Distance: 3.7 miles (loop)
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
The String Lake Loop is an easy but rewarding four miles that brings visitors to beautiful views of the lake and beyond, as well as intimate forests at the mouth of Paintbrush Canyon. Sweeping views of the lake and peaceful aspen groves await those willing to get away from the crowds along the lake’s eastern shores.
The String Lake Loop can be accessed from two different trailheads: the Leigh Lake Trailhead; and the String Lake Trailhead. Each begins along the shores of String Lake, only at different locations along the eastern shore. I tend to start from the Leigh Lake Trailhead simply because there’s usually more parking. Either way, during peak summer months, you’ll want to access both trailheads either early in the day or later at night to avoid the largest crowds.
From the Leigh Lake Trailhead, the easier route is to access the trail on the west side of the parking lot, and once at the trail, head left to begin heading south. This will take you past stunning views of the Cathedral Group of Teton Mountains rising high above the lake. Get there early in the morning or late in the evening to see an immaculate reflection of the peaks!
The trail will make a small bend to go around a somewhat marshy area, though its certainly wetter in the spring. Here the waves subside and much of the crowd noise fades away as a small footbridge guides you across the wetlands. You might be able to see a few aquatic oriented birds as well as a great blue heron.
Continuing south through the sheltering woods, you’ll reach a bend in the path that begins heading east as the lake does a relatively sharp dogleg. On the corner of the bend is a fantastic beach viewpoint that captures the dramatic beauty of the Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot towering above the lake just a few miles beyond.
Follow the path south and after passing several other ideal viewpoints that pop in and out of the trees, you’ll reach the String Lake Trailhead and parking area. From here, the trail bends back southward just before it crosses a large wooden bridge. This bridge provides an excellent vantage point where String Lake begins rushing faster as it starts to pour into Jenny Lake. Just above the increasing rapids are, once again, the majestic Cathedral Group of Teton Mountains. On the other side of the bridge are the calm waters that String Lake is commonly known for.
Once across the bridge, the String Lake Loop begins winding through a young forest, burned from a forest fire in 1999. Nearby the rushing rapids of the lake continue their descent into the popular Jenny Lake. This section of the trail is also shared with the longer Jenny Lake Loop, making a scenic 7-mile loop around the neighboring body of water. The trail bounces up and down over small glacially eroded hills where sometimes osprey and bald eagles can be seen in the leftover dead pine trees still standing.
After about 0.2 miles from the bridge, you’ll reach a junction where the String Lake Loop veers off of the Jenny Lake Loop Trail to the right. This brings you to the foot of the Teton Mountains as you wind through the forests on String Lake’s southern shore. You’ll be led past a small flow of water where the trail then bends to the right to begin heading northward along String Lake’s western shore. This section also brings with it a gradual increase in elevation, but nothing terribly steep.
You’ll pass in and out of beautiful meadows that overlook not only the lake, but as the elevation increases, much of the Jackson Hole valley as well. The trail cuts through large groves of aspen trees, some leaning toward the lake from the impact of avalanches during the winter. Small evergreen groves occasionally provide shade and cooler places to rest on warmer days. The noise of the crowds has long since faded, and you’re left alone with stunning views and quaking aspen leaves. Catch the trail early enough in the season and you’ll be treated to bouquets of wildflowers carpeting the ground. Catch the trail late and you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty of all the aspen leaves changing color and falling from the trees.
Soon the open views fade as you enter into a large evergreen forest. Through the quiet woods, still gradually gaining in elevation, you reach another junction. Left will bring you up into Paintbrush Canyon, while right will begin to close out the loop. If you’re interested in exploring Paintbrush Canyon, it’s best left for another day unless you have plenty of time and resources with you. Many of the best views in the canyon won’t start for another 2 or 3 miles from that junction, though they’re definitely worth seeing at some point.
Heading right, the trail begins a relatively steep descent back toward String Lake. You’ll pass through a large meadow, and once back in the trees, will come to a ledge that overlooks a serene and still pond below. Though the trail doesn’t pass this pond, it does still make for a nice place to stop and rest if you need it.
Continue onward and the trail will descend even more until it flattens out near the mouth of Paintbrush Canyon. Pass glacial boulders in the old lodgepole pine forest as you wind your way back to the water. You’ll reach another large wooden bridge, this one practically the opposite of the earlier bridge. The bridge crosses String Lake at its northern waters where the overflow from Leigh Lake rushes over rocky rapids into the calm and peaceful waters of String Lake.
Across the bridge, the String Lake Loop continues to the right, whereas left will bring you to Leigh Lake. If you have the eagerness and interest, Leigh Lake always deserves at least a peek. Otherwise, the trail begins an easy and peaceful stroll for about a mile along the northeastern shores of String Lake. Viewpoint after viewpoint demands to be scoped out as the Teton Mountains dramatically rise from the opposite shore of the calm waters. The winding trail parallels the shore never veering far one amazing vantage point after another.
The easy mile is over quick as the crowd noise intensifies as you near the main parking area.
From Jackson, head north on Highway 89 for 12.3 miles. At the Moose Junction, head left onto Teton Park Road and continue through the Entrance Station for just under 10 miles. Turn left at the North Jenny Lake Junction and follow that to a junction in 1.5 miles. Take a right at the junction and the String Lake Trailhead will be immediately on your left, or the Leigh Lake Trailhead will be at the end of the short road.