Delta Lake in Grand Teton National Park definitely doesn’t disappoint! The turquoise lake is colored by glacial silt, and is even more beautiful in person. Pictures can’t do this place justice and the hike in is quite scenic too. Below you’ll find all the facts plus the story of our one perfect day in the Teton’s as well. This hike used to be a hidden gem, but is now quite popular as you might imagine, so definitely expect to share the trail!
We started our one and only day in the Tetons in a small gravel parking lot just south of Yellowstone National Park. We had spent some wonderful days up in the Beartooth Pass area and wanted to see Grand Teton National Park. Our ‘vacation’ was just a break between one construction job ending for Tyler, and another beginning. So the amount of time we had was unknown.
And so like 2 people that should know better, we decided to brave entering Yellowstone on the 4th of July. I cannot emphasize enough how busy Yellowstone is, and a holiday weekend is much worse. Really you need to rethink your decisions going in there on a holiday!
But it was our only route to get to the Teton’s, so we figured we’d just have to endure it. We started off in Lamar Valley and got re-routed because the pass was closed. Everything was going fine until we hit a traffic jam… I guess there was a bear. Anyways everyone threw their vehicle into park. Some even parked in the middle of the road and got out to pursue the bear on foot.
(Story continued below.)
Everything you need to know about hiking Delta Lake in Grand Teton National Park!
- Distance – 8.2 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain – 2,400′
- Difficulty Rating – Difficult/strenuous
- Trailhead – Lupine Meadows Trailhead
- Pets – No pets allowed on this trail, it’s a national park.
- Bathrooms – pit toilets are located at the trailhead.
Delta Lake, Surprise Lake, & Ampitheather Lake:
- Distance – 11.5 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain – 3,800′
- Difficulty Rating – Strenuous, a long day if you take time to enjoy each place, but doable if you’re in excellent shape!
How do I get to Delta Lake step by step?
- Start at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead and hike just past the turnoff for Garnet Canyon at about 3 miles.
- Take a right off the next switchback, (left on the actual trail heads towards Ampitheater) down a short steep stretch with logs across it. This is unmarked and there isn’t any kind of sign.
- Follow the narrow dirt ‘trail’ as it heads up towards the boulder fields, climbing over downfall.
- At the first boulder field, head across it to find another dirt path leading to the 2nd boulder field.
- At the 2nd boulder field you will see a steep path heading straight up the left side most likely with lots of people following it. This is the WRONG! trail! Head for the trees across from the 2nd boulder field where you will find a very steep dirt path to the lake. You go straight across on the safest footing to the trees, do not hike uphill here.
- From there it’s just a super steep climb to the lake. Footing can be tricky just because it’s steep so hiking poles are nice for sure, but not strictly necessary.
Hiking tips for Delta Lake in Grand Teton National Park:
- This is not an official trail and isn’t maintained by the park service! The trail to Delta Lake begins on the official trail starting from the Lupine Meadows trailhead. From there it heads upwards toward Surprise and Ampitheater Lake. You’ll be looking for the unofficial trail just after the turnoff for Garret Canyon. The trail will go into a hard switchback to the left, and the ‘trail’ to Delta, heads down a short descent to your right. After heading out of Delta Lake and up towards Ampitheater we met quite a few people trying to go to Delta Lake. They were disappointed to learn they had hiked miles too far!
- Take plenty of water and snacks. If you’re going to hike to Surprise and Ampitheater, it makes more sense to bring a filter system. It seems most people underestimate this hike, but you need plenty of water and calories to refuel. We brought a filter system knowing we’d be out all day, and we didn’t want to pack that much water. We filled out of a stream below Ampitheater. I wouldn’t recommend filling at Delta because the glacial silt will plug up your filter. So definitely plan on 2L per person.
- This ‘trail’ isn’t for beginner hikers! We helped as many people as we could, but so many were wandering around not on the right trail. This is harmful to the fragile alpine and can even be dangerous to your life. So don’t assume the person ahead of you is on the ‘trail’. Definitely do your own research, use common sense, and don’t go anywhere you feel uncomfortable. We spent some time talking to a man in his 20’s that was experiencing a fear of heights at the beginning of the boulder field. We tried to help him out by talking to him about the route for a bit, but in the end we just sat with him for a few minutes while he calmed down. He ended up deciding to let his friends go on without him. I mention this because sometimes you might find a hike is more than you expected and it’s ok to turn around! In fact we’ve had to do it often when we’ve ran out of time, energy, or just felt uncomfortable. It’s always better safe than sorry, and there’s always other beautiful hikes to do.
