Posts tagged ‘Jackson Hole’
As you may know, a month ago I got engaged. After a blissful moment of elation, we dove into wedding planning. As promised, this will not turn into a wedding blog, I swear I am going somewhere with this… Well I had this genius idea that instead of table numbers we should name the tables the different peaks that we have summited as a couple. Needless to say this has led to a mad dash to start crossing off as many peaks in the Tetons as possible before our August 17, 2013 wedding.
With this in mind, I convinced my fiance to come with me for a little walk in the woods this past Sunday. The summit I had in mind was the 11,325 foot Teewinot, the sixth highest peak in the Teton Range. The name of the mountain is derived from the Shoshone Native American word meaning “many pinnacles.” The night before our hike we had a late dinner with a friends family who were visiting town. We didn’t get into bed as early as we would have liked but set our alarm for 5AM just the same. Well, I awoke naturally with a sense of panic. My worst fears were affirmed when I looked at the alarm clock: 6:30AM. Shoot! I tried to arouse my less than enthusiastic fiance. I jumped out of bed before he had time to protest and suggest that we take a rain check. Fortunately, the forecast was for clear skies all day, so the “late start” was not a problem.
We reached the parking lot of Lupine Meadows at day break. We laced up our hiking boots to the sound of bugling elk, deep into rut, desperate for female followers to mate with. Teewinot was bright pink as we started up the trail. As we started our hike on the unmaintained apex trail, which consisted of numerous short switchbacks, we continued to hear male elks bugling. At one point we stopped and listened. We were just able to catch a view of a female and large male elk on the opposing ridge. It was a gorgeous sight. We continued our uphill “one foot in front of the other” mantra.
Looking up at Teewinot from the parking lot had me thinking that it would be impossible to actually scramble up to the tiny summit without using any ropes. It looked equally as terrifying from the approach, where the apex trail ended and the scramble begun. Surprisingly, Teewinot did not has as much scree as I have experienced on other hikes (namely the Middle and South Teton). And good thing, because I hate scree. However, it had a different type of challenge. There was a lot of exposed slab climbing. The type where you want to just focus on the task at hand instead of the open air beneath your feet.
This is not the type of climb that you want to take more than 2 or 3 people with you. The more people involved, the more decision makers there are in the group and trust me, you will go in circles on deciding where the “trail” is. There is no defined correct trail. There is no right way to reach the summit, but there definitely is a wrong way. Jared and I ended up on the wrong side of the summit cone and had to traverse across some wide ledges and down climb a short ways to reach the right coulior that is used to access the true summit. After some easy 5.1 climbing and scrambling we reached the summit.
The summit was small and crowded – a group of 8 people took over the entire summit. After they started their descent we scrambled up to the top. The true summit was an exposed rock outcropping and we took turns sitting on the top of the summit and snapping photos. The view from the top of Teewinot is unreal. Looking South you see Mt. Owen, the north face of the Grand as well as Disappointment Peak, Nez Perez, Middle and South Teton. Looking west you can see up Cascade Canyon all the way to Solitude Lake. To the north is Mt. St. John, Woodring, Moran as well as the expansive Jackson Lake. It is one of my favorite views in the Tetons.
The down climb was fast, scrambling down slabs, boulders and small chimneys. This climb is not for the light hearted. It is physically challenging and the climb is very exposed. It is a fun hike and provides great conditioning, combining traditional hiking with easy free climbing. Be warned – this is not a hike that you should attempt if there is even a slight chance of rain. Wet ledges and boulders could turn the ascent of Teewinot from doable to the impossible. If there is one thing that I have learned from my few years in the Tetons it is that you must respect the mountains and the weather of the region. Being negligent and ignoring your surroundings is bound to get you in trouble. On the other hand, there is no feeling that compares to sitting on top of a summit. Just be safe and enjoy your time in the mountains.
Every summer it is common to have smoke invade the greater Jackson Hole area due to some wildfire far off. Earlier this summer we got smoked out by fires in Montana and Idaho and more recently the valley has been filled with smoke from a fire just 2 miles from Jackson. This summer has been a particularly dry one due to a low snow year and lack of rain. This has made for optimal fire conditions and a long fire season. The fire danger has been high to very high for the majority of the season. This means no campfires in the back country or any space without a designated fire ring. While disappointing, I’d rather forgo my campfire than be responsible for starting a large wildfire.
Last week a wildfire was started by a human just south of the town of Jackson on September 8th. You could see the origin of the fire by the road as it moved up Horsethief Canyon. It is rare that you get to see a wildfire so up close and personal. Cars crowded the highway as onlookers took photos and video of the fire. On the second day a spot fire, a fire that is started by embers that travel through the air that land and start another fire, caught the forest of fire just two short miles from the town of Jackson. East Jackson was issued an evacuation advisory as the National Forest firefighters took control of the fire. Residents of East Jackson packed their belongings and memories and put them in the car so that they were able to flee the moment an evacuation notice was issued.
