basin, with a few more glissades as we descended the other side of Hurricane Pass. We jokingly pronounced it “Her-ah-kun”, like the town in Southern Utah.

Joe (left) and Clay (right) take a rest at the top of Hurricane Pass
Joe (left) and Clay (right) take a rest at the top of Hurricane Pass

Justin and I also kept a running inside joke that because we grew up in Utah, we had to continually use the Uintas as a frame of reference for everything.

He’d say something like, “This view kinda reminds me a lot of the Uintas.”

Then I’d agree, “Yeah, that’s really Uinta-y!”

Some Uinta-like scenery at Sunset Lake
Some Uinta-like scenery at Sunset Lake

We had our minds blown by views of the Grand, Middle, and South Teton towering above the Schoolroom Glacier and its lake-filled terminus, naturally dammed by a moraine.

A proglacial lake lies at the bottom of Schoolroom Glacier
A proglacial lake lies at the bottom of Schoolroom Glacier
We stopped at the lake and filled our water bottles with fresh ice water
We stopped at the lake and filled our water bottles with fresh ice water

As we continued down the trail, we were mesmerized by the enormous amounts of meltwater plunging down the mountainside.

Waterfalls emerge from snowfields that dot the flanks of the Grand Teton
Waterfalls emerge from snowfields that dot the flanks of the Grand Teton

It was a long slog down to the Cascade Pass junction and up to our camp below Lake Solitude, but the scenery made our aches and pains easy to ignore.

Justin on his way up to our camp, dwarfed by the Grand Teton
Justin on his way up to our camp, dwarfed by the Grand Teton

Unlike the other zones we camped in, the North Fork of Cascade Canyon has designated campsites. On the first two nights, we were able to camp anywhere within the zone, as long as we stayed 200 feet from water sources.

This time, for our last night on the Teton Crest Trail, we were relegated to a tiny campsite.

In order to fit our four shelters, we had to get creative. I wanted to find out if I could set up my Zpacks Duplex on snow and succeeded. I accomplished this by digging 6-inch deep holes with my glove, laying the stakes horizontally, and packing snow on top. It was a solid pitch!

My ZPacks Duplex and Arc Haul-Zip on a snow patch in the Tetons
My ZPacks Duplex and Arc Haul-Zip on a snow patch in the Tetons

Day 4

Distance: 11.4 mi
Ascent: 1,996 ft
Descent: 3,854 ft

From our camp, we could see where the trail made its way up Paintbrush Divide (10,720 feet). It didn’t look all that bad! As it turned out, it was a butt kicker.

We passed Lake Solitude on the way up
We passed Lake Solitude on the way up

Halfway up the pass, we encountered a 30-yard section of trail covered in  deep snow. A bad fall here would be extremely unfortunate and perhaps catastrophic. That being said, there were well-established footholds from other hikers that had crossed it.

Joe felt uncomfortable with the proposition of sketchy snow crossings. From the beginning, he wasn’t keen on snow travel so he made the decision to turn around and hike out via Cascade Canyon.

Justin insisted on hiking down with him so he wouldn’t be unaccompanied. The “buddy system” is a tried and true safety precaution for hikers of all experience levels.

Clay, Alex, and I pressed on toward Paintbrush Divide. We topped out at 11:20 a.m., having left camp at 9:00 a.m.

Looking down on Paintbrush Canyon from the Divide
Looking down on Paintbrush Canyon from the Divide

On our way down the other side of Paintbrush Divide, we encountered another patch of snow that looked even more dangerous than the first.

Clay and I made it across safely and were watching Alex get ready to go when we saw a plume of orange shoot into his airspace. Yikes! Within a split second, we knew he had inadvertently released bear spray all around himself.

I had to laugh, partly because of the absurdity of the situation but also for the emotional release. I saw Clay’s look of concern and immediately knew it was really bad. This was the worst possible spot to be blinded on the Teton Crest Trail.

“Don’t touch your eyes!” pleaded Clay.

Alex needed help, so I scooted back across the precarious snow patch. He was grimacing in pain. I grabbed a snowball and rubbed it on his eyelids, then cupped my hands to make a funnel and rinsed his eyes out with water.

After that, I took his pack across the snow patch and set it down. Hopefully, it would be easier without the extra weight.

“Take as much time as you need!” I announced.

We were relieved when Alex opened his eyes and told us he could see again. Soon enough, he made his way across the nerve-racking obstacle, safely to the other side. I was proud of him for pushing through.

