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|>|| Death Canyon
Includes Death Canyon, Phelps Lake Overlook,
Static Peak Divide, Static Peak Summit, Alaska Basin, Fox Creek Pass
Trailhead: Death Canyon Trailhead (a.k.a. White Grass Trailhead)
Distance: 8.2 miles (one way) to Static Peak Summit
Elevation Gain: 4,496 vertical feet
Elevation Loss: 520 vertical feet
Shannon hiking into Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park.
Death Canyon is a popular destination for visitors who enjoy a variety of Grand Teton National Park hikes.
The hike from the Death Canyon Trailhead in Grand Teton National Park to the summit of Static Peak is a fantastic day hike that includes a gorgeous hike through Death Canyon and an incredible view from the top of one of the major peaks in Grand Teton National Park. This is definitely one of our favorite Grand Teton National Park hikes, and we highly recommend it. HOWEVER, please keep in mind that there are several hiking destinations on the way to Static Peak, so don't worry if you don't want to climb 4,496 vertical feet and hike 8.2 miles one way. In fact, one of the most popular hikes in Death Canyon area of Grand Teton Park is the pleasant hike to the Phelps Lake Overlook, which is only 0.9 miles from the Death Canyon Trailhead.
Another extremely popular hike in the Death Canyon Area is the hike up through Death Canyon, ending at the Death Canyon patrol cabin. This is only 3.7 miles in length (one way), and the scenery all the way to the patrol cabin, known as the Death Canyon Barn, is amazingly beautiful.
This page will cover all the attractions in the Death Canyon Area of Grand Teton National Park, whether it be Phelps Lake Overlook, Phelps Lake, Death Canyon, Death Canyon Barn, Static Peak Divide, Static Peak, Alaska Basin or Fox Creek Divide, and you can chose which hike seems to interest you the most.... No matter what level of physical condition you're at, there will more than likely be a destination in the Death Canyon Area that suits you.
Finding the Death Canyon Trailhead
The Death Canyon Trailhead in Grand Teton National Park is located west of Moose Junction. To get to the trailhead, drive up the Moose-Wilson Road about 5 miles until you see the large sign indicating the turn to Death Canyon. Take this road to the right. This road takes you directly to the Death Canyon Trailhead, and is about 1.3 miles long. The first half of this road is paved and the second half turns into an extremely rough and bumpy gravel road. If you have a low clearance car, be really really careful and drive really really slow... otherwise you might damage the bottom of your car. We've seen all makes and models of cars and light trucks parked at the Death Canyon Trailhead parking lot, so you'll probably be OK. But YOU must make the decision whether you feel comfortable taking your car on this road or not.
The Death Canyon Trailhead is the gateway to all of the hikes and destinations in the Death Canyon Area.
Phelps Lake Overlook (mile 0.9)
Phelps Lake Overlook, Grand Teton National Park
The Phelps Lake Overlook (elevation 7,200 feet) is a very pleasant 0.9 mile Grand Teton National Park hike that is very popular for hikers visiting the Death Canyon Area. The trail takes you through a wonderful mix of aspens,evergreens and meadows that is always a pleasure hiking through. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as elk grazing in the meadows below you to the south.
You'll know when you reached the Phelps Lake Overlook because it's the first place you'll get a view of this beautiful mountain lake.
At the overlook, you are standing at 7,200 feet above sea level, and Phelps Lake is about 6,633 feet above sea level. If this is your final destination, that's great. Enjoy a snack while you take in the beauty. If you want to keep going on this classic Grand Teton National Park hike, there's plenty more to see up the trail.
The Death Canyon Trail then continues to the west, as it begins to head DOWNHILL for about 500 vertical feet. The view of Phelps Lake remains very scenic, and you will hike by gorgeous groves of aspens, which are famously golden during the fall season.
Valley Trail Junction (mile 1.6)
After descending down the trail, getting ever closer to Phelps Lake, you will encounter a junction about a mile past the overlook. To the left (south), heading directly toward the lake is what's known as the Valley Trail.
