Grand Teton & Backpacking Newbie - a few questions


Nov 23, 2016
Hi all,
New to the forum. 20+ years of hiking and camping experience, but planning my first backpacking trip for Summer 2017. Staying away from the solstice weekend, but plan on going to the Tetons in late July/early August for a 3 day hiking trip.

First was thinking about Paintbrush Divide/Cascade Canyon loop - any thoughts? Seems do-able as a 3 day/2 night trip and gives us some nice views and experiences within the park.

Second - any insight into the permit system? I see it opens up first Wednesday in January. Do the 1/3 advance permits sell out ASAP? Within a few weeks or months? When you get a permit do you get it per person, or John Smith party of 4 and you do not list all 4 member's names? We have 2 people confirmed and 4-5 people up in the air, so I figure to get 3-4 permits knowing we'll fill all 4 slots among our friends. So that is why I am curious, do we need names when we sign up, or just a group leader and an amount of permits? Do you get a permit for the back country in general, or do we need a permit per campsite per night (we found 2 campsites on the path).

Once we secure permits, will certainly follow up with a few more questions regarding planning.
I would avoid camping in upper Paintbrush because of the high winds. So if you started up Paintbrush you could stay at the lower Paintbrush camp area and then stay below Lake Solitude in Cascade Canyon on the 2nd night or the reverse.
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With regard to Paintbrush you should be fine but there are alternatives if there is heavy snow or ice and you don't feel comfortable with an ice axe you can always exit through Cascade Canyon. The Rangers hike it daily and will have the most current conditions when you pick up your bear bucket.
Thank you for the intel. Would the Rangers assist in helping map out an alternate route as well or should we have something as a backup plan. Does the permit detail what trail/campsite we are using, or the permit is general and we can use any trail/campsite we want once we have the permit?
Thank you for the intel. Would the Rangers assist in helping map out an alternate route as well or should we have something as a backup plan. Does the permit detail what trail/campsite we are using, or the permit is general and we can use any trail/campsite we want once we have the permit?
The permits limit you to a camping area designated on the map. The area can be a very long section of the trail. I will post a link to a PDF file. They also ask you to specify the number in your party. You can adjust it when you pick up your permit and bear canister. You can also adjust your camping permits if there is a more desirable option. The park rangers are very helpful. However, I suggest planning ahead of time as much as possible. What other options were you considering?
Top of Paintbrush Divide toward Jenny Lake

North Fork Cascade Canyon camp site
South Fork Cascade Canyon
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We went over Paintbrush Divide the first week of August this year and had absolutely no problems with snow/ice.
The online permit system will probably fill up within a few hours, at least for the prime camp zones. The Rangers will only be able to change your itinerary when you arrive IF there is space available. You will not need to have everyone's name when you make the reservation which can be used for up to 6 people. If you have more than 6 people you'll need to apply for a group reservation which are required to use the designated group camping sites.
If you haven't already, create an account at then search for permits for Grand Teton National Park and familiarize yourself with how the permit system is set up - that way you'll know how to make the reservation once the permit system opens in January.
This is my 2015 TR from the Teton Crest Trail. I wrote it for people with those types of questions. There are several other better TRs on this site you may want to check out. Also, @leatherman gave you a lot of really good details.
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Believe it or not some do the Paintbrush loop as a day hike. However I would do it as an over-nighter and nothing more. The preferred way would be to start at String Lake TH and hike in to Paintbrush Canyon and camp at either Holly Lake or Upper Paintbrush camp zone. The next day up and over Paintbrush and hike out.

There are a ton of other options (within the same route) if you can't obtain the requested permit. You could camp at Grizzly Bear Lake the first night, then hike out the next day. Or if you want to do it as a 3 day trip camp in North Fork Cascade Canyon (stay as high in the zone as possible). Or depending on how many in your group, there is a site up at Mica Lake.

Another great hike and one I would prefer over the Paintbrush loop would be to start at the Death Canyon TH and hike as far as the patrol cabin. Shortly after you will see a trail (Stewart's Draw) that will lead you up to Static Peak Divide. It's a steep up for a minute, but again, some will do the Static Peak trip as a day hike. While you're there run up and bag the peak. Then head down in to the Alaska Basin and camp there. Day 2 head past Sunset Lake, over Hurricane Pass and down in to the South Fork Cascade Canyon and camp for night 2 (or head up to Avalanche Divide and camp at Snowdrift Lake). Day 3 hike out Cascade Canyon unless of course you stayed at Snowdrift in which case you would hike out. There are old game trails to follow out if you choose this route.

As far as permits, I've been spending time in the backcountry of that park over the last 15+ years and never went to the park with a permit in hand. So if you don't get one in advance don't sweat it! If you don't have a bear canister, they let you borrow one for free. If you have the choice, use the Jenny Lake ranger station rather than the Moose visitor center. The backcountry rangers at JL actually hike and climb in the park where as the Moose visitor center rangers are primarily shuffling people in and out....IMO

That should get you started.
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This is all GREAT help so thank you all very much. A ton of info in such a short time!

