Caribou-Targhee National Forest
Covering nearly three million acres, Caribou-Targhee National Forest extends from Montana to Utah. Most of the forest lies within Idaho, but it also includes the western edge of Wyoming along the Tetons.
Much of the forest is heavily logged, but two wilderness areas protect most of the Wyoming section. Contact the Forest Service office in Driggs, Idaho (208/354-2312, www.fs.fed.us/r4/caribou-targhee) for more recreation information.
Many short hiking options are available on the west side of the Tetons, and the Forest Service office in Driggs has a handout that describes more than 20 of these hikes. A few of the best include the following. From Darby Canyon Trailhead, you can choose either the Aspen Trail (3.6 miles one-way; especially pretty in the fall) or the South Darby Trail (2.7 miles one-way; with nice waterfalls and flowered meadows).
The latter leads to two remarkable caves that extend deep into the mountains: Wind Cave and Ice Cave. Hikers with flashlights can go a short distance into these caves, but very experienced spelunkers (with proper gear) have discovered miles of passageways connecting the two.
From the South Teton Trailhead, you can opt to climb Table Mountain (6.4 miles one-way), visit gorgeous Alaska Basin (7.7 miles one-way), or ascend the Devil’s Stairs to Teton Shelf (6.8 miles one-way). All three of these hikes take you high into the alpine, but many families just hike until the kids get tired, eat lunch, and then head back to the car.
Several trails take off from the Teton Pass area along Wyoming Highway 22/Idaho Highway 33, including Moose Creek Trail, which leads to Moose Meadows (5.4 miles one-way), and the Teton Crest Trail if you’re feeling very ambitious (nine miles one-way). It joins another popular hiking route, the Coal Creek Trail, for an alternative return route to the highway.
Jedediah Smith Wilderness
The 123,451-acre Jedediah Smith Wilderness lies on the west side of the Teton Range, facing Idaho but lying entirely within Wyoming. Access is primarily from the Idaho side, although trails breach the mountain passes at various points, making it possible to enter from Grand Teton National Park. This area was not declared a wilderness until 1984.
A second wilderness area, the 10,820-acre Winegar Hole Wilderness (pronounced WINE-a-gur), lies along the southern border of Yellowstone National Park. Grizzlies love this country, but hikers will find it uninteresting and without trails. In contrast, the Jedediah Smith Wilderness contains nearly 200 miles of paths and some incredible high-mountain scenery.
Several mostly gravel roads lead up from the Driggs and Victor areas into the Tetons. Get a map showing wilderness trails and access points from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest ranger station in Driggs, Idaho (208/354-2312) or from the Forest Service offices in Jackson. Be sure to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and 100 feet from streams. Group size limits are also in place; check with the Forest Service for specifics on these and other backcountry regulations.
In addition, anyone planning to cross into Grand Teton National Park from the west side will need to get a park camping permit in advance. Wilderness permits are not required for the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. Both grizzly and black bears are present throughout the Tetons, so all food must be either hung out of reach or stored in bear-resistant containers.
Hidden Corral Basin
At the northern end of the wilderness, Hidden Corral Basin provides a fine loop hike. Locals (primarily those on horseback) crowd this area on late-summer weekends. Get to the trailhead by driving north from Tetonia on Idaho Highway 32 to Lamont, then turn north on a gravel road. Follow it one mile and then turn right (east) onto Coyote Meadows Road. The trailhead is approximately 10 miles up, where the road dead-ends. An eight-mile trail parallels South Bitch Creek (the name Bitch Creek comes from the French word for a female deer, biche) to Hidden Corral, where you may see moose. Be sure to bring a fishing pole to try for the cutthroats.
Above Hidden Corral you can make a pleasant loop back by turning north onto the trail to Nord Pass and then dropping along the Carrot Ridge and Conant Basin Trails to Bitch Creek Trail and then on to Coyote Meadows, a distance of 21 miles round-trip. Note that this is grizzly and black bear country, and bear-resistant containers are required. By the way, Hidden Corral received its name in the outlaw days, when rustlers would steal horses in Idaho, change the brands, and hold the horses in this natural corral until the branding wounds healed. The horses were then sold to Wyoming ranchers. Owen Wister’s The Virginian describes a pursuit of horse thieves through Bitch Creek country.
The most popular hiking trail in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness begins near the Teton Canyon Campground (518/885-3639 or 877/444-6777 for reservations, www.reservations.gov, open late May-mid-Sept., $10) and leads through flower-bedecked meadows to mountain-rimmed Alaska Basin. It’s great country, but don’t expect a true wilderness experience, because many others will also be hiking and camping here. Get to the campground by following the Grand Targhee Ski Resort signs east from Driggs, Idaho. A gravel road splits off to the right approximately three miles beyond the little settlement of Alta. Follow it to the campground. (If you miss the turn, you’ll end up at the ski area.) For an enjoyable loop, follow Alaska Basin Trail up the canyon to Basin Lakes and then head southwest along the Teton Crest Trail to the Teton Shelf Trail. Follow this trail back to its junction with the Alaska Basin Trail, dropping down the Devil’s Stairs—a series of very steep switchbacks. You can then take the Alaska Basin Trail back to Teton Campground, a round-trip distance of approximately 19 miles. You could also use these trails to reach the high peaks of the Tetons or to cross the mountains into Death Canyon within Grand Teton National Park (camping permit required). Campfires and horse camping are not allowed in Alaska Basin.
For a somewhat less crowded hiking experience, check out the Moose Meadows area on the southern end of the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. Get to the trailhead by going three miles southeast of Victor on Idaho Highway 33. Turn north (left) on Moose Creek Road and follow it to the trailhead. The trail parallels Moose Creek to Moose Meadows, a good place to camp. You’ll need to ford the creek twice, so this trail is best hiked in late summer. At the meadows, the trail dead-ends into Teton Crest Trail, providing access to Grand Teton National Park through some gorgeous alpine country. A nice loop can be made by heading south along this trail to flower-covered Coal Creek Meadows. A trail leads from here past 10,068-foot Taylor Mountain (an easy side trip with magnificent views), down to Taylor Basin, through lodgepole forests, and then back to your starting point. This loop hike will take you 15 miles round-trip.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition