A steep hillside towers in front of me. A narrow waterfall cascades in multiple layers down from drifts of snow trapped in crags at the top of the mountains, through trees and into a snaking river far below. I sit gazing at the waterfall and enjoying the stillness, with just the sound of the river gushing below me. Towering pine trees surround me.
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Hiking the Cascade Canyon Trail, Grand Teton National Park
I am deep in Cascade Canyon, one of the best day hikes in Grand Teton National Park. I was only spending a few days in the Grand Tetons and wanted to do one of the best hikes in Teton National Park, but I was also not super fit at the time.
I love hiking and the national parks in the United States have incredible hiking. After hiking in Acadia National Park, doing the Narrows hike in Zion, going to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, hiking among the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, and being overshadowed by giant trees on the Congress Trail in Sequoia National Park, I was excited to hike in the Grand Tetons.
Grand Teton hikes are a great way to see not only the mountains, but also the wildlife. I really wanted to see a moose! After some research, I decided the best hike in Grand Teton National Park was the Cascade Canyon Trail, near Jenny Lake.
Cascade Canyon hike, Grand Tetons: Essential Details
The Cascade Canyon Trail is 9 miles/ 14.5 km total (out and back). The trail ends at a fork – the right fork takes you to Paintbrush Canyon. You can turn back at any point, of course. I hiked to the cascade, which is most of the trail, and turned back before getting right to the end. It took about 5 hours, including a side trip to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls, walking slowly and stopping frequently. Make sure you leave early enough to take the last boat back, unless you want to walk the extra 2 miles around Jenny Lake.
It is medium difficulty, mostly due to the steep start/ end. The total elevation change is 1,100 feet/ 335 m, and almost all of this is in the first 1.5 miles/ 2.5 km. After that, it’s pretty flat and follows a river most of the way into the canyon. It’s a popular trail, though when I was there in mid-September, I didn’t encounter too many other hikers.
Paintbrush Trail Divide
You can do the trail as a loop with overnight camping and on to the Paintbrush Canyon Trail. This trail combines two Grand Teton day hikes into one of the best trails in Grand Teton National Park if you like backcountry camping. The trail ends at the Leigh Lake trailhead at the String Lake Picnic area at the northern end of Jenny Lake. Then you join the Jenny Lake Loop around the lake. This can be done in reverse, of course.
What to take with you on the Cascade Canyon Trail
Make sure to take everything on my Day Hike Packing List (get it here), and be sure to include a bear whistle or spray, since this is bear country.
Check out my Essential Gear for Hikers, to make sure you have the gear and clothing you need.
Jenny Lake Visitor Center
- Summer (June 6-September 3) open daily 8:00am – 7:00pm.
- Spring (May 18 – June 5) and Fall (September 4 – September 23) open daily 8:00am – 5:00pm.
- Winter (September 24 – May 17) closed.
Jenny Lake Ranger Station Visitor Center
- Summer (June 3 – September 3) open daily 8:00am – 5:00pm.
- Closed the rest of the year.
Getting to the Cascade Canyon trailhead
The trail starts at Jenny Lake. Cascade Canyon Trailhead is across the lake on the west side of Jenny Lake, across the lake from the Visitor Center, parking and campground.
There are 3 options:
- Walk along the Jenny Lake Loop trail to the start of the Cascade Canyon Trail. This is two miles/ 3.2 km each way.
- Park at String Lake and hike 1.7 miles/ 2.7 km on the Jenny Lake Loop trail to the trailhead.
- Take the Jenny Lake shuttle boat across Jenny Lake to the start of the Cascade Canyon Trail.
Jenny Lake Ferry
The shuttle boat eliminates a 2-mile hike (each way) to the Cascade Canyon trailhead. The Jenny Lake boat dock is a short flat, paved walk from the Visitor Center. The Jenny Lake shuttle boat cost is $ 15.00 Adult Round-trip / $ 9.00 Adult One-Way. Shuttles run every 10-15 minutes throughout the day. No reservations are necessary (or possible). Check their website for the latest Jenny Lake boat schedule for the times of the first and last boats, as it varies throughout the season.
