Before I left for #TerryTreksUSA, one of my biggest goals was to hike the Teton Crest Trail. Now that I’ve accomplished this goal, when people ask me which national park is my favorite, my answer is Grand Teton. It’s a relatively small park just jam packed with natural beauty. You can see much of it from roadside viewpoints, but one of the best ways to see it is to hike the Teton Crest Trail.

The Teton Crest is a very flexible route, with many different possibilities. The classic route starts with a tram ride from Teton Village to Marion Lake. Unfortunately, my time was limited. I had to be on the road to Page, Arizona for Grand Canyon rafting, so I only had three days to dedicate to this incredible place. The first thing I cut out was the tram ride. I would start from the Death Canyon Trailhead instead, and hike up the canyon. And instead of going all the way to Paintbrush Canyon, I would descent via Cascade Canyon, and take the ferry across Jenny Lake.

The climb up Death Canyon was very colorful.
The climb up Death Canyon was very colorful.

My first full day in the park was spent organizing everything, and I regret not being able to drive around and see the viewpoints. My first stop in the morning after my short drive from Grant Campground in Yellowstone was the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, where I needed to arrange my permit. Usually park rangers are friendly and helpful, but the guy I had to deal with must not have had his coffee yet, and made the process a struggle. I watched the bear safety video on the provided iPad and checked the mileages between where I planned to camp. From a straight mileage standpoint, it made sense to spend the first night in Death Canyon. But I kept hearing about how great Death Canyon Shelf was, so I decided to make the first day a long one. The second night I would camp outside the park in Alaska Basin, and the third I would camp in Cascade Canyon.

The grumpy ranger issued me a permit and a huge bear canister, and threatened prosecution if I didn’t return it. Since my route would not be a loop, I asked about taxis, and the ranger reluctantly provided a list. I spent the next several hours trying to arrange my taxi ride. Like most national parks, there’s no cell service in the park, so I had to drive an hour into Jackson before I had a signal. As I worked my way down the taxi list, I was getting some crazy $100 quotes for a morning ride to the trailhead, when I was expecting to only pay half that. Some were saying a road was closed due to bear activity, while some did not mention anything. I was worried some of the drivers were trying to take advantage of me. I had to drive an hour back to a visitor center to ask a ranger what was going on. It turns out a road really was closed, doubling the time. So I drove an hour back into town, bit the bullet, and booked a $100 taxi ride for tomorrow morning. I justified the high cost as the price of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Despite the name, Death Canyon is lush and full of life.
Despite the name, Death Valley is lush and full of life.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the charming town of Jackson, Wyoming. Later that night back at the campground I tried to figure out how I would get the huge bear canister, which I filled with three days of food, in my backpack. But I couldn’t really pack until the morning when I would break camp. So I got up at five and packed in the dark for two hours. I somehow got everything in my pack. Then I drove to Jenny Lake Visitor Center, where I caught my $100 taxi, a huge black Cadillac SUV.

The driver must have the best job in the world. He made an easy $100, less gas, for an hour’s work. He said he planned to spend the rest of the day fishing. His huge SUV was no match for the road to the trailhead, and he dropped me off 100 yards short.

Death Valley Shelf is a wonderland of life.
Death Valley Shelf is a wonderland of life.

I had a long hike the first day: ten miles starting at 6,600 ft, and ending at 9,500 ft. The walk up the ominously named Death Canyon was nice, with views of Phelps Lake and through lush forest. Things got really nice after I huffed and puffed my way up the switchbacks onto Death Canyon Shelf. The shelf was fantastic: a high flat area with cliffs on one side and Death Canyon far below on the other. It’s covered with moss, dried flowers, and dry streams. It must be glorious in the spring. As I rested a mule dear hopped by and stopped to regard me curiously.

It was an exhausting day. But tomorrow would prove to be even more eventful.

Ride about the conclusion of my hike here.

A mountain storm is brewing.
A mountain storm is brewing.
A spectacular sunrise at 10,000 ft.
A spectacular sunrise at 10,000 ft.
I'm Terry, former cubicle-dweller, and now traveler, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. I quit my job in 2014 to travel to US national parks, then to South East Asia. I write about independent, flexible, long-term, budget travel. Sign up to my newsletter to get the latest news on what I'm up to. I hope you join me on my trek around the world.

One thought on “The Climb of Death: Hiking the Teton Crest Trail, Part One

  1. If you find yourself near Teton Village, this is a fantastic attraction. The ride up to the summit is thrilling, even with a little nail-biting at times. But the view from the summit of the mountain is well worth. I recommend a good windbreaker though; it was extremely windy at the top. The vistas each have a sign that explains the landscape, even going into the geologic formations and history of the tram.
    Also at the summit is – of all things – a waffle shop! There is also a small gift shop to buy the winter hat you may find yourself wishing you had already. Trams come and go every fifteen minutes, so your stay can be as short or long as you wish. For the more adventurous, there are seasonal trails as well. I was not able to take them as I visited in the fall, but next time!
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