Teton Crest Trip 2018


Aug 14, 2017
Hey All, found this site when I was searching for backpacking forums and blogs, and this is my first post.
I have wanted to hike in the Grand Tetons ever since I visited Jenny Lake as a 10 year old boy, and it looks like this summer it will actually happen. The plan as of now is to hike the Teton Crest trail with a friend from Teton Village via tram, and then be joined by family at the intersection of the Cascade Canyon trail and the TCT. We will all finish at the Leigh Lake Trailhead two days later. In all this trip will last 5 days and 4 nights, from August 3- August 7. I have never been on a bona fide "backpacking trip", but it seems like this trail will be great for beginners and experienced hikers alike. Any comments or words of advice?

Also, I have been gathering gear needed for the trip, (i.e. Mystery Ranch backpack, Jetboil Zip, ultralight tent) but is there any other gear you would recommend highly?

Lastly, I was able to get permits for three of the four nights, including both nights at group sites in Upper Cascade and Holly Lake, but was unable to get an advance permit for Death Canyon Shelf. How difficult will it be to get a walk-in permit for this zone, if it is possible at all? I know they reserve 2/3 of permits for walk-ins, but does that hold true for every camping zone? Thanks!

Caleb S.
So as I understand it you have a permit for South Fork Cascade Canyon, North Fork Cascade canyon and Holly Lake? If so, you're all set. You have a couple options for your first night.
1: Try to add either the Death Canyon Shelf campzone or Marion Lake the day before your trip. Or...
2: When you leave Marion Lake and head up, you will leave the park and be in the jedediah smith wilderness area. You can get real close to the Shelf and still be outside the park and camp where a permit isn't required.

If you don't have a bear canister, no worries. They are required but the park will let you "rent" them for free.
I've been taking both seasoned hikers and noobs to the Tetons for years. Your trip mileage is perfect IMO. There are good side trips off the crest trail that are spectacular too....if you have the energy.
Any other question don't hesitate to ask.
If you can't get your permit for Death Canyon Shelf, you can camp without a permit at Fox Creek Pass. We camped there this past summer! That being said, it's a long ways with a lot of elevation loss/gain from the tram to Death Canyon Shelf. I'd highly recommend first, doing some practice backpacking trips to local spots around you to get things dialed in. You don't want to be learning what you need, or more likely, what you don't need, while in the Tetons. Secondly, you'll want to make sure your well conditioned to make the hike with a pack. It's about 8.3 miles to where we camped on Fox Creek Pass from the tram and you lose 2700' and gain 1855' (according to Caltopo.com). It's another ~1/2 mile and almost ~100' gain to the beginning of the Death Canyon Shelf camping area. I was tired, but doing good. A few others in the group where really dragging from Marion Lake to camp.
Another option is to camp in Alaska Basin, probably not practical to make in a day, but Alaska basin was my favorite area of the trip (we started at the tram and went out Teton Canyon).

Have fun!!!
I think we will try to add the permit for Death Canyon Shelf the day before as we were planning on stopping at the Ranger Station the day before anyway to check on trail conditions, but if that doesn't pan out we will definitely check out the Jedidiah Smith wilderness area, thanks for that tip! It seems like the first day will be our longest day mileage wise, but the second and third days especially I can imagine us looking for side trips. Any suggestions Chuck?
HomerJ thanks for the tips! My friend and I are in ROTC and our PT sessions keep us pretty fit, as well as ruck runs/marches of up to 12 miles at a time. I intend on doing these as training for the trip. Unfortunately I live in Minnesota and go to college in Ohio, so there is not much around for elevation training. :(
You'll have no issues getting from the tram to either Death Canyon Shelf or pulling up short just before Fox Creek Pass. I've done it several times and the last time I had a 50 year old man from Michigan with me who had never been on a backpacking trip before and wasn't in tip top shape. You'll be fine. I'll post more tomorrow if you're interested in side trips, etc..

Can you confirm your campzones for nights 2,3 and 4?
Yes, those campzones are correct. Night 2 is Lower Cascade, 3 is upper Cascade group site, and 4 is Holly Lake group site. Any information on side trips would be awesome!
Any walk in permit is attainable if you just get up early enough :) the only hitch is that they start issuing permits today for trips that begin tomorrow... so you'll want to get there a day early and be standing at the visitors center doors when they open, if you're concerned about getting a death shelf permit.

That said, death shelf and the mt meek divide area are the only stretches in that area that are actually in the park. I second the recommendation to camp just shy of death shelf in the fox creek divide area if you can't get a permit.
I hope this question doesn't hijack Caleb's trip planning, but I have also been looking into a Teton Crest trip and I saw something interesting yesterday. Due to some other trips on my list, I probably won't try to do Teton Crest this year, but for planning purposes I watched the permit site yesterday to see how fast the permits were going. While watching, I noticed that they have options for Fox Creek Pass and Alaska Basin (outside the park). These spots never did fill up (I'm guessing they don't put a cap on them). Does anyone know why they offer "reservations" for spots outside the park? Maybe an attempt to avoid confusion for those who plan to camp in these spots, but don't realize a permit isn't needed? Maybe it is an attempt at tracking use?

I guess it doesn't really matter, but I was just curious. I did not expect to see those spots on the list when the reservations opened yesterday.
My permits in the past have included both the mentioned locations. But as you said, they put no cap on either of those areas. FYI: there are several other areas of the park that aren't "campzones" but camping is allowed there.
Thanks for the info, Chuck!