Note that parking at Jenny Lake is usually full by 9:00am in summer.
Cascade Canyon Trail Map
Cascade Canyon Trail Description
Getting to the Cascade Canyon Trail Head
We decided to take the shuttle boat to the trail head for the Cascade Canyon hike. You can walk around Jenny Lake for 2 miles/ 3.2 km, but because I wasn’t in great shape, skipping 4 miles (2 miles each way) sounded like a great idea to me (it was!). The first boat left at 10:00am since it was September. I always like to do hikes early, and was a little concerned this was to late a start, but it was fine and left plenty of time for the hike.
As we waited at the east dock for the boat, Jenny Lake formed a perfect mirror to reflect the mountains.
Can we just take a moment to reflect on how ridiculous this view is? And the hike hasn’t even started!
The ride across the lake was quick and beautiful. We soon approached the west dock of the lake.
The start of the hike
We started the hike at about 10:30am. In theory, you can hike up via Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls, but the part of the trail that connects Inspiration Point to the Cascade Canyon trail has been closed for the past few years. So, when you get off the boat take the trail on the right (unless the other trail has opened up).
The trail is easy to follow, but if you aren’t familiar with trail markers, read about them here.
This hike is perfect for beginner hikers. If you are unfamiliar with hiking etiquette, read about it here, so you don;t make any accidental mistakes on the trail. If you are a beginner hiker, also check out my Intro to Hiking 101 guide for some useful tips and insights.
The first mile and a half/ 2.5 km were a steep climb, but we took our time. I take a lot of photos, which gives me a natural reason to step frequently. So, although it was uphill, it didn’t seem too hard.
Inside Cascade Canyon
After about 1.5 miles, we entered the canyon and my jaw hit the ground. This is why this is the best hike in Grand Teton National Park.
We took a million photos of the craggy hills with drifts of snow on the left, stony hills on the right, and a distant canyon wall in front.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park consists of the Teton Range, which forms western part of the park, and the Jackson Hole valley. The mountains, which are the youngest range in the Rocky Mountains, are especially dramatic because they rise straight up out of the flat valley floor. And yes, it’s true – the name ‘Grand Teton’ means ‘Big Breast’ in French.
Animal life in the canyon
This is bear country, and we were warned to take bear spray with us. We didn’t see any bears on the hike (though did later that evening). However, when we got the river, we took even more photos.
And then we saw these four curious guys.
How cool was that?
After a short break, it was back on the trail, in among woods that blocked the canyon views for the most part, but cooled us down. In gaps in the trees, we saw the cascades that give the canyon its name; a beautiful melting glacial waterfall.
The full 4.5 miles/ 7 km hike is to a fork in the path, but we turned back a bit before we got there.
On our way back, we saw a couple of other hikers looking down into the river that snaked beside the trail. There was a female moose drinking and eating river grass. As someone who didn’t grow up in the U.S., I really wanted to see a moose, and there one was!
Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls
Since we weren’t able to start the hike with this, we ended with it. It’s only about a half mile diversion to Inspiration Point and a short distance further to Hidden Falls. Inspiration Point has views over Jenny Lake and the flat valley below. Not the dramatic mountains we had been seeing all day, but pretty.
The falls are worth a look too – 200 feet/ 61 m tall and gushing.
The end of the hike
The end of the hike was back down the steep trail to the lake, where I soaked my feet in water to cool down while waiting for the shuttle boat back to the campground.
We took the 3:30pm ferry back, so the whole hike had been a very leisurely 5 hours.
We finished our day with dinner on the terrace at Dornan’s Pizza and Pasta in nearby Moose and roasted marshmallows on our campfire.
The verdict: Hiking Cascade Canyon Grand Teton National Park
I highly recommend the Cascade Trail. Grand Teton hiking trails are either in the valley or in the mountains, and this was a great chance to get up close and personal with the mountains. The scenery is stunning and chances of seeing wildlife are high (though not guaranteed, of course), easily making this one of the best hikes in Grand Teton National Park.
