For years I stayed away from Avalanche Canyon because I was
worried that it’d be a bushwhacking hell. The canyon, between Death Canyon and
Cascade Canyon in GTNP does not have a maintained trail up it.
Enough climbers and explorers come up here though that the
trail is fairly well-worn. You do have to climb over/under some deadfall, but,
as of summer 2013, I didn’t have to do this on more than six occasions. All of this is in the lower section of the canyon, above Taggart lake and well below Lake Taminah. UPDATE: avalanches coming down Four Hour Couloir have left a very robust debris field that has obliterated any semblance of trail for about 1 mile. During this mile, expect to be climbing up and over many dozens of downed trees. We won't lie. It sucks. Do know that there are amazing views above though.
Avalanche Canyon has a north and south fork. The split
happens below Mt. Wister, about four miles up the canyon. I’ve never gone up
the south fork in the summer. I’ve been up there skiing plenty of times in the
winter and it’s gorgeous. Come summer though, it’s the north fork and its trio
of lakes, Lake Taminah, Snowdrift Lake, and then, at the very back, tiny Kit
Lake, that draw me. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, there is one
more lake in the area, Icefloe Lake. Icefloe is the highest lake in the park and I’ve given it its own entry. You
have to head up and over the saddle to the north of the back of the north fork
of Avalanche and into Dartmouth Basin to get there. I think the extra effort is
worth it. Snowdrift Lake is beautiful, and Icefloe is even more so.
The trail up Avalanche Canyon isn’t always the easiest to
find at its beginning. Once you’re on it and in the canyon, it’s pretty
straightforward though. You start at the Bradley Taggart Lakes trailhead. There is a maze of trails
all around here. Look for the trail that generally heads for the northern shore
of Taggart Lake. Taggart is the more southern of the two lakes. When this trail forks to head down to the
eastern shore of Taggart though, don’t follow it. Stay heading west. There
should be a trail here. You can see the canyon you’re aiming for.
In the higher reaches of the canyon, when brush and trees
have given way to scree, look for cairns. Generally the trail is on the
northern side of the canyon as you begin to approach Taminah Lake.
Lake Taminah is a worthy objective in itself, but Snowdrift,
another 1,000 feet above is even cooler. It’s at the back of the canyon and
its western end is tucked into a dramatic amphitheater.
Warning: moose and black bears really love Avalanche Canyon. Expect to see one or both. Make plenty of noise.