Looking at the Tetons from the Mural Room window, it was hard to imagine canyons between the mountains. Actual canyons? Like the Grand Canyon? Coming from New Jersey, this was a difficult concept to wrap my brain around. The plan was to hike through Paintbrush Canyon, camp for the night (after getting a back-country camping permit), and cross the Paintbrush Divide into Cascade Canyon. From there, we’d end the trip at the Jenny Lake ferry. The canyons could be hiked separately as day hikes as well, but our group was fired up to give camping a shot. Driving up to Jenny Lake, we saw the route – journey into one side of a mountain and come out the other. We had a long trek ahead of us!
The trip started at the String Lake trailhead, curving up through cool mountain forests. All of a sudden, we came upon a clearing where the view opened up to Paintbrush Canyon. It took us a few minutes to stop gasping at how beautiful the streams, flowers, and mountains were that surrounded us. The sight was truly a treasure to see, one of the most spectacular I’ve seen anywhere. The climb was steady, but not too taxing, and we made it up to our “Outlier” campsite after about five miles. We set up camp, took a few more pictures, and called it a night.
The next day, we climbed three miles to Paintbrush Divide, passing by carpets of wildflowers and mini lakes created by moving glaciers millions of years ago. You feel small next to these gigantic and ancient landforms, but awed by their incredible beauty. Reaching the Divide at 10,700 feet, we felt like we were standing on top of the world! The views were breathtaking, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
From the Divide, the rest was all downhill – quite a relief after the climb we just had! We descended into Cascade Canyon, stopping to relax on the shores of Lake Solitude. It seemed like a fantasy: idyllic hidden lake surrounded on all sides by snow-covered mountain peaks. It just kept getting better and better! The Canyon was out of this world! As I came to realize, the Canyon was simply a deep valley edged by mountains, with a stream flowing through. We wound our way through the Canyon, past cascading streams and quite a few marmots. It was humbling to be in the shadow of the Grand, and we got closer to this range’s highest peak as we pushed through the Canyon. After a few miles, the trail made a turn into a dense forested area. This new change in scenery came complete with a moose! It’s amazing how you see wildlife when you least expect it.
The loop also included a visit to a few of the most popular sights on Jenny Lake, Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls. After winding through the two canyons, it was wonderful to see a different view out onto the lake from Inspiration Point. From this spot, we were close to the ferry, but had just missed the last ride of the night (for future reference, the last trip is at 7 pm). With our last adrenaline kick, we finally made it back to the Jenny Lake parking lot.
Those two days definitely opened my eyes to how incredible the Tetons really are. I’ll never forget looking up at the Grand, watching waterfalls cascading down the face of a mountain, awing at a field of multi-colored wildflowers. I just couldn’t believe how many jackpot views were contained on this hike, and all so close to the Lodge. This loop will be a tough one to beat!
From Ellie’s Corner