Larger helicopters and more firefighters were brought in. They had crews working through the night to contain the spot fire that now threatened the town. 600 firefighters worked to put out the fire and they succeeded in preventing it to spread into town. At night you could see a red glow above the ridge line east of Snow King. A constant reminder that a battle was being fought and that our little town could be wiped out in one single natural disaster should the weather turn in the fire’s favor. Fortunately, colder temperature and moderate to low winds allowed the firefighters to gain control of the fire. Mercifully, mother nature spared our town and its’ history.
In the towns 118 years the Horsethief Canyon fire posed the most threat of any fire to the town. Fortunately, with the advances in technology the blaze was able to be maintained, but a few decades ago we may not have been as fortunate. Jackson Hole News & Guide wrote a great article on how important this fire is to the history of Jackson Hole. If you desire to read it please follow this link.
As I said before, fires are common out west and many are allowed to burn as many acres as they can (when they are started naturally and do not threaten any structures). Fires are part of replenishing the ecosystem and help kill invasive bark beetle. Do not be surprised if your visit to Jackson is a tad smokey during the fire season. If you are sensitive to smoke but still want to visit Jackson I would recommend visiting in June or early July before fire season really gets going. The town of Jackson remains open and unscathed by the Horsethief fire. Hopefully this will be the first and the last fire to threaten the town of Jackson.
Jackson Hole is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The beauty of the majestic Tetons attracts couples from around the world. For some, they come to Jackson Hole to make a life altering decision and to proposition their significant other. This past weekend my life altered dramatically when my boyfriend of four years got down before me on one knee in front of tourists and locals alike.
It started out like any other weekend: “Let’s go for a hike off of the top of tram! I have been up there during the winter but I have yet to see it during the summer.” This past Saturday the weather was touch and go. It would go from clear skies and sunshine to looming clouds and rain in literally minutes. Even though Sunday’s forecast was clear and sunny my boyfriend insisted that we go up the tram – “We can get waffles!” he said. I had a sneaky suspicion that he might pop the question. We had been discussing it over the past few months and we determined that we were in a good stage of our life right now to take the next step. I told a girlfriend over breakfast that morning that I wouldn’t been surprised if he asked me at the top of the tram – it would be the perfect place. We met in New Hampshire at a ski resort (Attitash) and after about a year of dating I told Jared that I wanted to move out to Jackson Hole for the winter. The rest is history. Our relationship started on a mountain, a ski resort at that, it only made sense we should take the next step on a mountain.
As we rode up the Tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Jared played it cool. Little did I know at the time my hand had grazed across the ring box in his pocket while we rode up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Jared said he was hungry and wanted a waffle so we went into Corbet’s Cabin and ordered a brown sugar and butter waffle. He disappeared to use the restroom. After we got our waffle he told me that he wanted to get away from people and that we should walk down the hill a little bit to eat the waffle. Though I found it an odd request, I complied. As we headed down the mountain I spied two bouquets of flowers and a bottle of champagne as well as his backpack set next to a rock. As we neared the rock I said “I think that I know what’s going on here.” And then he proposed. It was surreal. His proposal was short and sweet and the next thing I knew I had a ring slipped on my finger and we heard shouting and applause. Some people got tipped off by the tram operator and were watching us from the tram dock. Others spied from above taking photos of the whole thing. Meanwhile, a girl from a hiking party ran up and asked if we wanted our photo taken. I was in a daze, did this really just happen? It was perfect, I couldn’t have imagined a better proposal! Girls, well control freak girls like me I should say, dream about how they get engaged. However, never once did I dream that I would get engaged at the summit of Jackson Hole. It was so, us. I have to say, it’s good to let your significant other plan your proposal, they may surprise you!
After a brief photo shoot we sat down on the rock and toasted to our new life together as fiances. We drank the champagne until our hands got too cold and we had to run for the tram. Once we arrived in the base area we went to Cascade to get a drink and call our loved ones and share the news.
I promise that this won’t turn into a sappy wedding blog, but the reason I am writing this post is because my fiance works at a hotel in Teton Village. There was a guest who wanted to propose to his girlfriend but didn’t know where to do it. He had told the front desk that he saw a photo on Jackson Hole’s Facebook page of a couple that had just got engaged at the top of the tram. The front desk had Jared come talk to the guy and give him some tips for his proposal. I figure people may have a location in mind when they come to Jackson or they may intend on scouting out some locations once they get here. Below are some suggestions on where you may propose to your prospective fiance:
Schwabacker’s Landing in Grand Teton National Park - This location has beautiful views of the Tetons but it also incorporates a water element (the Snake River) which makes for stunning photos and scenery.
Moulton Barn in Grand Teton National Park - There are two iconic barns located just off of Antelope Flats Road. Buffalo frequent the area and the historical barns are rustic and charming.
Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park - the lawn at the Jackson Lake Lodge overlooks (you guessed it) Jackson Lake and the Teton Range. Moose are seen often hanging out in the brush between the lodge and the water. Perk to this location – you don’t have to go far for a celebratory drink and you can even have your friends and/or family waiting in the bar for you to announce your engagement.
Top of the Tram - Don’t feel like you are a copy cat, I’m sure that Jared isn’t the first, nor the last to do it. And wow, it’s beautiful up there. Just make sure that you bring a jacket – it gets cold up there!
The Snake River Dike - If you park on the east side of the Snake River off of Highway 22 just before Moose-Wilson Road there is a beautiful walk along the dike of the snake river. The views are phenomenal and the walk may help you calm your nerves!
There are a plethora of other options that I don’t even begin to describe here – I went for the natural route. Either way, Jackson Hole is the perfect place to get engaged. Why wouldn’t you want to have a excuse to revisit the area? After Jared proposed he told me that he couldn’t wait to bring our children back to this spot where he got down on one knee. It was the sweetest thing ever and I can’t wait to come back to Jackson (if we ever leave) and do just that.
Jackson Hole is an adventure lover’s playground. There are so many fun activities on the water, in the mountains and in the air. When my family was planning on coming to visit I sent them a bunch of different ideas on what to do during their trip. Below I will list what I recommended for them. You probably will not be able to fit all of the activities in (they were here for 10 days and just scratched the surface). In fact, I have lived here for 3 years and I am still discovering new activities to do. If you have a taste for adventure or in some cases are an adrenaline junky, the following activities are for you!
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (located in Teton Village) as well as Snow King Resort (located in Jackson) offer tandem paragliding rides from the summit of their mountains. These scenic flights can be tailored to your thirst for adrenaline. If you want to do flips and sharp turns the guide can cater to your requests. If you just want a mellow scenic flight they are more than happy to provide that for you too. Contact Jackson Hole Paragliding for more information.
There are plenty of great local rafting companies that can take you down the Snake River. They all run the same stretch of river for their Whitewater and Scenic trips, so they are pretty comparable. If you stay with us we can provide you with a 10% discount on your whitewater rafting trip with Dave Hansen Whitewater. You may choose between a scenic trip, whitewater or combination of the two. You may also choose to be in an 8 man raft as opposed to the larger 16 person rafts. The 8 man rafts are more exciting due to their smaller size. All of the raft companies provide life jackets, paddles and helmets. Wetsuits and booties are available at an additional cost.
Kayak the Snake in Duckies
The Snake River meanders through Grand Teton National Park south through Hoback Canyon. The portion before the canyon is mellow, but once the Snake hits the canyon it turns into class 3 whitewater (with one class 4 section). If the 8 man whitewater rafts don’t provide enough excitement for you, going down the canyon in a Ducky is your best bet for an adrenaline rush. Duckies are inflatable kayaks that come in singles or doubles. A double is a little more stable, not to mention you have a partner in crime to scream at as you get doused by the rapids.
You may rent duckies at Rendezvous River Sports or Leisure Sports. You will need two cars so that you may spot one car at the take-out point. When my parents visited we put in at the Astoria boat drop, just south of Hoback Junction. We had a longer float with a few miles of flat, relaxing water, before the rapids. We took out at Sheep Gulch. The typical put in for just the 8 mile whitewater section is at West Table. Be aware that the river does have some nasty rapids, so make sure that you are confident in reading the water and have good paddle skills. Rafting and whitewater kayaking are dangerous sports, so make sure that you are completely confident in your abilities before taking Duckies down the Snake River.
Rent Stand Up Paddleboards or Canoes
Depending on how adventurous you are there are some great lakes to paddleboard on or canoe. Please visit either my post on Stand Up Paddleboarding in Jackson Hole or Canoeing on Leigh Lake. Both provide nice options for a leisure outing on the water.
There are a few great day hikes that I recommend in Grand Teton National Park. Please find them listed in my previous post 3 Great Day Hikes in Grand Teton National Park. If you are looking to summit something, Jackson Peak and Sleeping Indian are good options in the Gros Ventres Range. These peaks are located across the valley from Grand Teton National Park and provide gorgeous views of the Teton Range.
There is plenty of smooth single track around Jackson. For a nice long loop try Cache to Game Creek. Shadow Mountain is also a fun bike ride. You bike a dirt road up to the top and then take a fun single track trail down through the woods back to your car. For a shorter afternoon ride Putt Putt is a fun trail. Most of the trails in the valley are cross country mountain bike rides. If you are looking to ride some good downhill trails try the bike park at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort or head up to Teton Pass. Friends of Pathways have maps of the trails area – find them online here.
Well, you are in the Wild West, right? I think one of the best ways to take in the scenery is from the back of a horse. There are a variety of companies that offer different sorts of rides. For a short easy ride see my post of Spring Creek Ranch. For a longer, more adventurous ride look no further than Mill Iron Ranch. Cowboy up and jump into the saddle for an unforgettable adventure.
