String Lake & Leigh Lake Trail, Grand Teton National Park

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Just about everyone who visits Grand Teton National Park checks out Jenny Lake, with either a boat ride or a hike, or both.  I explored Jenny Lake on my first day in Grand Teton, and wanted more.  So on the second day of my visit, I hiked alongside two of Jenny Lake’s neighbors: String Lake and Leigh Lake.

String Lake is directly north of Jenny Lake.  On a map, it looks more like a wide spot in a river that connects the Jenny and Leigh.  But it is a lake, and early in the morning…

… it provides a crystal-clear reflection of the mountains that lie behind it.

String Lake isn’t very wide, and you can walk all the way around it, if you wish (although the trail on the far side doesn’t stay near the water’s edge).  Or, you could rent a canoe or rowboat, and take to the water.

Motorized boats are only allowed on Jenny and Jackson Lakes.  Human powered boats are allowed on many of the smaller lakes, including String and Leigh Lakes.  You will need to buy a permit.  Complete details are on the NPS website.

For the entire distance of the String/Leigh Lake Trail, the path does not always stay at the water’s edge.  Much of the time, the water is roughly 50 feet away.  There are plenty of side trails that provide access.

The highest and most famous peaks of the Teton Range are to the south.  You’ll get a better view of them from Taggart or Bradley Lakes.  From here, they’re in the distance, and partially hidden behind other mountains in the chain.

At the north end of String Lake the water is shallow and rocky.  You’re entering the transition area between String and Leigh Lakes.  Water flows from Leigh Lake, through a stream for a short distance, and into String Lake.  There’s a bridge here, that allows you to cross to the other side of String Lake, and complete the loop route.  But instead of taking that path, I decided to walk further north, along the edge of Leigh Lake–a larger and wider body of water, with some impressive mountains as a backdrop.

Between the two lakes, the trail heads through the woods.  Along this part of the trail, you’re likely to see some kayakers and canoe’ers carrying their boats between the two lakes.  Eventually, the trail rejoins the shoreline.  You’re now officially hiking along Leigh Lake.

Looking north, there are several interesting areas to explore along Leigh Lake’s eastern shore.  If you look very closely, you can find a side trail that leads out to the island you see above (actually it’s a peninsula–no wading necessary).

A little further up the trail, there’s a lonely island in the middle of the lake, on which a solitary tree grows.

You can continue up the Leigh Lake Trail, all the way to the north end of the lake, and beyond to tiny Bearpaw and Trapper Lakes.  I didn’t want to that far, but I did make it to just beyond the point you see in the picture above, where the land juts out slightly into the lake.

It’s in this area that you’ve reached the widest part of Leigh Lake.  In the distance…

… is Leigh Canyon.  You can’t get there very easily, without a boat.  Maybe that’s one reason why it looks so beautiful over there.

Just to the right of Leigh Canyon is Mount Moran.  It’s easy to recognize, because of Falling Ice Glacier (right there in the middle of things), and the distinctive black strip that appears to cut vertically through the mountain.

That black vertical strip in Mount Moran is known as the “Black Dike”.  Long before the Tetons were pushed upward, there was a crack in between the granite-like rock, called gneiss.  Molten lava flowed in and filled the crack, then cooled and hardened.  Over the ages, the mountains were pushed up, then erosion exposed the black stripe.

What You Need To Know:

  • String/Leigh Lake Trail is an “out and back” trail, meaning you go as far as you want, turn around, and hike the same way back.  Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of different things on the return trip, so it never gets boring.

  • If you want to hike from the String Lake Trailhead all the way to Trapper and Bearpaw Lakes, you’ll walk about 4 1/2 miles, one way.  If that sounds like too much, remember, the trail is easy in most places, and generally requires little elevation change.

  • If you want to hike about as far as I did (to the widest part of Leigh Lake, with a good view of Mount Moran and Leigh Canyon), you’ll travel about 2 1/4 miles, one way.

  • If you want to hike the loop around String Lake, you’ll walk about 3 1/3 miles, round trip.

  • These trails are shared by horses, and you know what that means!  You’ll need to watch your step.  Unfortunately, a large quantity of “fresh deposits” can make this trail a little less pleasant than it would be, otherwise.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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