One last question and then I'll turn the thread back over to Caleb (sorry): In my research, it seems that the trail is almost always done from south-to-north. Is there a reason for this? Is it because many folks like to use the tram for that initial elevation gain? It seems like north-to-south might work nicely if you don't plan to use the tram. Are there other considerations? I'm probably missing something.
I haven't done the TCT, but have also done some research on it and would like to attempt it one of these years. From what I've read, South-to-North just has better views and that's why most people do it that way. If you go North-To-South, the views of the Grand are behind you after the first day or two.
Thanks, Mike!

Now that you say that, I think I may have read something similar at some point during my research too. Seems like pretty decent motivation to go south-to-north.
Mike is right. Hiking from Death Canyon Shelf, over Mt Meek pass all the while having the Grand staring you in your face as it slowly grows is worth it alone. Not to mention the truly jaw-dropping view as you look down Hurricane Pass into South Fork of Cascade Canyon. I've also come down North Fork of Cascade Canyon, which has a fantastic view of the Cathedral group. However, heading that direction you are going to be hiking with the goods at your back after exiting Hurricane Pass into Alaska Basin.
I second the suggestion on spending time in Alaska Basin (possibly camping there too). One of my favorite spots on the trail. Granted, it makes the mileage short going NOBO into south fork Cascade, but that area is also amazing, and I wish we had taken an extra day near the top end of SF Cascade to explore more.

Also, while I understand the allure of taking the tram to eliminate the uphill at the beginning (especially for a first-time-ever backpacking trip), the routes up are very pretty too. We went up Granite Creek to South Fk Granite, and it was pretty freaking awesome. The meadows in the last few miles before the junction with the tram-trail had the some of best wildflowers we have ever seen anywhere.
Ya know, Absarokanaut is probably right. And one of those shake-down trips at 8k to 9k..... Especially since you never know how you'll handle carrying a pack at 10,000'.

Against our better judgment, my wife and I let a couple of first-timers accompany us on our TCT trip a few years ago. Wish we hadn't.

I do hope you have a chance to get your feet wet on a few weekenders before you tackle the TCT.
I mean, what is the TCT, maybe 40 miles from Phillips Pass? Less from the Tram. I did a three-day section of the TCT several years ago. At that point, the sum total of my backpacking experience was:

1) A college trip to the Smokies in March where I got badly hypothermic, carried sixty pounds, and wore cotton, and
2) A three day trip up Kings Peak, which I did immediately prior to driving to the Tetons to start the TCT.

I was the noobiest noob there is. I survived. I had a blast.

Not to diss on anyone here (there's a TON of collective experience here, and I'm certainly not the elder statesman of the backpacking world), but I'd feel very comfortable recommending at least a portion of the TCT to someone as a first backpacking trip. It's really hard to get lost, the effort/reward ratio is top notch, and information is plentiful. And I'd argue that there are plenty of bailout options. Granite Canyon, Death Canyon, and Cascade Canyon. At the end of the day, you've got to start somewhere. And while the Tetons are no joke, it's not like we're curing cancer or climbing Everest here. Do your research, plan modest days, spend a couple days at altitude before you start to acclimate, carry suitable rain gear, and you'll pretty much be fine.

But more to the point, the best way to set yourself up for a long, enjoyable "career" as a backpacker, is just to get out on your local trails, even if they're not the Tetons. Get the reps, not because you'll die in the Tetons if you don't get them, but just because... it's just plain fun. Stoked for you man!!!
Yeah, I also get that too, @LarryBoy - the TCT is one of the easiest 'epic' trails out there, and a lot of first-timers would have no problem with it. Part of the reason we allowed that first-time couple to go with us on the TCT was because of the minimal cumulative ascent, and the multiple bailout options just in case (the ones you mention on the WY side, plus a few on the ID side going down toward Victor.... if one really had to.....)

Still, even with our noobs who came with us, one had a horrible time and became a super-asshole and nearly ruined the trip for everyone else; the other one struggled but was tough as nails and had the best experience of her life, and I am glad we helped to give her that experience.

That said, we had told them to do a weekend shake-out trip first, to get their gear/equipment/packing bugs tweaked and adjusted. Even one weekend shakeout trip before a week long (or 4-day, 5-day) trip will go a long ways into ironing out kinks that will make the longer trip a much better experience.

We had a buddy (friend from high school 35+ years ago) want to try some backpacking with us last year..... As a teenager he was naturally athletic, he's got a great psyche, but he hasn't done anything this physical in decades. We planned out an easy route in the Smokies, 2 nights, mileage of 5, 7, and 8 per day. The first 5 miles to the first night's camp was enough - too much. Next morning, we bailed with just 5 miles out, for a total of 10 miles but dude's back was not capable. We knew beforehand that was a possibility, hence the easy route with 'quick' bailout options. Had that been the TCT, everyone in the party would've been screwed.

So yeah, I think many [/most?] could do the tram-TCT with no problem at all. But there are a few who won't...... A weekend shakeout trip will go a long ways towards alerting & filtering out that segment that needs more preparation. Not to mention make it a better trip by using it as a 'tune-up' to iron out the kinks in gear-fit, packing, etc.

@Caleb , not trying to be a wet-blanket.... I hope you make it happen. But I hope you make it happen safely, and have the best possible time you can. FWIW. Do that sucker right. :)
I think we can agree that everyone's first trip is a definite learning experience and you're gonna take some hard knocks out there. Nothing to do with the specifics of the Tetons.

The question, which you rightly raised, is whether you want those to come on your dream trip,or whether you want to learn those lessons in practice hikes before the big event.