The 5 Best Hikes in (and Around) Grand Teton National Park

I’ve been hiking these trails for over 20 years now, and whether I’m guiding on a short family-friendly day hike or a week-long backpacking trip, the stunning beauty of Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding wilderness never gets old.

My husband Jeff and I have been running Teton Backcountry Guides for over 20 years now. We can’t imagine a better way to spend our time than enjoying the great outdoors and there’s no better place to do it than here in the Tetons. Weather permitting, we pretty much spend every day outside, be it skiing, hiking or biking. In the summer we organize day hikes and backpacking trips, while in the winter our hands are full with guided yurt trips in the backcountry. We feel incredibly blessed to be able to live in an area such as this, with the wilderness, national forests and parks so easily accessible at all times, and equally excited to be able to share our favorite hikes with you. Read on to find out about five of the best hikes in and around Grand Teton National Park — or as I refer to it, my backyard.

hiking grand teton
I’ve been hiking in Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding wilderness for over 20 years and the striking beauty of these trails always amazes me. Photo by Stefan Serena

What makes Grand Teton so special

What makes Grand Teton so amazing is the fact that it’s part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact ecosystem in the Lower 48, and one of the biggest in the world. All of the same animals still inhabit the territory just as they did long before Lewis and Clarke’s expedition brought them out West. Today it’s become increasingly harder to preserve such areas that provide critical habitat to predators like the grizzly bear, which is why thankfully a lot of the land here is federally protected. People are often surprised to see exactly how much wilderness there is in the Tetons, especially near Jackson Hole. Only a small percentage of the land is actually public, most of it being protected forest, wilderness or park land.

Why I love hiking Grand Teton National Park’s western slope

Even after all these years, I still find that there’s just something special about hiking in Grand Teton National Park, particularly the western slope, whose geological makeup yields a rich trove of minerals from which the area’s famous beautiful wildflowers are born. The flower-strewn hills are like a scene taken straight out of The Sound of Music — as far as the eye can see it’s just never-ending waves of pink, white and blue with the occasional burst of red gently swaying with the mountain breeze.
The varied terrain coupled with the great views makes for a hiker’s dream. To help you navigate the many options, I’ve highlighted some of the best hikes the area has to offer, both in and around Grand Teton National Park.

1. Taggart Lake Loop

TOP CHOICE FOR BEGINNERS
No tough trail sections makes it the best introduction to the area
The trail is flat and well-maintained
Visiting nearby Bradley Lake is also an option
Some might find it too short for their tastes
Due to its popularity, it gets crowded

If you’re looking for a great easy trail to take your family out for a beautiful day outdoors, then Taggart Lake is my top recommendation. This is a very popular choice among those who are in the area with not a lot of time on their hands. Since there are no tough segments here to challenge hikers, but all the scenic goodness the Tetons have to offer, Taggart Lake is what I consider to be the perfect introduction to the area.

hiking grand teton
Relaxing under the Tetons at Taggart Lake makes for a perfect picnic outing in my opinion. Photo by Dave Bezaire licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A sweet and short trip for the whole family

The well-maintained trail to Taggart Lake immediately starts off with stunning views of Grand Teton, the highest mountain in the Teton Range. As you make your way to Taggart Lake, you’ll be passing through mixed forests of spruce and pine, as well as longer stretches of aspen groves, before reaching a wide clearing — the site of the 1985 Beaver Creek Fire, which charred over a thousand acres of land. As a result, you can see a lot of the local wildlife running around under the watchful eye of the mountains, which is one of the reasons I love this hike. After just over a mile into your hike, you arrive at the Bradley Lake Junction. Take the left path for Taggart Lake and some more amazing mountain scenery until you reach your destination. Since this is not a difficult hike, you might also want to visit nearby Bradley Lake to put in some extra miles and enjoy the views longer.

The Taggart Lake Loop is 3.3 miles (5.3 km) long and if you decide to add Bradley Lake into the mix, which I suggest if you have the time, it adds up to 5.5 miles (8,9 km). To visit both lakes, it is recommended that after reaching the Bradley Lake Junction, you take the right path and visit Bradley Lake first. After doing so, you return to the junction and proceed to Taggart Lake. When you’re done soaking up the stunning scenery, you finish your loop by taking the Taggart Lake Trail back to the starting trailhead.

