We often assume the best hiking is inside our national parks. While I would never dispute that there are some amazing hiking trails at national parks (the Highline Trail in Glacier is still one of my all time favorites) we’ve discovered over the years that the hiking right outside national parks can be just as impressive. In some respects, it might be even better because the trails tend to be less crowded.
We spent the past two weeks hanging out on the western side of the Teton Mountain range. This area on the border of Wyoming and Idaho is called the Teton Valley, and let me tell you there are some great hiking trails over there! Here are the three we tackled this time around.
I mentioned last time that our boondocking spot was only a few miles from the Grand Targhee Ski Area. Like most ski areas, Grand Targhee is about much more than winter sports. They have an extensive network of both hiking and biking trails that showcase the incredible mountain views and wildflower filled meadows. Following our “challenge yourself” motto we chose the longest, steepest trail and went for it. We convinced our friend Marshall to join us, and despite a bit of misinformation about the trail length and elevation gain (I might have underestimated the uphill gain by about half) the three of us enjoyed this challenging 6.5-mile uphill trek.
From the top of the ridge, we could see the farms and fields of Idaho to the west…
And the mountains of Wyoming to the east.
When researching hikes in the Teton Valley, the one trail that comes up over and over again is the Darby Canyon Wind Cave. This 6 mile round trip trail climbs up the Darby Canyon Valley to a giant cave with an impressive waterfall spilling out its mouth. The trail is rated moderate, and while there are no technical or difficult sections, it is a steady uphill climb that gains over 2,000 feet of elevation. Take from that what you will.
Other than reading the description and looking up the trailhead location, I hadn’t done a ton of research on the wind cave. So while I knew we would be hiking to a cave, I didn’t have any idea what that cave looked like. Which is why when we first saw a massive cave with a waterfall spilling out of it across the valley I went on and on about how cool it was, and wouldn’t it be fun if we could see it up close. Tim said, “I think that’s the cave we’re hiking to”, but I wasn’t convinced because it seemed so far away.
Except as the trail climbed higher and then veered to the right across the valley, I finally realized that was indeed the cave we would be hiking to.
After one final, very steep uphill push we made it the base of the cave. I’ve seen lots of caves, and I’ve seen even more waterfalls, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a cave that looks like a giant gaping mouth with water pouring out.
We saw one couple (and their two little dogs) cross the river at the very base of the cave and climb up the far side before disappearing inside. The whole maneuver looked pretty sketchy to me. There was a lot of water coming out of that cave. We ran into them on the way down and I asked how it was in there. Turns out that the water is not nearly as deep as I had assumed, but that you can’t explore very far without equipment. I guess there are some steep drops that require ropes. Hmmm…that sounds like the kind of cave exploration better left to experienced cavers.
Alaska Basin + Devil’s Staircase
At the end of Teton Canyon Road, there are two trailheads. One is for the Table Mountain Trail, and another for the Alaska Basin Trail. Table Mountain is considered to be one of the best hikes around in terms of getting an up close and personal view of the Tetons from this side of the mountain range. But it’s also an 11-mile round trip hike with a massive 4,000-foot elevation gain that ends above 11,000 feet. I know I said we like to challenge ourselves, but at some point, you have to know your limits.
The Alaska Basin Trail sounded incredible too, but it was another long one clocking in at 16+ miles. Since we had just hiked to the Wind Cave the day before, we settled on hiking the first 2.8 miles to the trail junction and then turning around. It was an easy hike up a very mild slope through a valley filled with wildflowers. I mean FILLED. The flowers we saw on our last two hikes were nothing compared to what we discovered here.
The wildflower hike was so pleasant that when we reached the trail crossing none of us wanted to turn around. Well..I kind of did but with Tim and Marshall both eagerly expressing their excitement for the Devil’s Stairs trail I could hardly be the odd one out. After all, it’s only .9 of a mile. How hard could it be?
It could be very hard. It could be the kind of hard that climbs up 1,000 feet in less than a mile and leaves you gasping for breath and wondering why you ever left that lovely wildflower meadow behind. At least that’s what I was thinking. The guys were probably thinking about how fast they could get to the top, or some other guy stuff :)
I have to admit that once we got to the top of that evil (or should I say devilish?) trail I was pretty impressed by the valley we spilled out onto.
Which might explain why when Tim said he wanted to go just up and over that ridge to see the view Marshall and I both agreed.
We also found more snow. A lot more snow.
This was the end of the line for us. We rested our feet, ate our snacks, took in the view one last time and then headed back down. When all was said and done, our “easy Sunday hike” turned into a 10-mile trek with one grueling uphill section thrown in just for fun.
This is an area we will definitely be going back to for more hiking. Someday we would like the do the entire Alaska Basin Trail along with a few of the other longer hikes on this side of the Tetons. But for now, we’re headed west in search of more mountains!