Best Jackson Hole Backpacking Trips With Kids

It's hard to get bored when you're camping by a lake.
It's hard to get bored when you're camping by a lake. Oakley Originals
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Jackson is a popular spot for adventures of all ages: It's common to see parents hauling babies and small children up to mountain peaks, deep into the wilderness, and even out skiing, with the little ones strapped to their back or belly in a carrier.

But although outdoor activities are great for family activities, sometimes it's tricky to figure out the best way to get started with your kids. The summertime, while they're out of school, offers an ideal time to start to ease them into backpacking, especially with Grand Teton National Park so close by, with relatively easy lakeshore routes and campsites sure to get the little adventurers as excited about the great outdoors as you are.

Enjoy some tent time this summer on these family-friendly backpacks.
Enjoy some tent time this summer on these family-friendly backpacks. Flickr user 'JustTooLazy'

Preparing for Your Trip

If it's your first time bringing the kids out backpacking, take a few steps to prepare and make it a memorable trip that everyone will want to repeat. (REI offers a number of tips for getting your young ones excited to try backpacking.) While a handful of kids are naturally attuned to hike for miles without complaint and sleep peacefully in dark and unfamiliar surroundings, most need some preparation for a successful outing. The more preparation you can do before your trip, the less likely you'll end up with grumpy campers.

Start by getting your kids used to spending time outdoors. Go for hikes and have them carry their own light packs to get them accustomed to it. Make it an exciting adventure, since camping can be unfamiliar and scary to some kids. The darkness and unfamiliar surroundings, combined with the noise critters rustling in the bushes, can be a recipe for a scary, sleepless night. Get kids used to camping by letting them camp in the backyard or even inside the house. Family camping trips to drive-in campsites are also very helpful, though camping in a campground with others is different than backpacking with no one nearby. Be excited and enthusiastic and involve kids in the planning stages of your trip. Consider joining with another family so your kid can have some friends to play with.

Break out the glowsticks for some kid-friendly campsite fun.
Break out the glowsticks for some kid-friendly campsite fun. James Emery

Don't forget to bring plenty of kid-friendly snacks and glowsticks for nighttime play (which can double as a nightlight so the tent doesn't get too dark). Be sure to keep safety in mind on your outing. Equip kids with a whistle and tell them to blow it if you become separated. Make sure they also have a flashlight or headlamp handy. Go over safety practices and let them know what to do in different situations, but be reassuring and comforting and let them know that things should go just fine.

Backpacking in Grand Teton National Park

To go backpacking in Grand Teton National Park, you'll need to secure a permit ($35 when reserved in advance, $25 for walk-up permits) before heading out on your trip. You have to camp in designated campsites or “zones.” You can reserve one-third of sites in advance (from January through May 15) online, but after that you'll have to snag a walk-up permit. Be sure to have an appropriate bear canister and follow all bear precautions . The park's backcountry trip planner is very helpful for planning.

In the Tetons, most trails seem to rise straight up from the valley floor high into the mountains. But these flatter, lakeshore routes provide flatter trails with stunning scenery that's great for kids. Try your hand at these beginner and kid-friendly Jackson Hole backpacking trips.

Hike along Leigh Lake and take in the stunning scenery.
Hike along Leigh Lake and take in the stunning scenery. Allan Harris

Leigh Lake

Head out from the Leigh Lake Trailhead and hike north along the eastern shore of Leigh Lake. A group campsite is 2.2 miles from the trailhead, with some smaller campsites just beyond. Across the lake on the western shore, you'll find a number of boat-in campsites, but you'll need a canoe or kayak to access them. The walk-in sites on the eastern shore are right by the lake, so you can spend your time swimming, wading, playing, or just sitting back and taking in the mountain views.

Trapper and Bearpaw Lakes

This trip also begins at the Leigh Lake Trailhead. From the trailhead, head north along Lake Lake, passing the group campsite and the Leigh Lake campsites along the eastern shore around mile 2.2. Continue north for another 1.5 miles and you'll find Trapper and Bearpaw Lakes. These lakes have several backcountry campsites where you can enjoy peaceful views, find plenty of room to play, and watch marmots scurrying about.

Soak up the scenic views camping along the shores of Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park.
Soak up the scenic views camping along the shores of Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Winston Mcleod

Phelps Lake

Enjoy a lakeside swim and unbeatable views from this campsite on the northeastern shore of Phelps Lake. One way to reach the site is to begin at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve off of Moose-Wilson Road. (This area has limited parking, so be sure to get there early to snag a space.) From the parking area, follow the trail to Moose-Wilson Road, carefully cross the road, and then continue through the forest, slightly uphill. You'll reach the lake in a little over a mile. Then, hike along the eastern shore of the lake on a fairly flat, well-maintained trail. In less than two miles, you'll reach the campsite.

The second option is to head toward the campsite from the Death Canyon Trailhead. Follow the signs to Death Canyon from Moose-Wilson Road and take this short drive down a rough, unpaved road until it ends at the Death Canyon Trailhead. Then, hike a mile uphill to the Phelps Lake Overlook. Here, you'll find stunning views of the lake. Then, continue down toward the lake, decreasing in elevation and heading east toward the campsite, which is perfect for swimming and playing on the lakeshore.

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