The Valley Trail takes you
to the shore of Phelps Lake, as well as to the Phelps Lake backcountry campsites. This trail also takes Grand Teton National Park hikers to the Open Canyon Trail (1.0 miles) and Granite Canyon Trail (3.4 miles).
Open Canyon Trail and Granite Canyon Trail are remote canyons nestled between Death Canyon and the Teton Village Ski Resort. If you don't take any of these canyon trails, you will end up at Teton Village in about 5.8 miles from the Valley Trail junction. To keep hiking up Death Canyon, simply stay to the right, where the trail levels off for awhile as it enters the narrows of Death Canyon to the west.
Shannon hiking towards the Death Canyon Narrows in Grand Teton National Park.
Once you pass the Valley Trail junction, the Death Canyon Trail begins to flatten out temporarily as it heads straight west toward the actual Death Canyon. You'll get a good look at just how narrow the canyon is and just how high the walls of the canyon really are (see photo above). As you hike closer to the canyon, you'll hike through more aspens as well as a beautiful old growth forest that reminds us of "Jurassic Park".
The hike through Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park is very scenic, with huge walls looming on each side of the trail. Throughout these sheer cliffs are actual world-class climbing routes for those climbers who like to tackle big walls.
While on your Grand Teton National Park hike along the Death Canyon Trail, make sure you keep an eye out for wildlife, especially moose and pika. Nearly every time we're on this Grand Teton hike we see these two interesting animal species.
We see lots of pika on the Death Canyon Trail. A pika is a small little mammal that has rounded ears and short legs that lives among the rocks. You might actually hear a pika before you see one because they have a high pitched alarm call that is quite loud.
These little creatures are very fascinating to us because they do not hibernate and they do not migrate. The only other mammal in the Rockies that can claim this is the mountain goat! To survive the winter, each pika builds its own "haypile", which is a large pile of plants that they will nibble on throughout the cold dark winter months. You might actually get to see a pika working on his/her haypile as you hike up the canyon. Think about how tough this little animal has to be to survive the winter in the high country!
This is a view from Death Canyon looking back to the east at Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park.
Death Canyon Narrows
Shannon hiking through Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park.
We call this next section of the trail the "Death Canyon Narrows" because the canyon narrows considerably between tremendous rock walls on each side. This area has some world renowned climbing routes, so if you look up and see climbers scaling these unbelievable walls, don't be surprised.
This area is a wonderfully scenic portion of your Grand Teton National Park hike along the Death Canyon Trail. This section of the trail steepens significantly as it takes you higher and higher towards the high point of the canyon floor. The trail works its way up the north side of Death Canyon, and the walls directly above you are dramatic and breathtaking...it's hard to imagine people actually climbing them, but they do.
During the spring and early summer the creek running through Death Canyon is really roaring, and just before you reach the high point of the canyon floor, there is an incredible waterfall/cascade that will really get your attention.
The roar is so loud you can't hear each other talk! This incredible cascade is a terrific bonus to the already breathtaking beauty of this Grand Teton National Park trail.
The hike through Death Canyon is always a treat because of variety of scenery throughout the hike. We always enjoy this amazing Grand Teton National Park hike.
Upper Death Canyon
Once you hike to the top of the cascades, the canyon floor really levels off and stays quite level all the way to the end of the canyon to the far west. We call this the "Upper" Death Canyon. The views from this section of the upper Death Canyon Trail in Grand Teton National Park are incredible and unique. By the way, near where the trail begins to flatten there is a great place right by the creek to enjoy a snack. The large peak looming over across the creek to the south is Prospector Mountain.
This is the section of the Death Canyon trail above the Narrows we call the Upper Death Canyon. The valley floor flattens dramatically here, and it stays level almost all the way to the end of the canyon to the west. In just about a half mile, Shannon will reach the Static Peak Divide junction.