Take the Tram
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers summer tram rides. These rides are scenic and if you get lucky you may catch a glimpse of some wildlife (I saw a moose from the tram earlier this summer). There are also a lot of different options for a short hike around Rendezvous Mountain. For the more adventurous you may want to hike out to Marion Lake, located in Grand Teton National Park behind Rendezvous Mountain. Also, the waffles in Corbet’s Cabin at the top of the tram are pretty hard to resist – I highly recommend them!
With the new pathways open, there are plenty options for short scenic rides or longer athletic rides. See my previous post Road Biking in Jackson Hole for ideas on where to ride and rent bikes.
So there you have it – a few ideas for your trip. I could keep going, but I think that I provided enough options to get you started. Hopefully, you will be able to get off the beaten path and experience at least one of these activities during your stay in Jackson Hole!
The Sleeping Indian is one of the most iconic set of peaks in the Jackson Hole area. Opposing the Tetons, the rounded summit coupled with a sharper lower summit and a large high alpine field create the illusion of a, you guessed it, Indian, laying horizontally among the Gros Ventres mountains. He sleeps peacefully at 11,239 feet, creating the eastern border of Jackson Hole.
The Sleeping Indian, also known as Sheep Mountain, is a common objective for Jackson locals. It is a long day hike that provides sweeping views of the valley and the Tetons. Also, since it is in the Gros Ventres Mountains, which is national forest, pets are allowed. There is only one trail to the summit of the belly on most maps, however, it takes you by Blue Miner Lake and is 20+ miles. In contrast, the little know trail from the Jackson Hole side is around 12 miles – a very nice day hike.
The trail starts in the elk refuge and rises just under 4,000 feet to the summit of the belly. The trail is not maintained and therefore difficult to find and follow at times. Do not attempt to hike from the Jackson Hole side if you are not proficient at route finding. The start of the trail is unmarked in the National Elk Refuge. Take the Elk Refuge Road to Flat Creek Road. A high clearance vehicle and preferably one with four wheel or all wheel drive is required for the last mile of the drive. After passing the sign where it suggests that your car have 4 wheel drive, drive about 1.4 miles down the rough road until you see a barely visible double track to your left (right before the road heads into a stand of trees). Park here and walk up the double track. After the double track ends you should see a small trail in the brush to your left. This is the trail to the summit of the belly.
The trail meanders through forest and meadows and provides very little protection from the sun. I would recommend an early start in order to avoid getting overheated. There is also no water on this hike, so make sure that you pack in a significant amount. Bring extra clothes and food in preparation for if you lose the trail. Once you are about a mile away from the summit the trail ends in a large field – the body and feet of the Sleeping Indian. There are a few kairns scattered throughout the field but they are very scattered.
This is where it is important to look back and make a mental note of where the trail is as you travel up the field towards the belly. The last 500 feet or so are a slight rock scramble up the belly. There are small trails but they tend to go in and out. Just keep to the left and head up towards the summit where you will find some man-made rock walls to protect you from the wind while enjoying your lunch or snack. The view into the Gros Ventres and across the valley to the Tetons is stunning. It is rather cold since the summit is unprotected and it is usually windy, so I would recommend bringing a warm jacket to wear on the summit.
As you head back down the trail to the car make sure that you keep and eye out to the left for the kairns. When I went, my partner and I were distracted and ended up a mile or more off trail. We had to search for the trail and it took us an hour and a half to get back on trail. This trail requires a lot of attention since it is not maintained. As we were looking for the trail I started inventorying what I had in my backpack to make sure that we would survive the night if we didn’t find the trail. I remained calm and optimistic – we had a general idea where the trail was. We were also on trail at 7am so we had plenty of daylight left in order to find the trail so we weren’t pressured.
When I was new to the valley I was frustrated to find out that there were so many “local secrets” when it came to hiking trails. The trail maps provide only a fraction of the actual trails in the valley. I want everyone to experience the same joy of standing on the belly of Sleeping Indian that I felt, but it is also not my intention to provide information that could potentially get someone lost and in danger, so please use this information but do so with caution. Hiking is an inherently dangerous sport and the Painted Buffalo Inn does not assume responsibility for anything that happens to you in the backcountry. Always bring bear spray with you and check the local forecasts. Plan to be on the summit around noon at the latest because afternoon thunderstorms are common and very dangerous. The 2 miles before the summit of the hike are above treeline and the summit is completely open, so be aware of what the weather is doing. I hope that you are able to enjoy a beautiful day on the top of the Sleeping Indian. I believe that any avid hiker who lives in Jackson Hole should attempt to hike this non-technical peak in the Gros Ventres.
Summer this year has been hotter than usual. Normally a retreat to the mountains is a good way to escape the heat, but this year we have received little rain (no cloudy days) and most days a hot sun in a cloudless sky beats down on you. It has forced me to become more creative with my weekends: replacing day long hikes and bike rides with water activities.
There is just one problem: I don’t have a boat. I have become a regular at the local rental shop: Rendezvous River Sports. Each week I try something new – Paddleboards, Duckies (inflatable kayaks) and most recently, canoes. My family was in town and I wanted to bring them into the backcountry for an overnight but for my parents, carrying a 40 pound pack on their backs was out of the question. After doing some research I found out that there were backcountry campsites on Leigh Lake, which is just north of String Lake. Some of the campsites have bear boxes and fire rings – perfect!
Unfortunately, the day before our planned overnight we had to cancel our trip due to a forecast of thunderstorms and heavy rain. However, we opted for a day trip instead. We headed to Rendezvous River Sports around 8am, put a canoe on the roof of each car (they provide straps and foam pads) and headed north into Grand Teton National Park (a park pass is required, 7 day passes are $25). Canoe rentals are $45 and include a paddle and life jacket. Another place to rent canoes in town is Leisure Sports. They rent canoes for $45 as well.
We pulled into a semi-crowded boat dock at String Lake and started loading up the canoes. we packed a lunch, plenty of water, extra clothing and the camera, of course. After a short paddle to the North end of String Lake we huffed the canoes out of the water for a short portage. The portage is about 200 feet long and slightly uphill with a steep re-entry into Leigh Lake. We were able to manage it easily with 4 people per a canoe (great family bonding!).
Once in the lake we headed north again until the lake opened up on the left hand side. There was a large inlet that provided sweeping views of Moran, a small canyon and Mt. Woodring. We decided to paddle into the inlet for lunch. We found a small pebbly beach and got to work polishing off our sandwiches and snacks. After lunch we took a short snooze in the sun before packing up and heading back to String Lake.
Leigh Lake has a small hiking trail around it, but it is relatively remote. We saw a few people on the shoreline, but where we ate lunch there was no hiking trail. We spotted two or three other boats but for the most part we were alone on this stunning lake.
String Lake is by far the most popular of the two, I believe that portage may deter most people from making it over to Leigh Lake. Once we got back on String Lake we were greeted by hoards of paddle boarders, kayakers and swimmers. The boat take out was crowded with tourists and locals alike, enjoying the small beach and cooling off in the water.
If you are looking for something unique to do in Jackson Hole that provides gorgeous views and gets you out on the water I would highly recommend checking out Leigh Lake on a kayak or canoe. I promise that you won’t regret it!
It’s 7:45am the day before I start a 4 day, 3 night backpacking trip with my sister and I’m outside the Grand Teton National Park visitor center in Moose waiting to get a permit to camp in the backcountry. The center doesn’t open until 8am but in order to get the best campsites it’s advised that you arrive early and are the first in line to get your permit.
Mid-July through the end of August is when hiking the Teton Crest Trail is most popular, and for good reason! The wildflowers in July are incredible and the warm weather makes camping overnight without a fire manageable and enjoyable. Campfires are not allowed in backcountry sites in Grand Teton National Park, so make sure that you pack warm clothing and at least a 30 degree sleeping bag.
As the doors to the visitor’s center open I make my way over to the Permits desk where two rangers are awaiting the onslaught of excited campers and hikers. I pull out my piece of paper with the campsites for my ideal trip (trip #1) and the campsites for my backup trip (trip #2). It’s always a good idea to create two versions of your trip so that you know the mileage between camping zones and sites before committing to a trip you otherwise may know nothing about. As I said, July is a popular time for backpacking trips in Grand Teton National Park so sometimes you don’t get your first choice. I book our campsites and request two bear canisters. The canisters are bulky and large, but they are required for food storage in Grand Teton National Park.
Fortunately, I got my trip #1, which involves camping at Marion Lake the first night (there are only 3 campsites at Marion Lake), Alaska Basin (Sunset Lake) the second night and the North fork of Cascade Canyon on the third night. I also reserved an emergency campsite at Lower Paintrbush Canyon just in case we have trouble making the final 11 mile push that I had scheduled us for on the last day. I’m overjoyed and slightly nervous about our trip as I drive back to town. I start thinking about all of the preparation that needs to be done before we hit the trail – we need to buy some freeze dried meals, sandwich fixings for lunch, oatmeal for breakfast, lots of energy bars and cliff shot blocks. I start laying out what I’m going to pack on the living room floor: Camp stove (Optimus) and fuel, water filter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, first aid kit with plenty of mole skin, camera, clothing and other oddities such as a compass, bear spray and Swiss Army Knife cover the carpet.
As I start to pack my 60L pack I realize that I have forgotten how big the pack is and how much weight is going to be on my back. After packing it I weigh it – 38 pounds, not bad. Though I would much prefer my sisters 32 pound pack. Did I mention that I am the eldest?