From there, the descent was the kind that goes on and on. We lost nearly 4,000 feet that day. Our tired legs and sore feet felt liberated when we made it back to String Lake Trailhead, where Justin was waiting for us under the shade of a tree.

After we picked up Joe from his separate exit point at Jenny Lake, we retrieved our vehicles and rushed to Astoria Hot Springs and Park. We made it 30 minutes before close but they were at capacity. Luckily, a few people left and we got invited in for a soak and a shower. On our way out, the sunset went off!

Sunset over the entrance to Astoria Hot Springs and Park
Sunset over the entrance to Astoria Hot Springs and Park

We finished the night with beer and delicious burgers at The Bird in Jackson, just like we did in 2015 after backpacking in the Wind Rivers.

Food

This year, RightOnTrek brought me on board as an ambassador and offered to support my hikes and outdoor activities with custom meal plans.

On their website, you can order backpacking meals with fresh ingredients, shipped directly to you.

For the Teton Crest Trail, I customized a plan that provided me with 3000 calories per day.

For breakfast, I had banana bread or peanut butter cup oatmeal with instant coffee. Both oatmeals tasted great but I think the banana bread is my favorite.

Usually, I don’t eat a proper lunch when backpacking. Instead, I opt for small snacks throughout the day as I hike. RightOnTrek had me covered with smoked sausages, cheese, jerky, ProBars, protein cookies, green spicy olives, and fruit bars.

I tried three different dehydrated dinners: gado gado noodles, cheesy mashed potatoes with chicken, and General Tsoy’s mountain rice. They all exceeded my expectations, but the mountain rice was the best dehydrated meal I’ve ever had.

I love how RightOnTrek gives you condiments and all of the meals are packed with protein.

Use code BackOBeyond50 for a 50% discount

View at RightOnTrek

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More Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Hiking Guide: Phelps Lake

Overview

Phelps Lake is an inviting lake with crystal clear waters at the bottom of a gorge named Death Canyon. You might not expect to find paradise in a place named after mortality, but the Grand Tetons work in mysterious ways.

Death Canyon itself gapes impressively thanks to glaciers that carved out a valley between stark cliffs, thousands of years ago.

Since then, the glaciers have retreated. Now, the sun beats down in the summertime and lake goers sunbathe in its rays. The bravest ones are known to jump off a 40-foot rock referred to by locals as “Jump Rock.”

From Death Canyon Trailhead, it’s a 1-mile hike to Phelps Lake Overlook, which offers excellent views of Phelps Lake and Death Canyon from a 400-foot perch.

If you continue down the switchbacks, it’s another mile (and some change) to Phelps Beach, a pleasant sandy beach on the lake.

Max (the author) and Maia playing in the water at Phelps Lake

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Hike Time: 3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 988 feet
  • Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass to Grand Teton National Park
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Trail to Phelps Lake

We started our hike on a Thursday afternoon. Unexpectedly, there was ample parking at the trailhead. In part, this was because the dirt road in was sorta rough. On our way in, we passed a string of sedans and SUVs that had given up and parallel parked.

Death Canyon Trailhead
Kim at Death Canyon Trailhead

Our F-350 pickup handled the road with ease, but I can see it being a challenge for a vehicle with low clearance. There are sources that call it a “4WD” road, but I think that’s a stretch.

From Death Canyon Trailhead, the trail follows a gradual incline through a shady forest of lodgepole pine and aspen.

A giant mushroom. Kim's hand for scale

At 1.1 miles, you will reach Phelps Lake Overlook. At 7,200 feet, this is the highpoint of the trail to Phelps Beach and the view is terrific.

Kim poses at Phelps Lake Overlook
Kim poses at Phelps Lake Overlook

From here, you begin a series of switchbacks down to the mouth of Death Canyon. 0.7 miles after the overlook, continue straight at the junction with Death Canyon Trail.

In another 0.2 miles, you will reach another junction. Bear left here to continue 0.5 miles to Phelps Beach (on the right). From the beach, we had a grand ole time swimming and picnicking. In the distance, we noticed cliff jumpers leap off of “Jump Rock” periodically.

Maia at Phelps Beach
Maia at Phelps Beach

Map

Location

Death Canyon Trailhead is located at the end of a dirt road off of Moose-Wilson Road (to the right). From U.S. Route 191, turn onto Teton Park Road and turn left onto Moose-Wilson Road after the Visitor Center.

