Who’s the tallest lake of them all? For the dozens (and dozens) of alpine lakes in Grand Teton National Park, only one of them is at 10,652-feet, Icefloe Lake. Icefloe is the highest of all the park’s lakes. That alone makes it worth the extra effort of getting there. The lake’s beauty—outstanding for any altitude—is icing on the cake.
What Makes It Great
Icefloe Lake is about 800 feet directly below the saddle between the Middle and South Tetons. You don’t want to get to it from this saddle though, unless there’s snow on the ground and you’ve got skis on your feet. Once the snow is melted here, the terrain between the saddle and Icefloe is rocky, loose and generally treacherous. There are two much safer ways to get there. Both are about 20 miles round-trip though, so Icefloe is never a destination for the faint of heart.
Option 1: Avalanche Canyon has an unmaintained but well-traveled trail up it. Start from the Bradley Taggart Lakes trailhead and stay between the two lakes. This whole lakes area is crisscrossed with trails, so it’s impossible to give an exact route. Just stay between Bradley and Taggart lakes and you’ll be fine. (Also, you should have a topo map with you for this adventure, so refer to that.) Avalanche Canyon is the obvious gawping canyon behind the lakes. As you get to the western side of the lakes, your trail options will diminish and you’ll eventually be left with a single trail. That’s the one that goes up Avalanche Canyon. It sometimes disappears, but you’re never left wondering for long. Do watch out for moose. You’ll hit several lakes as you proceed up Avalanche. At the back of the canyon, drop north over a small saddle into Dartmouth Basin, which hangs above the south fork of Cascade Canyon, and begin making your way east. You’re pretty much aiming to get directly below the saddle between the South and Middle Tetons. There is no trail here, but use your sense to figure out where a fairly sizeable lake might be hiding. There’s an outlet that difficult to miss. You will not see the lake itself until you’re pretty much on it.
Option 2: The South Fork of Cascade Canyon has a highly trafficked, well-maintained trail all the way up it. Park at Jenny Lake and take the ferry across that lake or do the two-mile hike around. Follow trail signs for Lake Solitude. About four miles up Cascade Canyon the trail forks. The north fork goes to Lake Solitude and the south fork to Hurricane Pass. Take the south fork. In another three to four miles, after you’ve climbed nearly 2,000 feet, there’s a small fork to the south marked Dartmouth Basin. Take it. Follow this trail until its end and then begin making your way over the rocks to the saddle below the Middle and South Tetons. As when you come from Avalanche Canyon, you won’t see Icefloe Lake until you’re at it.
Option 3: Of course loops are almost always better than out-and-backs. Why not go up Avalanche and then down Cascade? The hitch back to the BT lakes parking lot should be easy. If it’s not, the valley trail from Jenny Lake to BT lakes is about four miles.
Who is Going to Love It
You can do this as a 20-some mile out and back via two different routes or a 20-some mile loop. It’s also a short detour off the Teton Crest Trail as you’re descending the south fork of Cascade. This is a popular loop with mountain trail runners. Over the loop you gain (and then descend) about 5,000 vertical feet.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
At the beginning of the 2014 season, Grand Teton National Park began charging for backcountry camping permits, $25. It’s not $25 a night, but for the length of the permit. You can camp right at Icefloe Lake, a primitive camping area with no pit toilets, fire rings or anything. There is a backcountry camping zone with numerous spots in the South Fork of Cascade Canyon.
Camping is also allowed in Avalanche Canyon, but there are no campsites leveled out or cleared. It could be difficult to find a spot in this canyon. Of course there are spots flat enough and without vegetation, but they will be more difficult to find. The Moose Permit Desk is at 307-739-3309. Permits can also be gotten at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.