Distance: 5.5 miles
Type: Out and back/shuttle
The South Fork of Cascade Canyon is a strenuous 5.5 miles in Grand Teton National Park that is accessed either from its top at Hurricane Pass, or the bottom at the back of Cascade Canyon. While many experience the canyon via the Teton Crest Trail, many also hike up from Cascade Canyon. As such, this will be written from the perspective of ascending the canyon.
South Fork of Cascade Canyon Trail Description
With no trailhead for the South Fork of Cascade Canyon, your only option is to hike it and access it from another trail. In this case, you’d be accessing it from the back of the Cascade Canyon Trail. At the back of Cascade Canyon, you’re presented with a fork – right heading up the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, while left heads up the South Fork of Cascade Canyon.
The trail climbs up from the forks through the thick woods, where you shortly thereafter encounter a large waterfall cascading through a rocky chute. It’s quite a sight, and a destination for many day-hikers. Continuing to climb, however, you’ll continue ascending through the forest with the sound of rushing water below. As you near a break in the trees, you’ll see the Grand Teton rising above the treetops. Once at that break in the trees, you’ll pass through boulders below a large cliff face above and to the right.
Reentering the forest, you cross a large footbridge crossing over the rushing South Fork of Cascade Creek. A short climb later and you’ll be on another footbridge crossing the creek once again. Continuing to climb, you then reach the South Fork Camping Zone at approximately 1 mile in from the fork.
Upon entering the camping zone, the trees thin out slightly as the creek rushes below. Off to the left, you’ll see an immense waterfall pouring below the Grand Teton as you encounter another vantage point of the iconic peak. As you maintain a steady climb, the trail will switchback a couple of times away from the creek with increasing views of the lower parts of the canyon. At the second switchback, you’re treated to a fantastic view overlooking the fork as well as the waterfall below the Grand Teton.
As the trail straightens out again, you’ll pass through a rocky area, once again treating you to another great view of the Grand with its accompanying waterfall. The trail meanders through the sparse forest with the creek rushing below once again. At this point, it opens up into a wetlands area after veering away from the creek again.
With relatively unobstructed views, you’re treated to peaks surrounding you in all directions. It’s in this area that the trail also takes a break from climbing. On the opposite end, the climbing resumes as you enter into the forest again. You’ll soon emerge onto rocks along a large cascading waterfall where you’ll then veer away to continue climbing.
As the forest begins to slightly thin again, meadows open up with massive granite walls rising above another wetlands area. Ahead, the peaks rise high above the landscape, and just like the previous wetlands, the trail climbs out the opposite end and back into the forest. Of course there’s also a fantastic view looking down the South Fork of Cascade Canyon as you make your way out.
The trail will begin to get rockier despite remaining forested, maintaining a steady ascent upward. Breaks in the trees show off big views down the South Fork some more as you continue to climb along and below large entrancing waterfalls.
Switchbacks climb up a steep rocky hillside, where, once at the top, it opens up into a large meadow nearing treeline. Still climbing, you’ll pass the junction for the wonderfully scenic, Avalanche Divide Trail. After passing a couple more campsites beyond the trail junction, you’ll finally leave the camping zone, climbing steeply along the creek. From here the trail gets noticeably rockier, squeezing into a small rocky side canyon. Numerous switchbacks guide you upward as you begin to see the iconic Schoolroom Glacier straight ahead.
Continue meandering through the alpine tundra below the glacier before ascending another steep series of switchbacks. Now to the south, you’re treated to breathtaking views of the Teton peaks rising high above the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. A bit farther up and you’ll see the glacial lake below Schoolroom Glacier as the trail only gets rockier.
With immense views down the canyon, a final switchback will bring you onto the top of a rocky ridgeline, high above treeline, overlooking a remote basin draining into the Snake River Plain. After the last stretch up the alpine terrain, you’ll at last reach the Grand Teton National Park boundary with Hurricane Pass, heading into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.
From here, you can either treat this as an out and back hike, a backpacking trip, or continue into the wilderness to discover more of the Tetons’ backcountry!
From the Moose Entrance Station, head up the Teton Park Road for 7 miles to the main Jenny Lake area. Either hike around the Jenny Lake Loop to Cascade Canyon or catch the shuttle to be delivered to the mouth of the canyon. Alternatively, continue up the Teton Park Road to the North Jenny Lake Junction for a total of 9.8 miles, heading left along the scenic loop road for 1.5 miles. Turn right toward the Leigh Lake Trailhead, and either park there at the end of the road, or at one of the String Lake Trailheads along the way. Hike in the opposite direction along the Jenny Lake Loop to reach Cascade Canyon, then, in either case, hike to the back of Cascade Canyon.