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Guide to Visiting Grand Teton National Park
Where is Grand Teton National Park?
Grand Teton National Park is in northwestern Wyoming. The park is north of the town of Jackson, Wyoming and south of Yellowstone National Park.
Best time to visit Grand Teton National Park
The park is open, but most services are closed, in winter. Snow can fall from the beginning of November and it can snow a lot, with up to 14 feet/ 4.2 m of snow not uncommon.
Spring (March-June), summer (July-August) and fall (September-November/ December) are best. The summer months have lovely weather (32-77°F/ 0-25°C), but are crowded.
I like spring and fall, when the weather is cooler (22 – 49°F/ -5.5 – 9.5°C in spring and 23 – 54°F/ -5 -12.2°C in fall) and the trails are less crowded. Late September is fall color and there are plenty of aspens in the park that turn golden. They had just started to turn when I was there in mid-September.
Getting to Grand Teton National Park
Jackson is the main access town to Grand Teton National Park.
A visit to Grand Teton NP is most often combined with Yellowstone National Park, and this is what we did. We flew into Jackson Hole airport and rented a car there, then drove north through Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone, then out of the north end of Yellowstone to Bozeman, where we dropped off the car and flew out of. This meant that we didn’t need to backtrack. Of course, you could do this in reverse.
Flying to Jackson
Driving to Jackson
The drive from Salt Lake City, Utah is approximately 290 miles/ 466 km and takes 4.5-6 hours. For driving directions, click here.
From Denver, Colorado, it is approximately 550 miles/ 885 km and the drive takes about 8.5-10 hours. Click here for driving directions.
Bus to Jackson
There are bus shuttle services between Jackson and Salt Lake City, Utah; Pocatello, Idaho; and Idaho Falls, Idaho. Check out the Salt Lake Express shuttle service and the Jackson Hole Alltrans shuttle service.
Getting around Grand Teton National Park
You will need a car to get around Grand Teton National Park. Check car rental prices and availability from Jackson Hole airport here.
See the Grand Teton Park map below for a visual orientation.
From Jackson, drive 13.5 miles/ 21.5 km (20 minutes) past the Jackson Hole airport and large National Elk Refuge and enter the park at the Moose Entrance. At Moose, there is a gas station, store, restaurants, accommodations and a national park visitor center.
If you don’t turn off towards Moose, the road 89 continues north roughly following the course of the Snake River. On 89, there are great views of the Grand Teton mountains and possibilities of seeing bison in the flat fields, as well as moose down by Snake River.
From Moose, continue north along Teton Park Road, which runs parallel to 89, but is closer to the mountains. 7 miles/ 11 km north of Moose is Jenny Lake. At the southern end of Jenny Lake, there is a ranger station, visitor center, parking, restrooms, restaurant, store and campground. This is the best place to be based for the Cascade Canyon hike, though you can stay at other places in the park and still reach the trail fairly easily.
Continuing north, Jenny Lodge is at the northern end of Jenny Lake. Further north is the much larger Jackson Lake. You will first reach Signal Mountain Lodge, where there are showers, a larger store and several restaurants, as well as accommodations. Nearby is the drive up to Signal Hill, where there is a lookout. Further north is a road to right (east) that takes you to the Moran Entrance and, back on the main road heading north is Jackson Lake Lodge then Colter Bay. Keep driving north to get to Yellowstone National Park.
Grand Teton National Park Map
Here is the Grand Teton map:
Where to stay in Jackson
Jackson is worth a quick visit at the beginning or end of your trip. I stayed at the Antler Inn, a motel with log décor. It was very central. Check availability for Antler Inn here.
Where to stay in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Tetons lodges, cabin and hotels
Most of the accommodations in Grand Teton National Park is managed by the Grand Teton Lodge Company. There are several non-camping accommodation options available.
