Wyoming’s iconic Tetons have been beckoning adventurers for centuries. But for those willing to take (hike) the road less traveled,
Grand Teton National Park is home to some incredibly special surprises too! Death Canyon is one especially beautiful area, blissfully tucked away from the crowds. This diverse, overlooked canyon and thru-hike packs some of Wyoming’s most breathtaking sights into a surprisingly easy hike in GTNP. On your next national park road trip, forgo the traditional Instagram views of the Tetons and immerse yourself in a heavenly new side of this spectacular national park.
The vibrant, immaculate Tetons are renowned for their untamed beauty - picturesque and stunning from every angle!
Countless secret waterfalls, backcountry trails, pristine alpine lakes, and untouched hidden gems fill every corner of Grand Teton National Park - each more gorgeous than the last and just waiting to be explored.
That's exactly what you'll find in Death Canyon.
With such a stark and intimidating name, Death Canyon is often overlooked as one of the best hikes in the Tetons - but this gorgeous granite canyon is as scenic as they come.
From the outside, this imposing canyon looks like a challenging backpacking journey, and many first-time hikers turn back before they even begin.
It's also important to note that the road to get to the trailhead is extremely rough. Four-wheel drive is a necessity here.
Seriously, don't turn back at first sight! After a few miles, the trail levels out (for a stretch) and opens into 360-degree beauty.
The first part of this trail, while challenging, is definitely doable for those with prior hiking experience.
Starting at the Valley Trailhead (less than 20 miles outside of Jackson), this Teton hike offers an immediate challenge, taking hikers through a number of switchbacks that are sure to get your heart rate up.
Soaring canyon walls meander through dense forest moraines at the base of the Tetons to sweeping valleys and wide-open meadows that burst into color in spring.
Look for vibrant Indian paintbrush, harebell, brilliant fleabane, various colors of asters, and more.
The clear, but rugged trail winds easily though the diverse terrain.
As the the Death Canyon Trail splits from the main Valley Trail, you'll find yourself with plenty of solitude to fully enjoy your surroundings. Take note: there will be some on-foot water crossings. Tread carefully.
Here, sheer cliffs soar upwards of 2,000 feet, appearing to almost converge. Death Canyon is calling…
Keep an eye out for some stunning waterfalls in this area! Take note: there will be some chilly creek crossings.
Your reward only a mile or so in? A heart-stopping view of Phelps Lake.
You'll also descend down to the lake, where brave souls are welcome to dip their toes in the clear alpine waters.
Instead of heading straight toward the dramatic, imposing entrance of the canyon, the Valley Trail drops sharply, losing more than 400 feet in elevation in just a few hundred yards. Here, a right at the fork begins the main journey into the canyon.
To continue on the Valley Trail and explore Phelps Lake, go to the left.
Make no mistake - this is a strenuous and steep trek in parts, featuring increasingly distant peeks into the valley floor below and sparkling Phelps Lake. You'll also be wowed by the Gros Ventre Mountains in the distance!
Fortunately, you'll follow all the sights and sounds of a creek the whole way - the roar of waterfall cascades is easy to follow! It's hard to believe this scenic ribbon of water carved the incredible formations here!
Wyoming's wild roots become increasingly obvious the farther into the canyon you venture, and it's important to note that this is prime bear country. Moose are commonly found sharing the trail as well!
Be sure to plan accordingly, keep a hefty distance (at least 50 yards) from all wildlife, and follow all best practices when it comes to food storage (if staying overnight). Keeping bear spray handy is a must!
The entirety of the canyon is nearly 20 miles, making this a lengthy adventure that requires advance planning and backcountry know-how.
A national parks pass or day use fee is required to enter Grand Teton National Park, and an extra permit is required to backpack overnight in the wilderness.
Of course, you can turn around at any point and go back the way you came. This is an out-and-back adventure, so feel free to make it as long or as short as you like! A great turnaround point is a quaint patrol cabin approximately four miles in, where the trail levels off for a time.
The total out-and-back distance totals nearly eight miles. Due to the elevation and steep ascents at points, trekkers should expect to take 6-7 hours for the whole journey, making Death Canyon almost a full-day walk.
However, for determined and experienced backpackers, a hike to the Death Canyon Shelf is an unforgettable bucket list-worthy experience.
This adds another 8 or so miles to the trip. But for those with the endurance and the savvy to complete the journey, the rewards are phenomenal as you look down into Death Canyon proper out out over sweeping views of the Teton Valley.
However you choose to explore Death Canyon, and for whatever distance, this hike is positively surreal. No matter the season.
Grand Teton National Park is home to such indescribable natural beauty – there’s always something new to explore! If you’ve been itching to visit (or re-visit) the Tetons, it’s impossible to go wrong here. But there’s no denying that Death Canyon is one of the best hikes in the GTNP, especially if you’re looking to escape the beaten path and see Wyoming from a new perspective.
OnlyInYourState may earn compensation through affiliate links in this article.