The Grand Tetons are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful mountains in the US. Especially in the spring and early summer, when they are still flecked with snow, the mountains look like no other, and are beyond describing. The best viewpoints are from a ways away from the mountains, but there are also some lovely trails into the Teton Range itself. One very nice—and fairly accessible—trail is the Cascade Canyon Trail near Jenny Lake. I’m guessing the trail is around 5 miles one way, but you can do as much or as little of the trail as you want.
There are three possible ways to get to the trail. First, you can take the ferry across Jenny Lake, hike up beyond Inspiration Point, and the trail will join the Cascade Canyon Trail (a little over a mile from the boat dock). This involves less hiking than the other alternatives, but you do have to battle all of the tourists that are also crossing Jenny Lake on the ferry. Second, you can park on a dirt road near the Moose Ponds trailhead at the south end of Jenny Lake, and take the Jenny Lake Horse Trail (either the low trail or the high trail is fine) to Hidden falls, and then continue up to Inspiration Point, and the Cascade Canyon Trail. These trails (especially the lower trail) skirt the lakeshore, and bring you out close to where you would be if you took the ferry. However, you don’t have to pay for the ferry or walk with the crowds of people, and it only adds 4 miles (round trip) to your hike. If you take either of these routes, be sure to stop and see Hidden Falls—it can be really spectacular, especially in the spring.
My favorite route is to park at the north end of Jenny Lake at the String Lake trailhead. My guess is that this route is slightly shorter than the one from the south end of the lake, and if you are starting this hike in the morning, this trail definitely has the better views of the Grand Teton Range. From the parking lot, cross the bridge, and hike 0.3 miles to where the trail T’s into another trail. Turn left and follow the trail as it skirts the lakeshore, offering tremendous views of the Tetons (a forest fire got rid of the forest that you would otherwise be walking through). Continue hiking for about a mile, and you will come to a steep, rocky trail going off to your right. I don’t recall the exact name of the trail, but I believe it is called something like “Horse Trail”. You can either take this trail, or you can go over to the boat dock, see Hidden Falls, and then climb up to Inspiration Point. My advice: see Hidden Falls on your way back, and take the “Horse Trail”. The views on it are fabulous.
The Cascade Canyon Trail begins at the point where the “Horse Trail” and the trail from Inspiration Point merge. The views from here may not be great, but the farther you go the better they get, as the shrubbery and trees thin out. There are a few more stands of trees that obstruct the view, but there are also many open spaces where you can see the canyon walls high above you. These walls have numerous waterfalls running down them (thus the name, Cascade Canyon), and are great mountain scenery.
The trail winds its way through the canyon, typically next to a small creek, through rock slides, meadows, and stands of trees. Be on the lookout for wildlife, as we’ve seen moose several times when hiking this trail. We ended up turning around about a mile from the end of the canyon due to the time of day, but I hope we can return and go all the way to the end of the canyon. Hikers coming toward us told us that at the end of the canyon the trail climbs steeply to a pass into the wilderness beyond.
Return the way you came. Don’t forget to go to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls if you took the Horse Trail up. These are very nice features, even if you do have to pass the boat dock (with all the rest of the tourists) to get back to the String Lake trailhead. Also, if you take the ferry, be sure to get back in time for the last boat of the day.
Round Trip Trail Length: Varies; we walked about 10 miles
Facilities: Restrooms at the String Lake Trailhead
Fees: $25 entrance fee to get into Grand Teton National Park (the pass is also good at Yellowstone); good for 7 days. Fees are also charged for the ferry.
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?