Hike Paintbrush Canyon to Holly Lake

14 miles 2575 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Chema Domenech

A strenuous 14-mile out and back hike to a high altitude lake on the slopes of an 11,500-foot peak. It is called Paintbrush Canyon for a reason, Indian Paintbrushes and tens of thousands of wildflowers follow the path to the top. 

This day-long adventure takes off from the Paintbrush Canyon Trailhead. The trailhead is located north of the very popular Jenny Lake along String Lake Rd. It took us about 7 and half hours including an hour lunch break to hike up and down from about 6,900 feet to 9,300 feet, an early start is definitely recommended.

Once at the trailhead you will walk down a paved path for about 300 feet where you will see a footbridge to your right. Take the footbridge across the creek to the western side of String Lake. About a third of a mile in, you will reach a split in the trail, stay right to continue along the western shore of String Lake. If in doubt, look for a trail sign that points you in the “right” direction.

The next 1.3 miles take you along the ridge of the lake through aspen groves. As you gain elevation you will also begin to see beautiful panoramas of the valley lakes below.

About 1.6 miles into your adventure you will reach another trail split. This time stay left to continue onto the Paintbrush Canyon Trail. Enjoy the shade of through this part of the trail, soon you will reach Paintbrush Canyon and will be bathed by the sun.

As you reach the mouth of the canyon, 3 miles in, you will pass through a long stretch of Huckleberry bushes. Bears love huckleberries as much as we do or more. Make sure you make a lot of noise through this stretch of your hike and have your bear spray handy.

Around 4 miles into the trail you will cross Paintbrush Canyon Creek before emerging into the open terrain of the canyon. You will have great views of the canyon with its wildflowers as well as great vistas of the valley below. The rushing water of the creek should be a good indication that you have a somewhat strenuous adventure ahead of you.

As you hike up, the creek will remain on your left and mostly hidden by willows. This is a good place to spot a moose, although I haven’t been as lucky. If you are hiking in the early summer and the snowmelt is flowing, you should look for waterfalls on either side of the trail. This portion of the trail has significant elevation gain through boulder fields and is a strenuous part of the hike. Although not needed, hiking poles could be useful.

Between 6 and 6.5 miles into the hike you will reach Holly Lake Junction. Hikers should stay right towards Holly Lake. The trail to the left leads to Lake Solitude, but that’s another adventure.

Just after the junction the trail passes a small pond on the left. Don’t confuse this with Holly Lake or you might be disappointed. Continue for another half mile to the lake.

You finally made it! Holly Lake lies just below the slopes of the 11,590 foot Mt Woodring. You are most likely hungry and in need of a little rest. We veered right towards the eastern shore of the lake and sat on a boulder for our lunch break. I recommend taking this route, as the views are much better.

After refueling your mind and body start heading back down. It is worth noting that afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Tetons. Keep an eye on the sky, if it starts to look like thunderstorms, don’t hang around to find out.

A quick note: There can be significant snow pack well into July. We did this hike in late June and encountered some decent snowfields near the Holly Lake Junction. 

Read More


Easy Parking


Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

🥇Top Contributor

over 3 years ago

A destination you've got to earn

Hiking from String Lake to Holly Lake is no joke. Fortunately Paintbrush Canyon is stunning, and the scenery will help distract you as you climb. Holly Lake is so peaceful, and would be an incredible place to camp if you manage to get a permit. I've been here in late July with a significant snowfield just beyond Holly Lake the prevented climbing up Paintbrush Divide without an ice axe, but I've also seen it in early August totally clear of snow.


🥇Top Contributor

about 4 years ago

This is such a beautiful hike that offers a plethora of incredible views and changing scenery throughout. You start below the Tetons near Leigh Lake and, as you ascend, you will pass by a great amount of wildlife, plant life, rushing rivers, and more. When we went, there was a moose hanging on the trail, but peacefully moved aside after some time. Once at Holly Lake, you can bask in the sunshine near the water and take a breather, but I definitely recommend exploring (or camping in) the Upper Paintbrush area as well!

🥈 Contributor

over 4 years ago

You Can Also Camp

If you are looking for a backcountry trip this is also a great spot. Lower Paintbrush, about 3 miles in has a ton of sites. Later in the summer you can also hike at Holly Lake. Just remember to get a backcountry permit. https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/back.htm

Stay Nearby

Alta, Wyoming

Teton Canyon

Overview Teton Canyon Campground is located in beautiful Teton Canyon at an elevation of approximately 6,500 feet. Driggs, Idaho is just 11 miles away. Hiking, backpacking and horseback riding are ...

Alta, Wyoming

Reunion Flat

Overview Reunion Flat Campground is located in beautiful Teton Canyon in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Hiking, backpacking and horseback riding are popular activities in this scenic region.R...

Teton Village, Wyoming

Glamping Of Jackson Hole

Glamping of Jackson Hole is a summer glamping destination located in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. We provide a luxury wilderness camping experience only 20 minutes from Jackson Hole down Fall...

From $500/night

Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson Hole Adventure Townhouse

Nestled in Jackson Hole between Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and Snake River, our 3BR, 3BA log townhouse is the perfect home base for up to 8 adventurers. With cozy rustic décor and easy access t...

From $187/night

Nearby Adventures

  • Backpack Paintbrush and Cascade Canyons

    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 sce...

    19.2 miles 4900 ft gain

  • Backpack the Paintbrush Canyon Loop

    There are many ways to access the Teton backcountry. However, one of my personal favorites is from Leigh Lake via the String Lake trailhead. From the backcountry office obtain a backcountry permit for 2 nights at Leigh Lake. Site 12 has some of th...

    26 miles 4400 ft gain

  • Hike Mount Moran

    Mount Moran’s CMC Route is best climbed by starting at String Lake’s boat launch. From here, pack up your overnight and climbing gear into your kayak or canoe and start your journey north on String Lake. At the end of the lake, portage a few hundr...

    10 miles 5500 ft gain

  • Paddle String Lake and Leigh Lake

    Whether you have your own canoe, kayak, or stand up paddle board or you need to rent, paddling the String Lake and Leigh Lake circuit is a less beaten path through Grand Teton National Park. Upon entering the park (or whenever you're ready for thi...