Lake Solitude sits perched atop the back of the North Fork of Cascade Canyon in the Teton Mountains. It’s one of the most spectacular and relaxing lakes in the Teton Mountains, and with a gradual elevation change for most of the way, makes for a great destination for a day-hike.
Begin either at the String Lake Trailhead or the South Jenny Lake area trailhead. Though either route will be about 2 miles to the mouth of Cascade Canyon, the Jenny Lake stretch can be avoided by taking the shuttle across the lake for a small fee.
If you want to maximize sights along the trail, Inspiration Point is a must-see along the way. The trail up begins very close to the boat dock and is very well signed. Since it’s along the way anyway, you may also want to visit the 70-foot Hidden Falls as well. The trail will get increasingly rocky as it makes its ascent to Inspiration Point. Believe it or not, this is the steepest part of the trail to Lake Solitude. It will zigzag up rocks and boulders for about 1.5 miles until you finally reach the grand overlook above Jenny Lake. From here an outstanding view of the Jackson Hole valley can be admired. Whenever you’re ready, the trail to Lake Solitude will continue onward into Cascade Canyon.
For those wanting to avoid crowds, the Horse Trail makes for a great alternative. This can be found north of the boat dock just a few dozen yards along the main Jenny Lake Trail marked by a small sign. The majority of it is heavily forested and shaded, so if you’re wanting views along the way, you may want to stick to the main route. Sticking to the Horse Route, though, for which the elevation profile above is used, you’ll steadily climb for about 0.6 miles before topping out at a couple of seasonal creek crossings. An eastern view opens up high above Jenny Lake and the Jackson Hole Valley. Since the route is primarily used by people wanting to get further in, there’s little room to stop and admire it. Continue onward and the trail will begin to descend as it approaches the Cascade Canyon Trail.
Cascade Canyon is undoubtedly one of the most jaw-dropping examples of mountain scenery anywhere in the northern Rocky Mountains. Directly to the south is the Grand Teton and Mount Owen. To the north are the towering rocky cliffs on the south side of Hanging Canyon. Waterfalls cascade down the steep mountainsides into Cascade Creek. Cascade Creek itself constantly rushes through a picture-perfect mountain landscape pouring pure mountain water past one giant opening after another. Black bears and moose and commonly seen both near the creek and at the base of the mountains on either side. Pica can frequently be seen (and heard!) in scree fields as they scour in and out rapidly preparing for the inevitable winter. Even if you don’t make it to Lake Solitude, you’ll get a powerful slice of the Tetons in just a mile of this canyon.
At the junction you soon reach, head right to begin ascending the very gradual and easy climb to the back of Cascade Canyon. The trail to the back of the canyon is about 3.5 miles long. You’ll frequently pass through thick evergreen groves, and back out into large openings. Sometimes the creek is rushing beside you, other times it’s farther down the canyon. All of it is some of the best 3.5 miles you’ll hike.
The farther back you hike, the steeper the south wall of the canyon gets. You’re gradually approaching the base of the two highest peaks in the entire Teton Range: the Grand Teton and Mount Owen, respectively. The immensity and height are almost incomprehensible from a mere 5,000-6,000 feet below. Waterfalls rush down thousands of feet from the snow that never has a chance to fully melt at that height.
At about 3 miles in, the forest begins to overtake the views. You soon cross the powerful North Fork of Cascade Creek, indicating you’re nearing the junction with the trail. Within another 0.5 miles, you reach the junction for both the North and South Forks of Cascade Canyon. It makes for a great place to stop and have a snack if you’re in the mood, otherwise, continue to the right to head into the North Fork.
The trail continues to be forested as you begin making your way into the North Fork of Cascade Canyon toward Lake Solitude. You’ll cross over the creek two more times. The first time, the trail remains heavily forested. The second time, the trees begin to thin out as the enormous U-shaped canyon opens up in front of you. While Cascade Canyon was a prime example of massive cliff and peaks scenery, the North Fork offers up a sublime alpine wilderness spread out across a massively glacier-carved canyon complete with waterfalls pouring down its sides.
Though the trail never gets very steep, it is slightly steeper than its former counterpart you just hiked through. Soon you begin to climb away from the creek and onto the west side of the canyon. One scree field after another brings you gradually higher and higher and closer and closer to Lake Solitude. If you’re interested in backpacking into the North Fork, you’ll notice there is a camping zone for those wanting to capture some great light at the lake without wanting to hike in the dark.
After the last campsite, the camping zone ends and the trail begins to make its final ascent to Lake Solitude. A wooden footbridge guides you across the rapid runoff from the lake as you make your last push to just over 9,000 feet above sea level.
The trail opens up and in front of you is one of the crown jewels of the Teton Mountains. Lake Solitude is sprawled out at the base of a dramatic granite cirque. A waterfall feeds the lake on the opposite side, creating a peaceful white noise behind the gently crashing waves of the lake. Find a cozy spot and enjoy the solitude.
Still want more? Continue up the trail for another two miles to reach the Paintbrush Divide at 11,000 feet! Just check your timing if you were planning on catching the shuttle back across Jenny Lake.
From downtown Jackson, head north on Highway 89 for 12.3 miles to the Moose Junction. Make a left onto Teton Park Road and continue through the entrance station. At just under 7 miles from the Moose Junction, you’ll reach the South Jenny Lake Junction. Make a left and find parking in the parking area. The trail begins near the Visitor Center. The main trail will bring you to the boat dock, where you can take a shuttle across the lake, or continue on the trail to hike the scenic 2 extra miles around the southwestern perimeter of the lake.