- Be sure to give yourself some time to truly enjoy this lake! It’s so beautiful and you’re going to work a bit to get here. So you want to be able really enjoy it.
- Go for a swim! Pick any of these 3 alpine lakes I’ve mentioned for a swim on a hot summer’s day. The water will be very cold at the higher altitudes, but so refreshing. A lot of people recommend jumping off the rocks into Delta Lake. But this is super sketchy because you can’t see into the water, so you don’t know if you’ll hit something. But finding a spot to wade in would be a good bet. My only regret coming here early in the morning was we didn’t have time for a swim because we were headed to Ampitheater Lake next!
Let’s not go into all the reasons it’s a terrible idea to be out of your car and chasing after a bear in a life threatening situation. But suffice it to say, 2 hours! later we had finally gotten out of the traffic jam. And these are just the sorts of situations you sadly need to expect these days. But that’s how we ended up south of Yellowstone and finally heading for the Tetons.
We got up in the dark and made a beeline for some photography spots. It was a lack luster sunrise with some clouds keeping out the sun. So we headed for Mormon Row and the sun broke out in time to get some good photos during golden hour.
From there we headed over to the parking lot for Delta Lake and got on the trail. I ended up being surprised at just how busy the ‘trail’ was since it’s not an official or maintained trail. This ended up being a bit stressful at times since there were some people there that should’t have been.
I would suggest reading the variety of reviews on AllTrails to try and get and idea if this hike is for you. You hear everything from ‘wonderful’ to ‘absolutely brutal’. Also this hikes isn’t really suitable for small children. If your kids are used to hiking and bouldering in the wilderness that would factor in. But in general 8+ years old or so and in hiking shape made it just fine.
We saw some things that stressed me out so bad I can’t even. Small children struggling and falling over boulders while parents drug them onwards. I was quite dangerous at points and we helped a few families through some areas that were tricky for them.
I just mention it because this is something we’ve been seeing more and more lately. There have been so many people new to the wilderness going in way over their heads and needing rescue. We have ended up helping so many people now I’ve lost count. And it’s important to remember that in the wilderness, it truly is life or death if you’re not prepared!
Anyways back to the awesome day we had despite the challenges. Once we reached the lake we could see why it had become so popular – the photos really don’t do it justice. We spent some time here at the lake and took some photos. But then we moved on because we were headed for Surprise and Ampitheater Lakes that also share this same trail.
We hadn’t done much research on Ampitheater Lake other than to find the trailhead. We didn’t even know there was another lake called Surprise Lake. There was still a lot of snow on the trail near Surprise Lake in early July. So when we got there we thought we were at Ampitheater Lake. So we sat down to have a snack and I remember saying to Tyler, I don’t think this looks like the pictures I saw in AllTrails, but I can’t remember.
A man sitting near us must have overheard what I said because he came over to talk. He asked us if we were going to Ampitheater Lake, and we said ‘aren’t we there’? The he told us he had made the same mistake the day before! He ate his lunch at Surprise Lake and then headed back down, only to find out he never made it to Ampitheater Lake!
So we headed off back up the trail beyond grateful to have run into him. It was only because of a strangers kindness we made it to Ampitheater Lake. Which was fortunate because it’s incredibly stunning and we’ll definitely be writing about it. It just goes to show you should do a least a smidge of research first!
We hadn’t planned ahead at all for this trip and rarely had a cell phone signal. So we’d get a bit of cell service and look up what we’d do next. But we never had enough service to download maps of anything.
I should’ve taken a screen shot of the directions, but luckily we didn’t miss out in any case. As we backtracked we found the trail sign nearly buried in the snow pointing to Ampitheater Lake. So it’s not likely you’d miss this a little later into summer!
After Ampitheater we began the long hike back out and saw a total of 5 bears on the way back to the trailhead. We’re used to hiking with bears in Glacier National Park, and take a lot of precautions.
But it was unnerving in the Tetons because they seemed to be ok with crossing the trail close to you. A ranger told us the bears are more used to people there than they should be. And it definitely made us stay on high alert.
In fact we saw so many bears, so close together, that we started hiking back with another couple who was behind us. We ended up sticking together in a group for extra safety which was really nice after so many close encounters.
From there the day wasn’t over because instead of another day in the Tetons, we got the call from work we needed to come back. So after a hugely long day hiking into 3 lakes after a photography morning and next to no sleep, we started the long drive back north through Yellowstone!