Paintbrush Canyon / Cascade Canyon Loop -- Grand Teton NP September 11, 2023


Aug 21, 2018
Several years/Septembers ago I headed up Paintbrush Canyon in Grand Teton NP with the idea I might complete the Paintbrush/Cascade loop. I made it up to Holly Lake while it rained, snowed, and blew gale force winds. I turned around at the lake so as not to be blown out of the canyon. It was a good day with lots of atmosphere, but I've always wanted to have another chance to complete the loop.

September 2023 provided that opportunity. My buddy Cody and I had just spent several backcountry nights with @scatman and his crew along Yellowstone's Gallatin River. We set aside several days in the parks for day hiking after that. I had penciled in the Paintbrush/Cascade loop for one of our days, but a lot would depend on how Cody and I were feeling as well as what the weather was dishing out.

Cody and I were based at Old Faithful in Yellowstone, so we had a lengthy drive to reach the Leigh Lake Trailhead in Grand Teton. The fog was thick and low to the ground on the drive down, I was not sure what kind of visibility the day was going to offer us. We hit the trail around 9AM. The goal was to at least make it up to Paintbrush Divide and see how our knees were holding up. We also set a time goal to get there by 1PM to make sure we had enough day left to return to the trailhead and then our cabin.

Morning reflections in String Lake.


Crossing the connection between Leigh and String Lakes.


Trail marker before heading up Paintbrush Canyon.


A brief climb thru the forest led us to our first encounter with what I call Paintbrush Creek. It was near here that I encountered a large moose in 2019. It chose to take a nap right on the trail just after I passed him. No moose would be blocking our path this morning though.


First look back down canyon towards Leigh and Jackson Lakes.


Looking up the mouth of Paintbrush Canyon. The flora was much greener compared to the last time I was here. September 11, 2023 on the left, September 17, 2019 on the right. What a difference a week makes!

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The views and terrain in Paintbrush Canyon feel like they are constantly changing as you hike upward. I vividly remember the snow and strong winds on this section last time. Nothing but peaceful blue skies today.


Wildlife in the Tetons (at least in this area) must be quite acclimated to people. The Pika barely took notice of us as they gathered foliage and scurried about.

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The deer were not impressed with us either. This guy and his lady friend nearby looked our way then went right back to browsing.


Another look down to Leigh and Jackson Lakes.


Decision time. Right to Holly Lake, left to continue towards the divide. We thought we might be tempted to take a long rest at Holly Lake so we turned left. This would be all new territory for me going forward. Until we reached Cascade Canyon anyway.


The trail kept climbing. Stands of trees were thinning out.


Look quickly and you might not see the basin of water at the bottom of this picture.


A view down to Holly Lake.


We did not know it yet, but Paintbrush Divide is the curved area between the two high points at the center of this picture.


Another look back down canyon. A section of the trail passes thru the groups of what I expect are White Bark Pine Trees at bottom center/left. A length of the trail was covered with freshly broken branches from the trees -- possibly from a Grizzly searching out the seeds.


Beginning the final ascent up to the pass. The trail hugs the hillside to the left, this is the view to the right.


You can just make out the trail (if you know where to look) as it crosses and ascends to the divide.


Made it to the top -- right at our 1pm goal too. Paintbrush Divide was a pleasant place to stand on this day. Abundant sunshine and minimal wind. :thumbsup:


View towards the East from the Divide.


View to the West from the divide.


It was decision time (again!). Option one was to return the way we came -- a shorter distance and theoretically easier. Option two was to continue on towards Lake Solitude and Cascade Canyon -- a longer distance but different scenery. Cody and I discussed it for 30 seconds or so, but we knew we were taking advantage of the amazing weather and moving forward towards Lake Solitude.

A short walk from Paintbrush Divide provided a nice view of Lake Solitude. This was the first time I was seeing the lake in person.


The descent from Paintbrush Divide follows a ridge that provides nice views to the right as well -- head down here and I think it might lead you to Leigh Canyon.


As the trail begins to descend it shows off the North Fork of Cascade Canyon and the Tetons looming large above.



This section of trail turned out to be my favorite part of the hike. It did not matter which direction you looked -- amazing views were in all directions.



Cody and I were making good time heading down from the divide. The section between Paintbrush Divide and Lake Solitude felt like it took a long time though -- perhaps because we could always see the lake in front of us during the descent.


We did make it. . . eventually. :)


Took advantage of Lake Solitude for a sunscreen and snack break.

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Neither Cody nor I are very good at sitting still. After 20 minutes or so we were ready to continue our descent down to Cascade Canyon. We were still feeling good and moving well -- the scenery was more than enough to offset any feelings of fatigue -- it was all downhill from here anyway. :)


A look up to where we had been an hour or two earlier. I couldn't help but think that a @scatman shortcut would be to drop straight down that hillside.





This was a good spot to filter some water before dropping farther into the canyon.


Trail markers at the top of Cascade Canyon.

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Cascade Canyon foliage was much greener than I remember it being when I hiked here in 2018. September 11, 2023 on the left, September 20, 2018 on the right. Not the exact same spot, but you get the idea.

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I told Cody one of the reasons we drove down to the Tetons was so that we might see a moose. A large bull moose was waiting for us as we dropped down into the trees below the canyon.


