The Virginia Creeper Trail is a picturesque rails-to-trails path that winds its way for thirty-four miles through the Mount Rogers recreational area. The trail starts in Whitetop and ends in Abingdon, with Damascus sitting right in the middle.
We biked the Creeper section from Whitetop to Damascus on a rainy day many years ago. We planned to do the whole thing that day, but the rain became a heavy downpour and it was too muddy to enjoy biking. We tried to come back a couple times to bike the second half, but were foiled by more rain and tornado damage. Last summer, we finally made it back to officially finish the remaining 16 miles between Abingdon and Damascus.
We have our own bikes, but they were badly in need of tune ups, so we left them home and rented from Blue Blaze Bike and Shuttle in Damascus, Va. Adam rented a mountain bike and I decided on a cool, purple cruiser. The trail’s terrain is generally smooth and covered with small gravel, so I decided to go with plush comfort rather than more rugged equipment. The rental shop was affordable and their bikes were impeccably maintained.
We booked seats on their first shuttle van of the day, and ended up being the only riders. Our driver was fun to talk to and was a regular hiker and biker. The shuttle took us from the shop back to mile zero in Abingdon, Va. From there, it was a mostly flat 16 mile ride back to their shop.
The section from Whitetop to Damascus is far more popular than the section we did this time – it’s a little more scenic and it’s all downhill, so it requires very little exertion. Our ride was still very easy, but we did have to pedal! The nice thing about biking the less popular half on a weekday was that we practically had the whole trail to ourselves. We saw just a handful of other runners and cyclists. The Creeper can get very crowded and congested, so this was a treat!
The main things to see along the Creeper Trail are beautiful waterways and railroad trestle bridges. The section we rode passed mostly through farmland, whereas the other half is more wooded. It was still really pretty, and the breeze from riding the bike made the heat bearable.
We stopped for a short snack and drink break at Alvarado Station about 8.5 miles into our ride. The station was once a railroad stop halfway between Abingdon and Damascus. It is the only stop for snacks and restrooms on this half of the trail. Across from the restroom building, there was a nice trailside park with a pavilion and porch swings. We sat by the river and enjoyed the view. We even saw a heron!
After our break we pedaled the remaining seven-ish miles into Damascus. The last mile or so follows the main road into town, so there are more road crossings and car noise. The nicest thing about trails like this is that the mostly keep car and bike traffic separated, so you always feel safe riding.
We got back into town, returned our rentals, got some lunch at Wicked Chicken Winghouse – another decent lunch stop in Damascus. Afterwards, we drove back to our AirBnB and picked up the dogs and took them for a two mile walk along the Creeper. After we got them nice and tired, we headed to Abingdon Vineyards to try some wine. The winery is dog friendly and has lots of outdoor tables along the stream. The day finished up with desserts from Anthony’s Desserts in Abingdon. If you’re in the area, this place has the most amazing sweets – don’t miss it!
This 6.1 mile loop is located in Hungry Mother State Park. It follows the perimeter of the lake and has about 830′ of climbing along the loop. The developed side of the lake, where the hike begins, is flatter and often paved, while the backside of the lake is wooded and has more rugged terrain.
If you’re looking for a scenic-but-easy hike that’s longer than five miles, check out the Lake Loop at Hungry Mother State Park! We decided to tackle it as a bit of a recovery hike on our vacation to the area last June. The day before, we had hiked a piece of the Appalachian Trail from Damascus, VA to the Tennessee state line. It had been a significant uphill climb on a very hot day, so we wanted a hike that was a bit easier.
We’ve only visited Hungry Mother once before – to hike Molly’s Knob. If you’re interested in hiking Molly’s Knob as a longer loop with the Lake Trail, there are two junctions along the far side of the lake that will allow you to create this loop. You can download a copy of the Hungry Mother trail map from the park’s website.
For this Lake Loop hike, we paid our entrance fee at a self check-in station and parked in a large lot along the waterfront. The trail can be started in different places, but we set off counter-clockwise from the busy, developed part of the park, where picnic shelters, guarded swimming, boat rentals, a snack bar, and restrooms are all located. Because we visited on a Monday, the park was really quiet and lightly trafficked. We ended up only seeing several people along the entire loop.