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Photos

Phelps Lake - Portrait
Phelps Beach
Columbia monkshood
Columbia monkshood
Green gentians
Green gentians

More Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Hiking Guide: Delta Lake

Overview

Delta Lake is a stunning body of water found high in the Grand Tetons. There is no official trail to the lake, which makes reaching it a difficult venture for the unwary.

If you have the experience and navigational know-how to locate this alpine jewel, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of turquoise waters, ancient glaciers, and towering peaks.

The lake’s exquisite color is due to the presence of glacial flour (aka rock flour) suspended in its icy waters. This powdery silt is deposited into the lake by two glaciers – Teepe Glacier and Teton Glacier.

From the lake, much of Teton Glacier is hidden from view by an impressive moraine (glacial debris) deposited below, though the upper portion of it can be seen.

From left to right, Teepe Pillar, Grand Teton, and East Prong dominate the landscape. Grand Teton itself is 13,776 feet while the lake sits at 9,016 feet, leaving you gaping up at an impressive 4,760 feet of prominence from Delta’s shores.

I’ll be straight with you: This is one of the most scenic alpine lakes you will ever see – if you can find it.

Delta Lake is downright exquisite
Delta Lake is downright exquisite

The fastest and most direct route is to start at Lupine Meadows Trailhead and take the Amphitheater Lake Trail to a “secret” turnoff at the end of the sixth switchback.

Lupine Meadows Trailhead

Even though the turnoff to Delta Lake has no signage, there is a well-worn, narrow trail, along with cairns and ribbons to lead the way through talus slopes and off-trail portions.

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Hike Time: 4-5 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet
  • Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass to Grand Teton National Park
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Hard

Hiking to Delta Lake

I parked at Lupine Meadows Trailhead on a Wednesday at 8:30 am. By this point, the lot was mostly full with a few open spaces.

After 0.4 miles of flats, the trail begins a somewhat gradual ascent. This comfortable grade nets you about 300 feet over one mile. From this point on, the hiking is steep.

Looking down at Bradley Lake from the Lupine Meadow Trail
Looking down at Bradley and Taggart Lakes from the Lupine Meadow Trail

The first switchback starts 1.8 miles in from the trailhead. Unless you’re following a GPX track, I’d suggest counting switchbacks so you don’t miss the turnoff at the sixth switchback like I did.

I continued for over a mile in the wrong direction, but I don’t regret it in the least. I made it to Platform Campsites before turning around. Along the way, I was awestruck by the views in Garnet Canyon.

The Grand Teton from Garnet Canyon
The Grand Teton from Garnet Canyon

Unless you’re in the mood to explore Garnet Canyon, make sure to bear right at the sixth switchback. There is a sign at this junction that indicates the mileage to Amphitheater Lake.

Once you hit the first switchback after the junction, bear right over the railroad ties and continue north onto the dirt path.

There are a few ribbons tied to trees along the way. Follow these!
There are a few ribbons tied to trees along the way. Follow these!

If you miss this, you are well on your way to Amphitheater Lake! Otherwise, congratulations – Delta Lake is only 0.8 miles of strenuous uphill hiking from where you are.

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Stay vigilant and you should have no problem following the “off-trail” route to the lake. The first half is a dirt path that traverses the mountainside before giving way to a less-navigable talus slope.

The final stretch to Delta Lake is the steepest
The final stretch to Delta Lake is the steepest

Although the route can be difficult to navigate and the trail is steep and strenuous, the prize for your effort is one of the most picturesque lakes in the Grand Tetons and beyond!

Indian paintbrush (Wyoming's state flower) next to Delta Lake
Indian paintbrush (Wyoming’s state flower) next to Delta Lake

Delta Lake

Map

Location

Lupine Meadows Trailhead is located at the end of a dirt road off of Teton Park Road (to the left), 8.6 miles from the turnoff on U.S. Highway 191.

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Photos

Glacial meltwater flowing beneath boulders in Garnet Canyon
Glacial meltwater flows down Garnet Canyon
Looking down on Taggart Lake from Garnet Canyon
Looking down on Taggart Lake from Garnet Canyon

Yellow wildflowers next to the trail

Blue wildflowers next to the trail

More Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Hiking Guide: Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point

Overview

Hidden Falls is a magnificent 100-foot waterfall on Cascade Creek in the Grand Tetons. It’s found near the bottom of Cascade Canyon.

