Backpack to the Death Canyon Shelf

Rate this Adventure 20 miles 2700 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by John Sides

Pitch your tent on a cliff edge, in one of the most spectacular backcountry sites in all of Grand Teton National Park. With towering cliffs behind you, Death Canyon a thousand feet below you, and picturesque views of Grand Teton in the distance, camping on the shelf is hard to beat!

If you can snag a permit to camp at Death Canyon Shelf, consider yourself lucky. This backcountry camping zone holds some of the best sites in Grand Teton National Park. The shelf is a 3-mile stretch of the Teton Crest trail between Fox Creek Pass and Mount Meek Pass, and runs parallel to Death Canyon, with 300-foot cliffs on one side of the trail, and the floor of Death Canyon a thousand feet below you on the other.

Death Canyon Shelf is most directly accessed via Death Canyon trail, 10 miles into the backcountry. From the trailhead, stay straight and ascend the canyon all the way until you hit Fox Creek Pass, then hang a right to enter Death Canyon Shelf camping zone. Early into the camping zone (from this direction) are a few really nice spots for a tent on your right, with great views overlooking the valley you just ascended—you should feel proud. Keep going for a greater selection of sites, with several more spacious sites to the left tucked away in trees and not quite as exposed (good options if you’re hiking in a group or anticipate stormy weather). Hike another mile to mile and a half, and look for a handful of very exposed cliff-side sites that are just too good to resist. You may need to venture off the trail slightly to find spots that are suitable for a tent and previously used (Leave No Trace). These cliff-side sites are pretty rocky and can make staking a tent down quite the challenge. A word of caution, sudden wind gusts may try to sweep your tent away if it’s not staked well (lesson learned, thank you tree!). If you can’t get stakes into the rocky ground, use large rocks to tie things down.

Views from the shelf are almost too good to be true. As the sun sets, the shadows of the towering cliffs behind you stretch out slowly across the entire canyon below, and Grand Teton in the distance turns deep orange. At night, the expanse of sky above you becomes a brilliant display of stars. And in the morning, the sun illuminates the valley below, and reminds you once again how beautiful a place this really is.               

Note: Bears may be present in this area. 

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