The trail began on paved, flat walkway following closely along the shoreline. The entire loop is open to foot and bike traffic, but you’re probably most likely to see bikes on the flatter. easier developed side of the lake.
At the end of the lake, we passed a spillway/dam before reaching Camp Burson – the RV campground run by the state park. There is also a tent/yurt campground called Royal Oak at the other end of the park. After passing the campground, the trail crossed a bridge into the woods.
On the far side of the lake, the trail is a bit more rugged with many small ups and downs. The trail departs the lakeshore, and you only get glimpses of the lake through the trees for much of the way. On this side, we passed an old shed used by the CCC to store dynamite when the park was being built.
As we reached the end of the lake, the trail descended and began to follow the shoreline more closely, giving us lake views again. Eventually, we reached the park’s cabin area and found ourselves on flat footing back to our car.
All in all, this was a pleasant, easy walk in the woods. There are definitely more scenic and impressive hikes in the area, but this was a fun way to spend a recovery day.
This 7.8 mile out-and-back is a section of trail we primarily did to work toward our completion of the entire Appalachian Trail in Virginia. This hike starts off in downtown Damascus and climbs 1,500 feet uphill to the Tennessee state line. There’s nothing in the way of views or noteworthy scenery – just a nice walk in the woods. We were lucky enough to have a great bear sighting on the trail.
We seem to have a penchant for picking record-setting heat weeks for our vacations. I guess it’s not that unlikely when you’re limited to traveling in the summer, but man… this was an especially sweltering day to hike! Back in 2019, we did a week-long AT section hike that ended in Damascus at the parking lot across from Mount Rogers Outfitters. That left a 3.9 mile unhiked section between town and the Virginia/Tennessee border. As most of our regular readers know, we’re slowly section hiking our way across Virginia, so we had to fill in this little gap when we had a chance.
We parked in a public lot off of Laurel Street and picked up the AT where we left off in 2019. Headed south through town the trail is actually road walk, there are blazes on utility poles and AT logos built into the brick walkway. You can see people have made individual donations to have namesake bricks placed along the town section of trail. In a couple tenths of a mile, we turned left on Beaver Dam Ave. and walked through a little town park.
The park has an old train engine, a replica of an AT shelter, and the famous Damascus AT Welcome Arch. You’ve probably seen countless photos of hikers posing under the arch. We both took the obligatory photo for ourselves. After going through the park, the trail turns right onto Water Street, passing through a residential area before turning sharply uphill into the woods.
From there, the trail goes steadily uphill for 3.4 miles. About halfway up the climb, there’s a large campsite adjacent to a water source. I imagine some thru-hikers like the free camping right outside town the night before a resupply. Since we were hiking in late June, we had the trail all to ourselves, as most AT hikers are far north by then.
We plodded uphill until we finally reached the sign marking the state line! We both took a few steps into Tennessee, just for fun! We had a quick snack, and headed back down. The hike was naturally much easier going back downhill. We even saw a large, healthy-looking black bear about a mile south of town. Most of the bears we’re seeing in the Shenandoah are thin and mangy, so it was great to see a bear looking so fit. There had been a sign at the trailhead leaving Damascus warning of an aggressive bear further into Tennessee. I don’t think it was this bear, because this bear crashed away into the woods as soon as we saw him.
Pretty soon, we were back in town. It was even hotter in town as we walked the final third of a mile in the baking sun. After our hike, we went to Mojo’s Trailside Café for lunch and Off the Beaten Path for ice cream. Both are great stops post-hike!
On our second day of vacation, we decided to check out some hiking in beautiful Linville Gorge – specifically Table Rock, the Chimneys, and the Devil’s Crack/Cellar. The total for the day was only 3.28 miles with 610′ of elevation gain, so it should have been an easy hike. For whatever reason – the hot sunshine, tiredness from sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, etc – it felt a lot tougher than it normally would. It was still a great hike with spectacular scenery, but next time I’d go earlier in the morning, in cooler clothing, with a lot more water and sunscreen! This is definitely an exposed trail where you will bake in the sun – or get hit by lightning if there are storms! The Table Rock section is pretty straight-forward, but the Chimneys section might not be great for unsupervised children or people with a fear of heights.
