It's not an official trail, but enough people come up this steep, wildlife-rich canyon between Death Canyon and Cascade Canyon to keep the trail in decent shape. But avalanches in 2014 have made about 1 mile of the trail quite horrible, it's covered with downed trees.
Distance from Downtown
Time to Complete
Three hours to overnight
None for a day hike: backcountry camping permits are $25
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.
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