We stayed several days at the charming Teton Teepee Lodge in Alta, Wyoming.  Although the tallest Teton is visible from the Lodge’s front door, the drive from Alta to Grand Teton National Park is considerable.  So we did a lot of our hiking on the west side of the Tetons, in the Caribou / Targhee National Forest instead of the National Park.  Before arriving, I didn’t know about this forest or its hiking opportunities.  Now I can say that it’s much less crowded and just about as beautiful as the more famous east side.

We hiked in mid-September, following an all-day rain in Alta (elevation 6500) that was snow at the higher elevations.  This was the first snow of the season, and it added an attractive covering to the mountains.  Venturing outside the next day, we went to the Grand Targhee Resort ski area, rode the lift to the top and hiked around.  The snow was slippery in the morning, but by day end it was gone except at the highest peaks.

“Mary’s Nipple”, 9920 ft
Alaska Basin (I think), as seen from Mary’s. Note glacial U shape.

The next day we took a more substantial hike.  I’m giving directions from Driggs, Idaho, which is the most natural starting point. From State Highway 33 in Driggs, turn east at the only traffic light (street is called both East Little Avenue and Ski Hill Road) towards Alta Wyoming.  After about six miles, just past a cattle grating, the gravel road #009 is on the right.  (This is the only road I’ve been on with leading zeroes.)  Follow 009 to its end, about three miles, to a parking area for several trailheads.  There are pit toilet bathrooms of acceptable cleanliness.

We took the South Teton Trail, following the attractive Teton Creek through meadows and forest in a U-shaped glacial valley.  It’s slightly uphill, but not very.

On the South Teton Trail

After almost 3 miles there is an intersection.  On the left is the Alaska Basin, but we took the right fork to Devil’s Staircase Trail.  This trail gets its fiendish name because of its steepness and occasional narrow ledges, but really it isn’t that bad.  It rises over 1000 feet in just under a mile, mostly in navigable switchbacks.  The views improve as we leave the valley floor. (For more about the devil, read here.)

Looking down from a switchback on Devil’s Staircase

The Staircase trail ends at the top of a wide shelf, where it becomes (unsurprisingly) the Teton Shelf Trail.

Shelf Trail, just above the Staircase

The shelf continues for some distance, gently rising, before connecting with the Alaska Basin in a 16 mile loop.  We only went about another mile or two to get a good view of the three Tetons (Grand, Middle, South) and then returned the way we came.  Total of 11 or 12 miles, still a respectable day.

The three Tetons

We saw hardly anybody. This hike is a great alternative to many in GTNP.