The drive from the main paved road out to the Table Rock parking area is a winding, dusty, bumpy 8.5 mile ride along forest service roads. You never think 8.5 miles is ‘far’ until you have to drive along a road like this – it takes forever to to cover the distance. Along the way, we passed the trailhead to Hawksbill Mountain – another spectacular hike we did several years ago. I actually think it’s probably the prettier hike.
When we got to the Table Rock parking/picnic area, there were just a few cars there. Apparently, this area is immensely popular and we were lucky to hit it on a quiet day. The hike is a double out-and-back. We decided to go up Table Rock first. From the parking lot you can see the distinctive dome-shaped summit off to the left. The trail is gently graded with lots of interesting rock formations along the way. As you climb, you’ll begin to get views looking down into the gorge. It’s such amazing, dramatic scenery.
You’ll reach the summit of Table Rock after just about a mile of climbing, most of it along the Mountains to Sea trail. On the way up, you’ll pass two trail junctions, both on the left side of the trail – one is a continuation of the MTS trail. After you pass that junction, stay to the right to reach the Table Rock summit. The top is not a small outcropping that looks in one direction – it’s an entire mountaintop with views all around! You’ll see the foundation of an old fire tower. To the north, you can see Hawksbill Mountain. Supposedly, you can even see Linville Falls off in the distance, though we personally couldn’t spot it. You can also scramble over a bunch of boulders to get views to the south of Shortoff Mountain, and to the west – the Linville River.
After spending some time at the summit, we descended back the way we came. We took one of the unmarked side trails we had passed on our way up out to see Devil’s Crack/Cellar. I think the ‘cellar’ refers to the rock jumble heading down into the Gorge and the ‘crack’ is the big rock tower that splits from the main wall. I’ve read that some people just call the whole area “The Crack of the Devil.” I can’t be positive about the names, but I can tell you that it’s incredible and worth the short side-trip. The detour is only about a quarter mile off the main trail. The top of the rock tower is easy to climb up, and I suggest checking it out!
Afterwards, we descended back to the parking area. From there, we took the Mountains-to-Sea trail to the right. Almost immediately, you’ll pass pit toilets, the picnic area, and a large primitive campground. The trail is a gradual uphill for a few tenths of a mile. From there, it turns into a bit of a rock-scrambling roller coaster as it follows an exposed ridge.
The trail had some steep drops and tricky obstacles to negotiate. I don’t particularly enjoy rock scrambling or exposed ledges, so I didn’t love this part of the hike. It was lovely, but it definitely triggered my vertigo. I can see why rock climbers are such big fans of the Chimneys – there are lots of precipitous things to scale. While I didn’t love the terrain, I did appreciate the blooming flame azaleas, mountain laurel, and Catawba rhododendron.
I ended up walking about .8 of a mile along this section of trail. After that, the terrain got even more exposed and tricky, and I really didn’t feel like negotiating any more rocks. So, I found one of the only shady spots along the way and decided to wait for the rest of the gang to come back. It’s no fun to be hot, dizzy and lightheaded on terrain where you really need good balance.
After a few minutes, Adam came back and we retraced our steps back to the car. I was pretty glad to get out of the sun and into the air-conditioning!
This is a 5.25 mile hike with 1237′ of elevation gain. The trail has LOTS of constructed stairs and a couple very steep climbs. Point Misery, which has no view, is the high elevation of the hike. The best view is from Little Butt, where you can enjoy vistas of Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains from a slab of rock. You can hike on an extra half mile to Big Butt, but there are no additional great views. This hike starts at Walker Knob overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Last May, we stayed a week with our friends, Tony and Linda, who rented a cabin in North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fellow hiker, Zach, joined for several days as well (all members of the Hiking Upward team). As is common on a vacation with friends, we had a first night of celebrating being away and probably had a few too many beers among us.
The next day was hot, and we were definitely feeling a bit tired from the night before, so we decided to try something moderate. Eventually we landed on the Little Butt hike. You have to laugh at a hike with a name like that!
The trail started off with a gentle descent into a scenic forest landscape with lots of trillium along the way. The trail was worn through, but we could tell the spring growth would likely necessitate some maintenance as things get overgrown as the season goes on.
