Distance: 10.9 miles (one way)
Best time of year: Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2013 July
For starters, don’t let the name fool you. While the lake does have some turquoise color to it, it’s nothing like lakes you see in the Canadian Rockies or even more locally, Delta Lake. It is however, a picturesque lake set against rugged alpine peaks, nestled in a wooded grove which gives it a very secluded and hidden feeling. There are three ways of getting to it, each about 11-12 miles to the lake, give or take. For this particular post, I’ll be writing with the origin being from the Goodwin Lake trailhead.
Turquoise Lake Trail Description
The Goodwin Lake trailhead is relatively popular despite its remote location and the brutal dirt road in for the last mile or so. For the first three miles, as you hike along a forested ridge to Goodwin Lake, you’ll encounter plenty of other hikers making a pleasant and fairly easy hike to that lake. It’s a pretty decent sized lake at the base of the northern ridge of Jackson Peak and many people even backpack there to fish for trout from it. The trail splits around the lake and will meet back up on the southern end, but the western split (right) will bring you over a small boulder field where you have a chance of seeing some critters such as pika and pine marten.
While the crowds will begin to thin out after that, many people will push the extra couple of miles to summit Jackson Peak, a relatively easily accessible trail that ascends to 13,517 feet above sea level. While most of the trail is relatively gradual, it’s the last mile or so that gets steep and difficult. The fork to summit Jackson Peak is about a mile past Goodwin Lake, whereas going straight will lead you to Turquoise Lake and a true feeling of isolation as you begin to hike deeper into the Gros Ventre Wilderness. The crowds begin to thin out dramatically after that since there isn’t much of a destination without a considerable distance. In fact once I passed that point on my hike, I only encountered one other party going in, one that showed up at Turquoise Lake after me, and one more going out. It’s a beautifully peaceful hike that truly lets you get away.
The trail is dry for the first several miles, so make sure you’ve packed enough water to last. Beyond Jackson Peak, the trail ascends and descends the terrain, with the majority going uphill. Should you be hiking this in early-to-mid August, you’ll be presented with a brilliant bouquet of wildflowers around every turn and over every ridge. At about halfway in, you’ll come to a fork that will lead you toward Granite Creek or Cache Creek. Cache Creek will bring you back toward Jackson, so you’ll want to stick with heading toward Granite Creek. At roughly two-thirds in, you’ll encounter your first reliable source of water: a large cascading waterfall flowing from dozens of feet up and continuing past the trail. It’s a great place to stop and rest as well as topping off any water.
From there the trail begins to climb pretty steadily up to the Granite Creek Divide. As you come out to a clearing along the way, you’re treated to one of the most unique views of the Tetons that you’ll encounter anywhere. Jackson Peak will be situated on the left with Table Mountain on the right and in between them is a bowl-like formation with South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Mount Owen and Teewinot all sitting right in between and perfectly framed in the background with an open clearing in the foreground. It’s an incredible view that demands your attention and amazement.
Just a short distance up from that is the Granite Creek Divide where you’ll come across a large boulder field with plenty of marmots and pika scurrying around. On the other side of the divide lies a pristine valley that truly gives you the feeling of being in wilderness. Creek drainages line the vast walls in every direction and the scale of the landscape really gives you a sense not just of being in a completely remote area, but also reestablishes your connection with nature. From this point, the trail is mostly downhill about 1.5 miles to Turquoise Lake.
Once at the lake, you’re treated to a peacefully remote sight with camping areas right off the trail and the soothing sound of a waterfall feeding water into the lake on the other side. At this point there’s nothing left to do but relax and enjoy your surroundings.
If you’re looking for an optional trail, you can also begin at Cache Creek and connect with the trail you came in on at about halfway, or you can also begin at Granite Hot Springs and from there the trail mostly follows Granite Creek up to Turquoise Lake. Another option is to also park one car at one trailhead and start hiking from another, and then head out a different way you came in. Either way, the scenery is breathtaking and well worth it!
From Jackson, Wyoming, head east from the Town Square on Broadway till it dead ends at the National Elk Refuge. Turn left into the National Elk Refuge. After 3.5 miles, the road will do a 90-degree turn to the north and after another mile, you’ll take a right toward Curtis Canyon. At just over four miles, there will be a fork with a sign indicating Goodwin Lake to the right. The road gets pretty rough here for just over a mile so a high-clearance vehicle is highly recommended. The trailhead is at the end of the road.