The fastest approach is to ride a shuttle boat across Jenny Lake and hike 0.6 miles to Hidden Falls from Jenny Lake Trailhead, where the boat drops you off.

Hidden Falls
Hidden Falls

Jenny Lake Boating operates the shuttle service and charges $18 for an adult roundtrip ticket. Boats leaves the dock every 10-15 minutes and aren’t reservable.

If you miss the last boat back (at 7pm) or purchase a one-way ticket, you can return via a 2-mile hike around the east side of the lake.

I highly recommend hiking up to Inspiration Point after seeing Hidden Falls. It’s 0.5 miles and 200 feet elevation gain from the waterfall and gives you a fabulous view of Jenny Lake and Teewinot Mountain.

The view of Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point
The view of Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 1.9 miles
  • Hike Time: 2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 400 feet
  • Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass to Grand Teton National Park, $18 for an adult roundtrip Jenny Lake Boating shuttle
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Trail to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point

We got to Jenny Lake Visitor Center at 2:30pm on a Monday and the parking lot was full, but we found a space to parallel park along the road in.

There was some confusion among other groups about where to walk to get to the boat dock. We had been here earlier in the week, so we had a vague idea of where to go.

Maia next to the Jenny Lake Boat Shuttle sign
Maia next to the Jenny Lake Boat Shuttle sign

There was a sign pointing toward the asphalt path heading north, so we followed it. Once we got to the lake, we bore left and found the dock (to our right) within a few minutes.

In hindsight, the path to the east of the visitor center is a more direct approach.

We purchased our tickets at the dock and waited in line for 15 minutes of so, then boarded the arriving boat after its passengers got off.

In my opinion, the boat ride itself is worth the money! It’s a fun experience to zoom across Jenny Lake and take in immense views of the Grand Tetons.

Kim and Maia on the boat shuttle
Kim and Maia on the boat shuttle

Once you get off the boat, bear left and follow the trail through the forest, 0.6 miles to Hidden Falls. The trail has a moderate incline and it’s just enough to get your heart pumping.

Columbine wildflowers next to the trail
Columbine wildflowers next to the trail
Our little family in front of Hidden Falls
Our little family in front of Hidden Falls

From Hidden Falls, backtrack to the most recent junction and bear left to continue 0.5 miles to Inspiration Point. This is a great place to do lunch!

The trail to Inspiration Point is steep and exposed, so be careful!
The trail to Inspiration Point is steep and exposed, so be careful!

You can continue up Cascade Canyon Trail for miles and miles if you want, but remember the last boat leaves at 7pm. If you miss it, you are not out of luck though. There’s a 2-mile trail that goes around the eastern edge of Jenny Lake and returns to the visitor center.

Kim poses at Inspiration Point
Kim poses at Inspiration Point

Map

Location

Whether you ride the boat shuttle to Jenny Lake Trailhead or hike the whole way there, you will start at Jenny Lake Visitor Center. It’s located off of Teton Park Road (to the left), 7.9 miles from the turnoff on U.S. Highway 191.

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Photos

Kim and Maia pose in front of Teewinot Mountain
Kim and Maia pose in front of Teewinot Mountain
Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point
Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point
Hidden Falls
Hidden Falls
Teewinot Mountain from Inspiration Point
Teewinot Mountain from Inspiration Point
Another view of Teewinot Mountain
Another view of Teewinot Mountain
Cascade Creek
Cascade Creek

More Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Hiking Guide: Taggart and Bradley Lakes

Overview

Taggart and Bradley are natural lakes in the Grand Tetons, formed by glaciers that have melted since the last ice age, the Pleistocene Epoch.

Taggart is found at the terminus of Avalanche Canyon and Bradley at the terminus of Garnet Canyon, below Bannock Falls.

Taggart Lake sits at an elevation of 6,902 feet
Taggart Lake sits at an elevation of 6,902 feet

Both lakes are picturesque and easy to access. Taggart is a short 1.6-mile hike from Taggart Lake Trailhead and Bradley is 1.7 miles from Taggart Lake via Valley Trail.

Valley Trail sign

There is a 1-mile connector trail that brings you back from Bradley Lake to a junction. From here, hike 1 mile back to the trailhead to finish the loop.

