The term “take a hike,” has had an entirely new meaning for me since I moved out west years & years ago. As a kid growing up in a major east coast city, my older siblings would often use that phrase, figuratively of course, when they wanted me gone, like I was no more worthy to hang with them than a pesky fly buzzing about their heads. So, ions later, it still makes me chuckle when I hear someone say, “let’s take a hike!” Of course, that phrase now, used literally, is a much more positive suggestion. Hiking in this Yellowstone-Teton area is akin to breathing for many of us who are lucky enough to call this place home. The beauty is, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s simply a brisk walk on a neighborhood path, or a grunt climb up the nearest peak. Simply being outside in this glorious environment is what counts, as much for our mental health as our physical well-being.
Waiting for the long-anticipated summer season to arrive in Teton Valley often requires the patience of Job, especially this particular year. With the pandemic striking when we were still in the throes of winter, and everything we love to do coming to a screeching halt, we found ourselves often wondering, “what-to-do, what-to-do, what-to-do-next?” It’s not necessary to reiterate all of the take-aways from our everyday lives during the past few months. We were all in the same boat and it sure felt like a sinking one at the time. Who needs to rehash those forlorn memories? Truth is, the universe always sees fit to give us light at the end of all tunnels, eventually, and our light was the arrival of spring.
With our local ski resorts shuttered weeks before anyone was ready to call it quits & lift accessed turns now a distant memory, many headed to the mountains and reverted to earning their turns the old-fashioned way. The hills remained virtually alive with those not willing to abandon the glorious powder that continued to fall in copious amounts through mid-April. The diehards skinned up and dotted the slopes on both sides of the Tetons well into May. But not everyone is that hearty and we, the mere mortals waited, and not always so patiently, as our thoughts drifted to what we could do outside. Many rediscovered the joy of snowshoeing across the dry farms or cross-country skiing in Teton Canyon.
Despite the uncertainty of life as we knew it, some things do remain constant. Seemingly overnight the valley floor was suddenly green. The bikes were dusted off, boats sanded down and sneakers replaced our fur-lined Merrells and other cumbersome footwear. The State of Idaho began to loosen covid-19 restrictions and eventually friends could enjoy getting together again, following safety recommendations of course. The staff at Teton Springs Lodge & Spa were busy fielding inquiries from would-be-visitors from across the land; it appears so many are anxious to bust out and enjoy the great outdoors. What better place than in Teton Valley, this recreation mecca knowing few legitimate rivals.
Teton Springs Lodge is a fully equipped all suites hotel, complimented by amazing views via one’s private patio or balcony. Guests are digging out grandmas’ recipes, cooking up a storm together as a family, and now extending their stay once they discover how much there is to do at the resort and beyond. Wide-open spaces are never in short supply here. I get the distinct feeling talking to guests that this is a different kind of vacation for many of them, with more time for family, to reflect and reset priorities. Sounds like a silver lining to me.
Teton Springs is my second home of sorts. A place to work, a place to play. And while we always advise guests to take a stroll, or bike ride around this 780-acre golf community neighborhood, I haven’t done much of that myself, until late. With girlfriends and dogs in tow, we’ve been exploring Teton Springs in all its glory. It’s fun to ooh and ahh all of the beautiful mountain log homes that dot this landscape and catching the sun as it sets over the Headwaters Golf Course makes it impossible not to feel grateful. For our out-of-town guests trying to acclimate to the altitude, or Teton Springs staff giving fresh meaning to the lunch break syndrome, a walk around this property is guaranteed to lift one’s spirits.
Speaking of lifting one’s spirits. Another walk or bike ride that’s so easily accessible, mellow and awe inspiring and often overlooked by us locals, is the Snake River Dike, formerly called Emily’s Pond Levee Trail. It’s a quick trip from Victor over Teton Pass, with the turn off to Emily’s Pond just beyond the Wilson Bridge. It’s a flat gravel trail, plenty wide to accommodate the many users enjoying the view of the Snake River and the Grand Tetons. This trail is open year-round and your furry friends are more than welcome to tag along. It’s an out-and-back hike, totaling about 4.4 miles or so, and if you can peel your eyes off the Tetons for a minute, you’re very likely to spot the resident bald eagles who nest here and moose enjoying a snack. I think half the reason I love this walk is the stop at Pearl Street Bagels on the way back through Wilson. They serve up the best bagel sandwiches in the west and specialty coffee drinks to match. But always leave room for the homemade huckleberry shakes found back on the Idaho side at the Victor Emporium. Beware, they are addicting!
Now it’s time to get off the beaten path a tad. One of my all-time favorites is the Dry Canyon Trail hike. It’s another easy-to-reach destination from Teton Valley. Simply head west on Highway 31 out of Victor and the turn off is approx. 9.2 miles from the top of Pine Creek Pass. You’ll turn right when you see the formidable Pine Creek Ranch sign and head down Pine Creek Bench Road. You’ll travel on gravel, with small portions of paved roads thrown in, with vast swaths of farmland in every direction. You may even wonder if you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere but stay the course. When the gravel road ends turn east (right turn for those directionally challenged like myself) onto a dirt road. You can also park in the small turn-off here but this will add a mile plus to your hike but hey; you’re hiking right! Parking here allows you to avoid the last mile or so of rough road to reach the trailhead. But carry on if you have a high clearance vehicle as this portion is deeply rutted.
You’ll share this Caribou-Targhee National Park trail with horses and the occasional mountain biker. It’s a shaded trail for the first half, all downhill, and when you reach the wide-open meadows and the fork in the road, you can leave the relatively flats behind and climb up to the summit. It’s not too long of a vertical climb but the view from the top is worth the price of admission. Now, you’re officially on the South Fork Rim Trail. You can go all the way to Blacks Canyon, approx. 5 & ½ miles along the rim, or simply hike out and back as far as your shoes will take you. Drift boats from this distance appear as corks floating lazily down the Snake river and bald eagles take flight looking for trout of their own. There’s plenty of natural viewing areas, dramatic rock formations that serve perfectly as picnic tables, so pack a lunch and savor this delicious view of the Southfork River from the clouds.
This is truly Idaho at its best – mountain river country. Go take a hike!