Hiking the Paintbrush Divide Loop

Details

Distance

20.1 miles

Elevation Gain

5764 ft

Route Type

Loop

Added by James Brady

A great loop hike that will challenge but reward you with some of the best views you can find in the Grand Tetons.

The Paintbrush Divide is a popular hike in Grand Teton National Park (and for good reason) The 20.1-mile loop over the divide and into Cascade Canyon can be completed as one long day hike or extended into a two day backpacking trip. My friends and I did the loop as a day hike in mid-August and were able to complete it in just under 12 hours.

Park your car near the String Lake Picnic Area and start your hike via the Leigh Lake Trailhead. The first mile or two of the trail takes you through forests and along small lakes that offer tranquil views of the Teton Range in the distance. After about 45 minutes of hiking the trial starts to gradually ascend up Paintbrush Canyon. As you hike higher, the forest thins out and you eventually emerge above the tree line and are rewarded with spectacular views back towards String Lake and Jenny Lake.

The hike then continues up towards the 10,700-foot Paintbrush Divide. The last mile or so before the divide takes you through rocky, exposed terrain. Even though it was mid-August when we went, we still had to hike through two snowbanks that had survived the summer heat. The snowbanks were easy to navigate, however, since foot trails were already well established due to the decent level of daily traffic the trail receives.

Upon reaching the top of the Paintbrush Divide, find a good spot to sit down and eat lunch while enjoying our view from ten thousand feet. After lunch begin your decent down the backside of the Paintbrush Divide. The next stop is Lake Solitude, which you can see in the distance. It is during this point of the hike that you are rewarded with your first view of Grand Teton. Dominating the view in front of you, the mountain and its neighbors will not disappoint.

You will reach Lake Solitude in about an hour, where you can stop to take a swim. The crystal clear waters help refresh you on a hot day and give you a second wind. After drying off, continue the descent towards Cascade Canyon. The benefit of hiking the loop in this direction is that the majority of the afternoon is spent hiking downhill with a truly stunning view of the Grand Teton directly in front at all times. If you hike the loop in the opposite direction you won't be able to appreciate this view nearly as much, as it will be behind you the whole time.

The forest becomes much thicker as you enter Cascade Canyon. Be sure to carry bear spray with you as we were forced off of the trail during this stretch when a black bear came walking up our trail in the opposite direction of us. Thankfully for us, the bear seemed content to continue on his way and scurried past us without any interest. The adrenaline boost from our bear encounter helped us navigate the last few miles to Jenny Lake, which lies at the end of Cascade Canyon. The trail then takes you through a recent forest fire area along the western shore of the lake. During this stretch we had some good wildlife sightings, including a large bull moose that was feeding on some brush in a gorge below us.

Having set off at 7:00AM, we returned to the String Lake Picnic Area around 7:00PM. Our collective group was sore and happy to see the car. We quickly put our gear in the trunk and then piled into the car and set off to find some dinner and beer to help cap off a truly great day.

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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