Checked the see-a-moose-box a second and third time with this mom/baby encounter. Baby is in the trees behind mom -- look for the ears. Momma moose walked out of the trees right in front of us and casually laid down on the trail. . . the same way it happened to me back in 2019. Must be a regular occurrence in these parts. She seemed calm enough, but we gave her plenty of space with an off trail bushwhack to keep moving. There was a fourth moose sighting -- another bull -- but he was far enough into the trees that we only gave him a couple minutes observation before moving on.


The trail expectedly became more congested as we dropped down to Inspiration Point. Not terribly crowded, but more people than we were accustomed to seeing on the trail during the last four days. We made our way down to the trail circling Jenny Lake. I think both of us were feeling some stiffness in our knees by now.


Leaving Jenny Lake and approaching String Lake.


Bridge taking us to the String Lake Trailhead. The Leigh Lake Trailhead was another half mile from here.


Back at the Escalade. I reserved a compact rental car at the Bozeman airport and this is what they gave me. While it was fun to drive for a couple days, I'd never want to own one. Way too big and too many knobs, buttons, lights, etc. I much prefer the Wrangler waiting for me back home.


I was very happy with the decision to hike the full loop. The views from Paintbrush Divide down to Lake Solitude were nothing short of amazing. Hiking in the Tetons definitely feels different than hiking most areas of Yellowstone. The trails seem to have a more "sophisticated" feel if that makes sense. Probably due to GTNP being smaller and more people on the trails. One does not feel as isolated, but the scenery and wildlife encounters make up for that.

GPS Track for the loop. I did not feel like walking in circles around the parking lot to hit an even 20 miles. :)

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Cody and I stopped at the Signal Mountain Lodge on the way back to Old Faithful for dinner. I took several bites out of my burger before I took a picture, so I'll refrain from posting as it was not the most photogenic after that.

We did have to drive the West Thumb to Old Faithful stretch of loop road in the dark, but we made it back to our cabin unscathed.

We were lucky to make it out of the park in a timely manner the next morning -- this group of Bison had southbound traffic between Madison and Old Faithful backed up for miles. Luckily we were heading in the opposite direction with no one in front of us.


One last treat before leaving the park was a bear sighting on the side of the hill. These images are heavily cropped and it was difficult to see the bear in detail, but I think it might have been a brown colored black bear. Maybe.



2023 was a great year for experiences in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Hoping I can follow it up with some interesting stories and reports for 2024. :thumbsup:

Thanks for Reading!
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One of my favorite on-trail hikes in the GYE. I've never been up/down Cascade Canyon without seeing multiple moose. Looks like a great day!
Great loop and great trip report! That is a good long day.
I also feel fall colors were a couple weeks later last year.
I think Cody's orange shirt color is a good color for blending in with the fall foliage, when it is changing.
Those obstinate moose I think are keeping daily score through Cascade on how many hikers they can slow down. We had to lumber behind this little bull for 10-15 minutes, at a snail's pace as he wandered down the trail and watched us over his back.
Fantastic report and pictures!

You've accurately pictured the end of the drought conditions along with the "maybe we're not having a drought anymore" conditions. ;) Of course, as mentioned, fall colors come on at different times as well.

Interesting you've had a moose lie in the trail twice. I've seen more than my fair share of them and never had this occur in CO or WY. Though I did have one "hiking" the trail behind me for a good distance once.

Views from the Divide look spectacular!
One of my favorite on-trail hikes in the GYE. I've never been up/down Cascade Canyon without seeing multiple moose.
Easy to see why this is a favorite! I'm hoping this continues to be a moose hot spot when I take the Mrs. out this September. She has expectations. :)

Great loop and great trip report! That is a good long day.
I also feel fall colors were a couple weeks later last year.
Thanks @Ugly -- it was indeed a good long day. Just the way I like them. ;)

Those obstinate moose I think are keeping daily score through Cascade on how many hikers they can slow down.
Interesting you've had a moose lie in the trail twice. I've seen more than my fair share of them and never had this occur in CO or WY.
Yep, second time in a row. . . albeit with years in between. Here are some pictures of the big fella from 2019.


Easy to see why this is a favorite! I'm hoping this continues to be a moose hot spot when I take the Mrs. out this September. She has expectations. :)
My wife and I have done the loop as a very chill backpacking trip and it was right up her alley - we had a large bull moose hanging around our North Cascade Canyon campsite all evening. (And in the same spot a year later, my brother and I had one - maybe even the same one - that hung out for dinner and breakfast!)
Lake Solitude looks awesome

Just shy of 20 miles with that elevation is a serious day and then the drive on both ends. I would have been wiped :)

great way to wrap up Summer 2023
Dont expect those mileages per day on my trips...... just sayin
Beautiful! I'm going to have to make a Tetons stop next time I head up to the Winds.
I think it would be worth making a visit. If your trip reports are any indication you could complete this loop in five or six hours. :)

Lake Solitude looks awesome
It is!

I would have been wiped :)
We were tired at the end, I'm not sure if we were wiped though. That must be a Kentucky thing. :)

great way to wrap up Summer 2023
It was. Glad you were a part of this years adventures Scott. :thumbsup:

Dont expect those mileages per day on my trips...... just sayin
I am counting on some tamed down mileages Bob. It is not the distance I worry about with you, it is the mountain goat path upward. :)
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