Hikes & Trails

The Cascade Canyon Trail: Grand Tetons’ Best-Kept Secret

POSTED ON January 25, 2023 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Step into a world where nature’s beauty knows no bounds, and adventure awaits around every corner.

Welcome to the Cascade Canyon Trail, a 13.6-mile (21.9 km) round-trip hidden gem nestled in the heart of Grand Teton National Park.

In this enchanting wilderness, jagged peaks pierce the sky, pristine alpine lakes glisten in the sunlight, and the soothing melodies of babbling brooks provide the soundtrack to your journey.

Whether you’re an avid hiker, a nature enthusiast, or simply someone seeking an escape from the daily grind, Cascade Canyon Trail beckons you with its breathtaking vistas and promises of an unforgettable outdoor experience.

Join us as we embark on a virtual tour of this remarkable trail, uncovering its secrets, highlighting its natural wonders, and sharing tips to make your visit truly extraordinary.

History

The Cascade Canyon Trail, in the heart of Grand Teton National Park, has a storied history that dates back to the early exploration of the American West. Its captivating beauty and remarkable geological features have drawn adventurers and nature enthusiasts for centuries.

Cascade Canyon and its associated trail were first explored by indigenous tribes, such as the Shoshone and Bannock, who frequented the region for hunting and gathering. These native communities left their mark on the land, contributing to the trail’s historical significance.

In the late 19th century, as European-American settlers began to venture into the region, the Cascade Canyon Trail gained attention from pioneers and early explorers. Among them was David E. Jackson, a trapper and fur trader, who traversed the area in the mid-1800s. Jackson’s exploration efforts played a pivotal role in opening up the western frontier.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed the development of trails like Cascade Canyon as the national parks movement gained momentum. The establishment of Grand Teton National Park in 1929 further solidified the area’s preservation, ensuring that the stunning landscapes would be protected for future generations.

In the early years of the park, the Cascade Canyon Trail was primarily used for hunting, fishing, and guiding purposes. The whole trail was a gateway to the wilderness, providing access to pristine natural beauty that captivated all who ventured into its depths.

Over the decades, conservationists and park enthusiasts recognized the need to protect the Trail and the surrounding environment. Conservation efforts aimed to preserve the unique geology, flora, and fauna of the area.

Today, this Trail remains a beloved hiking destination, attracting visitors from around the world. It has evolved into a well-maintained trail system, offering a blend of natural wonder and historical significance.

Hikers can now explore the canyon’s glacially carved features, traverse its rocky terrain, and witness the abundance of wildlife that calls this area home.

Trail leading to Jenny lake

Key Facts about the Cascade Canyon Trail

Location: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA.

Total Length: Approximately 13.6 miles round-trip (21.9 km).

Time to Complete: On average, about 5 to 9 hours, depending on your pace and stops.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Starting Point: At the Jenny Lake Visitor Center or via a scenic boat shuttle across Jenny Lake. [Location]

Finishing Point: The trail loops back to the starting point.

Elevation Gain: approximately 1,720 ft (520 m)

Established: Grand Teton National Park, where the Cascade Canyon Trail is located, was established on February 26, 1929, and the trail has been a popular attraction since then.

Lowest Point: At the Jenny Lake trailhead, around 6,798 ft (2,072 m) above sea level.

Highest Point: Forks of Cascade Canyon, at 8,100 ft (2,500 m) above sea level.

Jackson Hole

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Directions

The Cascade Canyon Trail offers an array of difficulty levels, directions, and routes for hikers to choose from.

This 13.6-mile round trip (21.9 km) trail is also a versatile and captivating destination for outdoor enthusiasts. So, whether you’re seeking a stroll or a challenging ascent, this trail has something to offer for everyone.

Main Trail to Hidden Falls

Starting from the Jenny Lake Trailhead, the trail leads hikers along the picturesque Jenny Lake, offering breathtaking views of the nearby peaks. After a half-mile (800 meters), you’ll reach the Cascade Canyon Trailhead, your gateway to adventure. Visit the Jenny Lake Visitor Center to gather information and grab a trail map.

The rocky trail initially ascends to reach Inspiration Point (location), where you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas of the canyon and Cascade Creek below. This route is perfect for those looking for a moderate hike with stunning scenery.

North Forks of Cascade Canyon: For a more challenging trek, consider heading up the North Fork of Cascade Canyon. This steep climb takes you deeper into the heart of the canyon, surrounded by the towering peaks of the Cathedral Group.

As you hike past Hurricane Pass, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and unparalleled views of the Gros Ventre Mountains and Jackson Hole.

South Forks of Cascade Canyon: Alternatively, you can venture into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon (location), which offers its unique charm. This route takes you through a pristine conifer forest for moose sightings and other wildlife. The rocky trail continues past lovely wildflower meadows, eventually leading to the awe-inspiring Lake Solitude (location), a glacial gem nestled beneath the dramatic cliffs of Mount Owen (location).

