With a name like Death Canyon, you know you are in for a good time! This hike is gorgeous and has far fewer people than many nearby trails.
From the outset, tremendous views overlook Phelps Lake as the trail leads down switchbacks to the mouth of the canyon. As the trail levels, views up-canyon to the foreboding jagged valley mouth beckon. The heavy granite trails are a hallmark of the Grand Tetons, and so are the ultra-jagged ridgelines, which Death Canyon has in spades. A creek runs down the middle, similar to the other major canyons in the park, and beautiful pebble beaches sit at the top of the trail near the cabin.
The large Death Canyon Barn, also known as Patrol Cabin, is used in the winter by the ski patrol, and it is tightly sealed in summer. It was built in 1935, and it is a registered historical building. A few minutes past the cabin is a stunning, must-see meadow. The basin is tremendous and has even more hard-to-believe formations, including Albright Peak and a large waterfall coming down from it. If you turn around at the cabin you might miss the single prettiest part of the trail.
What makes this hike special is getting many long stretches of solitary moments even on a weekend in the summer. The beauty is immense. It is not an easy hike, but relative to many of the other nearby options, less capable hikers could successfully hike the trail. The small waterfalls and the upper valley floor are just spectacular, with babbling brooks near the last fourth of the trail that are right out of a storybook. With peaks sitting above flowing rivers and flowers on all sides, it's the kind of place you don't want to leave.
Wildflowers such as fireweed, Indian paintbrush, and bluebells abound on all sides of the trail in the summer, and there are many berry varieties for the brown and black bears. Keep an eye out for moose, marmot, hummingbirds, and the iconic and little pika. Make sure to bring bear spray and a bell; reputedly, there are fewer grizzlies down in the southern parts of the park, but experience suggests otherwise, and they are abundant here.
There is an optional spur trail to Phelps Lake at a junction near the first third of the trail. Continue past Patrol Cabin to link up to the rest of Death Canyon and its backcountry campsite zone. The trail continues all the way up to Fox Creek Pass at 9,500 feet.