Although the name sounds daunting, Death Canyon is actually a gorgeous canyon that is perfect for a long day hike (or an overnighter if you are feeling extra adventurous!). It must be the name scaring people away, because this trail does not have the crowds like other park trails. If you time your hike right, you will see beautiful fields of wildflowers, numerous waterfalls, and even the occasional moose or bear.
Death Canyon has always been one of my favorite areas to hike in Grand Teton. The canyon from the outside looks like a challenge, but after a few miles it flattens out and opens up to beautiful scenery everywhere you turn. I could not put my camera down….
What You Need to Know
The beginning of this hike is definitely the hardest, so if you can push through the first few miles, you will be rewarded with a relatively flat hike through some of the most beautiful alpine scenery available.
From the trailhead it is about 1 mile to the Phelps Lake Overlook, which provides great views of this beautiful and pristine alpine lake. From there, you will descend the trail to Phelps Lake and then take a right to head into Death Canyon. The trail going down to Phelps Lake is made up of a lot of switchbacks, so plan some extra time for the trip back out.
The first section of trail as you trek into Death Canyon is strenuous with many switchbacks as well, but it follows right alongside a stunning river with a gushing waterfall and amazing views of the valley below. After about 2 miles, the trail will begin to level out and follow the river through the trees and meadows of the canyon.
Note: A side trail branches off toward Static Peak and the Alaska Basin as your hike levels out. This trail is very strenuous and should only be done with proper planning.
Death Canyon is bear country, so be sure to read about bear safety here before you start hiking. The trail follows the river for the majority of the time, so if you don’t want to carry a lot of water (you WILL need a lot of water for a hike this long), you will have a source to filter water from.
The full hike to the end of Death Canyon is 19.4 miles round trip from the Trailhead. You can shorten this route and turn around at any time, but I highly suggest hiking to the very end if you can. At the end of the canyon you will reach Fox Creek Pass, which is your gateway to the famous Teton Crest Trail and the Death Canyon Shelf. For dayhiking purposes, I suggest turning around and returning the way you came, although it is incredible to stand on the Death Canyon Shelf, even for just a minute, to ignite your excitement to plan a backcountry trip!
Be sure to take a lot of pictures!
The last mile of the road to the Death Canyon Trailhead is a crazy dirt road with dips and potholes everywhere. I would suggest taking a vehicle with high-clearance and 4-wheel drive (although I have seen little cars at that trailhead….) to minimize the impact on your car.
From Jackson, travel north on Highway 191 for 12 miles. Turn left onto the Teton Park Road toward Moose. Go straight through the stop sign near the Craig Thomas Visitor Center, and then take a left onto the Moose-Wilson Road (right across the street from the Post Office). Travel along the Moose-Wilson Road for 3.1 miles, at which point you should see signs for Death Canyon instructing you to turn right. Follow the signs for another 2 miles until you reach the Death Canyon Trailhead and parking area.