5 Tips for Hiking the Teton Crest Trail

The Teton Crest Trail is easily my favorite backpacking trail I've ever done. I first did it in August of 2015 as a solo trip and it was an incredible experience despite the daily afternoon thunderstorms. Next I did it with my parents in 2016 and then again in 2017 with outdoorpals co-founder, Josh Tunick. It is 40 miles of rugged, alpine beauty. It takes you through Grand Teton National Park's backcountry and is in my opinion the best way to experience the park. It is a lot of up and down trekking at a high elevation, so make sure you are conditioned and have an appropriate itinerary planned for your fitness level. This is not an exhaustive guide (there are plenty of those out there), these are just some tips I have learned through experience to make it a better experience. Hopefully these tips will be of use to you as you plan your trip.

The morning view from my Death Canyon shelf campsite

1. Be ready to be flexible with campsites

You need a backcountry permit to camp in the park and most of the trail is through the park. To get a permit, arrive at least a day before your planned trip. You will need to go to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and talk to the rangers there to get a permit. It's best to arrive early to get first pick of the permits and there will usually be a line. Take a look at the maps and camping zones before hand, because you'll usually need to be flexible with some of your planned itinerary. Out of my three trips, only the first one did I get all of the campsites I was hoping for. There are plenty of options for camping along the trail, including land outside of the national park past Marion Lake and the Alaska Basin. But know what your mileage limits are for each day before going for the permits and have contingency plans.

A blurry photo of a bear and her cub parallel to the trail

2. The recommendation for bear spray needs to be taken seriously

I have seen a number of bears along the trail and have had close encounters with them while doing this trail. Bears are very common and can be around any turn. I usually have a pretty high tolerance for risk regarding wildlife, but I would never consider doing the Teton Crest Trail without bear spray. Its worth the investment and you'll feel a lot better having it. In addition to this, follow the backcountry rules for storing food and other items with odors. A safe encounter with a bear is a cool experience but a bear ransacking your camp is not.

3. Plan to start and end your days early

This is especially important during the mid to late summer days. It is common for beautiful sunny mornings to turn into afternoon thunderstorms when up in the Tetons. You will be between 8,000 and 10,000 ft for most of the trail and thunderstorms up there can be huge. My first trip I had thunderstorms roll in everyday by 4 pm and I was very glad I got an early start so I was able to reach my destination and get a tent set up before it rolled in. The loudest/closest thunderstorm I've ever been in was on this trail, and you want to be in sheltered locations if you get caught in one. The best way to do this is to get going early each day. This will also give you flexibility for other unexpected situations.

Climbing to the Paintbrush Divide

4. Have and check your map at each junction

This tip is really for any backcountry or hiking trip, but it is especially important the further in you get. There are a lot of very detailed maps that are extremely useful to have while on the trail. Don't rely on your phone. Most of the junctions are well marked and I have never gotten lost on this trail, but I've also always had a map to check. The Alaska Basin area is probably the easiest place to take a wrong turn. Stay vigilant and know where you are.

5. Have a plan for to get back to the start

Since this is a one way trail, you will need to shuttle yourself back to the start. There used to be a shuttle service that ran through the park that you could plan on to get you back to Jackson, but that is no longer running. Hitchhiking is allowed in the park and is what I used the last time I did it. Regardless how you arrange things, just have a plan for getting back and if you plan on hitchhiking you might want to start building your good karma.

A very refreshing lake at the end of the trail

The Teton Crest Trail is a challenging and rewarding journey. It is so beautiful and a unique experience. Use these tips as you plan for your journey but also leave room for it to be your own adventure.