Delta Lake is one of the most incredible alpine lakes in the lower 48. It offers incredible views of Grand Teton, Teewinot, and Middle Teton peaks, and is the perfect spot to hang out. Interestingly, there is no official trail that will take you to Delta Lake – you’ll have to take the trail to Amphitheater Lake and then go off-trail to cross a boulder field.
It’s not the hardest hike, but it’s definitely a challenge – one that is more than worth it for views like this:
- Distance (mi): 7.54
- Elevation gain: 2,396 feet
- Elevation (actual):
- Minimum: 6,733 feet (at the trailhead)
- Maximum: 9,024 feet (at Delta Lake)
- Time to complete: 2.5-4 hours
- Trailhead/parking lot: Lupine Meadows Parking Lot
- Trail links:
We hit the trail around 1 PM after driving back to the park from Yellowstone. The first couple of miles were easy, with a nice steady uphill beginning about a half mile in that never got too steep to maintain a 20-24 minute mile. Over the first two miles, there weren’t a ton of places to stop and take pictures, although we were treated to some nice views of Taggart Lake as we walked.
Since Delta Lake is an unmarked trail, you have to pay pretty close attention to your GPS. You are technically on the Amphitheater Lake trail for the first 3.2 miles. I had downloaded the entire area on the Hiking Project app, which I used to figure out where the Delta Lake trail began.
There are a few switchbacks on the Amphitheater Lake trail; the Delta Lake trail starts at the corner of one of those switchbacks. When you hit 3.2 miles, you’ll see a less-used trail start off to the right. Instead of turning to the left to continue to Amphitheater lake, take that trail.
Getting to Delta Lake
Once you get onto the Delta Lake trail, you’ve only got about a half mile to go – but it’s by far the toughest part of the hike. There are two things that make it a little harder: the grade of the ascent, and the lack of a well-marked trail.
First off, this half mile is steep – maybe the steepest portion of hiking that I did during my entire trip. At certain points, the grade is upwards of 45%. I consider myself to be in pretty decent shape, but that level of grade is no joke!
Secondly, because this isn’t a real trail, it’s completely unmarked, and people take different routes to get to the top. You can climb across the entire boulder field, or stick to the rocky, tree root-covered route that you can see has been worn in by hikers over time. We weren’t feeling particularly great about the boulder field, so we opted for the tree root-filled route.
Near the very end, we took a wrong turn by a giant rock (we went below it, while you are supposed to go above it) and wound up having to climb up the boulder field for about 50 feet of vertical. You could hear water rushing beneath you; we realized we were climbing up the stream that runs down the mountain from Delta Lake.
Once we got to the top of the boulder field, we were greeted by one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.
Delta Lake sits at roughly 9,000 feet elevation, about 4,800 feet beneath the top of Grand Teton. It’s an alpine lake, fed by snowmelt and melt from Teton Glacier, which carries ultrafine rock flour down from the glacier and gives the lake its incredible color.
Centered in the lake’s incredible backdrop is the eastern face of Grand Teton, with Teton Glacier just below it. Grand Teton is about 1.7 miles from the lake as the crow flies, and its summit nearly 5,000 above the lake. It’s a truly incredible view.
To the right of Grand Teton, you can see Mount Owen in the background and Teewinot Mountain, the most dangerous mountain in the Teton range, far off to the right. To the left, you can see Middle Teton, the second tallest of the three Tetons, and Disappointment Peak in front of it. In between Grand Teton and Mount Owen is Teton Glacier, which feeds into the lake and helps give it its amazing turquoise color.
The lake is a wonderful place to hang out, with several spots that will make you feel as though you’ve got the place to yourself, even if there are 25 other people there. We hung out there for about two hours, enjoying a few beers from Snake River Brewing Company that were well worth the added weight to bring.
After we had fully enjoyed the view, taken our pictures and helped others take theirs, we headed back down the trail.
Getting Lost on the way down
When you head back to the Amphitheater lake trail, be careful to make sure you follow the exact route you took to get up. We mistakenly took a path that we didn’t take on the way up, and we found ourselves lost on the side of a steep hill. What looked like a well-worn path turned out to be a dead end.
To get back to the trail, rather than backtrack all the way to Delta Lake, we decided to climb up the steep hill using downed trees and rocks. That turned out to be the most exciting and foolish decision we made during the entire 7 day trip. Climbing up about 90 feet of elevation gain in less than .03 miles was a crazy adventure, and there was more than one occasion where one of us almost had a nasty fall.
Falling at that spot would have meant a 30+ foot tumble, which would definitely have caused some major injuries. Fortunately, we made it back to the trail without any injuries, and more than just a little bit of adrenaline to help us coast back to the parking lot.
All in, this was an incredible hike that I would do again and again. The views from the lake were hard to believe, even harder to fit into the lens of an iPhone camera. If you’re heading to Grand Teton National Park, make sure the weather is nice (this trail would be dangerous on wet ground) and get on out there!