Distance: 4 miles (one way)
Type: In and out
The hike to the Death Canyon Patrol Cabin is a strenuous 4 mile trek into Death Canyon of the Teton Mountains. Along the way, you’re treated to stunning and changing views of Phelps Lake both approaching, as well as climbing higher through the mouth of the canyon. While the patrol cabin is an arbitrary point in Death Canyon, it makes for a good destination for a day-hike since any other landmarks or scenic vistas will require at least another mile or two beyond the cabin.
Death Canyon Patrol Cabin Trail Description
From the Death Canyon Trailhead, head up the trail where you’ll quickly join the junction with the Valley Trail. Head left to continue toward Death Canyon. The trail gradually ascends through a quiet and old forest, emanating peacefulness throughout the landscape. Small footbridges occasionally cross a seasonal stream, and soon a sporadic meadow will break up the forest, rich with aspen trees. At 1 mile in you’ll reach the Phelps Lake Overlook, a gorgeous perch on a glacial moraine rising high above Phelps Lake.
Continue down the trail as it begins to descend toward Death Canyon along the base of Albright Peak. Sprawling views of Phelps Lake and beyond open up below the trail with Jackson Peak rising in the distance. Straight ahead the cliffs of Death Canyon peek through and rise beyond the trees lining your route. The steady descent downward begins two lengthy switchbacks, consistently dropping you down closer to Phelps Lake. Along the way you may even hear the calls from pika from the nearby boulder fields.
After crossing a final boulder field, the trail will open up into a large meadow above Phelps Lake. If you happen to be hiking this trail early in the season, you’ll notice a beautiful waterfall pouring over the cliffs above and to your right. It’s in this area that you’ll reach another trail junction at 1.7 miles. Left will head to Phelps Lake while heading straight will continue to the mouth of Death Canyon.
Just beyond the junction, the trail descends into a dense forest. The occasional glacial boulder interrupts the woods as the trail begins to skirt the base of a boulder field. From here it gradually begins climbing up through the mouth of Death Canyon. Along the way you’ll hear the rush of the creek below and to the left. After meandering through the forest and boulders therein, a lengthy switchback guides you through yet another boulder field where Phelps Lake is visible through the trees far below.
As the trail cuts back toward Death Canyon, it begins getting rockier as you move closer to the signature cliffs of the canyon. It maintains a steady climb below the cliffs with the creek rapidly cutting through the bottom of the canyon. You’ll wrap around the base of a large rocky cliff with Phelps Lake visible in plain view behind you, now in the distance below, with the Sleeping Indian rising high above.
The Death Canyon Trail soon narrows with views of the creek visible as it cascades endlessly over rocky falls below. You’ll quickly reach a switchback that leads higher through the rocky terrain, followed by a grove of evergreens where you’ll see the creek cascading over the rocks on the other side. The trees and foliage will thicken as you near an access point to the rushing creek nearby. The trail switchbacks again heading farther upward through more trees with cascading waterfalls lining the trail.
A welcome sight soon comes into view as peaks rise up ahead and to the right over the rocky ridge while the creek continues rushing to the left. The change in scenery comes quickly after a bit more climbing along the creek, which becomes a little quieter as the trail begins to finally level out. The creek slows down here into small pools below rising cliffs and peaks in the distance. After passing around the pools, you’ll wind through forests and meadows with the calm creek trickling to the left.
The Patrol Cabin lies just ahead at the next junction. While the cabin itself isn’t a significant landmark or inspiring feature, it makes a calm and peaceful destination in the forest. If you have the energy and time, feel free to explore either trail at the junction for more scenery, but remember it’s not all downhill back to the trailhead. You still need to climb 1 mile from the base of the canyon and back up to the Phelps Lake Overlook, so know your limits before continuing. When you’re ready, head back out the same way you came.
From Moose, Wyoming, turn left onto the Moose-Wilson Road and follow that south for 3 miles where a sign will direct you to the right to access the Death Canyon Trailhead.
After about 0.75 miles, the road turns to dirt and it’s highly recommended you have a high-clearance vehicle to get to the trailhead. The roughly 0.75 mile remainder of the road starts off innocently enough, but the closer you get to the trailhead the worse the condition of the road gets. You’ll find many parking spaces along the way, so go as far as you’re comfortable, but know that the road will only get worse the farther you go.