The next day we drive up to Teton Village and hop on the Jackson Hole Tram. Lots of tourist gawk at us, some asking where we were headed and for how many nights. When we tell them that we plan on spending 3 nights, maybe 4 in the woods some just look plain dumbfounded. We feel like minor celebrities. We take photos at the top of the tram and start our long walk. It’s noon and we have 6 miles to go until we hit our first campsite.
A mile away from the tram the crowds thin and it’s just us. The trail is outlined by a spatter of wildflowers – skyrocket gilia, larkspur, and indian paintbrush all guide us to Marion Lake. The trail is relatively easy with minor dips and rises.
The lake is beautiful and surprisingly warm. After setting up camp on one of the tent pads provided and storing our food in the bear box we head down to the lake for a dip. We also stash a beer in the lake to cool down and enjoy later. After a swim we lay out on the rocks and chat until the sun disappears behind the cliffs that border the lake. We cook up a mean freeze dried meal (not nearly as bad as I had feared), and watch the last of the light disappear in Granite Canyon and the back of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and then head to bed.
The next morning we get a semi-early start, on trail by 8:30am. We don’t see a soul on trail for the next 3 miles. The hike is stunningly beautiful. Who knew that high plateaus existed behind the jagged, rugged Tetons? As we cross the Death Shelf, which is considered the most scenic place to camp on the trail, we appreciate the fact that we are on the shelf high above the valleys and canyons that lead to Jackson. At lunch my sister starts complaining of blisters – they are looking pretty bad for day 2. She sucks it up and keeps trekking as we cross Fox Creek Pass and drop into Alaska Basin.
The Basin is lush and full of greenery. At the top of the basin is Buck Mountain, which can be seen from the Jackson side. As we switchback down into the basin I catch sight of a trail headed up out of the basin on the other side. I quickly push the thought from my mind that we could be headed back uphill before we reach our campsite. I was wrong. The last push is always the hardest – knowing that you are so close to being done but you aren’t there yet. After gaining about 500 feet of elevation and then dropping slightly again we make it to Sunset Lake – a beautiful lake nestled in the Alaska Basin backcountry.
The first thing we notice is the bugs. At any point you have about 10 to 15 mosquitoes on your body. They are so bad that we consider staying inside the tent the entire afternoon. After a quick washing in Sunset Lake, this lake is a lot colder than Marion, we try our best to swat at the bugs who seem undeterred from our effort to reduce our scent. When cooking dinner mosquitoes decide to dive bomb into our boiling water as well as our meal (Velveeta). Some extra protein doesn’t hurt, right?
Day 3 starts with an uphill slog to the top of Hurricane Pass. The view from the top of Hurricane Pass is absolutely breath taking. Looking left you can see into Idaho, looking dead center is Table Mountain and to your right the Tetons are laid out as pretty as can be. We take lots of photos and enjoyed the view before dropping into the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. We are camping in the North Fork of the Cascade Canyon, just over 7 miles away, so we still have some miles to cover before setting up camp.
Cascade Canyon is aptly named – we saw many beautiful waterfalls in the South Fork. Some were over 200 feet long! Getting a different perspective on the mountains that I have gotten to know so well was amazing. Being in the canyon and looking up, you feel so small!
As we head down the canyon we start to run into day hikers. One church group asks if we had seen some people in their group. After a brief discussion it is determined that the other group had gone to Solitude Lake which is in the North fork of the Cascade Canyon, some 5 miles away – they had hiked 2 miles in the wrong direction. Another group was on the search for snow and we sent them in the right direction.
We finally make it into the North Fork and determined that we were going to hike as far as possible and camp in the last campsite in the zone. The zones do not have assigned campsites, they are first come, first serve and this particular zone is just under 2 miles long. As we get further up the camping zone it becomes apparent that most of the campsites are taken. I decide to leave my sister, who is hurting due to blisters, and see if there were any open sites up further. On my way up I run into a GTNP volunteer who informs me that there aren’t any available and that we must turn around. I turn around and start jogging back downhill to claim the most recently available campsite that we had seen. I set up camp, stored my food and then go to find my sister on trail. There is nothing worse than having to hike back downhill to a campsite that you passed about a quarter of a mile ago.
The North Fork of the Cascade Canyon is my favorite place to camp. Why? Because you can watch the Cathedral Group change colors as the sun sets – the Grand is at center stage. The way the sky changes colors in the canyon is just breathtaking. To top off the wonderful evening, we brought Mountain House’s freeze dried blueberry cheesecake for dessert, which is delicious!
The next morning we start retracing our steps back uphill towards Solitude Lake. The lake is gorgeous, surrounded by canyon walls and a beautiful blue color. After the lake came the challenge of the day – a 2 mile ascent, 1,000 foot elevation gain up to the Paintbrush Divide. As we hike a small rain shower came through, creating a just barely visible rainbow over Lake Solitude.
The view keeps getting better as we climbed out of Cascade Canyon. The long switchbacks provided incredible views of the Grand, Owen and the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. We finally make it to Paintbrush Divide 10,700 feet, about 4,000 feet above the valley floor. The views of the back of Mt. Woodring and Moran and a glimpse into Paintbrush Canyon are stunning.
