Cascade Canyon is one of the premiere hikes in Grand Teton National Park and one of the prettiest hikes in the country. This tremendously beautiful trail cuts right into the heart of the Tetons just west of famous Jenny Lake. Most of the trail is relatively flat other than the early switchbacks, which allows many people to experience the breathtaking sights. It's surprising this hike is not a countrywide household name. The canyon is lined on both sides by some of the most steep, jagged, and rugged stone you can come across. The glacial-cut granite is still being shaped by the remaining ice that melts and flows into the many waterfalls you can see along the trail. Wildflowers abound, the wildlife is plentiful, and as the trail continues the steady stream of hikers dwindles to a trickle, a truly magnificent moment to get all this beauty to yourself.
The canyon's trailhead begins on the west side of Jenny Lake. This means you have the option of taking the ferry across and skipping the trail that lines the southwestern edge of the lake. To hike the trial, however, start at the small boat launch on the south side and take the trail through the beautiful woods and along the scenic lakeside trail. You end up on the trail to Hidden Falls and eventually cross a few bridges and pass by the boat dock. The start of Cascade Canyon is past the dock on the left, and it is well marked with a sign. The early going can be a bit steep, but beyond early switchbacks the trail has only a slight grade. After ascending the early switchbacks, the first glimpses up canyon make you realize you stumbled upon something special.
After crossing a wide and shallow brook the canyon begins to open up, revealing the first of many jaw-dropping vistas. Cascade Creek flows down the middle of the canyon, and fireweed lines the rocky banks. An endless succession of peaks rise like sentinels on both sides of the valley, and a snow-covered cirque sits far away at the source. Teewinot Mountain is the massif that looms over this trail with its formidable and steep peaks, greeting you as you enter the canyon.
Much of the rest of the trail is a gentle upward slope meandering near the river and dipping in and out of heavily wooded areas. There are several small beaches along the way with smooth pebble shores where you can have a snack and soak it all in. The river has a magical green and blue hue to it. There are waterfalls every mile or so that are fed late into the year by remaining snow and glaciers. At the end of the trail are a few awesome footbridges and a split in the trail that leads to South Fork or Lake Solitude and Paintbrush Canyon. There is no backcountry camping in Cascade Canyon, but it is allowed in certain areas farther up in both forks.
Bring your bear spray; there are long stretches with no one else around near the top of the canyon and no cell overage except near the mouth. The elevation gain isn't too bad beyond the large hill along Jenny Lake and the early switchbacks in Cascade Canyon, so the thin air will be manageable for most. Because the hike is at elevation, be prepared for the weather to change rapidly anywhere in the Tetons.