Delta Lake Hike | Grand Teton National Park Hiking
Delta Lake Hike | Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Delta Lake Hike Details:
Starting Elevation: 6,751 ft.
Distance: 8.2 miles, roundtrip (how far you hike around the lake will alter your mileage slightly)
Elevation Gain: 2,190 ft.
Hike Type: Out and back, day-hike
Difficulty Level: Strenuous
Food Storage: There are bear boxes at the Lupine Meadows trailhead. This trailhead is very popular throughout the day. If we were doing an overnight trip, we would have placed items in the bear locker, but felt comfortable leaving a few scented items out of sight in our car. A bear canister is required for any backpacking trips.
Restrooms: A pit toilet is available at the trailhead and is heavily used. When we tried it, there was no toilet paper, so be sure to bring your own, just in case!
Cell Service: Very limited (true of Grand Teton, in general). I found a slight signal in the parking lot before we departed. We recommend a paper map or downloading a map from AllTrails and anything else you need before you head to the trailhead area.
Permit: None for day-hikes. You can’t camp at Delta Lake, but permits are available for nearby Surprise Lake through recreation.gov. We recommend a National Park Pass (America the Beautiful) for admission to the park and saving time in line.
Special Information: Delta Lake is not an officially maintained trail by the National Park Service. The lake is listed on some maps, but to reach it you will need to traverse downed trees, boulder fields, and steep terrain with only the guidance of cairns. Be sure you are physically prepared for such an undertaking before starting this hike!
Date Hiked: July 27, 2020
Directions to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead
From Jackson: Take US 191 N towards Moose and then head left at the junction onto Teton Park Road. After paying your admission at the park entrance, continue until a you reach Lupine Meadows Road and turn left. A dirt road (no clearance needed) leads to the main parking area of the trailhead.
Note: Due to the very busy nature of the trails in this area, depending on the time of day you arrive, you may have to park alongside the road leading up to the main lot. We saw cars there even when we arrived at 6:00 a.m. (likely backpackers) and it is required that you park parallel (not head in). The National Park Service patrols this area regularly and we saw cars that had been ticketed for failing to follow proper procedures.
Grand Teton National Park Hiking: Delta Lake
The hike starts out with a leisurely walk through the forest. At 0.35 miles in, the trail begins to climb and you’ll encounter some old wood steps. A wooden bridge crosses a creek just past the half mile mark. Just beyond 1.25 miles, the trail ascends continuously and steadily. We hit some mosquitoes here, so we used this as an opportunity to apply some bug spray before continuing on.
At 1.8 miles, and following the long climb, you will reach a junction. Continue towards Amphitheater Lake. This next section will switchback as you make your way up to the lake. Here, you’re rewarded with beautiful wildflowers and once out of the trees, views down to Bradley and Taggart Lakes. On the third switchback, you’ll have some of the best views of Bradley & Taggart Lakes. Since we had done most of this hike already, we minimized our stops so that we could stay ahead of as many other hikers as possible.
Another junction splits off left to Garnett Canyon at 3.25 miles, continue straight here towards Amphitheater Lake. Once you reach the top of the sixth switchback, around mile 3.4, take a right turn here towards unmarked Delta Lake (it’s hard to miss). When we first hiked to Amphitheater Lake, we remember seeing this turn off and a small sign that no longer exists.
This section of the trail is where you enter the “non-maintained by the park” part of the hike. It was clear though, that previous work had been done on the trail. We passed over some downed trees, roots, and rugged terrain. After a portion of up and down, you’ll come to your first of two boulder fields. Stay on the big rocks and follow the cairns. After some additional dirt, you’ll cross a second boulder field, following the cairns and a yellow ribbon tied to a tree, followed by a steady incline up to the lake at 4.15 miles.
You can rock hop around the lake and grab a spot for lunch with a view. There was plenty of space for us to spread out, and we had an incredible view. Several of the other hikers decided to hop in to the lake as a reward for their efforts. Everyone who did so, including Julie who only put her feet in, exclaimed that the water was freezing cold.
We spent about an hour-and-a-half at the lake before returning back the way we came. The hike down was very crowded, and there were at least 30 people at the lake as we were getting ready to leave. Don’t expect solitude at Delta Lake, but the views make the challenging hike worth every step.
Final Thoughts on the Delta Lake Hike
Delta Lake is easily one of the most beautiful lakes we have ever been to! The payoff for the work you put in to reach the lake makes it that much more special. While we had some initial concerns about the boulder sections of the hike, they proved to be very manageable. Staying on the larger rocks, putting our trekking poles in one hand (keeping the other hand free for balance, when needed) made it much less difficult than anticipated. While the last section before reaching the lake is steep, we felt perfectly comfortable on this section using our trekking poles (we saw some people on their way up when we were descending on all fours which seemed excessive).
Take your time and start early! There were a lot of people heading up midday in direct sunshine (once you’re out of the forest, there is little shade) and this hike takes a lot out of you, so be prepared with extra water if the temperatures are high. It’s also important to remember that Grand Teton is notorious for afternoon thunderstorms, so it’s best to get up to the lake so you’re not sitting on exposed rock if a storm rolls in. We loved this hike and highly recommend it!
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