Open early-June to early-October
The premier lodge in Grand Teton National Park, and the closest to the Cascade Canyon trail. However, it’s not cheap. There are 37 adjoining cabins set in the forest.
Open All Year
Log cabins with kitchens located on the Snake River in Moose, an easy drive to the Jenny Lake area.
Open early-May to mid-October
Located at the southern end of Jackson Lake. It’s possible to drive from here to Jenny Lake for the day pretty easily. There are several accommodation options including lakefront apartments with kitchenettes, log cabins and motel-style units. There are multiple dining and shopping options. We came here from Jenny Lake for dinner.
Open mid-May to early-October
A full-service resort hotel on Jackson Lake a little north of Signal Mountain. A doable day trip distance from the Jenny Lake area. There are 348 guest cottage rooms and 37 guest rooms in main lodge. Rooms have two double beds.
Open Mid-June to Mid-September
Rustic style co-ed bunk rooms. You need to supply your own sleeping mat and bedding. Bath house with showers, potable water, and flush toilets. Community cooking shelter with outlets; supply your own cooking equipment.
Open Late-May to late-September
On Jackson Lake, north of Jackson Lake Lodge, so a little far from the Jenny Lake region. There are several options including 208 log cabins and some tent-cabins.
Open mid-May thru mid-October plus peak winter season, call for details 307-733-2183.
A dude ranch, on the outer road, so you need to drive south through the Moose entrance or north through the Moran entrance to get to Jenny Lake, which is on the parallel inner road. They have a full dude ranch experience with horseback riding, hikes, float trips, western cookouts, meals, fishing, dancing and other western ranch activities.
Open early-June to late-September
Log cabins with two queen beds or one king bed. They also have camper cabins with available rental gear in the campground. There is a detached lodge with dining, a bar and a store. It’s just south of the Yellowstone entrance at the north end of Grand Teton National Park, so not that convenient to the Jenny Lake area, but central to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
Grand Teton National Park camping
There are several campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park. The most convenient for the Cascade Canyon hike is the Jenny Lake Campground, which is where we stayed, but this is for tents only, so if you have an RV, you will need to look at the other options.
Jenny Lake Campground
- Open May 5 – September 25. Closed the rest of the year.
- 49 sites. No showers.
- Tents only.
- No reservations possible: first come-first served. In summer, usually fills by 9:00am.
We spent the first night in Jackson, to get our bearings and see the town. We were nervous about missing out on a campsite at Jenny Lake, as we had read it was popular and booked out early. So, we got up before 6:00am and were there before 7:00am. We found an empty site straight away and staked our claim. It was much easier and less stressful than we had expected, though admittedly this was in September, not the height of summer.
The campground has a great location near Jenny Lake and at the base of the Tetons mountain range. Teewinot Mountain looms overhead and some sites have mountain views. We chose site #25, which does not have mountain views, because it was secluded in the woods and not very close to neighboring sites, as many are. We figured we would get plenty of mountain views throughout the days, which we did. It was the furthest from the toilet block, but not that far.
Map of Jenny Lake campground and surrounding area
Gros Ventre Campground
- Open May 5 – October 13. Closed the rest of the year.
- 318 sites. No showers.
- RVs possible. Most sites. 36 electric hookup sites, and a trailer dump station.
- No reservations possible: first come-first served. In summer, it usually fills by the evening.
Signal Mountain Campground
- Open May 11 – October 14. Closed the rest of the year.
- 86 sites.
- RVs possible. 75 sites. 24 electric hookup sites and a trailer dump station.
- Vehicles size limited to 30 feet.
- No reservations possible: first come-first served. In summer, it usually fills by noon. RVs possible.
Lizard Creek Campground
- Open June 15 – September 3. Closed the rest of the year.
- 60 sites.
- RVs possible. 30 sites. Vehicle size limited to 30 feet.
- No reservations possible: first come-first served. It fills in the evening, if at all.
Colter Bay Campground
- Open May 24 – September 30. Closed the rest of the year.
- 330 sites.