Alaska Basin Excursion: For the truly adventurous, the Cascade Canyon Trail offers access to the Alaska Basin, a rugged and remote wilderness area. This longer route takes you through boulder fields and across rocky terrain on the west side of the canyon. The reward is an unforgettable backcountry experience and the chance to explore the untouched beauty of the Teton backcountry.

Alternative Routes

Two notable trails, the Jenny Lake Trail and the Horse Trail, play a significant role in your Cascade Canyon adventure.

Jenny Lake is one of the iconic gems of the park, and the Jenny Lake loop is your gateway to hike the Cascade Canyon Trail. Starting at the Trailhead, this path skirts the edge of the picturesque Jenny Lake, providing you with stunning views of the tranquil waters and the towering peaks that surround it.

The Jenny Lake Loop Trail offers hikers a relatively easy and level walk for the initial portion. As you meander along the shoreline, you’ll be treated to glimpses of the awe-inspiring Cascade Canyon in the short distance. The crystal-clear waters of Jenny Lake reflect the surrounding peaks, creating a serene and almost magical atmosphere.

  • Horse Trail (Map):

For those who prefer a more leisurely journey or have a fondness for equestrian adventures, the Horse Trail is an alternative route to Cascade Canyon. This trail, suitable for both hikers and horseback riders, offers a more relaxed pace compared to the Jenny Lake Trail.

The Horse Trail provides a peaceful ride through the forested landscapes of the park, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the coniferous forest and the sounds of nature. It’s an excellent option for those looking to experience the Cascade Canyon Trail at a gentler pace.

As you progress along either the Jenny Lake Trail or the Horse Trail, you’ll eventually reach the Cascade Canyon Trailhead, marking the beginning of your Cascade Canyon adventure. From here, you can choose your route—whether it’s the main trail to reach Inspiration Point, a journey to the North Fork for a more challenging ascent, or a peaceful exploration of the South Fork leading to Lake Solitude.

  • Side Trip:

If you are looking for a more challenging hike, you can add a side trip to the Paintbrush Canyon Trail, which adds a 10-mile round trip (16 kilometers) to your adventure. This trail offers even more stunning views of the Teton range and is a great option for experienced hikers.

No matter which direction you choose, the return trip offers a chance to savor the trail’s beauty from a different perspective.

Jenny Lake

Preparing for the Trail: Physical Fitness and Safety Tips

Before embarking on your adventure along the Cascade Canyon Trail, it’s essential to adequately prepare both physically and mentally for the journey.

Here are some important tips and logistics to ensure a safe and enjoyable hike:

Physical Fitness:

The Cascade Canyon Trail can be challenging, with steep sections and rocky terrain. So, it’s important to be in good physical shape to tackle the elevation gain. Consider engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and hiking on local trails to build endurance and stamina. Gradually increase the difficulty and duration of your hikes to prepare for the Cascade Canyon Trail’s demands. We have a guide to help you get in shape for hiking.

Safety Tips:

  • Hiking in bear country: Familiarize yourself with bear safety protocols, carry bear spray, and make noise while hiking to alert bears of your presence. Check out our guide to how to be safe in case of wildlife encounters.
  • Weather awareness: Check the weather forecast before your hike and be prepared for sudden weather changes.
  • Leave no trace: Follow Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash, staying on established trails, and respecting wildlife and other hikers.
  • Trail etiquette: Yield to uphill hikers, stay on the designated path, and maintain a safe distance from wildlife. Check out the basic rules that every hiker should know.

Trail Logistics:

  • Trailhead access: Arrive early to secure a parking lot near the trailhead, as this area can get crowded.
  • Restrooms and water: Restrooms are available, and water refill stations are present along the trail. However, it’s wise to carry ample water with you.
  • Permits: Check if you need any permits for your hike, especially if you plan to camp overnight or venture into backcountry areas.

Emergency Preparedness:

  • Carry a first aid kit, a whistle, a map of the trail, and a charged cell phone (although coverage may be limited in the park).
  • Inform someone of your hiking plans, including your expected return time.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike and Weather Conditions

Jenny Lake Trail

One of the remarkable aspects of hiking the Cascade Canyon Trail is the ever-changing beauty of its landscape throughout the seasons.

Each time of year offers a unique experience, from the vibrant blooms of spring to the snow-covered wonderland of winter.

Here’s what you can expect in terms of climate and weather as you explore this trail during each season:

Spring (March-May)

Temperature Range: 0°C to 15°C (32°F to 59°F)

As spring emerges, the trail comes alive with the vibrant colors of wild flowers, making it an ideal time for photography and nature enthusiasts.

The weather is generally cool and crisp, but be prepared for occasional rain or snow showers, especially at higher elevations. The trail may be muddy, so waterproof footwear is advisable.

