Distance: 6.8 miles
Type: Out and back
Holly Lake is a high alpine lake in the Teton Mountains, situated near the top of Paintbrush Canyon. It’s a more overlooked day hike destination, allowing for a fantastic hike up to 9,410 feet above sea level, while exploring one of the more underrated canyons of the Tetons.
Holly Lake Trail Description
From the Leigh Lake Trailhead, begin heading north along String Lake for close to a mile, where you’ll come across a trail junction. Hang left to soon cross over a bridge that carries you across the runoff from Leigh Lake into String Lake.
On the other side is a thick forest, much like what you’ve been hiking through along String Lake, though soon the elevation begins to change, climbing up to the mouth of Paintbrush Canyon. A nice overlook along the way gives a glimpse of a peaceful meadow with a small pond below. Soon you reach the String Lake Loop Trail junction where you’ll want to head right to begin heading into Paintbrush Canyon.
Lower Paintbrush Canyon
Lower Paintbrush Canyon starts off in no hurry to ascend too rapidly. Instead, it’s a rather easy stroll through a lush forest, broken up with gushing creeks. An occasional view of Rockchuck Peak can be glimpsed through the trees after a couple of miles in, as intermittent rocks and boulders break up the forest.
At roughly 4 miles in, and having spent most of the hike thus far winding through the forest, you reach a rocky ledge overlooking the rapidly flowing Paintbrush Creek. It’s shortly after this that the terrain begins to open up.
The forest quickly gives way to the large glacially carved canyon, where you quickly reach the Lower Paintbrush Canyon Camping Zone. Rising up above the landscape along the south wall are gorgeous displays of banded gneiss, an attractive feature that gives a glimpse into a violent past of the Teton Mountains.
The Paintbrush Canyon Trail continues upward as the canyon begins to narrow, squeezing the creek through some rockier rapids. A short switchback will guide you up to some increasingly fantastic views of the canyon. Waterfalls can now be seen pouring over canyon walls from high up above, as the views all around become more panoramic. Jackson Lake and incredible views of northern Jackson Hole become more frequent and increasingly dramatic as the trail takes a steeper turn up a series of switchbacks.
Upper Paintbrush Canyon
At the top of the switchbacks the trail will straighten out as it eases up on the ascent. Shortly after, you’ll reach a junction where you’ll want to head right to continue to Holly Lake.
For the next half-mile, you’ll wind through high alpine trees, such as the endangered white bark pine, where the trail will cross and meander along a small creek. Before you know it, you’ll emerge from the woods and be guided to the shores of the immaculate Holly Lake. The serene lake is a favorite to many for good reason. Surrounded by high rocky peaks, the lake has a number of comfortable spots along the shores to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Waterfalls along the opposite shore crash onto the rocks and into the lake, providing a constant and soothing natural white noise.
Take your time and enjoy your surroundings. If you’re ready to head out, and still have some energy to ascend some more, you can hike up to the Paintbrush Divide two miles up the trail for unparalleled views, just shy of 11,000 feet above sea level.
Want more but not quite that much? Head up the trail another 0.3 miles and it will reconnect with that fork from a half-mile before the lake, allowing you to make a small but scenic loop in Upper Paintbrush Canyon on your way out.
If neither of those options appeal to you, simply begin heading back down the way you came in.
From the Moose Junction, head north on the Teton Park Road for 10 miles, turning left at the North Jenny Lake Junction. Follow that road for 1.5 miles where it will reach an intersection, where you’ll want to take a right. Follow the road where it will dead-end into a large parking lot. Look for the trail near the String Lake Picnic Area and head north from there.