The most popular backcountry hiking area centers on the crest of the Tetons and the lakes that lie at its feet, most notably Jenny Lake. Teton Crest Trail stretches from Teton Pass north all the way to Cascade Canyon, with numerous connecting paths from both sides of the range. Three relatively short (two- to three-day) loop hikes are possible.
For more complete descriptions of park trails, see Jackson Hole Hikes by Rebecca Woods (Jackson: White Willow Publishing) or Teton Trails by Katy Duffy and Darwin Wile (Grand Teton Association, www.grandtetonpark.org). Get topographic maps at Teton Mountaineering in Jackson; best is the waterproof version produced by Trails Illustrated.
Here are some of the popular backcountry hiking areas in Grand Teton:
The backcountry trails of Grand Teton National Park are some of the most heavily used paths in Wyoming, and strict regulations are enforced. Backcountry-use permits are required of all overnight hikers, and you’ll need to specify a particular camping zone or designated campsite for each night of your trip. Get permits and detailed backcountry brochures from the visitor centers in Moose or Colter Bay or the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. Get there early in the morning during summer for permits to popular trails.
A limited number of backcountry permits can be reserved in advance January 5-May 15 online (www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/bcres.htm). You can also request permits by faxing 307/739-3443. You’ll need to pick the permit up in person and pay a $25 service fee for reservations. There’s no charge for permits if you get them the day of your trip.
Get additional information on permits and reservations by calling 307/739-3309. Be sure to also request the park’s Backcountry Camping handout (online at www.nps.gov.grte) with details on regulations, snow conditions, minimizing impacts, and bear safety. On the back is a trail map that shows camping zones and access.
Safety in the Backcountry
Grizzlies and black bears roam throughout the park, particularly in the forested areas along the lakes. Special boxes are provided for food storage at backcountry campsites along Jackson, Leigh, and Phelps Lakes. Backcountry campers at other sites are required to use a hard-sided food storage canister provided by the Park Service at no charge. Hanging of food is no longer allowed in the backcountry, and bikes are not allowed on trails anywhere inside the park. Campfires are not permitted at higher elevations, so be sure to bring a cooking stove.
Backcountry hikers (and day-hikers, for that matter) need to be aware of the dangers from summertime thunderstorms in the Tetons. A common weather pattern is for clear mornings to build to blustery thunderstorms in late afternoon, followed by gradual clearing as evening arrives. Lightning is a major threat in the park’s exposed alpine country, and rain showers can be surprisingly heavy at times. Make sure all of your gear is wrapped in plastic (garbage bags work well), and carry a rain poncho or other rainwear. Many hikers carry cell phones for emergencies, but coverage is spotty in the mountains. Unfortunately, the phones can also create a false sense of security for those who are not familiar with backcountry travel. Don’t head unprepared into the mountains thinking you can always call for a rescue if you sprain your ankle.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition