After spending two years living around the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring many of the beautiful trails nestled in the Teton mountains. Of all the hikes I’ve done in the park, Death Canyon definitely ranks in my top 5.
Located in the heart of the park, Death Canyon begins in a dense forest and winds its way up into the towering mountains. There’s plenty of opportunities for spotting wildlife (bring bear spray) and huge potential for great photos. It’s absolutely stunning.
Where does the trail start?
The trail begins, unsurprisingly, at the Death Canyon trailhead. There’s two ways you can approach it.
Death Canyon Trailhead
First, you can drive up Death Canyon Road. It’s rocky, and I’d highly suggest avoiding it if you don’t have a high-clearance, 4wd vehicle (it destroyed my van).
This route is a bit shorter hike, but it will have you climbing back up a steep incline on the return journey.
Phelps Lake Trailhead
The safer option (for non-lifted cars) is to start at the Phelps Lake trailhead. You get a nice hike around Phelps Lake, and can start climbing into the canyon after a couple miles.
This route is a bit longer in distance, but it starts and ends with a pleasant, flat hike around the lake.
From there, the trail climbs steeply up towards the canyon, gaining over 1100 feet in elevation in the first mile. This initial climb can be rough (it kicked my butt), so make sure to pace yourself.
Every time I hike the Death Canyon trail (which I’ve done a couple times now), I am in awe of how beautiful the it is. The trail travels through a dense forest of towering conifers and aspens that offer shade and relief from the (usually) blazing sun.
As you walk, the thick layer of pine needles and fallen leaves cushion your footsteps (how’s that for poetry?). It’s lovely and serene, and the miles seem to breeze by with ease.
As you make your way to the top of the canyon, you’ll be rewarded breath-taking vistas of the surrounding wilderness.
The scenery is truly fabulous, and I encourage you to take your time, metaphorically smell the flowers, and enjoy the experience. Take in the imposing mountains and gigantic trees.
Eventually, near a fork in the trail, you’ll come across a small log cabin nestled in a clearing. When I came by, two park rangers were working outside.
I struck up a conversation and they told me that the park service sends them up there to spend a few weeks in the summer. They live out of the cabin and hike back to the trailhead when they need supplies. They were even nice enough to pose for a picture and let us tour the inside!
Beyond the Cabin
Beyond the cabin lies a fork in the trail. You can either go right to hike up Static Peak (a brutal hike) or continue onward deeper into the canyon.
Continuing about a mile into the canyon opens up even more spectacular views, although I wouldn’t suggest going too far if you’re trying to keep it to a day hike. The canyon stretches for miles and there are actually campgrounds for hikers on overnight trips.
On the return journey, you’ll be treated to absolutely sweeping views of the stunning valley and Phelps Lake.
Although the ascent to Death Canyon is difficult, it is well worth the effort.
All things considered, the canyon is a must-visit location for anybody traveling to the Tetons. It is a genuinely memorable trail.
So, throw on your hiking boots and make the trek. It’s worth it.