Distance: 10.5-12 miles (one way)
Type: Out and back
The Avalanche Divide Trail is a strenuous 1.8 mile hike, accessed from the top of the South Fork of Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park. As a result, accessing the end of the trail turns this hike into at least a 20 mile round-trip hike. This particular log begins at String Lake, making it just shy of 24 miles round-trip, though 3-4 miles could be cut off by taking the Jenny Lake Shuttle to access Cascade Canyon.
Avalanche Divide Trail Description
While the Avalance Divide Trail itself is only about 1.5 miles, it begins at the top of the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. Thus, it’s a bit of a trek to reach the trail, as outlined here by the easiest route, via the South Fork of Cascade Canyon.
String Lake Trailhead Origin
If you plan on taking the Jenny Lake Shuttle across Jenny Lake to save a few miles, skip to the next section. Otherwise, the next closest trailhead is at String Lake, where this post starts. Beginning from String Lake, follow the String Lake Loop south and across the large footbridge over the lake’s runoff to the Jenny Lake Loop, continuing south to follow the eastern shoreline of Jenny Lake. After passing stunning views of the lake through an old forest fire burn, you’ll reach the Cascade Canyon Horse Trail at 1.8 miles in. Follow that to the right and begin ascending through the forest.
Jenny Lake Shuttle Origin
If you’re beginning from the West Boat Dock of Jenny Lake, you have two options to go. If this is your first time seeing Cascade Canyon and Jenny Lake, it’s highly recommended you ascend via the Inspiration Point Trail. This is by far the more scenic way and considered one of the must-do hikes of Grand Teton National Park. If you’re familiar with at least the first couple of miles, head right from the boat dock and proceed a short distance to the Horse Trail, which ascends farther up to connect with the Cascade Canyon Trail behind Inspiration Point. The views are limited, but then so are the crowds. Regardless, the post continues assuming you’ve hiked up one route or the other and are at the junction with the Horse Trail at 2.6 miles in from the String Lake Trailhead (the remainder of the post will use mileage originating from the String Lake Trailhead).
Once in Cascade Canyon, the trail gently climbs toward the fork of the canyon. Along the way are jaw-dropping views of the Grand Teton and Mount Owen as the trail passes from forest to meadow or boulder field several times. Each break in the trees provides another unique and gorgeous view of the mighty peaks, waterfalls crashing down their steep cliffs over incredible heights. Paralleling Cascade Creek the entire way, you finally cross the North Fork of Cascade Creek at 5.4 miles in, making one last push up to the terminus of the Cascade Canyon Trail, branching into the North Fork and South Fork.
South Fork of Cascade Canyon
The South Fork of Cascade Canyon begins to the left, providing a sample of what’s to come with a beautiful waterfall rushing through steep and rocky cliffs just a few dozen yards in. The trail maintains a steady climb through a dense forest as the constant sound of water rushes below. A large cliff breaks up the forest momentarily to the right, providing a quick glimpse of the peaks above. You’ll soon cross a pair of large footbridges over the rushing creek, the old forest providing a landscape reminiscent of old growth forests hundreds of miles away.
Continuing to ascend, you’ll reach the South Fork Camping Zone where the trees thin out ever so slightly as the creek continues to rush below. High above a waterfall pours over immense cliffs from the Grand Teton to the left. The climb will remain consistent as the trail begins to switchback away from the creek, ultimately bringing you to a beautiful view overlooking the forks while the Grand Teton towers above, accompanied by the same tremendous waterfall you glimpsed moments ago.
After passing through a rocky area with another great view of the waterfall cascading below the Grand, the trail will meander up back through a sparse forest, the creek rushing below once again. You’ll then follow the trail as it opens up into wetlands shortly after veering away from the creek. High above, peaks surround the landscape in all directions. The view is short-lived though as the trail quickly climbs out and heads back into the forest.
The trail will emerge from the forest onto rocks lining a large cascading waterfall before veering away to maintain its ascent. The forest soon begins to thin again as meadows open up with massive walls rising above. Quickly, you reach another large wetlands with peaks rising ahead. You’ll begin to climb out of the dramatic scene through a forest at the back of the wetlands where you’re quickly provided with a gorgeous view back down the South Fork of Cascade Canyon.
Though still forested, the trail begins to get rockier while still steadily ascending. Breaks in the trees show off big views down the canyon with even more stunning waterfalls gracing the cliffs high above. The trail begins a series of switchbacks up a steep and rocky hillside where it then opens up into a meadow, still continuing to climb. As you begin to skirt the treeline, you’ll wrap around a large meadow where you’ll reach the junction for the Avalanche Divide Trail at 10 miles in.
Avalanche Divide Trail
Forking off to the left from the South Fork of Cascade Canyon Trail, the Avalanche Divide Trail wanders through the high alpine meadows, gradually rising above treeline as it crosses to the opposite side of the canyon. Along the way are serene creek crossings as the Grand Teton rises above in the distance. In the opposite direction is an immense granite wall rising high above, snow frequently still clinging to the top.
The views down the South Fork of Cascade Canyon become increasingly stunning before the trail begins to snake its way up alpine hills. Unparalleled views continue to unfold before the trail reaches a series of small lakes on top of a granite bench. The Grand and Middle Tetons rise high above and yet stunningly close to the landscape. The trail wraps around and begins to make its final stretch upward as it approaches the backside of “The Wall,” a striking granite wall stretching across the top of Avalanche Canyon. Over talus and scree the trail pushes to the top of the canyon, reaching the Avalanche Divide at the base of “The Wall.”
From the Avalanche Divide, the view is an absolutely sublime high alpine mountain vista that’s hard to rival. The top of Avalanche Canyon sweeps down below “The Wall” in a massive basin, with both Snowdrift Lake and the smaller Kit Lake adding a brilliant splash of bright blues to the landscape. Just beyond and in the distance is the prominent and overlooked, Mount Wister, a jagged and remarkable peak that would garner significantly more attention were it not right next to the Middle Teton.
Enjoy the view of the divide to your heart’s content, and when ready, either head to a campsite in the South Fork (permit required) or on Hurricane Pass, or head back out the same way you came.
From the Moose Entrance Station, head north on Teton Park Road for 6.9 miles and turn left at the South Jenny Lake Junction to access the Jenny Lake Shuttle, or continue another 3 miles to the North Jenny Lake Junction. Head left there and follow the road for 1.5 miles, turning right at the next junction and finding a free parking spot in any of the three available parking areas.