Simple but beautiful, the Taggart Lake Trail is considered by many, including me, to be the perfect introduction to the area.

1. Taggart Lake Loop - Good to Know

Skill level:

Very easy, suitable even for children

Terrain:

Mostly flat stretches with little elevation gain

Season:

May through October

Time to hike:

1-2 hours

Distance and elevation gain:

Around 3 miles (5 km); 300 feet (90 m)

Don’t miss:

Taking a short detour to Bradley Lake

Nice to know:

Wild moose and mama bears can be spotted on the trail so be wildlife safe

2. Amphitheater Lake Trail

TOP CHOICE FOR EXPERIENCED HIKERS
Some of the most amazing views in all of GTNP
Tack on some extra hiking with the optional visit to Garnet Canyon
Did I mention the views?
Bear sightings are not uncommon, so make sure you know how to be bear-safe
Crowd sightings, however, are very common

One of my top picks for day hikes in the whole region is definitely Amphitheater Lake Trail. Unlike Taggart, this is a strenuous trail suitable for more experienced hikers. Situated under the charmingly named Disappointment Peak (which is anything but), the Amphitheater and Surprise Lakes are a joy to behold.

hiking grand teton
This is the kind of view that takes the fatigue right out of your legs. Photo by Florin Chelaru licensed under CC BY 2.0

Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes offer up the rewards of hiking

Starting from the Lupine Meadows trailhead, the initially flat trail soon ascends into dense forest that restricts any sight of your surroundings. There’s a lot of wildlife in the area and it’s not uncommon to see black bears along the route, so the park service strongly recommends hiking in groups, making a lot of noise and carrying bear spray. After a while you’ll reach a junction where an opening in the trees will offer an incredible view of Bradley and Taggart Lakes. Further on the trail will switch back several times, giving you a glance of Jackson Hole and the famous Sheep Mountain in the distance, one of my favorite sites on this trail.
As the trail climbs further with even more switchbacks, you’ll turn right at an intersection, after which Disappointment Peak will rise in front of you. The 11,623 ft (3,543 m) peak was given its name by a group of Colorado climbers who unsuccessfully attempted to climb the Grand in 1925. Beneath its slopes lie two glacial lakes — the smaller Surprise Lake and, further on, its big sister, Amphitheater Lake. When I’m there, I like to choose one of the many rocks to sit on and enjoy this subalpine gem and its beautiful backdrop.

Even more greatness just a small detour away

From the trailhead to the lakes, it’s roughly a 5-mile (8 km) hike, with plenty to see during the ascent and a spectacular payoff at the end that makes it all worth it. But let’s imagine for a second that you’re not interested in the lakes, or you’ve already seen them and are looking for something else to do while you’re there. Instead of turning right on the junction to Amphitheater Lake, take the left path to Garnet Canyon and check out why climbers flock there year after year. The walls of Middle Teton rising majestically into the blue sky, Irene’s Arête towering above you — I mean, it’s just spectacular. Even if you’re not into climbing, it’s definitely worth seeing.

The payoff at the end of this challenging trail is immense, because the views Amphitheater Lake offers are absolutely breathtaking.

2. Amphitheater Lake Trail - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate to advanced level required

Terrain:

Lots of steep switchbacks and narrow sections

Season:

May through September

Time to hike:

6-8 hours

Distance and elevation gain:

5 miles (8 km); Around 3000 feet (900 m)

Don’t miss:

Great opportunities for bird watching and fishing

Nice to know:

Garnet Canyon’s rock climbs are great if you don’t have a full day’s time or a favorable weather forecast

3. Paintbrush Canyon and Cascade Canyon Loop

TOP CHOICE FOR EXPERIENCED HIKERS
Truly epic in both scenery and mileage
Goes through many of the park’s best spots
Rich animal and plant life
At over 8 hours of hiking, it can be too long or challenging for some
There are chances of running into black bears

What I love about Grand Teton National park is that canyons provide the setting for many of the park’s incredibly scenic hiking trails, and the celebrated Paintbrush Canyon Loop Trail might just be the most epic of them all. Make no mistake, this is one pretty tough hike, no matter how fit you are. So tough, in fact, that some folks opt for backpacking it in two or even three days. Others eager to test themselves undertake this 20-mile (32 km) journey in a single day. But whatever you choose, you can be sure that you’re in for an unforgettable experience. Jenny Lake, Holly Lake, Inspiration Point, Lake Solitude, Cascade Canyon, Paintbrush Canyon — the list of spots you’ll visit on this trail reads like a “best of” compilation of the Tetons in and of itself.

hiking grand teton
Amazing view of the Tetons while grabbing water on the Paintbrush Canyon Trail. Photo by Brian Saunders licensed under CC BY 2.0

Consider hiking this loop trail counterclockwise

Since this is a loop trail, it can be hiked both ways. If you’re worried about the difficulty, I’d suggest hiking counterclockwise because that way you’ll get most of the climbing done early in the day. You’ll start at the String Lake Trailhead going towards Jenny Lake, where you’ll have great views of the Gros Ventre mountains to the east. As you make your way up Paintbrush Canyon, you’ll be able to enjoy its beautiful wildflowers and foliage, especially in the fall, when the trees are flush with colorful leaves. You’ll definitely want to have your camera with you, because the higher you climb, the more spectacular the views become. After passing Holly Lake, the elevation starts to take its toll. Vegetation gives way to rock and the zig-zagging trail becomes steeper as you near the 10,700-ft (3261 m) summit. Once there, take in the panorama with all your senses, but watch out for the strong winds!

Hiking to Cascade Canyon — one of my favorite places in the park

Then it’s time for the descent. Carefully proceed down towards the remote Lake Solitude nestled up in the heart of the Tetons and rest up a bit before moving on to Cascade Canyon, one of my absolute favorite places in the park. If you’re lucky enough, you might see some moose near the streams or the odd fox going about its business. The last stretch towards String Lake is not going to be easy. Be sure to drink plenty of water and take quick breaks. When you’re coming back down the steep trails on tired legs, it can really push your leg muscles to its limits. I personally prefer going clockwise, up Cascade and down Paintbrush Canyon, being surrounded by the towering rock walls of Mount Woodring, Rockchuck Peak or Mount Saint John as I near the finish line. The entire loop takes 8 to 12 hours, so be sure that you’re well prepared before deciding to hike it in a single day.

The list of spots you'll visit on the Paintbrush Canyon Trail reads like a "best of" compilation of the Tetons. There are some of my favorite highlights of the whole park on this route.

3. Paintbrush Canyon and Cascade Canyon Loop - Good to Know

Skill level:

Very strenuous; requires a high level of experience and fitness

Terrain:

Best from May through September

Season:

Late summer to early fall

Time to hike:

8-12 hours

Distance and elevation gain:

20 miles (32 km); 4000 feet (1200 m)

Don’t miss:

The wildflower fields, beautiful canopies in the fall

Nice to know:

You can take a scenic boat ride across Jenny Lake

4. Table Mountain Trail

TOP CHOICE FOR EPIC VIEWS
Great views of the Tetons from across the valley
No crowds to speak of
You can bring your dog with you
Thunderstorms are quite common above the treeline
The trail is not maintained

The next best thing to climbing the Grand Teton is seeing it from Table Mountain, situated on the border of Grand Teton National Park and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. It’s so close that you can make out the climbers on the other side even without binoculars. Here’s a fun fact: one of the first ever photographs of the Tetons was actually taken on Table Mountain in the 19th century. The beautiful landscapes shot during that expedition would influence the decision to protect Yellowstone as our first national park. Considering the popularity of the previously suggested trails, the Table Mountain Trail almost feels like a hidden gem in comparison. You won’t find as many people here like you would on Paintbrush, but not for lack of sights and thrills.

hiking grand teton
This is the kind of view I’m talking about — simply majestic all around. Photo by Mike Weston licensed under CC BY 2.0

A strenuous but worthwhile workout

The first thing you should know about Table Mountain is that it wastes no time gaining elevation. This 11,100-feet (3385 m) giant promises another very exciting and strenuous hike in the Teton area with lots of great vantage points to soak up the nature around you. There are two ways to get to the summit — Face Trail and Huckleberry Trail — and the two of them combined form the 11-mile (17 km) Table Mountain Loop Trail. No matter which way you go, after finishing the loop you’ll definitely notice that it feels much longer than it really is, owing to the 4000 ft (1220 m) elevation gain.

The easier option — start with Huckleberry

Taking Huckleberry first is considered to be the easier option as you gain elevation more gradually. If you decide on going up the Face Trail, you’ll be greeted by a sign warning you that the route ahead is not maintained, after which the trail will steeply head upwards. But I don’t want you to think that Table Mountain is just one grueling stretch after another. In fact, the entire loop is filled with lookouts offering amazing photo-worthy views, while the wildflower fields will have your senses singing with joy. Standing atop the summit, I’m always overwhelmed by the glory of the Tetons rising majestically into the sky. The lighting is best in the afternoon, but at the same time you run the risk of getting caught in of Table Mountain’s frequent thunderstorms. Pay great attention to the weather and consider departing early in the morning so that you’re off the mountain by the time the storms come down.

I’m of the opinion that the next best thing to climbing the Grand Teton is seeing it from Table Mountain.

4. Table Mountain Trail - Good to Know

Skill level:

Quite strenuous; requires a high level of experience and fitness

Terrain:

Very steep trail; watch out for loose rock

Season:

July to September

Time to hike:

2-10 hours, depending on your fitness and pace

Distance and elevation gain:

Around 11 miles (17 km); 4000 ft (1200 m)

Don’t miss:

Taking awesome pictures on the summit

Nice to know:

Going down the steep Face Trail can be dangerous so be cautious prepared by hiking with a first aid kit and other essential items

5. Goodwin Lake Trail

TOP HIDDEN GEM TRAIL
Perfect for a picnic in nature
Unique opportunity to go for a refreshing alpine swim
Dogs are allowed
The bugs can get quite nasty, so come prepared
The road up to the trailhead is rough

While we’re on the topic of great hikes outside of the park, Goodwin Lake Trail is another one of my absolute favorites. Situated on the eastern side of the valley, in the Gros Ventre Wilderness, lies the lovely Goodwin Lake. When I’m in the mood for a nice picnic in the mountains or maybe even a refreshing swim in the crystal clear water of an alpine lake, this intermediate hike crowd-free hike has me covered. Bring your family, friends and even your pets. Yes, good news for all you dog lovers out there — you can bring your canine pals to both Table Mountain and Goodwin Lake.

hiking grand teton
Goodwin Lake is situated in the Gros Ventre Wilderness — a much less populated area that right in Grand Teton National Park, but with all the same stunning beauty. Photo by Intermountain Forest Service, USDA Region 4 Photography

The plentiful shade will provide comfort along the way

To get to the starting trailhead of this 6-mile (10 km) loop trail, first you’ll need to drive to an elevation of around 8000 ft (2400 m), going past the National Elk Refuge and up several miles of bumpy dirt road. Just take it slow and be wary of potholes. Once you finally reach the trailhead, you can leave your car and start your ascent through the pine forest. It’s going to be steep at first, but before long the initial incline will start leveling out, introducing open meadows with views across Jackson Hole where the Tetons rule the valley. The trail has plenty of shaded portions where you can escape the heat, but one thing you can’t escape are insects. It’s good to bring bug repellent for protection along with the obligatory bear spray. When you finally reach the lake, take a seat on one of the rocks scattered around it and enjoy the wonderful scenery.

The Goodwin Lake Trail is a perfect example of a gem hidden off the beaten path. One of the reasons I love it is because it gives a completely different view of the Tetons. You can see the whole range as it rises straight up out of the valley floor due to its unique geological features. The interesting wildlife and subalpine scenery make the experience even more special. And nothing can beat a good swim on a hot summer day!

Goodwin Lake is the perfect example of a gem hidden off the beaten path.

5. Goodwin Lake Trail - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate

Terrain:

Occasionally rocky, steadily inclines towards the lake

Season:

June to September

Time to hike:

1-3 hours

Distance and elevation gain:

6 miles (10 km); around 8000 ft (2400 m)

Don’t miss:

The beautiful subalpine scenery and crystal clear water

Nice to know:

The drive up to the trailhead may require 4-wheel drive

About the author

Diane Verna

Diane Verna

Hiker, skier, backpacker, biker and co-owner of Teton Backcountry Guides

Diane and her partner Jeff have been running Teton Backcountry Guides for over 20 years now after taking over from the founding family. Nowadays Diane is more focused on the logistical side of things, while Jeff still guides ski trips in the winter. They spend practically every day outside, be it skiing, hiking or biking. In summer they organize day hikes and backpacking trips, while in winter their hands are full with guided yurt trips in the backcountry.

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