Static Peak Divide Junction (mile 3.7)
About a half of a mile from where the trail levels off, you will reach the Death Canyon Patrol Cabin known as
the Death Canyon Barn, as well as the Static Peak Divide junction. This historic Grand Teton National Park cabin was built in 1935 and is in the National Register of Historic Places. At this trail junction, if you keep going straight (west), you will continue hiking up Death Canyon and eventually wind up on Fox Creek Pass, which is about 5.5 miles from the junction. For those of you not interested in the steep hike up to Static Peak Divide and the summit
of Static Peak, but would rather simply enjoy a nice trail that is relatively flat, then we recommend that you keep hiking up the Upper Death Canyon for a few miles. This is a very nice section of the trail and is very enjoyable.
Trail to Static Peak Divide
For those of you who want to hike to the summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park, then at this junction take a right (north). The trail will very abruptly begin to climb, and it doesn't stop climbing for over 4 miles until you reach the Static Peak Summit. You will climb well over 3,200 vertical feet in the next 4 miles, so make sure you are in good physical condition before attempting this Grand Teton National Park hike.
This section of the hike to Static Peak is remarkable. The trail, known as the Alaska Basin Trail, will take you abruptly to the north as it climbs very quickly until you are high above the Death Canyon floor.
As you gain elevation, the views of upper Death Canyon as well as the mountains to the west become more and more amazing with each step.
You will soon be able to see the general layout of the Fox Creek Pass area, and well as an impressive view of Prospector Mountain to the south.
As you continue to climb in elevation, the more you'll see. Prospector Mountain dominates your view to the south, and the distance mountains of the Fox Creek Pass area begin to really show themselves. You'll also begin to notice the type of tree along the trail is now changing to white pines. White pines are commonly found at higher elevations, which you are definitely hiking in at this point. In fact, you may begin to notice that the air is a little thinner up here at about 9,500 feet above sea level, and you might be catching your breath more and more often as you work your way to Static Peak Divide.
This is a view (to the west) of Upper Death Canyon from high along the trail to Static Peak Divide. This view gives you a good look at the trail to Fox Creek Pass to the west in Grand Teton National Park.
In time this incredible Grand Teton National Park trail will begin to work its way to the east slope of the Teton Mountain Range. This is where you will have great views of the eastern prairie and Moose Junction far below you. You will also get a glimpse of Phelps Lake as you continue hiking toward Static Peak Divide. You will definitely notice that you are beginning to enter an alpine zone at this point. The trees are now mainly white pine, and they become fewer and fewer due to the incredibly brief growing season up here, as well as the outrageously windy conditions. The forest will soon give way to a pure alpine environment as you reach 10,000 feet above see level and beyond.
The trail to Static Peak Divide in Grand Teton National Park eventually works its way around the east slope of the Teton Mountain Range. You'll get a great view of the eastern prairie far, far below you. You can even see Moose Junction far to the east as you hike closer and closer to Static Peak Divide.
The towering Buck Mountain (11,938 feet) begins to show itself to the north as Shannon approaches the Static Peak Divide in Grand Teton National Park.
Static Peak Divide (mile 7.7)
Static Peak Divide, being 10,790 feet above sea level, is the highest divide or pass along a maintained trail in Grand Teton National Park. Partly because of this high elevation, the views from this amazing divide are tremendous all the way around. To the west you get a great view of the Alaska Basin Area, to the east you see the vast eastern prairie, to the north the view is dominated by Buck Mountain and Static Peak, and to the south you not only see mountains and prairie, but also the place where you came from- which is Death Canyon.
You will probably encounter a ton of wind on this divide, so make sure you bring adequate wind gear, which includes PANTS, a jacket shell that blocks wind, a fleece or wool hat that can cover your ears, and gloves. You would not believe how many hikers we see reach divides and passes such as Static Peak Divide, and they're wearing only shorts and have no hat or gloves. Sometimes they don't even have a windblocking jacket. Needless to say, they last on that divide or pass for about 5 minutes before they have to leave it to get out of the wind further down the trail. We feel that's a shame because they worked really hard to get there, and they have to leave almost immediately because they aren't dressed properly.