Re: permits - so if say we wanted to stay at Campsite A for 1 night and Campsite B for the second night I would sign up for two permits, Joe Smith for Campsite A on August 1st and Campsite B on August 2nd? And under the Joe Smith reservation I saw I could put in a total number of people under just that 1 name and adjust at the ranger station if needed? That is very helpful knowing I can make the 4 slots and let the chips fall where they may with my friends who are interested. I played around with the site a few weeks ago when we really started to get serious about planning the trip, but yes it is a good idea to sign up for an account beforehand and play with it some more - this is like buying Ticketmaster tix when a show goes onsale!

Re: Chuck - yes I know only 1/3 are given away by reservations, but we are a group flying in from various corners - NY, NJ, IL, WA, IN, etc. So I do want a little organization and know what to expect as different people will have different schedules with flights in an out. Of course would leave at least 36-48 hours on both ends of the flights to get settled, rid of jet lag, get used to the altitude, etc but still don't want people flying in and something goes amiss and we dont have luck getting into the park.

We are also not married to the loop I found, but we were looking for a loop and something that would average 6-8 miles per day. May not seem like much but we all have various experiences hiking, this is mostly higher altitude for all of us, for some of us its our first backpacking trip so it will be different carrying ~35 lbs on our backs, etc, so wanted to make this somewhat easy. That said, an early map I saw of campsites I thought I could break my loop up with a stay at North Fork Cascade camp site then another site at Holly Lake. The PDF linked to above shows North Fork Casacade is for groups only, so I do not even see 2 camp sites on that loop to make it into a 3 day/2 night trip. So Chuck I may study your suggestions a bit and read some reviews online to make sure we are not biting off more than we can chew.

The trip is mostly to get away, enjoy some peace and quiet and not really worry about distances covered, sites seen, etc. Just a nice guys retreat for a few days to catch up.

Any more suggestions I am all ears!
There are group sites in ALL camp zones. In North Fork Cascade Canyon I have stayed at all 8 sites (not including the group site). Again, I have NEVER left the state of MI with a permit. So please don't worry if you don't get one.

Do the loop counter clockwise (Holly Lake or Upper Paintbrush, then North Fork day 2)

You can do the Death Canyon - Alaska Basin - Cascade Canyon as a loop hike too via the Valley Trail. Or use Teton Taxi and pay for a shuttle. There are even a few folks here that may offer to help with a shuttle.

I'll send you some suggestions within your requirements if you'd like. But, spending a couple of bucks on a shuttle opens you up to a crap-ton of additional options!

I could write you a book, however you first need to get past the permit issue. If you don't get one, get back to me. There are other places to camp not shown on the map :)
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Re: permits - so if say we wanted to stay at Campsite A for 1 night and Campsite B for the second night I would sign up for two permits,Joe Smith for Campsite A on August 1st andCampsite B on August 2nd?

No, from what I recall it is all on the same form. The permit covers the sites for your trip and multiple nights if appropriate. The total is $35 approx. and when you take your receipt to the ranger station then they issue the permit that you twisty tie to the leaders pack during the day or tent while camped.

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"Staying away from the solstice weekend."
Did you mean the solar eclipse on August 21?
Are you planning to rent cars for your stay? Public/private transportation is not very convenient or economical for getting around in the Park. There is a shuttle service from the airport to the town of Jackson and a public bus route to/from Jackson and Teton Village. However, the Jenny Lake Ranger Station and your chosen trailheads are several miles from Teton Village. You will need to visit the Ranger Station on both ends of your hike and then get to accommodations and back to the airport.
Someone mentioned the Teton Climbers Ranch earlier. It's absolutely the most economical place to sleep and get a shower in the greater Jackson Hole region.
Have a great trip!

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Notice I have 3 in my group and stayed in the North Cascade area. You shouldn't have a problem due to numbers assuming there is an opening.

If you are in a groups of hikers of mixed athletic ability it is best to break it into multiple days. It is true that it is usually done as a day hike but hike your own hike. Elevation gain is also going to be a factor. It may take a while to get your group over the divide. It sounds like most of your group is coming from lower elevations. Also, shorter hikes give you a chance to shoot the bull around camp.

You will most likely have gear and food questions as you get closer. Feel free to ask about anything.

One more thing, don't be afraid of flying into Idaho Falls. You would be able to rent a car and see the other side of the Tetons. Just a thought.
One more thing, don't be afraid of flying into Idaho Falls. You would be able to rent a car and see the other side of the Tetons. Just a thought.
A very viable alternative. We did that the last time we visited the Tetons & Yellowstone. A very pleasant trip. I apologize for not thinking of it sooner. Salt Lake City isn't all that far from Jackson either.
You step off the plane at 6,451 feet. To some that may be an uncomfortable experience.
Idaho Falls also has the closest Wal-Mart and major sporting goods stores. You could buy all your food and bear spray once you got off the plane. I'm from there so take into account my bias before making your own decisions.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Yes sorry meant the Eclipse coming up in August.

chuck - going to show those options to my friend who is helping plan - how does the shuttle work? I assume we could try to make it a loop but if its too long of a hike for us and running short on time...We could get a shuttle from the Lake Jenny area to the DC Trailhead where we started? Easy to just show up and wait?

