Hiking from Driggs to Jackson Hole
My parents have been fighting since I was a little kid. No, it’s not about religion, childrearing, or even whether to the TV to the Hallmark Channel or ESPN. It’s about scenery. Specifically, the scenery surrounding Jackson Hole and its Idaho counterparts.
See, my parents hail from opposite sides of the Tetons, like some sort of small-town Romeo and Juliet. My mom, who comes from Jackson Hole, has always held that the dramatic view from the Wyoming side is the most scenic. My dad, however, grew up in Teton Valley, Idaho, and he’ll tell you with an almost religious passion that, duh, the Idaho side is just prettier.
My parents’ marriage, thankfully, remains intact, despite this thirty-year, granite peak-shaped wedge. I moved to Utah eight years ago for school, leaving the dramatic profile of the Tetons behind. But a few weekends ago I went back to Idaho to return to my roots, do some hiking, and maybe address the question of the Tetons’ most scenic side once and for all.
The hike we chose started just inside the Wyoming border, a few miles from Driggs, Idaho. It would wind up and around jagged alpine peaks and through wildflower-speckled meadows, until it spat us out on the other side of the mountain, near Jackson Hole. At the trailhead at 8am, spirits were high, backpacks were crammed with snacks, and our legs were feeling pretty great about this whole situation so far. It was me, my wife, my wife’s sister, my mom, and my brother, along with another brother and his wife who were along for the first leg of the trip.
At the trailhead for Devil’s Staircase, the mountain helpfully gave us a set of steep steps in case we’d skipped leg day recently. That part of the trail was a little hard on a few members of our party who were unprepared for the 1500 feet of vertical gain over two miles, but once we reached the top, it was hard not to feel pretty epic as we headed out along Death Canyon Shelf. There we were greeted by miles of relatively flat trail through gently waving ranks of wildflowers in full bloom.
From there we went along a string of beautiful high-altitude alpine meadows, which treated us to spectacular views of the nearby peaks. The bulk of the scenery came from the huge bastion of rock rising to our right and from the Tetons, which reared up across Death Canyon to our left. The wildflowers faithfully stuck with us while we were up on the shelf. At one point, they even thoughtfully lined the trail in orderly ranks of yellow, like some sort of natural traffic markings. How very safety-conscious of them.
The Tetons remained a constant presence throughout most of the jaunt. I kept a wary eye out for the distinction between the Idaho and Wyoming views, but the transition from one side to the other was too gradual for that.
In my mind, the view of the Tetons had always been merely two-sided, but the experience stretched out into a spectrum of spectacular views, each different but just as arresting as the last. If the Driggs side were black and the Jackson Hole side white, the journey was full of beautiful shades of gray.
Despite the expectation of blue skies, it rained for several hours. Mother Nature looked at the weather forecast and thought, “Well, that’s a bit boring. I rather think I’ll give them something else!” (For some reason, Mother Nature sounds like Dame Helen Mirren in my head. Don’t ask.) She soaked our jackets and our boots but failed to diminish our enthusiasm at the vistas on the trail. Once the rain stopped, we sat down on a ridge that jutted out over the canyon. That’s where we got maybe the best view of the entire hike.
My earlier realization about the Tetons’ views became even more obvious as we descended from the shelf into the canyon that led down to Phelps Lake, near Jackson Hole. Where the main attraction had previously been the surging peaks, with the wildflowers relegated to a sideshow, the way down put the wildflowers front and center. I’ve never seen such a display of wildflowers, with dazzling clusters of red, blue, orange, yellow, and purple interspersed among the grass. It was as though the flowers had spread the word among themselves to get all dressed up in their Sunday best so they could greet us, which was super nice of them.
Our feet started to tire, which I figure was their way of patiently asking, “So, uh, are we there yet?” By the time we neared our the parking lot where we had stowed the shuttle car a few nights before, our feet were doing their best to let us know they had had enough, thank you very much.
The final surprise of the hike came when we finally limped into the parking lot at Laurence Rockefeller Preserve Visitor’s Center, only to find that our truck had been booted. Given our level of exhaustion, you can imagine that we were just jumping for joy at this news, which is me being both facetious and metaphorical, given that we were not really capable of jumping at the time. We called and got it sorted out. The wait even gave me more time to reflect on the journey behind me and the insights I had gained, though—let’s be frank here—I was a little more keen to reflect on the chicken wings and fries that awaited me at the Broulim’s deli in Driggs. Soon the understanding park ranger let us off with a warning and we headed home.
I’m sure my parents will continue their argument about the Tetons till they’re old and gray, providing a continuous source of amusement for the rest of the family. So, once and for all: which side of the Tetons is better? Is it Idaho, Wyoming, or maybe the scenery in between?
Give me a few hundred more miles’ worth of hiking and I’ll get back to you.
Thinking of doing this hike? Need somewhere to rest your weary feet after a long day’s march over the Tetons? May we humbly suggest Flat Creek Inn as the answer to your Jackson Hole rest and relaxation-related needs.