Lake Solitude lies at the top of the North Fork of Cascade Canyon in the Grand Teton National Park. The hike to this beautiful alpine lake, which sits near the top of Paintbrush Canyon, makes for one of the great loops of the park. Cascade Canyon is one of the most scenic canyons in the U.S., a gorgeous hike with wildflowers lining the trail, waterfalls dotting the way, moose and bear, and rare views of arguably the most stunning peaks in America. The chance to view the Tetons from the inside out separates this trail from others nearby. Walking back down the trail might be even prettier than hiking up because of the spectacular views of the park's tallest peaks on your journey home.
Cascade Canyon begins at the west end of Jenny Lake. Either take a boat across or hike the loop trail around. Nearly 5 miles up Cascade Canyon, the trail forks. Take the South Fork to reach Alaska Basin over a ridge. At the North Fork, the trail to the right leads to Lake Solitude and on to Paintbrush Canyon.
The flowers in the North Fork are something special. Massive fields of bluebells cover acres at a time. Columbine and Indian paintbrush pop up in large clusters. The fireweed abounds at lower elevations in large numbers near water. Patches of rosy spiraea grow just below the most dramatic section of mountains. This place is a dream for wildflower enthusiasts.
The medium-sized lake sits in a wide mountain cirque with large patches of snow and ice that persist into the last days of summer. Small islands with pine trees sit in the middle, and a small outcropping makes a great place to rest or picnic. Large open meadows and backcountry sites make it a social gathering spot. Tired hikers from Cascade and Paintbrush canyons mingle and enjoy the beauty and the thin, cool air.
While hiking down you are looking at the backsides of Teewinot Mountain and the Grand Teton, and they are glorious. The lesser-seen angle must be earned, appearing like the Swiss Alps or even Patagonia, and these are more phenomenal than the more common vantages from the Snake River valley to the east.
This is a long trail with barely any cell coverage beyond the trailhead. Be prepared for quick-changing inclement weather, and keep your bear bell and bear spray on you at all times. There are stretches where you will not see anyone for a little while, and you need to be ready for the many dangers of hiking deep in the Tetons. One of the best parts about North Fork compared to the lower Cascade Canyon is the opportunity to backcountry camp at designated and well-marked sites. Permits must be purchased beforehand and in person at the park ($25) or online ($35).
The north loop trail around Jenny Lake to the start of Cascade Canyon adds 3 miles round trip, and you want to park at the String Lake Trailhead. The south loop adds about 4 miles roundtrip, and you will park at the south boat launch. The ferry across costs $15 round trip.