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Length: 10.2 Miles Round Trip
Trailhead(s): Lupine Meadows
Elevation Gain: 2,980’
Trail Type: Out & Back
Dogs: Not Allowed
Permit Required? No
Considerations: National Park Entry Fee $35; Bears; Early Season Snow
Take one hike and get a double bang for the buck. Two gorgeous examples of high alpine lakes in Grand Teton National Park, Amphitheater Lake and Surprise Lake, sit right next to one another. Hiking the Amphitheater Lake Trail to see them may be strenuous, but it is well worth the effort.
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK ALPINE LAKES
The amazing landscape of Grand Teton National Park was built and sculpted by the forces of earthquakes, glaciers, and erosion. Its impressive mountain peaks, enchanting valleys, and numerous lakes are proof of their immense power. Particularly beautiful today, the lakes stand as a testament to the glaciers which carved them. In order for the adventurers among us to experience them firsthand, Grand Teton National Park has several excellent hiking trails which lead to or circle around its beautiful lakes. In this regard, Amphitheater Lake and Surprise Lake are sure to not disappoint, and we highly recommend making the hike up to see them.
The Hike up to Amphitheather Lake & Surprise Lake
The flat paved Amphitheater Lake Trail leaving the parking area at Lupine Meadows soon changes to dirt. As it does, it begins a steady, gentle climb through the forest that becomes steeper with each step. Even so, it remains quite manageable. As the trail gains in elevation the trees thin, providing great views of Bradley Lake and Taggart Lake below. Because this stretch of trail climbs a gorgeous, open slope covered with grasses and wildflowers over a series of long switchbacks, it is a surprisingly pleasant hike up through this open area. Eventually working its way back into the trees again, the trail keeps up its relentless, but non-technical climb before finally emerging onto a plateau just before Surprise Lake.
Gorgeous Surprise Lake & Amphitheater Lake Fail
A spur off of the main trail leads down to Surprise Lake. Since it is ringed by trees, rocks and a rocky slope on the far side, the lake is truly picturesque. It is a lovely little circle of clear water, and its surrounds add greatly to its beauty. The lake was mostly ice covered when we visited, which some might think would make it less attractive, but the aqua colors in the ice were stunning. To add to this sight, the many “peeks” of rocks injected great texture and color to the scene. We thought it was breathtaking. However, while seeing this beautiful alpine lake would be plenty enough reward for most, amazingly there is more to come!
After taking a good look at Surprise Lake, climb back up the slope to the main trail which passes through the trees above the north side of Surprise Lake. A gentle climb over another 0.2 miles brings you to Amphitheater Lake. Trails at Amphitheater Lake circle around most of the lake, leading to views of Mount Owen, Teton Glacier, and Garnet Canyon. With white boulders strewn about, tall cliffs circling on three sides, and granite peaks soaring above, the scene at Amphitheater Lake is striking. Unfortunately for us, we missed it completely. Now I will tell you how and why this happened.
EARLY SEASON ALTITUDE HIKING IN GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
Elevation Equals Snow
Because Amphitheater Lake sits at 9,698 feet of elevation it can take well into the summer before the Amphitheater Lake Trail is clear of snow. Since we hiked here in June we ran into snow about a mile before getting to Surprise Lake. Not too deep initially, it wasn’t long before the trail was buried under so much snow that hiking it became a matter of following footsteps left by others.
After post holing a few times it became clear we were not exactly on the trail. Thus even though the footprints of other hikers helped with our navigation, there were divergent paths a couple of times which were confusing. Clearly everyone hiking up here was having difficulty finding the trail in the deep snow.
Since all footprints kept climbing we made our best guess as to which ones to follow and continued on up. Believing we had walked over and past a completely frozen Surprise Lake already, when we arrived at Surprise Lake we mistakenly thought we had reached Amphitheater Lake. Because all footsteps led directly to the shore of a pretty lake with granite peaks we thought we had arrived at our destination. As a side note, I should also mention that low lying clouds were covering much of the granite overhead so we couldn’t really reference from them very well either.
Learn From Our Mistake
It was not until we were looking at our pictures and comparing them to other pictures of these lakes did we realize our error. Sadly what we mistook for a snow covered Surprise Lake along the Amphitheater Lake Trail was likely just a stream or a big puddle. At the time we were not using a GPS tracking app, and if we had been this story would have turned out differently. Now we always use Gaia. Its map overlay would have shown us that we were standing at Surprise Lake. Everything would have been clear to us, and we would have visited both lakes.
Because you may also be hiking to Amphitheater Lake and Surprise Lake in Grand Teton National Park before the snow has melted we share this story of our epic fail in the hopes you will not make the same mistake. Be careful hiking in the snow, and use a GPS tracking app if you are hiking in unfamiliar territory.
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Amphitheater Lake Slideshow
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