Mountains, Wildflowers & Caves: 3 Hikes in the Teton Valley

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.

Alaska Basin Trail, Wyoming

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.

Bannock Trail at Grand Targhee Resort

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.

Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
Up through the wildflowers
Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
See those trails in the meadow below? Those are the bike trails that we rode later in the week.
Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
The trail climbs up this ridge and beyond
Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
Almost at the top!
Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
We made it!

From the top of the ridge, we could see the farms and fields of Idaho to the west…

Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
Idaho

And the mountains of Wyoming to the east.

Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
Wyoming
Bannock Trail - Grand Targhee Resort
Hiking back down the ridge

Darby Canyon Wind Cave

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.

Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
Wildflowers all around!
Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
So lush & green!

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.

Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
Our first view of the cave

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.

I hadn't done a ton of research on this trail
The cave up close. Yes, we really are hiking up there.
I hadn't done a ton of research on this trail
One more meadow to cross
Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
Getting closer
Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
We made it to the waterfall

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.

Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
Yup, that’s pretty cool

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.

Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
The closest I got to seeing inside the cave
Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail
Looking down the river that flows from the cave. The waterfall is just below us.

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.

Alaska Basin Trail, Wyoming

Alaska Basin Trail, Wyoming
Alaska Basin Trail, Wyoming
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?

Alaska Basin Trail, Wyoming
Devil’s Stairs is only .9 miles! 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 :)

Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
Oh, it’s that kind of trail
Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
After what felt like forever, we reached the stairs
Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
Yes! We made it!

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.

Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
This view is a good reward

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.

Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
But first, we all cooled down in the snow.
Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
And then we climbed some more. Since these two were always in front of me on the trail, I ended up with lots of photos of them together. I joked that I could make them a bro album. Neither seemed thrilled by the idea.
Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
We had to climb up another 200 feet or so, but Tim got the view he was looking for

We also found more snow. A lot more snow.

Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
Tim in front of what looks like a snow lake
Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
Hard to imagine all that snow will melt before the end of summer

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.

Devil's Stairs, Wyoming
Back down the Devil’s Stairs

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!

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17 Responses to “Mountains, Wildflowers & Caves: 3 Hikes in the Teton Valley”

Comments

  1. David B

    How were the bugs? We were at Flagg Ranch in June, the skeeters were horrendous banging against the closed windows,, camp host laughingly said, “they are freebies no extra charge.”

    Reply
    • Amanda

      There were very few mosquitos, but the biting horse flies were terrible!

      Reply
  2. Marshall

    You don’t want to know what I was thinking on the hike up Devil’s staircase! OMG! Whose idea was that? I blame Tim.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      As much as I’d like to blame Tim, I distinctly remember you eagerly proclaiming your enthusiasm for going up the Devil’s Stairs!

      Reply
  3. Metamorphosis Lisa

    Oh holy cow those are some awesome hikes! The flowers! The views! You guys hit the jackpot.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      Considering this area wasn’t even on our radar until we needed a place to escape the heat, I’d say we did indeed hit the jackpot!

      Reply
  4. Pamela Campbell

    Such a beautiful hike. I was in Yellowstone in late June and we did see some patches of snow in the higher areas, but not as much as you had here. We did build a 6″ snowman. Gorgeous area. Thank you for sharing. Continued happy travels.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      The large amounts of snow up high surprised us. I guess the extra snow last winter has caused the snow to linger. Hopefully, that means more moisture and fewer fires this summer.

      Reply
  5. David and Sharon (Two Lanes of Freedom)

    Breathtaking photos! We’re playing in the rocky mountains of Colorado this summer, but hope to explore Wyoming maybe next year. Thanks for sharing the great hikes!

    Reply
    • Amanda

      I would definitely recommend this area if you plan to explore Wyoming. Of course, the national parks are great too, but the less crowded environment is a nice change.

      Reply
  6. Laurel

    Wow, those are fabulous hikes and very enticing photos! I’ve heard of the Darby Canyon Wind Cave, but not the other two. Love hiking in meadows of wildflowers, and yeah, I know all about that “Oh, it’s only .9 of a mile….let’s go!” It’s usually me saying that and then regretting it. Until I get to the top and am loving it. :-)

    Reply
  7. Jodee Gravel

    The flowers and falls are incredible – and those views!! Those steep stairs on the side of a steep mountain cliff…..not so much!! Looks terrifying. Wonderful to see there’s still some snow to feed the streams. I’m gasping for breath just thinking about that elevation, but so delighted to share the rewards with you :-)

    Reply
    • Amanda

      So happy we could take you along on the hike. Fortunately, neither of us are bothered by heights and drop offs, but we were certainly gasping for air at the top of that trail!

      Reply
  8. Kelly

    As a soon-to-be retired couple considering a RV lifestyle, we have so enjoyed looking over your blog and learning from your experiences. However, one thing I can’t find mention of is your tow vehicle. What do you use to pull your Airstream? Based on your 5 year experience, are there some words of wisdom that we should consider when choosing the vehicle? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      We tow with a Toyota Tundra. Works great for us, and over the past 5 years, it has successfully and safely carried us up and over large mountain passes, through deserts, and across the country several times. Other than some routine maintenance things we have had zero issue with this truck (which now has around 150,000 miles on it). I would say the three most important things are to find a truck that fits the requirements for towing your trailer, is reliable and won’t break down often, and is comfortable for you to ride in.

      Reply
  9. Thrifty Campers

    Just breathtaking! That waterfall looks unreal, simply gorgeous!

    Reply
  10. Charles Meyer

    Last year my AirBnB host suggested the Wibd Caves. It was a great hike and the the Cavs was fun to explore. It got smaller and narrower as you went back. I stopped when I realized I might need extra equipment and people didn’t know where I was at.

    Reply

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