Bradley Lake sits at an elevation of 7,027 feet
Bradley Lake sits at an elevation of 7,027 feet

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Hike Time: 3 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 600 feet
  • Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass to Grand Teton National Park
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking the Trail to Taggart and Bradley Lakes

We got to Taggart Lake Trailhead at 6pm on a Sunday and the parking lot had plenty of spaces. During our weeklong stay in the Tetons, we drove past this trailhead several times. This was the least busy we had seen it.

Even from the trailhead, there are tremendous views of iconic Teton peaks, with the Middle Teton stealing the show.

Kim next to the Taggart Lakes Trailhead sign
Kim next to the Taggart Lakes Trailhead sign

The trail begins as flat hardpack through a meadow. At 0.6 miles, you begin to ascend a steeper portion after crossing a bridge over Taggart Creek.

The Middle Teton framed by trees along Taggart Creek
The Middle Teton framed by trees along Taggart Creek

At 1.2 miles, you will reach a junction with a sign. From here, head straight to follow 0.5 miles of mostly flat trail to Taggart Lake or bear right to ascend a steep 1-mile jaunt to Bradley Lake.

The junction for Taggart and Bradley Lakes
The junction for Taggart and Bradley Lakes

We opted to go directly to Taggart Lake from this point, then followed the trail 1.6 miles further to Bradley Lake. We then returned to the signed junction via the aforementioned 1-mile trail.

Bradley Lake in the late evening
Bradley Lake in the late evening

It took us 3 hours to do the whole loop, including a 15-minute stop at Taggart Lake and 30 minutes at Bradley Lake.

We saw lots of Indian paintbrush (Wyoming's state flower) along the trail
We saw lots of Indian paintbrush (Wyoming’s state flower) along the trail
We caught another glimpse of Taggart Lake on the hike down from Bradley Lake
We caught another glimpse of Taggart Lake on the hike down from Bradley Lake

Map

Location

The trailhead is located off of Teton Park Road (to the left), 3.5 miles from the turnoff on U.S. Highway 191.

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Photos

Maia took a nap during our hike between the lakes
Maia took a nap during our hike between the lakes
Hiking in the Grand Tetons is pure bliss!
Hiking in the Grand Tetons is pure bliss!
Maia had a great time playing in the water at Bradley Lake
Maia had a great time playing in the water at Bradley Lake
I don't recognize this wildflower. Can you help me identify it?
I don’t recognize this wildflower. Can you help me identify it?
Sticky geranium
Sticky geranium
Looking back at Taggart Lake on the hike up to Bradley Lake
Looking back at Taggart Lake on the hike up to Bradley Lake
Another angle of Bradley Lake
Another angle of Bradley Lake
More Indian paintbrush
More Indian paintbrush
Sunset from Taggart Lake Trailhead
Sunset from Taggart Lake Trailhead

More Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Yellowstone National Park Trip Report

Trip Data

  • Dates: Wed, Jun 19, 2018 to Mon, Jun 24, 2019
  • Route: Day hikes around Yellowstone NP
  • Weather: Mostly cloudy with scattered rain and snow showers. Highs in the mid to upper 40s. Lows in the high 20s.
  • Distance Hiked: 24 miles
  • Time: 6 days
  • Campground: Canyon Campground

Background

During the January 2019 total lunar eclipse, Kim and I were sitting in our backyard, sipping bevvies, and listening to UMOs latest album, IC-01 Hanoi. Our friends were visiting from Utah and we had just finished hiking across the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Admittedly, my memory of that night is a little foggy. I know there were a lot of laughs shared and the lunar eclipse was mesmerizing to watch. I also know that at some point, on impulse, Jason made a campsite reservation in Yellowstone National Park for June 2019.

Last week, we returned home from that outing and I’m still in disbelief over how great it was. It was my first visit to Yellowstone as an adult and it exceeded my expectations which were already high.

We saw a ton of wildlife! 13 bear encounters (including a Grizzly and cubs), a nesting osprey, golden eagles, a fox, a pine marten, American badger cubs, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bison, and more.

I have to give a huge thanks to Jason for planning this trip, and guiding us to all of his favorite spots. He has been to Yellowstone many times and has earned the nickname “Mayor of Bear Country” among outdoorsy Salt Lake City circles.

Summary

From our base at Canyon Campground, we did day trips to different parts of the park on each day.

Day 1

Me, Kim, and Maia (our 17-month-old), flew from Tucson to Salt Lake City in the afternoon.

Tip: Want to hike Tucson’s best trails? Read my Best Hikes in Tucson article or check out our individual Tucson Hiking Guides.

My folks did us a huge favor and watched Maia while we were in Yellowstone. They met us at the airport to pick her up and soon after, Jason rolled up in his land rover to pick us up.

We wasted no time and started our drove north with a quick pit stop at In-N-Out Burger in Ogden. A few hours later, we met up with Justin and his wife Kate at Snake River RV Park in Idaho Falls where we camped for the night.

Day 2

The drive from Idaho Falls to Canyon Campground was gorgeous, especially when the Grand Tetons came into view. Somewhere near Ashton, a traffic slowdown gave me the opportunity to shoot some farmland with covetous views.

The snowy Grand Tetons looking picturesque near Ashland, Idaho
The snowy Grand Tetons looking picturesque near Ashland, Idaho

Before entering the park, we stopped in West Yellowstone and visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center on Jason’s suggestion. Here, we got to meet grizzly bears, wolves, and other animals that can no longer survive in the wild.

This is Sam, a 1050 lb grizzly bear rescued from Alaska. He's been at the Center since 1996
This is Sam, a 1050 lb grizzly bear rescued from Alaska. He’s been at the Center since 1996

Afterward, we chowed down at Slippery Otter Pub and chuckled at the tractor-pulling event happening live on their TVs. Queue the “you know you’re in Montana” jokes. The elk burger was delicious, but DO NOT try the Mad Dog 357 sauce. It’s not worth the pain!

Once we arrived at Canyon Campground, we set up camp then set out for an off-trail hike through the forest. Jason led the way, using his Suunto watch to navigate. We ended up doing a 3 mile loop, and got to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where we stopped and got a group shot.

Our group in front of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Our group in front of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We got hit with a few snowflakes on our hike, but when we got back to camp it started to accumulate. After dinner, Kim decided she’d rather sleep in Justin and Kate’s VW Bus than our ultralight tent. The bus sleeps four comfortably, so I did the same.

Our friend Sara drove up separately and also convened with us that night. She runs an outdoor preschool called The Child’s Element. They take children on field trips to the Wasatch Mountains, how cool is that?

Day 3

With cold temps and snow on the ground, we were slow to leave camp but eventually it happened. We drove over Dunraven Pass and were greeted by dozens of grazing buffalos on the other side.

Before Tower Junction, there was a traffic jam with rangers standing around. Sara caught a glimpse of a couple bear cubs running up the hill, but by the time I turned to look, all I saw was a blur of black fur whooshing away.

At Slough Creek Trailhead, we scrounged down some chips and Costco artichoke dip aka “crack dip”, then began our hike. Leading up to the trip, Jason had sent us videos from YouTuber and bear watcher Stan Mills, and several of his videos were shot here.

About a mile into the hike, we turned a corner and BAM! There was a black bear on the trail in front of us, headed in our direction. At a leisurely pace, he plodded into the brush and continued foraging. It was a great opportunity to watch and photograph him.

We had a close encounter with this black bear on the Slough Creek Trail. He wasn't aggressive or interested in us at all
We had a close encounter with this black bear on the Slough Creek Trail. He wasn’t aggressive or interested in us at all
Black bear on the Slough Creek Trail
Another photo of the black bear we saw on the Slough Creek Trail

Up Slough Creek, we covered nearly 10 miles out-and-back and also saw a yellow-bellied marmot, prairie dog, several bison, and Kim caught a frog.

A yellow-bellied marmot we saw on the Slough Creek Trail
A yellow-bellied marmot we saw on the Slough Creek Trail
An American bison on the Slough Creek Trail
Sugarloaf Mountain (left) and Cutoff Mountain (right)

During our drive back to camp we spotted another black bear from the road. There was also a beautiful sunset. Naturally, we pulled over and watched.

Sunset over the Washburn Range in Yellowstone
Sunset over the Washburn Range in Yellowstone

Day 4

The next day, we woke up to fresh snow again, but managed to leave camp a bit earlier. On our way to Hellroaring Trail, we got to see three American badger cubs in their den.

A den of three American badger cubs in Yellowstone
A den of three American badger cubs in Yellowstone

From Hellroaring Trailhead, we hiked down to the suspension bridge, crossed, then bore right onto Buffalo Plateau Trail. After a mile, we went off-trail to the left and were lucky enough to see a flock of western tanagers. We also saw a pair of male and female pronghorns.

