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.
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.
This is just one of the incredible hikes you can do in Grand Teton National Park. For even more awesome hikes, check out my post on the Ten Best Hikes in the Grand Tetons.
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 Trailhead
We decided to take the shuttle boat to the trailhead 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.
Do you have any stories of the Grand Tetons? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
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James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.
He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.
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