Paintbrush/Cascade 3 day/2 night trip


Nov 23, 2016
All - you were very helpful several months ago and my friends and I were able to secure a permit for a trip to the Tetons to do Paintbrush and Cascade.

Just a few follow up questions for the group:

1) Food - I know the park will give us bear canisters when we check in. For a group of 6 guys I am expecting we will need 1 or 2 depending on size. For meals I was originally thinking just 1 simple freeze dried meal like Mountain house stuff then doing summer sausage and cheese and granola and stuff for other meals. I know bear canisters help with odors and protecting food, but is it wise to eat stuff like salami since it is a very strong odor and the oil will easily get on your skin on your hands, etc. Is this over analyzing? I could see relying on freeze dried meals 3x a day could be tough give space for packing, access to water for cooking and needing to haul more water, etc

2) speaking of water - any certain areas of the loop where it is dry for long periods of time? Any suggestions on easy/good places to filter and fill up?

3) Campsites - our permits are for Holly Lake Campsite and North Fork Campsites. I guess they are just first come/first served? They are clearly marked by markings of sorts? Any tips to finding better ones? I know you need to camp at a distance from a water source but are either of these campsites close to water source for filling up before we start the next day?

4) Any side trips we should consider during the 3 day loop if time/energy allow? On paper was looking at maybe hiking around parts of Jenny Lake to add distance if we wanted but any other suggestions in the back country?

5) Trailheads - Leigh Lake or String Lake trailhead best for this loop? the map has those two awfully close to each other. The permit mentions Jenny Lake ranger station - so do we have to check in there first and would we start from there or we could get permit and drive to String or Leigh lake and start from there?
There are others with more experience than me but I am sitting home wishing I was on the mountain so I thought I would reply...

Bear cans: You may want an extra. You can just leave it in car if you don't need it. Your garbage is going to stink regardless. I put baking soda in the outer bag and in my used meal bags. It helped. I just took about 3 oz was all.

Water: There are many access points for water. Not much is dry up there right now. Lots of snow. You will most likely need an ice axe going over the pass. Check with the rangers to get current conditions.

Permit: You get your permit and bear cans at ranger station that you chose when making reservation then drive to trail head I'd needed. I shoukd have marked my parking spot with GPS because it looked different coming out. I walked around for a few min.

Trail head: if I remember correctly I parked on String Lake road near the Paintbrush trail head. There should be a long parking area with a million cars. You may need to just park wherever you can find a spot in the general area. It is packed a lot of the time.

I have hiked the area several times. You should be fine. It all makes sense once you get there. Good luck and enjoy.
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You're gonna wash your hands, right? For six people I'd say 3 canisters for two nights. I pretty much used to stuff a vault for 4 nights for myself.

Campsites and zones are indeed signed. Bear Box at Holly Lake last time I was there. Canisters don't all seal in odors, know where to put a canister so itisn't rolled or batted terribly far. Depressions are your friends.

Only place I would not count on water is going over Paintbrush Divide itself.

There is still a !@#$load of snow and ice in Paintbrush. What are your dates? Ice axes and crampons can be rented at Moosely Mountaineerin in Moose or Skinny Skis in Jackson.
You're gonna wash your hands, right? For six people I'd say 3 canisters for two nights. I pretty much used to stuff a vault for 4 nights for myself.

Campsites and zones are indeed signed. Bear Box at Holly Lake last time I was there. Canisters don't all seal in odors, know where to put a canister so itisn't rolled or batted terribly far. Depressions are your friends.

Only place I would not count on water is going over Paintbrush Divide itself.

There is still a !@#$load of snow and ice in Paintbrush. What are your dates? Ice axes and crampons can be rented at Moosely Mountaineerin in Moose or Skinny Skis in Jackson.
I second the crampons with stiff boots/shank if possible.
There are food storage boxes at both Holly Lake and most of the sites in the North Fork Cascade canyon. At Holly Lake there are 3 sites...kinda like group sites. Site 1 and 2 or OK. You DON'T want #3. Small and sloped. Stay as high in the zone as you can (closest to Lake Solitude) when camping in the North Fork. That being said, I would only take the smallest canister you can. They Rent (loan for free) the larger Garcia. Don't worry about the bears.
Pick up your permit at either Jenny Lake or the Moose visitor Center.

As for side trips you could do a few. A trip up to Mica Lake in the North Fork. A trip to the summit of the un-named peak at Paintbrush Divide. Or a trip down to Grizzly Bear Lake.

Start your trip at the String Lake TH.

Black bear in the North Fork and another at Holly Lake. Also, look for moose when headed up Paintbrush Canyon before you get to the talus field at Holly Lake. Don't forget to turn around from time to time and take in the views of Jackson Lake.

Tetons 2013 148.JPG
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Thanks for the advice everyone!

Re: Bear Canisters - yes I am aware they loan out the Garcia, and they also loan out the UDAP canister too which is a bit smaller. So I guess we can take everything out at the ranger station and play some Tetris to see how it all fits together.

So we can pick up our permit/bear canisters at the Moose visitor center or Lake Jenny? Then go to our trailhead? I think I read the ranger stations are better places to get the permit – less lines and the rangers there know a bit more about the daily/local conditions?

Yes we are going to wash our hands, I always have a little soap with me and we have some non scented wet wipes too– again we have bears by us in NY/NJ but not nearly as many or as close to the hiking paths and usually I am doing day hikes so its easier to plan any meals. So going with sausage/cheese for a lunch for a few days isn’t the biggest deal in bear country?

Thanks for the recommendations on the various campsites. If they have bear boxes even better for us to stash our canisters so here is to hoping they are still there.

Re: Snow with pick axes and crampons – we will be out there the first week in August. Fingers crossed it has melted enough by then to make the crossing a bit easier but good to know we can rent those items if needed.

Chuck thanks for pointing out some of the side trips; Here out east in the ADK/Catskills/Harriman area of NY/NJ the trails are extremely well marked – are these side trails marked or something we should map out prior?
Remember to remove the food you'll use on day 1 as you won't have to put it in the canister.

You can get your permit at either location. Being you already have one, it doesn't really matter if you use Jenny Lake or the Moose visitor Center. If you didn't have a permit in advance I'd recommend talking to the rangers at Jenny Lake.

Sausage and cheese ( any food for that matter) are fine. Again, don't worry about the bears. You are more likely have issues with marmots, chipmunks or dear than you are bears. It's a heavily used part of the park.

The bear boxes are still there.

Going over Paintbrush Divide from Holly Lake is much easier if there is still snow and ice than from the other direction.

1st the trip down to Grizzly Bear is officially off-trail but well marked. 2nd, once you're standing at Paintbrush Divide there is an unnamed peak that is an easy 20 minute walk up right in front of you. Last, you'll see Mica Lake as you descend the divide and head down toward Lake Solitude. Once you're at Lake Solitude the easiest way to Mica is (as you stand and look East down North Fork Cascade Canyon) is up the scree field slightly to the right. It's really straight forward. I would camp there rather than in the North Fork if you only have 2 tents. If you end up staying in the North Fork the best site is the first one on the North side of the trail (your left as you leave Solitude) once you enter the camp zone or the next site which is on your right 100 yards down from the 1st site.

The main trail itself is well marked and you don't even need a map.
For what its worth, I went up paintbrush canyon to holly lake about a week ago and there is some serious avalanche destruction and a ton of snow just up canyon from the lower camping zone. Not sure how fast it will melt off but we made it up with microspikes and it wasn't too bad. I can't see them clearing the trail before then but most of the snow might be gone.
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