Summer (June – August)

Temperature Range: 15°C to 30°C (59°F to 86°F)

Summer is the peak hiking season, with warm temperatures, clear skies, and longer daylight hours. It is also the perfect time to explore the entire trail.

The surrounding peaks offer breathtaking scenery, and the trail provides ample opportunities to cool off by the cascading waters of Cascade Creek and take in the majestic beauty of Hidden Falls.

Fall (September – November)

Temperature Range: 0°C to 15°C (32°F to 59°F)

As the days grow shorter, fall paints the canyon in a tapestry of autumnal hues.

The weather becomes crisper, and you’ll witness the changing colors of the conifer forest. While the temperature drops in early October, this season offers a quieter and more contemplative hiking experience, with the possibility of encountering wildlife preparing for winter.

Winter (December – February)

Temperature Range: -15°C to -5°C (5°F to 23°F)

Winter blankets Cascade Canyon in snow, transforming it into a serene and peaceful wonderland. While the trail may be less accessible, it’s a dream for snowshoers and cross-country skiers. The beautiful waterfall and snow-covered cliffs add a magical touch to the scenery, but the trail’s steep climb and rocky terrain can be challenging in winter conditions.

Regardless of the season, always check the weather forecast and trail conditions because they can change rapidly in the mountains.

Recommended Gear

Trail In Grand Teton National Park

Hiking the Cascade Canyon Trail promises an unforgettable adventure through breathtaking natural beauty. Hence, it’s crucial to have the right gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.

Here’s a comprehensive list of recommended gear for your visit:

  • Sturdy Footwear: Opt for comfortable, waterproof hiking boots with good traction to navigate the rocky and sometimes muddy terrain with granite rock slides along the trail, and prevent blisters.
  • Weather-Appropriate Clothing: Dress in layers, considering the season. Moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and a waterproof outer shell are essential for variable mountain weather.
  • Backpack: A daypack to carry your essentials, including water, snacks, extra clothing, and first-aid supplies.
  • Water and Hydration: There are water refill stations at Jenny Lake, but it’s essential to stay hydrated throughout this great hike. Thus, carry at least 2 liters of water per person.
  • Navigation Tools: A map of the trail, compass, or GPS device can be valuable for staying on course, especially if you plan to explore off the main trail.
  • Sun Protection: Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield yourself from the sun’s intense rays at higher elevations.
  • Trekking Poles: These can provide stability and reduce the impact on your joints during steep climbs and descents.
  • Insect Repellent: Depending on the season, you may encounter mosquitoes and other insects along the trail.
  • Bear Spray: Grand Teton National Park is a bear country, and it’s essential to carry bear spray and know how to use it. Review bear safety guidelines here to ensure a safe encounter with wildlife.
  • Snacks and Food: High-energy snacks like trail mix, granola bars, and sandwiches are perfect for refueling along the trail.
  • Headlamp or Flashlight: In case your hike extends into the evening hours, a reliable light source is essential.
  • Personal Identification and Emergency Contact Information: Always carry identification and let someone know your hiking plans, including your expected return time.
  • Camera or Binoculars: Capture the inspiring scenery and wildlife you may encounter during your hike.
  • First Aid Kit: A basic first aid kit with essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.
  • Park Entrance Pass: Don’t forget your valid park entrance pass or National Parks Pass.

Planning Your Cascade Canyon Trail Adventure: Permits and Regulations

Grand Tenon

Before you embark on your exciting journey, it’s essential to understand the permits and regulations in place to protect this pristine wilderness.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Entrance Fees: All visitors to Grand Teton National Park are required to pay an entrance fee, which provides access to the park. You can find information on fees and passes here.
  • Backcountry Permits: If you plan to camp overnight along the Cascade Canyon Trail or in the backcountry, you’ll need a backcountry camping permit. These permits help manage visitor use and protect the ecosystem. Permits can be obtained through the park’s backcountry reservation system, and more information can be found here.
  • Leave No Trace: Follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment. Stay on designated trails, pack out all trash, and respect wildlife and other hikers. Learn more about Leave No Trace here.
  • Group Size Limits: Group size limits are in place to minimize environmental impact and ensure a quality experience for all hikers. Be aware of these limits, especially if you plan to hike Cascade Canyon Trail with a larger group.
  • Pets: Pets are generally not allowed on the Trail. So, review the park’s pet policy here for exceptions and designated areas.
  • Fishing Permits: If you plan to fish in the park’s waters, ensure you have the necessary fishing permits. Learn more about fishing regulations here.

Camping and Where to Stay Near the Cascade Canyon Trail

Cabin in Grand Tenon National Park

Grand Teton National Park offers a range of camping options to immerse yourself in the stunning natural beauty of the Cascade Canyon Trail and its surroundings. Whether you prefer RV parks, campgrounds, or backcountry camping, there are accommodations to suit your preferences.