After we hit the bottom of the small gap, the trail starts to ascend steeply. It was tougher than we expected, even brutal at times. The climb topped out at Point Misery – about a mile and a half into the hike. From there, the trail dropped steeply for about half a mile, before going right back up for .4 miles. This section had many, many stairs constructed into the mountainside. I don’t know about you, but I typically hate to see stairs on a hike, because I know I’m in for a steep climb, since stairs are necessary to keep the trail in shape.
Once we got up through the forest staircase, the trail reaches more of a ridgeline and it was a short distance to get to the Little Butt overlook, a slab of rock where you can take in views of Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains.
At this point, Christine and I decided to stop and just enjoy the view. Big Butt is only half a mile from here, but we had read that it really didn’t have any views and was just another peak to bag. Zach and pressed on to Big Butt. We ate a quick snack at the overlook and then decided to hike back. Zach said he would catch up to us. We descended the stairs, climbed steeply back up to Point Misery, and were enjoying the easy downhill back to the car when we saw Zach running along to catch up. We were amazed at how much energy he had compared to us.
That night, we got back to our rental place and enjoyed a beautiful sunset and campfire. It was a great first day of adventure in North Carolina!
After coming off the Teton Crest Trail, we took a day off hiking and chilled in Jackson Hole. We stayed at a hotel, ate lots of good food, and checked out more of the Tetons by car. We initially planned to head into Yellowstone National Park the next day, where we had a campsite booked at Bridge Bay Campground for two nights. Adam’s back was still bothering him, so we decided to stay an extra night in a hotel before joining our friends at the campsite in Yellowstone.
The next day, we made a long, leisurely drive into Yellowstone National Park, stopping many places along the way for photos and wildlife-related traffic jams. We got to Bridge Bay midafternoon, set-up camp, and met our friends. We had dinner, enjoyed s’mores by the campfire, and attended the evening ranger program. It was like all the park camping experiences I remember from my childhood.
The next morning, we got up, grabbed breakfast, and discussed plans for the day. Brian decided to go fishing and the rest of us decided to hike up Mount Washburn. At 10,219′, Mount Washburn is the highest peak in Yellowstone’s Washburn range, and is also home to one of the park’s few remaining fire watch towers.
There are two hiking routes to the summit of Mount Washburn. The first option is to park at the Dunraven Pass Trailhead for a 6.5 mile hike with about 1400′ of climbing. We chose the second option – a shorter route starting at Chittenden Road. This route was only 4.5 miles, but has about the same elevation gain.
If I had it to do over, I would have started at Dunraven Pass and just done the longer hike. It’s supposedly prettier and has a more gradual ascent. I think my tired legs and oxygen deprived brain were just thinking “shorter is better!” I struggled with the altitude on this hike and felt queasy and dizzy most of the way. I think after seven really busy, active days with staying at a mix of campsites and hotels, I was just run down, tired, and dehydrated. I still had fun and I still made it to the top, but this was probably my toughest hike of the trip (even though it shouldn’t have been.)
The Chittenden Road is all out in the open, so bring your sunscreen. The route follows a gravel roadbed straight up the mountain, not a switchback in sight! The major up-side of the unshaded terrain is that you always have views. When we visited there were also many wildflowers and maybe just as many bighorn sheep! It was neat to see the herd which was mostly mothers and babies. Although, we never did see a big ram with the classic curled horns.
At the top of the climb, you reach the summit tower. There are bathrooms, trash cans, and information at the top. There was a ranger staffing the tower, as well. We took lots of photos, had a snack, talked to some people wearing JMU gear (fellow alumni!) The vistas at the top are truly panoramic – you can see all across Yellowstone and back into the Tetons.
After the hike, we met back up with Brian (who had a great day fishing!) and moved on to our next campsite at Canyon Campground in Yellowstone. Canyon was a much nicer campground than Bridge Bay. It had better access to amenities and the campsites were lovely and tree-shaded. Bridge Bay was mostly an open field with tent-sites so close that we heard our neighbor snoring the entire night!
A couple things to consider before you plan this hike: 1) Check the road status on Yellowstone’s official website before you go! Oftentimes, the trailhead are not accessible due to either weather or construction. 2) Start this hike early in the day. It’s one of the park’s most popular and parking is competitive.
In late fall 2018, friends messaged us and asked “Would you like to hike the Teton Crest Trail with us next summer?” After a brief discussion the answer was a resounding YES! This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of hike that makes you feel like you’re walking into scenery that belongs on the cover of Backpacker magazine.
It was such a privilege to go on this trip and we were so grateful for the invitation and our friends’ expertise. We’ve included some tips and planning advice at the bottom of this post. We’re by no means experts – we mostly wanted to share photos and our personal experience.
There are lots of route options for hiking the Teton Crest Trail. We hiked in via the Tram Approach and hiked out through Cascade Canyon to the Jenny Lake ferry – a total of about 29 miles. We hiked four days and camped three nights. What an adventure… read on!
Day One – Tram Approach to Death Canyon Shelf (9.8 miles)
Christine Says… I’ll admit it – my stomach was full of nervous butterflies when we stepped on the Aerial Tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The tram was our ride to the top of Rendezvous Peak, our start point for hiking the Teton Crest Trail (TCT).
Everything in the Tetons seems wilder and more dangerous than hiking in the east. I worried about the high altitude and how it would impact my cardio capacity. I wondered if I would react fast enough if I needed to use bear spray on a charging grizzly. I looked at the jagged peaks above and thought, “Do I really have any business going up there?”
As the gondola climbed ever upward to 10,450′, I took deep breaths and told myself I was going to have an amazing time on this four day adventure. How could I not? I was with my husband and some of my favorite hiking friends – Christy, Brian, and Kris. It was all good.
After getting off the tram, we took a few minutes for photos before descending through the pines for about 4 miles to our junction with the TCT. At each switchback, Christy made sure to say “Hey, Bear!” to make sure we didn’t startle any wildlife coming around a blind curve.
Once we were on the TCT, the terrain was open and vast. The sky was bluebird with only an occasional cotton-puff cloud. There were so many wildflowers and snow-frosted peaks to enjoy as we walked. After couple more miles, we reached our lunch stop at Marion Lake. We found some scrubby pines that offered a bit of shade while we ate. Marion Lake was lovely – cold and clear, so everyone made sure to collect and filter water.
After leaving Marion Lake, we had a 2.9 mile climb toward Fox Creek Pass. We crossed some snow along the way. There was no way around it – it was wider than it looks in the photos. Honestly, we were pretty lucky with our timing with snow – ice axes and crampons were necessary on the TCT just ten days before our visit. The snow had been deep and melted slowly in 2019.
Crossing Fox Creek Pass brought us to the Death Canyon Shelf ‘camping zone’ – which is where our permit designated we would spend our first night. The camping zone goes on for 3.4 miles of trail, and hikers can pick any suitable spot as a campsite. We had to hike another 1.5 mile or so before we found a good spot – near water – that would accommodate all three of our tents.
I’ve never camped in such an open, exposed area. It was literally like its name sounds – an open shelf with steep canyon walls both above and below it. It was so beautiful!
We got camp set-up, ate dinner, found a good place to stash our bear canisters, and went to bed early. We were all tired and my eyes were really dry from the wind, sun, and arid climate. When we zipped up our tents, it was nothing but clear skies! Even when I peaked out around 11pm, it was a dark sky filled with as many stars as I’ve ever seen.
But, as they like to say…weather changes quickly in the mountains! Sometime after midnight, we all were awakened by peals of thunder echoing down the canyon walls. Lightning was reaching across the sky and striking all around us. We heard Christy say from her tent “Hey guys, I think we need to bail to someplace less exposed.” I found my shoes and my jacket and followed the group to a place with a little more shelter and some medium height trees. Adam couldn’t find his shoes and socks easily, so we watched him from a distance, sitting in the tent, illuminated by lighting, rustling around half-asleep, trying to find his footwear. Thankfully, he made it out and joined us and didn’t get hit by lightning. We all got rained on a bit. Eventually the thunder and lightning subsided and we were able to get back in our tents.
There ended up being several more bands of storms, but none were as fierce as the first one. We stayed in our tent for the rest of them. It poured buckets of rain. It hailed a bit. The wind howled and shook our tent. I have to say, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 held up like a champ! We slept as much as we could, but most of the night we were awake anticipating what our second day would be like.
Day Two – Death Canyon Shelf to Alaska Basin (5.2 miles)
Adam says… The second day started off with rain also. We hung out in our tents for a while, but when the rain finally slowed down, we thought it would be a good idea to attempt to make a quick breakfast and then pack up our gear for a day of hiking. We knew we were going to get more rain that day, but we felt we had a window to try and get some dry miles done.
Of course, with a lot of rain from the night before, the trail was full of slippery mud. The hiking was slow going for much of the day and we often had to stop to knock the mud off our shoes and boots as it caked on and made every step a bit more challenging. The trail started off a bit uphill as we continued up to Meeks Pass.
One of the amazing things about hiking here is that every steps feels like you are looking at a postcard. The beauty all around is amazing and there are a ton of expansive views! The hike started off for an early portion of the day with views of the Tetons ahead, so we knew we were making progress towards our goal.
Much of the hiking today was filled with expansive views and interesting rock formations that had been shaped from the glaciers and high elevation winds. As we made it up to the crest of Meeks Pass, there was a sign stating we were entering into Jedidiah Smith Wilderness.
The trail ultimately does a steeper downhill to arrive into Alaska Basin, our camping spot for the second night. We did not need a permit to camp in this area, as it’s outside the National Park boundary. Alaska Basin has a ton of small ponds and streams around with lots of rocks to hop around and investigate this interesting area. We found a secluded place to set up camp. We pitched our tents shortly before the rain started to downpour again. We ducked inside our sleeping bags and napped for most of the afternoon while listening to rain and hail coming down on our tent.
We lucked out with not getting soaked, but as we could see other groups arriving later in the day, they weren’t so fortunate. The rain stopped at one point in the late afternoon and we had a chance to make a hot meal and explore the area a bit before nightfall. Since this area allows people to have bear hangs, we hung up our trash, but Brian had a nightmarish time working on getting a tree to cooperate. We stretched and did some yoga (I am not very flexible) on some large rock outcroppings. We had a lot of fun despite the weather this day and the day was filled with laughter.
Day Three – Alaska Basin to Cascade Canyon (7.3 miles)
Christine Says… After a long afternoon of rain followed by a night of more storms, we wondered if we’d get a break in the weather to enjoy Hurricane Pass – which offers the hike’s best view of the iconic Grand Tetons. Luckily, I unzipped the tent to find sparkling sunshine and clear skies. I think there’s a particular clarity and cleanness to the air after storms, and this morning was especially fresh.
We ate breakfast, broke down camp, and prepared for a third day of hiking. We had some small streams and a moderate rocky ascent leaving Alaska Basin. From there, we descended again to beautiful Sunset Lake. We talked to a few people who had camped near the lake. They mostly talked about the assault by mosquitoes that they had endured. Death Canyon shelf really didn’t have any bugs!
Leaving the lake, we could see Hurricane Pass off in the distance. It looked high and unreachable, but it ended up being a moderately steep climb for just a couple miles. We stopped near the top for a snack and some photos looking back into Alaska Basin.
A short distance later we reached Hurricane Pass and its mind-blowing views of of South, Middle and Grand Teton. We spent a lot of time here, celebrating the view and feeling gratitude for the opportunity to have this adventure. I actually had tears in my eyes because I couldn’t believe I (ME!) was standing and beholding such a majestic view.
It’s hard to walk away from Hurricane Pass, but eventually we had to make our way down. Leaving the pass, the trail drops steeply toward Schoolroom Glacier. When I say steeply, I really mean it. The trail is a literal drop-off – one misstep could send you rolling down a very steep hillside. It was really the only obstacle on the trail that gave me any inkling of a nervous pause. Incidentally, I believe the NPS has a trail restoration project going on at this drop-off to repair erosion and make it safer.
Once I took the initial plunge, the trail was fine – lots of switchbacks leading down into Cascade Canyon. As we descended, the day got hotter and I got more and more dehydrated. I had been so careful the first two days to drink often, but I guess I got careless on the third day. As we hiked on, I started to feel kind of sick with cramps and an awful headache. Even after I started drinking again, it never felt like enough to quench my thirst. Even though I was struggling, I really enjoyed walking along the stream.
We eventually got to the South Fork Cascade camping zone, which is where we had a permit for our third night of camping. We found a great spot just uphill from the stream. There was room for two tents under a cluster of trees and room for many tents in an open meadow with a canyon wall as the backdrop. Adam and I set our tent up in the meadow. Kris and I walked down to the stream and soaked our tired feet in the icy water.
We cooked dinner and spent most of the evening reflecting on the trip – highs, lows, things we were still looking forward to seeing. With this group, there is always a ton of laughter and jokes, so camp is always a fun time. We even took some time to be silly and recreate the scene pictured on the Mountain House package our dinner came in.
This was also the only night I had to use a bug net over my head! For whatever reason, I am very attractive to mosquitoes and despite all the measures I took, I still got many, many bites. I was so itchy I had to take Benadryl before bed. It was hard to believe this was our last night of the trip, and the next day we would walk back out into civilization!
Day Four – Cascade Canyon to Jenny Lake Ferry (5.7 miles)
Adam says… Due to snow, the Paintbrush area was only safely accessible to people with ice axes, so we didn’t do a full Teton Crest Trail traverse. We came down Cascade Canyon to arrive at Jenny Lake for our last day.
The trail went by some dramatic landscapes and hiked down along some fast-moving streams and waterfalls on the way down. The power of nature is really humbling through the vastness of the terrain of high elevations. As we made our way down to the Cascade Canyon area, we saw a couple of deer hanging out at a trail junction.
As we continued along Cascade Canyon, the trail was heading downhill and we started to see more day-hikers arrive as we got closer to Jenny Lake. Along the creek, we spotted a bull moose sitting in the brush and we were so glad we had the opportunity to see some of the wildlife we don’t get in Virginia.
The hike along Cascade Canyon was so scenic and we felt the warmer temperatures as we reached some lower elevations. Eventually, we reached the area known as Inspiration Point and there were a lot of day-hikers hear that were taking in the view. My back had been killing me that day, so I relaxed and worked on stretching out my back while we had a snack.
We had one last bigger descent to make down from Inspiration Point and we made it to the bottom to see tons of people along the trails. We took a short side trip to check out Hidden Falls, which is a most impressive waterfall.
From here, it was a short walk to the ferry, where we hopped on a boat to take us to the other side of Jenny Lake. While most of the passengers were just out for a short trip, they were all asking us questions about our trip over the mountains. With the cool lake breeze hitting us, we were refreshed yet exhausted from all we had done over the last several days. We picked up our car at Jenny Lake and we picked up our other cars at the tramway. Unfortunately, our rental car had been hit by another car in the parking lot, but that didn’t dampen our moods too much as we had just done a trip we will remember for a lifetime. If you’re fit enough and can navigate the permit process, make this a must-do adventure!
Final Thoughts: The Teton Crest Trail is not a trip you can go on without significant planning and preparation.
You have to get permits for each place you plan to camp along the route. Getting a permit can be competitive and the process opens in January on recreation.gov.
You’re going to need a ride at the end. This is a segment hike, so you’ll finish many miles from where you started. Plan ahead for this! Because we were in a group with multiple cars, we dropped one at our finish point the night before we started our hike.
You’ll have to carry a bear canister and bear spray. You must have an approved bear-proof container in GTNP. The ranger station can issue you a loaner if you need one. You also should plan to carry bear spray, since this is grizzly country!
If you’re arriving from the east (or anywhere considered low-country), plan to acclimate a few days before you attempt the Crest Trail. The high altitude can make you sick if you don’t give your body a bit of time to adjust.
Bring lots and lots of sunscreen! Seriously, there is very little shade along the trail. Paired with the high altitude, it is easy to get a bad sunburn very quickly.
While this hike seemed remote and intimidating, it was actually moderate terrain and I think it could be done by most people of average hiking fitness. It was not a killer-tough hike.
There are some good planning guides online that will help you plan. A couple examples:
In our visit to Grand Teton National Park, our big goal was to backpack a few days on the Teton Crest Trail. Still acclimating to the high altitudes and with a goal of also trying to conserve energy before the big trek, we picked this easy and scenic hike to Taggart Lake.
We started off fairly early and went for a drive along Moose Wilson road to start the day. On the side of the road, we were lucky enough to see a moose grazing in a clearing and we were so glad to start our day with such a fortuitous sighting! We stopped by the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to drop off a car for our return trip on the Teton Crest Trail and we were also able to swap out some of our backpacking permits for our trip so we had better camping options.
We then made our way to the Taggart Lake trailhead and parked to start our hike. The hike is 3.3 miles with only 300 feet of elevation gain. The hike is well traveled and in good condition, so most people will find this to be an easy, family hike with a big payoff.
The trail starts off with an open field view. We veered to the right at the first junction. Just about two tenths of a mile along the hike on the gravel road, we saw a black bear far off in the distant. We headed the opposite way to the right to start the main part of the hike. Shortly after that, the trail ducks more into woods and we crossed over a footbridge over a roaring creek.
After a short distance, the trail then begins a slight climb as you hike along the Taggart Creek. About a mile into the hike, the trail then opens up again into a larger field where we had great views of the Tetons. After a short distance, we came upon the junction with the Bradley Lake Trail, but stayed on the Taggart Lake Trail.
The trail stayed fairly flat from this point and in another half mile, we reached the edge of Taggart Lake. The day had been cloudy and a bit drizzly, but it made for nice reflections on the lake of the Tetons in front of us. There were a few different angles and rocks to spread out on, but this is a popular hike and you may not get the best solitude on a busy weekend. The lake was still and quite scenic and it just begged us to pause, relax, and take in the beauty of the reflections and the looming mountain backdrop.
After taking a ton of pictures, we made our way back and drove into Jackson Hole. We had lunch at Merry Little Piglets, which served delicious Tex-Mex food in a fun, decorated atmosphere. We then stopped by to get some groceries for our upcoming backpacking trip and made it back to our hotel to load our backpacks for the next day.
Note: Over the past couple years, we’ve struggled with what to do with Virginia Trail Guide. We love sharing the hikes we go on, but writing detailed posts with full turn-by-turn directions takes a ton of time. Also, it seems that most hikers prefer to visit AllTrails.com for maps and route options.
Because we still love sharing our adventures, Virginia Trail Guide is evolving! Actually, maybe devolving.. we originally started off as a blog to share photos and overall impressions of trails, while leaving mapping and wayfinding to you – the hiker. We’re going back to that model – Virginia Trail Guide will be pictures and opinions.
On that note, we have an immense pile of backlogged hikes we’ve never posted, because we simply didn’t have time to write up all the details. We’re going to be working through that backlog and sharing some of the amazing hikes we’ve done over the past few years.
The first we want to share is this amazing hike we went on at Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming in July 2019. Our friends (and guides for this trip), Christy and Brian, picked this hike out to serve as a solid training/acclimatization hike – in preparation for a bigger adventure we had planned later in the week (more about that in another post!)
The hike was about seven miles with a little over 1,900′ of elevation gain. The route used several trails on the resort property – the Bannock Trail, the Summit Trail, and the Mary’s Saddle Trail (View a Targhee Summer Trail Map.) The elevation gain was made even more challenging due to the fact that Targhee’s base sits at 8,000′ above sea level, with the final vista of the hike at close to 10,000′. Those lofty altitudes mean thinner air that leaves the unacclimated hiker gasping for oxygen.
Luckily, the hike is so beautiful that you kind of forget that you’re struggling to breathe! The early part of the trails meanders upward using switchback after switchback. The trail is very exposed to direct sun most of the way up the mountain, so you’ll definitely want to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and loads of sunscreen. You’ll also want to drink extra water – the arid climate and high elevation will dehydrate you more quickly than hiking in Virginia. You should also carry a canister of bear spray – this is grizzly country. Even though this trail is well-traveled, you should be prepared.
On the day we hiked, we happened to be sharing the route with a Ragnar race. There were many runners on course. It was impressive to see people running up those hills, as walking was challenging enough for me!
The objectives of this hike are the views from Mary’s Nipple and the vista of the Grand Tetons at the end of the Mary’s Saddle Trail. Along the ridge near the end of this hike, we could still see the last remnants of melting snow and the jagged peaks of the Tetons. It’s truly majestic scenery. Hiking out west is a totally different world compared to our rolling Appalachians.
This hike was an out-and-back, so after taking in the views, we hiked back down the same way we had come up. The hike down was spectacular, partly because the exertion of climbing uphill was done, but also because we were able to enjoy open views the whole way down! I also appreciated the huge variety of wildflowers along the trail.
After arriving back at the base, we enjoyed a late lunch at Grand Targhee’s Trap Bar & Grill. Of course, we had to get their famous Wydaho Nachos and ‘Sloshies’ (basically a boozy Slurpee).