A male pronghorn in the grasslands of Yellowstone

After a short break, we followed Hellroaring Creek down to its confluence with the Yellowstone River. Then, we made our way onto a few game trails as we skirted the edge of a cliff above the river. We fought off swarms of mosquitoes and got our hearts pumping, without the slightest idea of the moment we were about to have.

Perched high on a chimney above the Yellowstone River, there was an osprey alone in its nest.

An osprey in its nest, perched high on a chimney above the Yellowstone River

From Hellroaring Trailhead, we covered nine miles roundtrip. On our drive back to camp, we saw a grizzly bear, but he was too far away to get a good photo of. We also got to see a mother black bear and her two cubs.

A mother black bear and her two cubs in Yellowstone
A mother black bear and her two cubs in Yellowstone
A black bear cub leans against a tree in Yellowstone
A black bear cub leans against a tree in Yellowstone

As if the day couldn’t get any better, we also saw a cinnamon bear, which is both a color morph and subspecies of black bear.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinnamon_bear

A cinnamon bear in Yellowstone
A cinnamon bear in Yellowstone

A cinnamon bear in Yellowstone

A cinnamon bear in Yellowstone

Day 5

Finally, we woke up to no snow, but it was still cold and the skies were overcast. The benefit of colder weather is that it discourages people from visiting the park. Jason kept commenting that he couldn’t believe how uncrowded it was.

On our way to Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, we saw another herd of bison, this one with many calves.

Bison calves in Yellowstone

We parked at Fairy Falls Trailhead and hiked to the Grand Prismatic Overlook, a great place to view the largest hot spring in the U.S. Its rainbow of colors are formed by mineral-rich water in the center, combined with microbes growing around the edge.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone

Afterward, we stopped in at the Yellowstone Art and Photography Center, then the Old Faithful Lodge. We learned the approximate time that Old Faithful was scheduled to erupt next and hiked up to Observation Point to watch the show.

Before returning to camp, we checked out Gibbon Falls and Artists Paintpots.

Day 6

On our last day, our plan was to head toward Lamar Valley to hopefully see more wildlife. Then, we’d return to Salt Lake City through Jackson Hole, stopping at Jenny Lake to get an iconic view of the Grand Tetons.

Yellowstone delivered an exceptional finale for us. Before leaving, we got to see a mother bear and her two cubs.

A mother bear and her two cubs roam between fallen trees in Yellowstone
A mother bear and her two cubs roam between fallen trees in Yellowstone

A mother bear and her two cubs roam between fallen trees in Yellowstone

A mother bear and her two cubs roam between fallen trees in Yellowstone

A mother bear and her two cubs roam between fallen trees in Yellowstone

A mother bear and her two cubs roam between fallen trees in Yellowstone

For better or for worse, we took a wrong turn and didn’t make it to Jenny Lake. Instead, we drove out to Cody, and saw lots of beautiful Wyoming countryside (including the Wind Rivers) on the long drive back to Salt Lake City.

Somewhere on U.S. Highway 20, we had one last wildlife hurrah when we saw a bunch of bighorn sheep scrambling up a cliffside next to the road.

A bighorn sheep in Wyoming
A bighorn sheep in Wyoming

A bighorn sheep in Wyoming

Camera Gear

I used the following camera gear for all of the photos I took on this trip. I rented the telephoto lens and teleconverter from BorrowLenses.com.

More Photos

A golden eagle at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
A golden eagle at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
A bald eagle at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
A bald eagle at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
A raven at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
A raven at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
A brave raven next to Sam the grizzly bear
A brave raven next to Sam the grizzly bear
Justin on the Slough Creek Trail
Justin on the Slough Creek Trail
A bison in Yellowstone
A bison in Yellowstone
A surprisingly flexible bison practices his yoga routine
A surprisingly flexible bison practices his yoga routine
Always stay at least 25 yards away from bison
Always stay at least 25 yards away from bison
Yellowstone sits on a high plateau surrounded by mountains
Yellowstone sits on a high plateau surrounded by mountains
Sunset over the Washburn Range on Summer Solstice 2019
Sunset over the Washburn Range on Summer Solstice 2019
A female pronghorn in Yellowstone
A female pronghorn in Yellowstone
A mother black bear next to her cub in Yellowstone
A mother black bear next to her cub in Yellowstone
A black bear cub in Yellowstone
A black bear cub in Yellowstone

Resources

Links

Survival Mag – How To Be Safe Around Bears (A Step-By-Step Guide)