Family Trails in the Tetons
Trail Distance: 2 to 4 miles round-trip, depending on how far up or down the river you want to go
Elevation Gain/Loss: Trail has only a few ups and downs of about 35 feet
How Strenuous: Easy. Recommended for preschoolers and older.
When to Go: Late May or early June, when the dirt road is dry. Avoid this area after hunting season has opened in October.
Animals to Watch For: Moose, elk, deer, waterfowl, songbirds, eagles, ospreys, beavers, and small mammals
Main Attractions: Excellent fishing along the Snake River, wildlife viewing, and easy hiking
Getting There: Drive 1.25 miles south of the Signal Mountain Lodge on the Teton Park Road. Turn left (east) on a dirt road and drive 3.75 miles to the end of the road to a parking area near the river.
This area is a great place to avoid the crowds that flock to the mountain trails. It's also a wonderful place to observe wildlife such as moose, elk, and waterfowl. But most of all, this is a place to go fishing.
When you arrive at the end of the bumpy dirt road, you have two options: hike upstream or down. There are no formal maintained trails along the river, but you will find that the trails are well used by wildlife as much as by humankind. Either direction provides fine fishing opportunities and a close-up view of truly wild river country. The hiking is easy, but come prepared to wade the side channels. I suggest that, rather than outfit the entire family in costly waders, just go on a warm day and have everyone wear old tennis shoes.
If you are not into fishing, don't worry. This area has superior wildlife-viewing opportunities, especially early or late in the day. Expect to see a variety of waterfowl, including swans, geese, cranes, ducks, and herons. You should see fresh moose, deer, and elk tracks. And if you aren't too noisy, you will probably see at least one member of the deer family. We saw an elk cow and calf on one of our upstream visits. There is also the work of beaver around many of the side channels and along the main river. It is sometimes amazing to see the size of trees felled by these large rodents. Songbirds, bald eagles, and ospreys are also in abundance in this area.
This part of Grand Teton National Park is a beautiful area to visit in the fall because of the large stands of cottonwoods. There is also fir, spruce, pine, and aspen.
Let's look at the upstream route first. From the parking area, walk straight to the river, then follow the well-beaten path north along the river. About a half-mile upstream you will come to the first channel. This is a good place to try your luck for some of the river's famous cutthroat trout. Remember that trout tend to lie along eddy lines where fast-moving water meets slower-moving water. They also lie behind gravel bars, rocks, logs, and other obstructions. The side channels on the river also offer good fishing opportunities depending on how much water is flowing through them. Fish these channels as you'd fish a regular creek. Most side channels are dependent on the amount of water being released from the Jackson Lake Dam. Late in the year, many side channels are shallow or completely dried up.
The main channel of the river makes a giant hook about one-eighth of a mile past the first side channel. Continue to follow the river and you will come to more gravel bars and small islands. Avoid the temptation of trying to wade out to these islands unless the water is no deeper than your knees. The river claims many lives each year, mostly of boaters and rafters but occasionally of anglers who fall in the water and find the current swifter than they anticipated. I tell my children never to step into the river where it is higher than their knees.
If you haven't been beguiled into fishing a stretch of water yet, there is plenty of good water for the next two miles. If you hike more than a mile from the parking area you can feel confident that you are fishing water usually only seen by drift-boaters.
If you hike downstream from the parking area you will come to some nice side channels and islands after about a third of a mile.
The trails in this area are all informal. Because none are maintained, expect to be jumping the occasional deadfall and wading a side channel to get to certain areas. This can add to the adventure for many children.
© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication