Backpack Paintbrush and Cascade Canyons

Paintbrush Canyon Trailhead, Alta, Wyoming, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    19.2 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    4900 Feet


Backpack one of the most iconic loops in the Tetons with incredible views and perspectives throughout the entire trip. Bring your fishing pole and throw a line in at Holly Lake.

This is one of the most picturesque and popular overnight trails in the Tetons for a reason. The trailhead is located at the String Lake parking lot. The trail constantly changes at every turn; be ready to experience a wide variety of gorgeous scenes from lush dense forests, scattered waterfalls, impressive mountainous surroundings, crystal clear lakes, roaming wildlife, beautiful glaciers, incredible vistas, and much more.

With such amazing views this trail is extremely busy during July through August, so be prepared to plan ahead to get permits. The trail steadily climbs the whole way up Paintbrush Canyon at 4,900 feet, but if you camp you will gain this over a two day period.

After 6.2 miles, you will arrive to Holly Lake at an elevation of 9,450 feet. Holly Lake is surrounded by towering jagged peaks providing excellent backdrops for photos and views. If you are lucky enough to get one of the three campsites at Holly Lake, be sure to take advantage of this gorgeous area by experiencing the sunset and sunrise near the lake as the light during both times colorfully illuminates the surrounding peaks with a nice alpenglow. There are fish found in Holly Lake so if you are into fishing bring your rod along.

As is standard with National Parks where bears are common, you must lock your food in a bear storage whenever you aren’t around your food. Holly Lake has bear lockers, but if you have another backcountry campsite you will need to use your bear bins/containers and hang your food.

While ascending from Holly Canyon up to the Paintbrush Divide it is common that the trail will be covered in snow patches especially in the higher elevations, just be cautious and watch your step and you will be fine. If you go early in the season you may need an ice axe, check currently trail conditions with the park rangers before you go.

Paintbrush Divide has 360 degree panoramic views that do not disappoint. Be sure to have a jacket handy as you will be very exposed at 10,720 feet and the wind can get chilly.

As you descend from Paintbrush Divide you will soon see breathtaking views of the Grand Tetons from the side and down the North Fork of Cascade Canyon. After climbing down from the divide you will arrive to Lake Solitude, another impressive lake with its own beauty.

The trail continues down and eventually connects with the main portion of Cascade Canyon after 2.7 miles, take a left at the fork in the trail following the signs to Jenny Lake. You can spot several cascading falls along this upcoming stretch of the trail, hence the name of the canyon. After hiking down 4.5 miles you will come up to another fork in the trail; here, follow the signs towards Leigh and String Lakes (left from the main trail) to hike around Jenny Lake.

After another 1.7 miles, you'll arrive back at the String Lake parking lot. Be sure to take some time after you return to your car to stop by Jenny Lake to soak in the beauty of this lake nestled near the prominent Teton Mountains.

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Cookware
  • Water filtration
  • Backcountry permit from the National Park Service to camp overnight
  • Bear proof food container
  • Headlamp
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Food
  • Lighter
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking socks (and extra socks)
  • Zip-off pants
  • Down jacket or fleece
  • Waterproof / rain jacket
  • Beanie
  • Gloves
  • Knife
Read More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More


Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

First backpack trip was over the Paintbrush divide and down to Lake Solitude when I was 14 years old. It was still July and there was snow everywhere. Right before crossing the divide, a storm cloud rolled in dumping rain and hail on us. Lightning and thunder shook the sky as we ran across the divide. We started making our way down towards Solitude Lake and the sky cleared up right then. Unparalleled views of the mountains. Truly amazing!

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

Definitely recommend hiking/running up Paintbrush Canyon and down Cascade Canyon, not only for elevation reasons, but also because catching the views of the Grand Teton (and friends) for the first time after hitting Paintbrush Divide will have you on the floor. Then you will enjoy a nice, relaxing descent into Lake Solitude. If you can swing a backcountry permit, camping in either canyon is very enjoyable and will give you time to explore the area more.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

If you've only got a couple days to backpack in Grand Teton National Park, this is your hike. Paintbrush and Cascade Canyons are both incredibly scenic, and the view from Paintbrush Divide is almost unbeatable. This loop is spectacular going either direction. Plan for mid July through August if you're hoping to avoid steep snowfields on the Paintbrush side of the divide, but be aware that this is peak season. Plenty of campsites in either canyon give you lots of options to make this an overnight trip.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

I recommend this hike to everyone I know. It's by far one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever been on.

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

One of the best trail running loops in the national parks. If you go early season (usually June) bring an ice axe for numerous steep snowfield crossings.

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Paintbrush Canyon is one of my absolute favorite hikes in the area.

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

Go up Paintbrush and down Cascade. That way the hike is 1/3 up and 2/3 down, instead of the other way around!

about 3 years ago
about 3 years ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

Nearby Adventures

Hike the Sugar Bowl Loop in Kings Canyon NP

Tulare County, California

First and foremost, to get to this trailhead you need to drive down a 2-mile, one lane dirt road that is quite steep.

3 Saves

Hike to Ehukai Pillbox

59178 Ke Nui Road, Hawaii

This hike starts directly across from Banzai Pipeline, the famous barreling wave at Ehukai Beach.

7 Saves

Winter Hike to Calypso Cascades

1046 County Highway 115, Colorado

While most people go snowshoeing near the Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge area in RMNP, Wild Basin is a much less trafficked option.

5 Saves