The hike to Paintbrush Divide in Grand Teton National Park is phenomenal. The steady climb brings you up from String Lake, through the gorgeous wildflower-filled Paintbrush Canyon and up to the most magnificent pass in the Teton Range. This long trail will take the entire day, so clear your calendar!
From Colter Bay, head south down the John D. Rockefeller Parkway. At the first intersection, turn right down Teton Parkway towards Jenny Lake. After nearly 17.0km, turn right onto Jenny Lake Rd. (indicated as North Jenny Lake). After turning right you will see signs towards the parking area, however to minimize the total hiking around the lake, you should continue straight towards the additional parking area. Continue as far as you can and park in the shade. These parking lots get very busy, as String Lake is a popular picnic spot, so get here early! You can also access this hike coming from Moose in the South.
|When to do|
June through October
Out and back
Regardless of where you park, head towards the lake and turn right. You will continue around the water, crossing a wide wooden bridge over the stream that connects Leigh Lake to String Lake. The signs will point towards Paintbrush Canyon and Paintbrush Divide, and each intersection is well marked.
After crossing the bridge climb gently around the lake until you reach another junction. Again follow the signs for Paintbrush Divide and turn right. Now you are on the main trail up Paintbrush Canyon, and have no more major intersections to worry about. The trail starts the climb through the forest, keeping you cool as you go. We saw several berry pickers out, grabbing wild huckleberries.
For approximately the first 7.0km of the hike, you’ll climb through the forest with few views except the wealth of lush forest around you. Odds are you will pass backpackers finishing the Teton Crest Trail. Ask any of them if you need motivation, and they will rave about the views from Paintbrush Divide.
The only deviation in the trail up to Paintbrush Divide is the small fork that leads to Holly Lake, which rejoins the main trail after less than 2.0km. This deviation does not add extra distance to your hike, it only makes part of the trail a little steeper. The reflection of Mt. Woodring in Holly Lake, however, is easily worth it.
Past Holly Lake you will be fully in the alpine, with unbelievable views of the jagged Teton Ridges that line your vision. Grizzly and brown bears frequent the area past Holly Lake, so bring bear spray, hike in a group, and make some noise.
The last 2.5km of the ascent to Paintbrush Divide is through a large screen slope. The trail, however, is quite well managed and switchbacks up nicely. Because this is a north facing aspect expect snow early in the season, and come prepared with ice axe and crampons.
Upon arriving at the wide, gentle plateau that is Paintbrush Divide you will be readily rewarded with stunning views down Paintbrush Canyon. The full grandeur of Mt. Woodring will become apparent, as will the true expanse of the Teton Range, including the menacing face of “The Jaw” back the way you came. Looking down and to the left you can see the tiny, teal Grizzly Bear Lake, and the start of yet another canyon.
You can continue down part of the way towards Solitude Lake and get a view down the North Fork of Cascade Canyon. Descending less than 100m, look down to the right to find the larger Lake Solitude, and above it – below a cirque – the green Mica Lake. You will also be able to see a glimpse of Mount Owen and Grand Teton at the far end of the valley.
Return the way you came and be careful on the scree slope. It is a lot more slippery going down. However, one option is to combine this hike with Cascade Canyon by descending to Solitude Lake, then taking the trail to Jenny Lake. However each hike is so stunning that they warrant doing on separate days.
Leave a bathing suit in your car. String Lake is a wonder to swim in, and you will be sticky and sweaty after a long 30.0km day!
Start as early as you can. It is a lot easier to hike in the cool morning than in the hot afternoon.
Chances are you will need a warm jacket and a windbreaker at the top – it gets breezy.
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