By Marc Bowen
I left home this morning at 5:30am and drove to Driggs then onto Ski Hill Road for a few miles until turning right onto Teton Canyon Road to the south Teton Canyon trailhead. Teton Canyon Road is about five miles long and unpaved most of the way to the trailhead. It was necessary for me to drive at fairly slow speeds because of potholes and quite a few cows on the road. I passed Treasure Mountain Boy Scout Camp and several campgrounds along the way.
It had rained during the night so everything was wet which I didn’t mind. Everything was washed clean with no dust to speak of. I arrived in the trailhead parking lot at about 7:00am and there was only one other car parked there.
The one trail leading up the canyon from here goes a lot of places. My destination today was the Devils Stairs trail which branches off this trail about three miles up the canyon.
I headed up the trail along Teton Canyon Creek and I banged my trekking poles together at times usually in the thickest parts of the trail to try to warn off any bears that might be on or near the trail ahead of me.
The first bridge (above photo) crosses a small clear running stream. Just past the bridge is a trail that goes to the left.
A very short distance up this trail is a pretty little set of waterfalls.
The next bridge (above) was larger and crossed Teton Canyon Creek. The forest becomes real dense in this area.
The vegetation was lush and green, almost like a rain forest and there were many varieties of wild flowers. Those flowers are just beginning to bloom. A few more weeks and this will all look like one giant flower garden.
The sound of the stream was my constant companion along here and the canyon begins to open up to a decent size with steep slopes on both sides and snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance. Spruce, Fir and Aspens line the trail in between verdant meadows. Just. Absolutely. Beautiful!
Again, just like my Darby Canyon hike (see Darby Canyon Wind Cave Trail) most of the way up the trail for the first mile or two I followed the tracks of a moose.
There were several of these big clearings along the way that allowed a good look at the Teton Shelf in the distance. All along this stretch there were multiple stream crossings with most of the streams originating from half a dozen waterfalls flowing down the steep canyon walls.
At one point as I began to cross an old avalanche of snow covered with dirt and debris I noticed in the distance two cow moose.
They looked past me to my left and I noticed a bull moose and another cow heading toward them.
I watched the two groups cautiously meet and then the bull went off into the willows.
The larger cow appraoched the cow that had come over with the bull and raised up on her hind feet to hit her with her front hooves then chased her off.
I was not carrying a long lens so was unable to zoom in for closeup shots but still enjoyed watching these beautiful creatures interact.
I then moved on down the trail into a thick stand of trees and as I rounded a bend in the trail I was startled to see another bull moose standing just off the trail looking at me.
He was close enough to me to make me wary. I took a quick photo (probably not the wisest first reaction) then I carefully moved as far away to the other side of the trail as much as the thick brush allowed. He watched me and then looked at a point behind me several times and then back at me. I didn’t dare take my eyes off him to see what he was looking at when all of a sudden he started trotting towards me. I picked up speed to try to put something like a tree or log between him and me then attempted to put some distance between us.
I got back on the trail and hurried around the bend before I dared look back to see where he was at. That was when I saw him coming down the trail behind me accompanied by another bull at a trot. My first thought was, ‘Are they following me?’ But then I thought maybe he had waited for me to move down the trail until he could join his buddy who had come up the trail behind me. Whatever the case I was still not comfortable being that close to them so I continued to put distance between us.
As I walked down the trail near the stream and an area filled with willows (prime moose habitat) I saw another bull moose in the willows tossing his head and antlers around but ignoring me. I did not slow down but kept moving. I thought, ‘Wow! How many moose are there in this area?’
Roughly three miles up the trail is a sign. At this point you can continue another five miles up the canyon to the Teton Crest Trail and then on to the Basin Lakes or turn right and hike about a mile to Devils Stairs.
I turned right at this point and began a tough climb up the mountain toward the Stairs.
Part way up the trail is a big flat rock just off the trail that gave me a great view looking back down the valley towards the trailhead.
Video by: Marc Bowen
The switchbacks going up are very steep and eventually the trail enters a couple of open meadows and then follows a stream up the steep face. As I crossed the stream and climbed higher the trail crossed a steep open slope.
Then the trail begins to climb up several sets of rocky steps and it became fairly obvious why they are called The Devils Stairs as they look like steps made for a big beast.
There was a sign below at the fork advising against bringing livestock up this trail and I can see why. It would be very dangerous for horses and the humans who ride them.
I loved this trail! Beautiful views, steep drop offs and something new around each corner.
The trail was also kind of difficult to navigate. I mistakenly started to follow it around an outcropping in the cliff and saw the trail disappear (photo below).I doubled back and saw I had missed the not so obvious switchback carved into the cliff face.
Parts of the trail just cling to the cliff plus as I got closer to the top the clouds moved in giving an impression of an immense void.
This (above) is the switchback in the trail I initially missed.
With the clouds moving in the trees disappeared for a few moments and everything got quiet.
Farther up the trail I could see the The Teton Shelf which extends for miles up towards the Basin Lakes.
The trail finally ends at a wall of snow on the shelf which I had to hike around to get up on top.
The video below shows how foggy it was when I got on top.
Video by: Marc Bowen
After detouring around the wall of snow I decided to see how far up the shelf I could go before the snow got to deep. There is a loop trail that goes up the shelf to the crest trail and then comes back around and down the basin trail.
I kept losing the trail under the snow but I could guess pretty well the direction and approximate location. It was very foggy at times and visibility was low.
Video by: Marc Bowen
I decided to stick to walking in the snow so if I lost my bearings in the mist I still be able follow my tracks back out.
Most of these images I captured during breaks in the clouds so they are not always indicative of how foggy it was.
I walked another mile or so but decided to turn back. A thunderstorm was forecast for around 12pm and I told myself I better be off the shelf and at the bottom of Devils Stairs before noon.
On my way back to the top of Devils Stairs I stopped to shoot some of the few wild flowers blooming.
The video below shows the view from the top of the stairs and three waterfalls can be seen coming down the mountain side across the canyon.
Video by: Marc Bowen
I had just dropped off the rim and cleared the staircase when it started to rain pretty hard. I found cover under a clump of trees where I was out of the rain, ate a snack and drank water. After about 15-20 minutes I decided the rain might last awhile so I got my rain gear out put them on and continued down the trail in the rain.
I talked to a couple of hikers at the bottom of the trail who had encountered too much snow farther up the basin trail and had to turn around and come back down. So it’s still too early to hike up into the basin. The top of the Staircase is over 8000 feet and the Basin lakes are over 9000 feet. Will probably be another month before the upper elevations open up.
The trail was very muddy heading back down to the trailhead. I eventually took my rain gear off when the rain quit.
There were many hikers coming up the trail, about half of them with dogs and no leashes. I would be worried my dog might run off after a bear or mountain lion. Not a good idea in my opinion but I get the reasons why they might want to bring their dog with them.
When I got back to the parking lot I noticed that to the left of the restrooms is a trail with a sign saying ‘Face Trail’. Found out it’s a trail that goes up a VERY steep 4000 foot climb to Table Mountain. I will be climbing Table Mountain next week but will do so by way of the Huckleberry Trail which is longer but also an easier climb. Definitely going to be getting into snow up there as Table Mountain is over 11,000 feet in elevation but I’m still looking forward to the experience.
Well I have to say, I enjoyed this hike immensely! Thats despite the fact that I kind of wandered around up there on the Teton Shelf losing my way at times, getting rained on and sort of chased by a moose or two!
3 thoughts on “Devil’s Stairs Trail”