Shannon standing on Static Peak Divide (10,790 feet) in Grand Teton National Park.
David standing on Static Peak Divide, elevation 10,790 feet. The summit of Static Peak (11,303 feet) is directly north of the divide, and is about 513 vertical feet above Static Peak Divide.
Static Peak Summit (mile 8.2)
Once you reach Static Peak Divide, you will notice that the trail continues on to the west. This Grand Teton National Park trail, known as the Alaska Basin Trail, takes overnight backpackers to (or from) Hurricane Pass and the Alaska Basin (see details further down this page).
Since this overnight hike isn't an option if you're up on Static Peak Divide for a day hike, the two options that you have is either enjoy the view from the divide and then start heading back down to the Death Canyon Trailhead, or you can take the faint trail to the north that heads literally straight to the summit of Static Peak (elevation 11,303 feet).
The total distance from the divide is only about a half mile, and the views from the summit of this wonderfully accessible mountain are absolutely spectacular.
However, you will climb an addition 513 vertical feet in less than a half mile, so please use your judgment whether or not you are in adequate physical condition to take on this hike to the summit.
As far as the trail itself, it's not maintained and it disappears sometimes, but there is absolutely no scrambling involved and it's really easy to know where to go... You basically head straight north uphill to the summit- you can't miss it!
The view from the Summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park are breathtaking! This is a view to the north, with Buck Mountain and Grand Teton dominating the skyline.
This is a view to the east from the summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park.
This is a view to the northwest from the Summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park. You can see beyond Jackson Lake all the way to Yellowstone Park!
A view of the Alaska Basin Area from the Summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park. The camera is facing northwest.
This is a view to the south from the Summit of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park.
Static Peak is the only peak in the central Teton Mountain Range that you can hike to its summit.
This is a view of Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park from the main highway (Teton Park Road). The moon was so big that morning it looks like we photo-shopped it into the photo!
Static Peak is the only peak in the central Teton Mountain Range that you can simply hike to its summit, so if you're up for it, we highly recommend that you hike to the summit during your day hike to Static Peak Divide to take advantage of this rare opportunity. You will love the views and will be really glad you did it. This short hike to the summit is very much worth the effort. All in all, the hike to Static Peak is one of our favorite Grand Teton National Park hikes.
Overnight Backpacking Option: Alaska Basin (mile 11.0)
This is a view of the Alaska Basin Trail from Static Peak Divide. The trail works its way up and over the far ridge into the Alaska Basin, which is about 3.5 miles from Static Peak Divide.
Overnight Backpacking Option: Death Canyon Trailhead to Cascade Canyon Trailhead
(or to South String Lake Trailhead) via Static Peak Divide (total distance 24 miles).
For overnight backpackers, the Alaska Basin Trail continues over the Static Peak Divide to the west and works its way across a large glaciated basin and then up and over a barren ridge. Once you've reached the top of this barren ridge, you'll see the remote Alaska Basin below you to the northwest, as well as Sunset Lake- a popular backcountry campsite. The Alaska Basin is about 3.3 miles and Sunset Lake is approximately 3.7 miles from Static Peak Divide. The trail then continues onward to Hurricane Pass, which is about 9.4 miles from Static Peak Divide. Eventually the trail winds down the South Fork Cascade Canyon and then down the main Cascade Canyon to either the Cascade Canyon Trailhead at South Jenny Lake or the South String Lake Trailhead located at the outlet of String Lake.
HOWEVER, MOST OVERNIGHTERS DO NOT HIKE THIS DIRECTION so as to avoid the grueling hike up to Static Peak Divide from the junction at Death Canyon. They know that they are far better off starting at Cascade Canyon, and hiking DOWN the trail from Static Peak Divide to Death Canyon. For more details on this overnight hike starting at Cascade Canyon, click here.
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