My sister takes a short rest sprawled out on some scree before starting our hair-raising descent down into Paintbrush Canyon. The first 500 feet are steep and exposed and sometimes an ice axe is required, but fortunately they weren’t required when we went. We saw many day hikers and a few overnight backpackers on our way down Paintbrush Canyon. Paintbrush is steeper than Cascade Canyon so our hike downhill went relatively fast.
We decide to bypass the campsite that we had reserved for our last night and opted for an additional 3 mile hike out, bringing our day total to about 11 miles. The last 3 miles are the worst because they are relatively mellow and not very scenic. Once we make it to String Lake we were thrown back into society – people, cars and non-motorized watercraft surrounded us. It is nice to be back. Once back in town, we have a delicious dinner of Pad Thai from Thai Me Up to end our trip on a high note.
The Teton Crest Trail is arguably one of the most scenic backpacking trips in the country. I would do it again in a heartbeat and would recommend it to any avid hiker or backpacker.
When people picture the West most people think of Cowboys, Indians and Bandits on horseback – who wouldn’t want to play cowboy or cowgirl for a day? There are plenty of great places to ride a horse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming but there are only a handful of places that provide impeccable personalized service that will quickly turn what you once believed was going to be a simple horseback ride in Jackson into the highlight of your vacation.
My parents were coming to town and since my mother was essentially born on the backside of a horse, I wanted to take them on a ride that they wouldn’t forget. I asked around the community, seeking out recommendations on who offers the best trail rides. Having ridden at Spring Creek Ranch and enjoyed my one hour tour I was looking for something a little bit more advanced and adventurous.
Finally I found an avid horse back rider and she suggested that I get in touch with Kim at Mill Iron Ranch. She told me that no matter what type of ride we chose to do we needed to stay for dinner and eat Chancy’s famed T-Bone Steaks. According to her they were “out of this world and you’d be crazy to miss it!” Being a devoted carnivore I said of course we would stay for dinner.
I called up Kim and booked out trip for a Sunday afternoon 2 hour ride. I had no idea that I had just signed up for the “Most Scenic Trail 2 Hour Trail Ride” in the United States. Reaching the ranch is easy enough, but it’s a little more difficult to do without a car – cabs know where to take you but they can be rather expensive (I’d guess that it’d be about a $40 fair one way). The ranch is unassuming – a small cabin by the paddock where you check in and settle up with Kim. The ranch is family owned and operated – Kim does all the administration work and Chancy is out in the paddock with the horses and behind the grill for dinner. They make you feel at home and will do their best to ensure that you have a unforgettable time.
When we arrived a distraught guest was in the office – she had put her keys loose in one of the saddle bags and they had fallen out on her trail ride. With no spare key she was stranded. Kim did her best to help the guest – she found out the cell phone number of the owner of the local Dodge dealership and called him on his day off to ask for advice! I made a mental note to not put anything loose in the saddle bag that I didn’t want to risk losing. Kim also reminded us that they cannot control the weather and if we did get caught in a rain or thunderstorm they would not be issuing refunds (which is understandable!). Weather can be a very fickle thing here in Jackson Hole, so I would suggest bringing a rain jacket if you plan on an afternoon ride.
After settling up with Kim we headed outside where Chancy and Justin (our guide) were saddling up the horses and hoisted us up onto them. We had another couple from California join us on our ride. In total there were 6 of us guests to 1 guide, a perfect ratio.
After each of us took turns snapping photos of each other on horseback we headed off for our ride. This ride is no joke – it is a long uphill and then a shorter downhill ride. Every once in awhile we would stop to let our horses cool down and readjust the bridles. The horses were well maintained, gorgeous animals, and well behaved. Since the ride is rather strenuous they have a strict age limit (7 and up) and weight limit (230 pounds or less).
The horses followed each other dutifully up the trail until we reached the apex – a bald summit with sweeping views of the Gros Ventres Range as well as a vista of the Tetons in the distance. Our guide dismounted and snapped photos of us on the summit with each of our personal cameras. I thought that this was a nice touch, since I had been trying to take photos of my family atop of my horse the whole ride.
As we headed down the mountain our knowledgeable guide, Justin described some of the flowers along the trail and answered any questions we had. After 2 hours on a horse, parts of your body that you didn’t even know existed start to hurt. The ride was the perfect length – long enough to appreciate horseback riding but I was ready to get off of my horse and sink my teeth into a juicy steak at the end of the ride.