For flights, we are fairly flexible, only real direct option is Salt Lake City, so depending on how long we would wait in the airport for a connection to Jackson, Idaho Falls, etc, we may just rent a car and drive from SLC. If its a 60 min wait at airport to transfer flights no problem, if we need to sit in an airport for 5 hours better off just driving

Regardless we will rent a car to get to/from airport, around town to get gear we cant check in luggage and things of that nature. Actual flights will depend on what days we cover, the flights available on those days, etc.

And yes we'll certainly need some gear suggestions as we get closer. We have 1 person in the group with some backpacking experience but I am sure the more opinions and suggestions the better. A few people are renting gear, me personally I got fitted for a backpack which I asked for this holiday season and I already have backapacking tents, sleeping bags/pads and kitchen gear. Other than water filtration and some map/GPS stuff I think we are mostly covered. But I'll certainly be inquiring about some suggestions about food/menu, water sources and all that good stuff as we get closer.
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PTSM's suggstion about IF is a good one, lots of folks here are driving to fly out of that far cheaper airport. Also getting your supplies there will save you money but we do have several markets here in Jackson. KMART isn't too bad either. We also have several good outdoor stores.

Like Chuck I like Holly Lake. However I shared PTSM's windier experience up there once. I like Lakes.

If you were to do it as a two nighter on day 2 I'd get over Paintbrush as early as possible and then have a fun afternoon without worrying about lightning as much. Like anywhere in the Rocky Mountains or many mountains around the world weather here can change very fast. Don't skimp on gear. There is an online gear delivery service around here if it hasn't gone out of business. There are other rental options as well.

They say the average year Rangers cut steps into the ice/snowpack at the top of Paintbrush about July 10th. I don't like hauling an ice axe for days and using it for just an hour or so; keep up on conditions here come Spring. I always hike with ski poles. A lot of people would be uncomfortable without them going over Paintbrush. There is a way around the snow but it's a pin in the A$$ and presents its own dangers.

I am a big fan of the Climber's Ranch sine my first stay there 38 years ago. I've overnighted Surprise Lake from there a couple of times. Yeah, it's a corwded dayhike but when it empties out before sunset; well that's just one of the finer subalpine drainages you'll ever find. I've also gone from the Climbers Ranch to Teton Village spending one night at the top of the Open Canyon Camping Zone and one well down Granite Canyon.

Have an awesome time!
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The pictures are of the east side of Paintbrush. This is the only area you will cross with snow. 2015 was a colder year and we didn't need an ice axe in mid July but some were more comfortable using a hiking pole for stability. Just remember to keep the pole in your uphill hand and stomp/kick your feet into the snow for better footing.
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Are other areas of the park less impacted by the snow later in the summer? Lots of reviews about Paintbrush Canyon all have warnings about snow in late summer, but I do not see those warnings as much when I read about other trails.

I was using @Chuck the Mauler advice from above and looked at Death Canyon Trail head. I found a lollipop loop - - but this is ~10 miles longer than Paintbrush Divide/Cascades, but I know mileage is part of the equation as elevation gains plays a factor too. This loop I linked to above has 2 short moderate days and a long 13 mile day to end the trek. Would this be a decent option for our group given the background I've started prior?

Chuck - any suggestions for camping in the Alaskan Basin? Since that is technically out of the park we wouldn't need a reservation for that night; just the 2nd night up by South Fork Cascade?

I looked by Granite Canyon Trailhead and didn't see a feasible way to do a 3 day/2 night trip using the 2 campsites in that area. In general seems like a ton of camping in/around Jackson Lake but in the backcountry there are not as many options.

We cannot hit everything obviously, so are we better off trying to bag Static Peak, sleep under the Grand Teton in South Fork, go to Paintbrush Canyon and risk potential snow issues?

And lastly - yes we are open to taxi/shuttle options @Chuck the Mauler

Thanks again everyone - really do appreciate the help planning.
Great idea!

Start at the DC trail head and hike as far in to the zone as you can. Preferably one of the last 2 sites. Both sites offer your first look at the Cathedral group (about 8 miles). Day 2 up to Fox Creek Pass then level walking across the shelf, then down in to the Alaska Basin. I prefer to camp near Mirror Lake there. Day 3 up to Buck Mountain Pass, across to Static Peak Divide (grab the summit while you're there, then down and back to the DC trail head.
I much prefer Death Canyon over both Open and Granite Canyons! I could give you more. Hang on.......

Oh, lots of shuttle info too
Every year is different. You won't know what the snow levels are until much closer to your arrival. Most generic trail guides are overly cautious and pessimistic.
Chuck knows much better than I do. However, a friend said that he nearly died in Death Canyon while someone else said that Granite Canyon was a much easier climb.
Good luck.

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