- RVs possible. Most sites. 13 electric hookup sites, trailer dump station, showers, and laundry nearby.
- No reservations possible: first come-first served.
Colter Bay RV Park
- Open May 10 – October 7. Closed the rest of the year.
- 112 sites.
- Full hook-ups, showers and laundry.
- Reservations are possible.
Headwaters Campground and RV Park
- Open May 17 – October 7. Closed the rest of the year.
- 141 sites
- RVs possible. 97 sites. 20 full hook-up RV sites 50 amp electric
- Showers and laundry.
- Reservations are possible.
Where to eat in Grand Teton National Park
There are several dining options in and around the park, including:
Dining options in Moose
Dornan’s Chuckwagon. This was closed by the time we got there in mid-September, but comes highly recommended. Western fare.
Dornan’s Pizza and Pasta. We ate here on the terrace and it was lovely.
Dining options in Jenny Lake
- Jenny Lake Lodge Dining Room. Included in package if you are staying there; expensive if you’re not. Upscale – dinner jackets suggested for men.
- Jenny Lake store. The store sells basic food if you want to go cheap and simple. A good place to buy food for the hike.
Dining options in Signal Mountain
This is close enough to drive to from the Jenny Lake area, and we had dinner here a couple of nights
- Trapper Grill. Rustic restaurant and bar with a large outdoor patio overlooking Jackson Lake.
- Peaks Restaurant. 5:30-10:00 daily. Bistro with large glass windows giving great views over Jackson Lake.
- Leek’s Pizzeria
Other experiences in Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Tetons are about two things – the mountains and the wildlife, and Grand Teton National Park hikes are a great way to see both. However, driving around to lookouts also gives you great views.
Best chances of seeing wildlife
- Cascade Canyon Trail (of course)
- Hike to Moose Pond from Jenny Lake
- Drive Antelope Flats Road to look for bison
Best views in Grand Teton National Park
- Moulton Barn at Mormon Row (technically outside the park, near southern Moose entrance).
- Drive Teton Park Road. There are several viewpoints, but especially the Cathedral Group Turnout.
- Signal Mountain Watch the mountains glow gold in the first light of sunrise.
- Oxbow Bend Amazing views of Mount Moran in the early morning light.
- Schwabacher’s Landing. Walk down to Snake River with good chances of seeing moose, beavers, and of course, the mountains.
- Snake River Overlook. Recreate Ansel Adams’ photos.
Planning and packing for Grand Teton National Park
I hope this blog post helps a lot with your planning. For a comprehensive overview of this and Yellowstone National Parks, a guidebook can also help. I like the Lonely Planet guidebooks, but also used a Compass Guide for my trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.
When you are ready for your trip, check out my Essential Packing List and check you have everything on my Day Hike Packing List. Also check my best hiking gear list to make sure you are adequately prepared.
For help planning for your trip, follow my helpful Travel Planner for a week-by-week guide to planning for your trip.
Travel insurance is always a good idea, but when you are hiking, it’s an even better idea. A great insurance option is World Nomads. You can book it right here.
Why buy travel insurance from WorldNomads.com?
- You can buy it online, even if you’ve already left home, and can also get more cover and claim online while travelling.
- It covers a range of adventure sports and activities. Check them out.
- It lets you give a little back and support a community development project, which is cool.
Do you have any stories of the Grand Tetons? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
If you liked this post, please share the love and Pin it to your National Parks and Hikes boards!
Read about other great U.S. national park hikes:
- Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon NP
- The Narrows, Zion NP
- Best hikes, Bryce Canyon NP
- The Congress Trail, Sequoia NP
- Devil’s Garden Trail, Arches National Park
- Best hikes, Acadia NP
- Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail, Yellowstone NP
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He is passionate about experiential travel, i.e. meaningful travel that actively engages with the environment and culture. He helps people have similar experiences that involve active participation in activities and festivals; engaging with the local food and handicrafts through lessons and food tours; and interacting positively with environment by hiking, riding, rowing, diving and low/no impact animal encounters.
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