We drove from the paddock to the barn where they serve the dinner. There were picnic tables and plenty of wildlife trophies on the surrounding walls – definitely typical Wyoming. There was also a bar where you could purchase alcoholic drinks, which were well deserved after the ride. The dinner included salad, corn on the cob, a baked potato, roll, desert and a choice of steak, salmon, chicken or a vegetarian option. Our guide, Justin joined us for dinner. I cannot even begin to describe how delicious Chancy’s steak was – he asked what temperature I wanted it cooked to and he cooked it perfectly. There was also some musical entertainment – a cowboy “singing for his dinner”, who inspired my parents to get up and dance, which made the dinner feel a little more authentically western.
Mill Iron Ranch is the perfect place to take your family, friends or loved one. It was truly a memorable experience and we were so happy that we chose to go horseback riding with them. The ride offers unbelievable scenery, the Wheeldons are very hospitable and genuinely good people, the steak is unforgettable and we left wanting to go back for another ride. It is an authentic Western experience that is not to be missed!
This past week I had the pleasure of going on a horseback ride at Spring Creek Ranch. The Ranch is situated on top of a large butte, with a winding road that leads to sweeping panoramic views of the valley and the Tetons. It is one of my favorite views in the valley – and you get to take it all in on the back of a horse!
I’m not a horsey gal – I’ve only ridden a handful of times in my life, but I never shy away from an adventure. The folks at the ranch ask you what your riding ability is and then they match you up with a suitable long legged friend. The wranglers, with their cowboy boots and hats, collect the horses from the stable and provide a stepping stool for easy mounting.
However, if you are like me and enjoy a challenge, you can hoist yourself onto the horse without assistance. I wore some old jeans for the ride because I didn’t want to get any of my nice jeans dirty or smelling of horse. Well, these beat up jeans had two small holes in the thighs and when I went to mount the horse I heard a huge RIP noise – yep, I ripped a giant hole in my jeans. How embarrassing. Luckily, I was on the saddle for the ride, so no one even knew!
Spring Creek Riding Stables have a number of different ride options but since I wasn’t a seasoned rider I chose the 1 hour ride. Your butt and back can get pretty sore if you aren’t used to riding and you go on a ride longer than 2 hours.
Like most trail rides, the horses know the way. Our guide rode up front and the 6 of us all followed in a line. The views were stunning. We saw Jackson’s downtown area and Snow King as well as sweeping views of Grand Teton National Park and the famed Tetons.
They take photos of you at two points during the ride and you are allowed to purchase them as souvenirs at the end of the ride. Which is great, because trying to take photos while riding a horse is nearly impossible and not highly recommended. There isn’t much room to bring anything besides yourselves on the horse, so make sure you have your fill of water and snacks before taking off on your trip. Since you are on a butte it is quite windy, so factor in a breeze when planning out what to wear.
If you are looking for a short, affordable ride during your time in Jackson I would recommend getting in touch with the Spring Creek Riding Stables. They provide great friendly service and the views are outstanding.
There are plenty of cross country mountain bike trails in Jackson Hole, however, sometimes you just want to go up and then go down and be done. Shadow Mountain is located just north of the town of Jackson, Wyoming and offers a great single track trail, bordering on downhill mountain biking. The trail has a few steep sections that can get your heart pumping, but for the most part, this flowy single track trail is tons of fun and boasts gorgeous views of the Teton Range from across the valley. The trail is rated moderate and is 4 miles round trip.
To reach the trail head drive north on Route 121/89/26 out of Jackson, toward the Jackson Hole Airport. Pass the airport. Within 2 miles of passing the Southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park you will see Antelope Flats Road on your right. Turn right and drive past the buffalo and Moulton Barn. The Moulton Barn is the token barn of Jackson Hole and it is worth the stop if you have never seen it. Continue on Antelope Flats Road until the road ends at a T intersection. Turn left. Drive until you reach a fork in the road – on the right it is a private road and on the left is a dirt road with access to the national forest. Turn left. In just under a mile you will reach a trail head with a small parking area on the right. Park here, hop on your bike and head directly across from where you parked onto a dirt road that starts to go uphill.
The dirt road isn’t ridiculously steep, but it is laboriously long and uphill. Be prepared for a 45 minute to an hour long bike ride uphill. Along the way be aware of car traffic although rare, and ATVs. There are plenty of viewpoints on the climb up and you can see the Tetons across the valley for most of the ride. There is no water on Shadow Mountain, so be prepared with lots of water and snacks. Also, make sure to wear sunscreen because the ascent is mostly in the sun.
Once you reach the summit you will find a single track path on the left hand side of the road. This is the start of the descent, my favorite part! The descent brings you through tree stands, down some steeper, slightly rocky pitches and it even has a nice open ridge line that you bike down towards the bottom. The ridge has a fair amount of loose rock, so if you are a novice, take it slow. Once you reach the valley floor, follow the trail out to a dirt road. Turn left on the road and bike back to your car.
I do not wear any downhill mountain biking gear when I bike Shadow, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t as challenging as a downhill trail. There aren’t any man made jumps or gaps in the trail, it is straight up nature at its best. If you are an avid mountain biker you should definitely make a point to ride Shadow Mountain when you are in town, you won’t regret it!