Teton Crest Trail

April 29, 2011 ·

Miles Hecker


  The Teton Range located in Grand Teton National Park, in the state of Wyoming, is in many people’s opinion the most photogenic mountain range in the continental US. Being a long time Wyomingite I definitely would rank them as such. Snake River overlook, Schwabacher’s Landing and Oxbow Bend are but three of the many locations made famous by thousands of classic landscape images over the years.

What makes the Tetons unique? Unlike the many Rocky Mt. ranges scattered throughout Colorado and Montana, the east side of the Tetons have no foothills. The unobstructed vistas made possible by this fact are what make these images so outstanding visually. For my online map of the photo sites in Grand Teton National Park lookhere.

A less obvious fact is that all of these great photos are taken on the east side of the range. Do the Tetons even have a west side? If you drive into Idaho over Teton pass, you might be surprised at the view. Unlike the eastern side, a large and prominent set of foothills almost entirely hides the west side of the range. In a few places on the western side of the valley near Driggs Idaho, you can see the tops of the highest Teton peaks sticking out, over the foothills. So where can the western side of the range be seen from?

The answer lies in the back country of Wyoming. It is called the Teton Crest Trail. Accessible only by foot or horseback, it spans the 30+ mile long spine of the Teton range and was pioneered by the legendary Wyoming climber Paul Petzold.

Parts of it can be viewed and photographed on long and strenuous day hikes. But if you wish to see the entire thing you must commit to a backpacking trip of 3-6 days in duration. If you wish to spend a serious amount of time on photography I would recommend a trip at least 5 days in length.

View Teton Crest Trailin a larger map

Death Canyon Shelf Sunset

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If you have no intention of backpacking, I’ve created a list of possible day hikes in the Cascade Canyon areahere. Only the last two will get you into a position to photograph the backside of the Tetons in a meaningful way.

If you wish to get a permit with a one night stay, you can apply at the Jenny Lake ranger station in person one day before you start your hike. Chances are good you’ll get a permit. Two-thirds of the permits are reserved for this in person process. If you are planning a multi night trip, make reservations via the internet as describedhere.Grand Teton NP regulations and information for back country camping may be foundhere.

The approximate route of my own 38 mile backpack trip is shown in the google map seen above. We started at the Granite Creek trail head located on the Moose WIlson Road. Our final destination was the String Lake canoe launch site. We allotted 5-6 days for the trip to allow plenty of stops for good photo opps. We scheduled our trip during the first week of August to hit the normal peak wildflower season in the high country.

I carried a 12MP light weight Panasonic G1 with 14-45mm and 45-200mm lenses, and mini Cullman tripod. It gave me a photo kit that only weighed 4.5 lbs. This camera can produce very nice, 16″x20″ prints. My complete pack with all food, tent and other needed gear weighed in at 43 lbs.


We departed on day 1 of our trip from the Granite Creek trail head and made the 6.5 mile hike up Granite Canyon to our camp site just below Marion Lake. We gained about 2400 feet vertically in the process. We could see that the wildflowers were in bloom and doing quite well. Many people hiking the Teton Crest Trail like to “cheat” here. They pay $25 and catch a ride on theRendezvous Peak tram. This takes them to the top of 10,450 high Rendezvous Peak. From there they traverse down and over about 3 miles and spend the first night camped at Marion Lake.

After a pleasant night in Granite Canyon, we arose and headed up to Marion Lake. Marion Lake is located in a little cirque just below the Fox Creek basin. Climbing out of Marion Lake, you quickly enter the upper Fox Creek drainage and get a marvelous view of Fossil Mt. and Mt Bannon. You traverse the next mile up to Fox Creek pass and a magnificent view of the back side of the Teton range opens up for the first time. For a full 140 slide show of the overall hikeclick here.

From Fox Creek pass we traversed up onto the Death Canyon shelf and selected a campsite for our second nights stay. At this point we were 12 miles from the nearest trail head and the views were magnificent. Wildflowers were in abundance and nearing the peak of there display. We hung out here and enjoyed the views and photo opportunities as the afternoon and evening light painted the landscape. Several passing thunderstorms added to the spectacle. The above photo of the backside of the main flank of the Teton Range was taken as one such storm broke.

Sunset Lake

Click on image for more infomation


Click on image for more infomation

The next morning we awoke to a wonderfully clear and crisp morning vista. We headed out early and made our way up the Death Canyon shelf to Mount Meek pass. From there we headed to the Sheep Steps and descended them into the highly glaciated Alaska Basin. For a High Definition virtual reality tour of Alaska Basinclick here.

We crossed Alaska Basin and followed the trail up to its highest reaches and made our campsite at Sunset Lake. A view from our campsite is shown above. In the first week of August, the Sunset Lake area is the mother lode of all wildflowers. In a good year, words and even pictures cannot fully convey the magnificent floral display to be seen there. Indian Paintbrushes, Lupine, Columbines, Sticky Geranium and Elephant Head to name a few.They cover the earth, acre after stunning acre. Check out the lengthy slide show in the link mentioned above for a better overall picture of the spectacle.

The next morning we bid Alaska Basin its adieu and headed up to Hurricane Pass. When you finally get to the pass at an elevation of 10,338 feet, the view is stunning. The three tallest mountains in the range, Grand Teton, MIddle Teton and South Teton are right there in your face. For a close up viewclick here.

Our decent from the pass took us down into the spectacular area known as South Cascade canyon. Cascade after cascade after cascade funnels the water melting off the various Teton snowfields into a thundering South Cascade Creek. We descended along the creek until we found an especially scenic camp site for our next nights stay.


On day 5 we awoke from our lofty perch in South Cascade Canyon and headed down. At the junction between North and South Cascade Canyon we headed left and back up once again. We ascended North Cascade Canyon and made our way to lovely Lake Solitude. Lake Solitude, located at an elevation of 9035 feet is the destination of many an ambitious day hiker. It is also a popular spot for horse packers. The view of the western side of the Tetons from its shore is quite nice. After a quick lunch we headed up from the lake to Paintbrush divide. If you are a mountain lover the view of North Cascade Canyon and the west side of the Tetons visble on the ascent is breathtaking. It is the type of scene usually reserved for climbers on a summit and seldom seen by hikers. A web sized jpeg image truly fails to do it justice.

We continued over Paintbrush Divide, which at an elevation of 10,700 feet is the highest point on our journey. We headed down to our campsite in Lower Paintbrush Canyon and made a bivouac for our last night.

The next morning, we broke camp and with some sadness, headed down and out, covering the last five miles back to String Lake and civilization. We had seen some amazing country on our journey, and it would not be soon forgotten.

Backpacker Magazinehad in 2010 rated the Teton Crest Trail the most photogenic in the nation. I for one would would not argue with that assessment. You will just have to experience it yourself and see if you agree.

Cascade Canyon

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About Miles Hecker

Miles has been involved with photography for over forty years. He teaches digital photography at Casper College in Casper,Wyoming. His photos have won awards fromNatures Best magazine,Photo.net, The Luminous LandscapeandWyoming WIldlife . Miles’ photos have been published in American Vignette, Backpacker Magazine, Natures Best Images, Popular Photography, Wyoming Audubon, and Wyoming Wildlife. He is co-founder ofWyoFOTO LLC.


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April 2011

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