Here’s a breakdown of the available campgrounds and their proximity to the Trailhead:

Backcountry Camping

If you prefer a more immersive wilderness experience, you can obtain backcountry camping permits for various locations near the Trailhead. The most popular spots include Lake Solitude, Hurricane Pass, and the Alaska Basin. These permits are essential for camping in the backcountry, and reservations can be made through the Grand Teton National Park backcountry reservation system, including Colter Bay Visitor Center, the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, or the Jenny Lake Ranger Station (link).

Lodging

There are several lodging options available in the nearby vicinity for those who prefer more comfortable accommodations while exploring the breathtaking Cascade Canyon Trail.

These options provide affordable amenities and are conveniently located for easy access to the trail and other attractions within the park.

Here are some lodging options to consider:

  • Jenny Lake Lodge: Located within walking distance of the Jenny Lake Trailhead, Jenny Lake Lodge offers a luxurious and rustic retreat. The lodge features well-appointed cabins, fine dining, and personalized service, allowing you to relax in style after your great hike. Make Reservations: Here
  • Jackson Lake Lodge: Situated just a short drive from the Cascade Canyon Trailhead, Jackson Lake Lodge boasts stunning views of the Teton Range and Jackson Lake. The lodge offers comfortable rooms, dining options, and a variety of activities. Make Reservations: Here
  • Colter Bay Village: Colter Bay Village provides a range of lodging options, including cabins, tent cabins, and RV sites. It’s an ideal choice if you want a rustic yet comfortable experience with easy access to Colter Bay amenities. Make Reservations: Here
  • Signal Mountain Lodge: Located about a 30-minute drive on the south side of the Trailhead, Signal Mountain Lodge offers cozy accommodations near Jackson Lake. Choose from rooms or cabins with beautiful lake or mountain views. Make Reservations: Here
  • Moose Head Ranch: A short drive of approximately 22 miles (35 km) from the trailhead, Moose Head Ranch offers a Western-style guest ranch experience. Stay in log cabins, enjoy home-cooked meals, and explore the ranch’s scenic surroundings.
  • Jackson Hole: If you prefer a wider range of lodging options, the town of Jackson, located about 10 miles (16 km) from the Trailhead offers numerous hotels, inns, and vacation rentals. [Direction]

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

Cascade Canyon Trail

Getting to Cascade Canyon is an adventure on its own. But here’s how to make your way to this breathtaking trail.

Nearest Airports

The two nearest airports to Grand Teton National Park are Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) and Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA).

  • Jackson Hole Airport (JAC): Located approximately 12 miles (19 km) from the trailhead, this airport is the closest and most convenient option for accessing the park. It offers both domestic and limited international flights.
  • Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA): Situated about 100 miles (160 km) on the west side of Grand Teton National Park, Idaho Falls Airport is another option, especially for those coming from further distances.

Getting from the Airport to the Park:

From Jackson Airport (JAC), you can easily reach Grand Teton National Park by car.

Rental car services are available at the airport, making it convenient to explore the park at your own pace. The drive from the airport to the park’s entrance is relatively short.

For those flying into Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA), you’ll have a scenic drive through the beautiful Idaho countryside to reach the park. Renting a car at the airport is recommended for this option as well.

Getting Around the Park

  • Teton Park Road: Once you’ve arrived at the park, Teton Park Road is your main route to access the Cascade Canyon Trail. You can drive along this road to reach various trailheads, including Cascade Canyon.
  • Shuttle Boat Ride: To enhance your experience, consider taking the boat shuttle across Jenny Lake. This shuttle boat ride departs from the Jenny Lake Boat Dock and takes you to the western shore, a half-mile journey.
  • Hiking: Once you’re at the Trailhead, the journey continues on foot. The trail itself is a rocky ascent, so be prepared for some challenging terrain.
  • West Boat Dock: After completing the Trail, you can return to the western shore via the boat shuttle at the West Boat Dock. This allows for a convenient loop hike. Visit the Jenny Lake Boating website for more information.
  • Guest Shuttle Van: The Grand Teton Lodge Company offers a guest shuttle van along Teton Park Road, which can be useful for exploring various areas of the park without the need to drive and find a parking lot. However, the shuttle operates during the summer season and stops at key locations such as Moose Junction and the South Jenny Lake parking lot.

Conclusion

Cascade Canyon Trail in Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes in the United States. With its stunning scenery, glacially carved Cascade Canyon, and opportunities for exploration, this out-and-back hike is a must for hikers, trail runners, and backpackers from all over the world.

So why not plan a trip to this Grand Park and experience it for yourself? You won’t be disappointed.

Check out other exciting Trails and Hikes in our Guide if you find Cascade Canyon a must-do adventure.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *