My favorite time of the year is fall. It’s also one of the busiest times of the year for me. So I don’t always get the opportunity to get over into the parks to photograph fall color. In Grand Teton NP the autumn colors usually peak the 2nd, 3rd or 4th week in September and unless you live in the valley near the park the timing can be difficult. I live about 60 miles from the park. It’s a beautiful drive over the mountain from home but it’s still a 2-hour drive each way.
In late September my friend Scott and I spent all day, sunrise to sunset shooting different areas in the park. Two months ago in July we were here for about three days photographing some of the same areas. If you are interested in reading more about our summer photo shoot go to Grand Teton NP Summer Photo Shoot.
One of the first locations we stopped to photograph was the Snake River Overlook, a scene made famous by Ansel Adams. The texture of the clouds in the sky added interest to this scene as the early morning light brought a rosy glow to the Teton range.
A lot of the trees in this area had already lost most of their leaves especially those along the river.
I thought it would be fun to compare the two photos (above) which show the change of seasons.
From the Snake River Overlook we moved on up the river to Oxbow Bend.
It was interesting to see that most of the trees in this area still had their leaves and some of those leaves were still green. The above image was captured from the ridge above the highway. Mt. Moran is the most prominent peak on the horizon.
As we hiked that same ridge east we had several different shooting angles of the bend in the river. In the above photo you can just see a sliver of Jackson Lake at the base of Mt. Moran in the distance.
(Above photo) looking southeast from that same ridge.
From here we dropped off the ridge, crossed the highway and walked the shore of the Snake River.
The air was fairly cool with little to no wind. This enabled me to get this shot (above) of the river with a nice reflection of the mountains and autumn color.
Similar shot (above). But this was shot two months ago in July just before sundown.
Next we drove back down the river to Schwabacher Landing. The colors were not as bright here but you can still see the contrast in color between the above photo taken in September and the photo below taken in July.
In the afternoon we drove east up towards Lower Slide Lake for a different view of the Teton Mountains.
A nice drive and a short hike later brought us to what is called the Wedding Tree by the locals in the area. In the lower right-hand corner of the above image above you can see a bouquet of flowers left there from the last wedding ceremony performed under the tree.
We had a little fun with the wedding bouquet (above) and yes we did keep with tradition, placing the bouquet back at the base of the tree when Scott was finished mugging with it.
In the evening we headed back to Oxbow Bend to wait for the sun to set.
While sitting on the ridge above Oxbow Bend we enjoyed watching the changes in light and color at sunset. Like sunrises, sunsets are always different and we never really know what we are going to see. This sunset didn’t disappoint…a fitting end to an enjoyable fall day in the Tetons!
Yesterday my son Seth and I left eastern Idaho about 4:00am to make the 234 mile, four-hour drive to the trailhead. Our plan was to hike into Alice Lake, spend two nights there, do a little fishing, get some photos and maybe hike up into the Twin Lakes area. We have been trying for several years now to go on a hike or backpacking trip together. It was finally happening and we were stoked to get out and start up the trail.
The Alice Lake trailhead is located at Pettit Lake near Stanley Idaho and is on the edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness. Depending upon where you live in eastern Idaho you can enter the Stanley Basin by several different routes. We chose the quickest route from Idaho Falls by taking Hwy 20 to Hwy 26 through Arco, Craters of the Moon. In the small town of Carey we turned right onto Hwy 20 again, drove through Picabo and the Silver Creek area, then north on Hwy 75 through Ketchum and over Galena Summit into the Stanley Basin. It was a beautiful morning with a little smoky haze in the distance from a fire northwest of the valley. Once past the turnoff to Alturas Lake we started looking for the sign for Pettit Lake on our left. We turned left on to Forest Rd 208. There are two miles of well maintained gravel road to the Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead. Best to get there early. This is a very busy area in the summer and the main parking area fills up fast. There was a sign saying ‘Parking Lot Full’ when we got there that redirected us back to the horse corral trailhead which would add about 1.5 miles to our hike. So instead we drove through the main parking lot hoping someone had just left and were lucky to find a parking space near the trailhead.
Tin Cup Hiker Trailhead
From this trailhead are several options for hikes. The Alice-Toxaway loop is an 18 mile walk with views of Pettit Lake, Alice Lake, Twin Lakes, Toxaway Lake and Farley Lake. This is a heavily trafficked trail, very scenic and a top destination for hikers.
Distance (Alice Lake out and back) – 11.2 miles
Trailhead elevation – 7000 ft
Highest elevation – 8600 ft
Elevation gain – 1600 ft
Difficulty – strenuous
About a half mile into the hike is a fork in the trail. The right fork goes to Toxaway Lake and a counter-clockwise direction along the loop trail. The left fork continues along the Pettit Lake shore and on to Alice Lake.
The first mile or two of trail is pretty level and easy walking along the edge of Pettit Lake.
At this point on the edge of Pettit Lake, we could see McDonald Peak (elev. 10,068 ft). The trail to Alice Lake goes up the canyon to the right of that mountain.
Just past the wilderness boundary sign is a place to sign-in and pickup a free permit to attach to your backpack so that it’s visible. There were so many people on the trail that we missed seeing the sign-in box and therefore didn’t have a permit on us during our stay in the wilderness. Bummer because I heard later that the Forest service gets funding depending upon the amount of permits filled out.
Seth and I carry smaller mountaineering style backpacks that are very comfortable and functional. Seth’s is a Teton Sports Summit 1500 cubic inches (25 Liter) pack. Mine is a Teton Sports Talus 2700 ci (44 Liter) pack. Both great for day-hikes, through-hikes or weekend backpacking trips. Any equipment we couldn’t fit in our packs we hung on the outside. Each backpack weighed about 40-45lbs full of gear and of course seemed to get heavier the more we climbed.
The smoke from the fires could be seen in the distant hills but the air where we were was clear and cool during the morning.
There were four creek crossings along the way which we crossed without getting our feet wet. During the first 2.8 miles of our hike the elevation gain wasn’t much, maybe 200 feet. The most difficult part of the 1600 foot elevation gain was in the latter half of the hike and is a steep 1000 foot climb.
At the top of that steep climb the trail began to level out and we crossed the stream one last time over a nice bridge (above photo – looking downstream from the bridge).
There are two small lakes or ponds off to the left side of the trail just before Alice Lake with a peak named El Capitan (elev. 9901 ft) towering over them.
Alice Lake is a beautiful sight. It’s a large lake with rugged and rocky ridges and peaks on three sides.
We set up camp on a point of land that juts out into the lake about halfway up the north shore. The view of El Capitan to the southeast was spectacular from our campsite. The weather was perfect! About 75 degrees mid-day. A little cloudy but no rain.
The view from camp (above photo) looking to the west of the point of land we were camped on.
Towards evening Seth fished for some of the brook trout that are predominant in this lake. The whole scene was such a beautiful backdrop that I couldn’t resist trying to capture it on camera. I had to bother Seth a few times and ask him to ‘freeze’ while I took some shots.
Dinner time!! We cooked our meals on our stoves and it’s true…food tastes better in the mountains!
It was so peaceful as we watched the shadows gather and the sunlight fade before we climbed into our tents and sleeping bags for the night (above photo).
Sunrise this morning was beautiful. The surface of the lake was like glass. The smell of Alpines strong in the cool, still air.
As the morning sunlight began hitting the east slopes of the mountains Seth did some more fishing before breakfast. I, on the other-hand, continued to try to capture the amazing beauty of this area with my camera.
Two things happened to change our minds about staying here two nights. I made a rookie mistake and forgot to pack my second camera battery so I couldn’t shoot anymore pics with my dslr camera and…the fish weren’t biting.
So…this morning we said goodbye to this awesome lake vowing to come back and spend more time on our next trip to this area.
Thanks to my son Seth for choosing to hike with me. Out of all the possible things a father and son can do together, spending time together in the splendor of the Sawtooth mountains is definitely time well spent!
Those who follow my blog know how much I love to hike. I am 58 years old and hiking has been very good for me in so many ways. I have benefited physically, emotionally and spiritually. Hiking is a great motivator for staying in good physical condition. As long as I’m strong enough and healthy enough I plan on hiking for as long as I’m allowed to walk on this earth. And after that…endless possibilities!
My wife and I had an enjoyable trip to Yellowstone with my parents. It had been two years since we were there last. The park is only about 80 miles from our home, about a two-hour drive. You would think we would go more often.
The Mesa Falls Scenic By-Way
On the way there we stopped at Lower and Upper Mesa Falls. My parents said its been about 35 years since they last drove the Mesa Falls Scenic By-way. It is a beautiful drive and worth the visit to see both falls and visitor center.
Big Springs, Island Park
We also stopped at Big Springs in Island Park. It was the first time any of us have been there. Big Springs is a first-magnitude spring and produces over 120 gallons of water each day. It’s also the head waters of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. Beautiful place but we forgot our mosquito repellent and had to out-run them most of the time we were there.
The Seagulls were out in force and used to being fed by the tourists.
We arrived in West Yellowstone, checked into our room and then visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center across the street. Interesting exhibit although I would rather see the animals free instead of caged. I do understand the Discovery Centers mission and the center is well set up and informative.
Our evening was spent in the Park.
If you haven’t been to Yellowstone you should know that the buffalo (or bison if you’re not a native of Idaho or Wyoming) are the most plentiful of the animals in the park and although they look as tame as cattle, more visitors are injured by them than by other critters. But I wouldn’t blame the buffalo. It’s the stupid humans who think they can back up against them and take a selfie while the animal eats grass. It used to be when I was a kid it was the bears causing the traffic jams in the park. Now its the buffalo. Best to just be patient and enjoy the show.
We took the Firehole River loop and enjoyed seeing white-water and waterfalls.
We then continued on down the road to the Lower Geyser Basin which is the largest geyser basin (11 square miles) in the park.
Evening seemed the perfect time of day to visit not only because of the great light and cooler temperature. We noticed a huge line of cars headed out of the park when we were headed in so that by the time we reached the basin, crowds were pretty small.
Fountain Paint Pot Trail, Lower Geyser Basin
A good share of this trail is paved and the rest is all boardwalk.
Mammoth Hot Springs
The next day we drove up to Mammoth Hot Springs at the north end of the park. It’s a beautiful drive and there are many places to stop, stretch your legs and see something new.
Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine and is adjacent to Fort Yellowstone and The Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District. We chose to stop at the lower terraces and I walked the board walk there enjoying each of the springs along the way.
We only spent parts of two days in the park and just scratched the surface of the beautiful canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, numberless wildlife and gushing geysers that await visitors here. Every time I visit I am always amazed at the size of this park. Yellowstone is huge, covering 3,500 square miles. Lots to see and less time to visit then we would have liked but we had a wonderful time and look forward to our next visit!
Its been two months since I wrote my first blog post of the year. At that time there really wasn’t very many places to hike in Eastern Idaho that didn’t have snow on the ground. I did an easy but fun hike in the snow on Cress Creek Trail the first part of March. I wrote about it complete with plenty of pictures at: Late Winter Hike – Cress Creek Trail
Since that hike and after the snow melted I started hiking the North Menan Butte Trail once every week for the past four weeks to work on getting back into hiking shape. That hike is a four mile loop with some stamina required for the first hard pull up the butte. I decided it was time to do a longer hike. I knew by now that the Palisades Creek trail would be clear of snow or at least the lower part should be. I’ve hiked this trail before and wrote about it last year. See:Late Spring Hike To Lower Palisades Lake
The lower part of the trail starts just north of Palisades Creek camp ground several miles off the highway near the town of Irwin. There are two lakes off this trail. Lower Palisades Lake which is about four miles out and Upper Palisades lake which is about seven miles out. Today I chose to hike to the lower lake and back for a total of eight miles. Although I was tempted to go all the way to the upper lake I didn’t think my body was ready for the nearly 14-mile round trip yet.
The trail follows Palisades Creek almost all the way to the lower lake with only about a 600 foot elevation change. This time of year because of snow melt the stream becomes a river and parts of the trail become a stream (above photo). Keeping my feet dry was not possible. My boots are fairly waterproof if I’m not standing in water or in deeper than my ankles. Using my trekking poles to balance on a few branches and logs I placed strategically I managed to get through this part of the trail without soaking my socks.
This is the first of five bridges I crossed as the trail meanders across the creek at times. These bridges are built for horse traffic as well as human. Since this isn’t technically designated ‘Wilderness’ mountain bikers use this trail also. Motorized vehicles are prohibited because this is, at the very least, a ‘wilderness study area’.
As I hiked up the trail, just around the bend I noticed three mountain goats in the morning light standing on the cliffs above the creek. One looking right at me. They are not easy to see in the photo without the white circles around them.
As the trail follows the creek up the canyon I walked through many different kinds of landscapes. Some parts of the trail lead through beautiful groves of trees letting just a little morning light shine through. In the lower levels of the canyon trees and shrubs are just beginning to sprout leaves.
About 1-1/2 hours into the hike there is an area where I like to stop, take my pack off, eat a snack and drink a bunch of water. The canyon is narrow here with steep cliffs on both sides. Its cool and refreshing because you are right over the river and mostly in shade.
Every time I have stopped here I have seen at least one mountain goat on the face of the cliff above (above photo). This one was asleep on a ledge. Hard to see in photo so I circled it in red. I did not have my long lens with me. I did have a small but powerful set of binoculars strapped to my chest for easy access which allowed me a close look at this beautiful animal.
This canyon is so narrow in some places that it doesn’t allow a lot of light into it. It’s a beautiful place with lots of rocky canyon walls and cliffs. I can see why mountain goats are so prevalent in this area. Its the perfect environment. If I was a mountain goat I would want to live here.
Crossing the next bridge had me spying a group of three goats on the cliffs above (circled in red). Also the trail on the other side was under water so I had to do a little bushwhacking to stay dry. The bad thing is every time I leave the trail into the brush I seem to pick up unwanted hitch-hikers. I brought home a tick from this hike just like I did on several occasions last year. Despite the toxicity I am going to start applying ‘DEET’ to my clothes from now on.
The third bridge I crossed is similar to the others, well-built to withstand all the traffic this trail gets on the weekends and everyday in summer. My job schedule is such that I can hike on a week day and if I start the hike just after daylight I very seldom see anyone. I saw no one on the trail going either direction today. I did encounter snow on the trail in some places the farther up the canyon I hiked.
Between the third and fourth bridge there was more water on the trail. My trekking poles got me up this stretch with no problems. Can’t say enough about the advantages of using poles.
The higher up the canyon I hiked I noticed the canyon temperatures were low enough that most of the trees and brush were still bare of leaves.
I shot the above image looking upstream while standing on the fifth bridge. There is a small foot bridge (not shown) crossing a tributary of the creek just before you reach this bridge. So technically this is the fifth bridge I crossed although the fourth isn’t much of a bridge.
After crossing the fifth bridge the trail starts climbing into five switchbacks. Standing on one of the switchbacks in the trail I looked back and shot the above photo. You can see the flooded trail I came up just to the right of the stream and some pretty cool clouds above.
There is a campsite at the top of the switchbacks just before the lower lake comes into view. There were two people camping there having breakfast when I walked by. They were the only other people up there besides me today.
Lower Palisades Lake
Lower Palisades Lake sits at the far end of the lower canyon at an elevation of about 6,100 feet. It was created by a huge rockslide ages ago. The lake is very muddy right now but will clear up in another week or two.
The trail rounds the left side of the lake and crosses the bridge at the lake outlet, continuing 2.7 miles through the upper canyon and splits off to Upper Palisades Lake. My son and I plan to hike to the upper lake sometime next month, stay the night and do some fishing. I did a solo hike up there late May of last year but didnt spend the night. See last years post: Palisades Creek Trail To Upper Palisades Lake
On the hike back I took a short video clip (above) of part of the trail. You can hear the stream near by and see the rocky cliffs hanging over the trail.
As I hiked further down the trail I looked off to my left and up a side canyon as the sunlight streamed across the cliffs in the distance. I saw two glowing white spots on the cliff face and verified that they were mountain goats. Their agility that allows them to stand and eat in places with seemingly no place to stand amazes me. Click on the video below and see if you catch a glimpse of these beautiful creatures on the cliff walls in the far distance.
Just in case you missed them in the photo below i have them circled.
I took this video clip below to show the part of the trail with the worse flooding.
It was wonderful to get out and hike today. Other than being a little tired I Feel GOOD! I’m always excited to start a hike and when one hike ends I’m excited to start the next one.
There seems to be this great need in me to get out and hike along a stream, up a canyon or up a mountain to not only see whats at the end of the trail but to enjoy the journey as well.
Trail Difficulty Rating – 10.94 Moderate to Strenuous
When thinking about where to hike this month I considered the Alaska Basin hike from the Driggs Idaho side of the Tetons. But I swear I am still recovering from my hike into Holly Lake last month. I was having a hard time getting excited about doing a strenuous hike this time around and felt like doing more of a leisurely stroll through the mountains. So I thought about Phelps Lake. I hiked into this lake last fall. There are several trails into the area and most of them are moderately strenuous. It’s a beautiful place and definitely worth a second visit. So I mentioned it to my daughter Nicole and not having been there before herself, she was excited to check it out. To read the post from my hike in this area last fall click Phelps Lake, Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve.
From Jackson turn left at Moose Junction onto Moose-Wilson Road and drive 3.6 miles south to the turn-off for the preserve which is on the left hand side of the road.
We arrived in the preserve’s parking lot early morning to find a half dozen cars there before us. Make sure you start this hike early in the day because the parking lot fills up fast! Once parked we grabbed our gear and headed across the sagebrush meadow to the visitor center a few hundred yards from the parking lot. There we checked in at the registration box, grabbed a complimentary trail guide of the area and headed up the trail. There are 4 different trails you can use to hike into Phelps lake. We chose the 1.6 mile Lake Creek Trail for this hike. The trail follows a beautiful stream through a mixed forest of spruce, fir and lodgepole pine. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the lake.
Phelps Lake has a surface area of 750 acres and is the 6th largest lake in Grand Teton National Park. From the southern shore looking north across the lake we could see the mouth of Death Canyon.
Elevation at Phelps Lake is 6633 feet. The surface of the lake was very calm and created some nice reflections of 10,552 foot Albright Peak.
This (above) is a new bridge that was built late last fall and provides several platforms and seating areas for fishing or soaking in the scenery.
As I have mentioned in previous posts I carry about 20lbs of gear on my day hikes. I usually hike alone so I try to have what I would need if I should have an emergency and need to spend the night on the mountain.
Our plan was to hike along the eastern shore (2.2 miles) until we reached the north shore of Phelps lake then take Death Canyon Trail up to the overlook which would be another mile each way.
Some of the scenery as we hiked around the lake towards the eastern shore.
About 1.5 miles up the east shore of the lake we came to a rock they call ‘Jump Rock’ or ‘Jumping Rock’. This rock is 25-30 feet high and is a popular place for hikers to cool off by jumping into the deep cool water below. If we had planned a little better we would have worn our swim suits under our clothes and brought a couple of towels…It would have been fun to drop off that rock into the lake.
By this point in the hike the sky was filling with these cotton-like clouds and the resulting reflections produced a serene zen-like atmosphere.
The view of Death Canyon from the top of Jump Rock Is breath-taking. The ‘U’ shaped canyon was formed by retreating glaciers. If you look closely at the photo above you can see a sandy beach on the lake’s north shore.
I took the above photo while standing on a narrow strip of beach on the north shore looking back across the lake to the south shore.
We left the beach on the north shore and began the climb up Death Canyon Trail toward the Phelps Lake Overlook. At this point we ran into some men with horses and pack mules headed up into Death Canyon.
This Mule Deer doe (above) had 2 fawns with her. She slowly made her way down the trail toward us I think more concerned about all the hikers coming down the trail behind her then she was with us.
We finally reached the overlook, took some photos and then headed back the way we came. From this overlook you can see the lake, ‘Sleeping Indian Mountain’ and Jackson Hole in the distance.
This hike was a pleasant 5 hour round-trip for us and we will definitely be back. Next time we won’t forget our swim suits!
I left home this morning at 4:30 am so I would arrive at the trailhead by 6:30 am. The drive just before sunrise is beautiful as usual . I have been choosing to go to Jackson by way of Rexburg and Driggs in the early mornings to avoid animals on the road. The road over the mountain between Swan Valley and Victor, although a slightly shorter drive time, tends to have more animals on the road before daylight (in my experience). I do enjoy seeing wildlife, just not in my headlights on a winding mountain road in the ‘wee’ hours of the morning.
To get to the Paintbrush Canyon Trailhead I drove through the Moose Wyoming entrance on Teton Park Road, then turned left on Jenny Lake Road (which is a beautiful scenic loop drive by the way), then right on String Lake Road. I parked in the String Lake parking lot and then began hiking the Leigh Lake Trail.
For the first .8 miles the trail follows along the shores of String Lake and there are some great views of Mt. Moran along the way.
String Lake and Leigh Lake are connected by a short but wide stream. At this point in the hike there is a fork in the trail. Go right if you want to go to Leigh Lake and the Leigh Lake portage area or left across the foot bridge to the String Lake Loop trail and the Paintbrush Canyon trailhead.
Paintbrush Canyon Trailhead
After I crossed the foot bridge across the Leigh Lake outlet I followed the trail in a gradual climb through Lodgepole pine forests and then took a right fork in the trail at the Paintbrush Canyon Trailhead. Along this part of the trail I enjoyed brief views of Leigh Lake and the valley and hills to the east.
A little distance up the trail from the beautiful Leigh Lake views the trail began to turn toward Paintbrush Canyon and was almost overgrown with huckleberry plants in some places.
At this point I had a few glimpses of Mt. Moran through the trees to the right of the trail.
And Rockchuck Peak to the left of the trail.
In this area of the trail the huckleberry plants are huge . The plants were as high as my head in some places. No ripe berries on them yet that I noticed but a good place to make a lot of noise to avoid surprising a bear. I wasn’t stressing it because there were plenty of hikers ahead of me and behind me.
I could hear Paintbrush Canyon Creek long before I was able to see it. The water had a slight aqua tint to it making the falling water very nice to look at.
There are a few campsites in this area of Lower Paintbrush Canyon. Some are first-come-first-serve and some sites can be reserved.
(Above photo) Just off this part of the trail I saw that someone had their tent pitched facing down the canyon so that they would wake up to this view in the morning!
This bridge (above) was the second bridge I crossed at this point in my hike.
Directly to the left of the bridge is a beautiful little waterfall.
To the right of the bridge Paintbrush Canyon Creek streams off in the direction of Mount Moran.
Not too far after I crossed the bridge the canyon opens up for a short way and I noticed a lot of the trees here were leaning way over to my left, all in the same direction, or were completely broken off.
As I looked to my right I could see more damaged trees and tree stumps. In the above photo you can see all this and piles of snow. I’m assuming the snow is what’s left of an avalanche that came down the ravine and took out a lot of these trees.
By the way. The reason this canyon is called Paintbrush Canyon is because it is usually filled with wildflowers. Columbine and Indian Paintbrush are a very common site everywhere. Just not now. Too early probably. Maybe in a few more weeks.
The canyon then narrows and the trail follows the creek for several bends. As I stopped to take the above photo, 3 trail-runners (men) moved at good speed past me and up the canyon. I’m always amazed and impressed by people who run these trails. This trail is strenuous enough just walking. I can’t imagine running up it!
As the trail increased in altitude I noticed the stream began disappearing under snow fields and then reappearing again.
As the snow melts, the water rolls off these canyon walls and adds volume to the swift flowing Paintbrush Canyon Creek.
Some of the stream crossings require some ‘rock-hopping’. This is where I’m glad I use trekking poles. I can stabilize myself and prevent myself from falling when stepping on wet or loose rocks in the stream.
I used my iPhone for the above photo to get a multi-shot panoramic view as I followed the trail up into more snow fields.
At the beginning of a large snow field someone had made the above cairn. Looking just ahead up the canyon the trail disappears underneath a snow field and from here I could not see where the field ended or the trail emerged. I decided to walk in a straight line up the canyon and soon I saw another rock cairn up some distance in front of me near a rock slide.
As I stepped back onto the trail just past this cairn I turned and enjoyed this view with lakes and mountains in the distance.
From here I could easily see Leigh Lake (closest) and Jackson Lake in the distance.
At this elevation the switch-backs in the trail start crossing snowy areas and created some tense moments while traversing the snow. The snow is rather hard and can be slick. I took the above photo as an example. Again, trekking poles were a great help to me.
These last parts of the trail were quite a ‘slog’. I worked up some serious sweat on these switch-backs.
I was compensated for this strenuous portion of the hike with some stunning views!
The trail eventually disappears again under snow. I followed the tracks of previous hikers up this gully. Again it was difficult walking on the slick hard snow. I noticed traces of the actual trail up the slope to my left (I found out later that underneath this whole area of snow is a scree field). As I walked near boulders sticking up out of the snow I used my trekking poles to test the snow in those areas. I saw a few places where a hiker’s feet had broken through the snow up to their thighs near some of the rocks. As the day grew warmer the footing was becoming treacherous.
I made the decision to try and get out of the snow and climb-up the slope to where I had seen traces of the actual trail. But this was so steep and slick that I realized why some previous hikers had chosen to hike up the bottom of the gully. So I climbed still further up the slope until I reached a ridge of rock with very little snow and worked my way to the top of the gully. My decision to travel this ridge turned out to be a bad one.
As I climbed over a few large boulders and planted my right foot down between a few smaller ones, I lost my balance and fell. As I fell I immediately tried to jerk my foot out from between the rocks fearing my leg would snap. I was able to get one of my trekking poles between my upper-body and the ground and keep me from going all the way down. But not before taking a chunk of flesh off my shin and the strain on my right leg causing a horribly painful and long-lasting cramp in my calf that took my breath away. After the cramp went away I was relieved that I hadn’t broken the leg. I pulled my pant-leg up to look at my shin which looked nasty enough that I didn’t want to look at it again. I stood up and experienced no small amount of pain as I put weight on the leg and that had me worried. I wasn’t sure how this pain would affect my hike back down the mountain. I didn’t have a lot of choices so I carefully worked my way off the rocky ridge and then down the steep snowy slope (literally by the seat of my pants).
At this point I saw a sign sticking out of the snowy ground indicating that Holly Lake was just a half-mile away. That got the adrenaline going in me and I decided I had come this far and was not going to head back before seeing the lake.
I found the trail again and a section where the snow had melted and stopped to rest, looking over my back-trail and the beautiful view.
As I hiked further up the trail I followed the tracks of someone going up the slope of snow ahead of me to the left (above photo).
After hiking up the slope and down the other side I saw a small lake before me and a group of people relaxed, sitting on rocks and enjoying the view.
I chatted with several of the people there at the lake. Everyone was rather proud of themselves for making it this far and most were resting and eating lunch before heading back down.
Paintbrush Canyon Trail continues on up the mountain behind the trees to the left of the lake (above photo) and eventually over the divide at an elevation of 10,700 feet. I was told by a hiker, who had hiked up that section of trail a-ways, that he watched some people climb up and over the wall of snow covering the divide. He said they had crampons and ice-axes but had fallen a few times before disappearing over the top. Crazy!
One of the guys I met at the lake was hiking alone as I was. His name was Leon. He had a heavy accent and I asked him where he was from. He said he was from Brazil and had traveled here to spend a week hiking the Tetons. He said he had hiked all over the world including the Swiss Alps and Patagonia in Chile.
As we chatted everyone else had headed back down the mountain and we decided we should probably do the same. Then two woman arrived, one of them saying, ” You guys do know this isn’t Holly Lake don’t you?” Apparently the lake we were sitting at has no name. I asked her where Holly Lake was located and she pointed up the mountain saying the trail to the lake was impassable because of the snow but was probably a 15-20 minute hike if we worked our way up through the trees, over the hill and into the cirque where we would find the lake.
I turned to Leon and suggested we work together to find the lake. We both had maps on our phones but with the trails covered with snow all we could tell from the map was the general direction of the lake which had already been pointed out to us.
On our way there we also ran into a park ranger who had just been up there so we back-tracked his trail to get there.
Leon ahead of me (above photo) hiking in to the ‘real’ Holly Lake.
This lake was definitely bigger then the lake with no name.
Holly lake sits at an elevation of 9424 feet. Not sure how deep it is but it was still half covered in ice and snow….The clouds were gorgeous in the early afternoon. But every time a particularly large bunch of clouds rolled through the temperature would drop, the wind would start blowing, sometimes so hard that I had to quickly grab my hat before it blew away down the mountain. Then the sun would shine, the wind would die and I would relax , eating my lunch and totally soaking in the views around me. I reflected on all my blessings, being healthy enough to do these hikes I enjoy, my wife and family, my faith, and all god’s beautiful creations…And…I suddenly noticed my leg didn’t hurt anymore!
This is a beautiful lake and I am so glad that someone kindly let me know that I was at the wrong lake because I would have been sorely disappointed when I got back home and found out after all that pain and effort, I missed the lake that was my goal by a half mile!
I would love to come back here sometime when there is less snow and hike over the divide into Lake Solitude on the other side.
This has been a great adventure and I’m glad I survived it! As Always I look forward to the next one!!
Last year toward the end of July my wife Renae, daughter Nicole and I hiked the Taggart Lake – Beaver Creek Loop which is a pleasant loop hike of about 4 miles. It’s 3.2 miles if you just hike into Taggart Lake and then back out the same way (click on the link for more info on last year’s hike). One week later some friends and I hiked into near by Bradley Lake on the Bradley Lake Loop Trail which is just under 5 miles in and out.
This time I decided to hike to Taggart Lake and go part way around on the Beaver Creek Loop then double back and take the Bradley Lake Loop along the east shore of Taggart Lake and then over the glacial moraine into Bradley Lake.
Early Monday morning I drove the 58 miles from my home to the trailhead parked my car in the parking lot, put my gear on and headed up the trail. The aspens don’t have all their leaves yet but are still quite beautiful.
Taggart Creek is not too far up the trail and I seldom cross the bridge without stopping to capture the beauty of this stream. It’s a good thing there is a bridge because fording the stream would have been difficult with all the water coming down this year.
The light of the morning sun was gorgeous, filtering through the trees and across the tops of the mountains.
Just around the bend from the bridge over Taggart Creek were wildflowers that were looking fresh and happy. It had rained the night before and all the colors were crisp and bright. Just through the trees in the back ground I could see some mountain peaks glowing with morning sunlight.
From there the trail climbs over a low ridge and on toward the majestic Teton mountain range. One of my favorite things about hiking in this area are the magnificent views from just about anywhere on the trail. Hard to beat!
If you get here early the lake is usually ultra-calm and will produce some awesome reflections.
I arrived at the trailhead this morning about 6:30am and was the first car in the parking lot. So I had the trail and this lake all to myself for about the first hour. There was a lot of moose sign around so I half expected to see one at sometime or another. While photographing the lake I heard some heavy pounding on the trail behind me and turned expecting a moose but saw a woman out for a morning trail run. Trail runners are becoming a pretty common sight on the mountain trails.
As I headed north along the northeast shore of Taggart Lake the trail began to wind and ascend through pines, Douglas Fir and meadows full of daisies.
The trail continues to climb several hundred feet up a moraine (ridge) that separates the two lakes from each other.
On the other side of this moraine and down the slope is Bradley Lake and on these north slopes the trail is still covered by snow in many places sometimes making it difficult to follow.
After leaving Bradley Lake I continued the loop trail back to the trailhead and the formerly empty parking lot was now full of cars, trucks and tour buses which is typical any day of the week during the summer.
It was so nice getting back out and hiking again especially in the Tetons. They still remain my favorite hiking destination!
Two weeks ago I hiked Palisades Creek Trail into Lower Palisades Lake. To read more about that hike please click the link Late Spring Hike To Lower Palisades Lake. That post has a lot of photos I shot along the four miles of trail between the trailhead and lower lake.
This morning I arrived at the Palisades Creek trailhead at about 7:30 am and then hiked at a steady pace stopping only once during the first four miles to lower my pack to the ground, grab a snack and a photo.
Last time I hiked this stretch it took me almost four hours to reach the lower lake because I stopped many times along the way to shoot the scenery and glass the cliffs for mountain goats. This time it took me two hours less because I took just this one shot of the creek from one of the five bridges along the way. Two weeks ago the water was brown with runoff but now it has cleared up quite a bit. Still a little water on the trail in some places but much less then last time.
The photo above shows what the lower lake looks like today. The photo below shows what the same lake looked like two weeks ago. Big difference in two weeks. Much greener now. More leaves on the trees/brush and the lake water is green instead of brown. Also there is less snow on the mountain.
The trail continues along the waters edge at the left side of the lake and then on up the canyon about another three miles to Upper Palisades Lake.
This (above) is the bridge that crosses the lower lake outlet.
(above photo) Looking back across Lower Palisades Lake towards the canyon and the trail that leads back down the four miles to the trailhead.
About one hour of hiking past the lower lake I took a break in this nice shady area. There are a few campsites near by and a hitching post for horses.
Also in this area is this forest service cabin (above photo) which hasn’t been used in awhile other then by the local wildlife. Door was unlocked and ajar but wouldn’t open very far because the floor has buckled.
The trail climbs up a ridge overlooking Palisades Creek and I could look across to the ridge on the other side and just over that ridge in an upper valley (see above photo) is where Upper Palisades Lake is located.
To get there the trail descends back down into the canyon and crosses over another bridge there.
Pretty nice bridge for back country stream crossing. Makes me wonder how the people at the forest service got it there.
About one hundred yards past the bridge I spotted a cow moose grazing the grass from the bottom of the marsh. I watched her for awhile and thought about getting closer but when she wasn’t looking at me she was looking at something in the willows to my left and I suspect she had a calf or two hidden in there somewhere. If my suspicions were correct and I had moved in for a closer shot she would have been on me in no time. Not wanting a mama moose mad at me I moved on up the trail.
Not far up the trail I looked up to see a young mule deer watching me from a bend in the trail. This little guy gave me just enough time to snap a shot and then disappeared.
(above photo) View from the top of the trail looking back down the canyon I just climbed out of.
Upper Palisades Lake sits at an elevation of just over 6700 feet and is about two miles long. The water is a blue-green color (more green then blue) and is quite striking where the water covers the sand around the submerged portions of the island.
There are several decent campsites around this end of the lake. I hiked part way up the trail on the left side of the lake, rested, ate my lunch and then headed back. I saw several mountain bikers ride into this lake while I was there and am extremely impressed that anybody could make it this far on a bike.
I had originally planned to hike past the upper lake and into Waterfall Canyon where a 90 foot waterfall is probably gushing water this time of the year. But that would have added another five miles of hiking for a grand total of nineteen miles. I didn’t feel I had it in me and wasn’t sure I had enough daylight left either. So I headed back happy I had made the effort to see this beautiful lake but already a little tired and honestly not looking forward to the seven mile hike back. It took me about four hours to reach the parking area and although exhausted and hurting, I am already looking forward to my next hike.
I had been itching to do this hike ever since I heard the trail was clear of snow. Then another snowstorm and a week of ‘iffy’ weather caused me to postpone one more week.
From Rigby I drove to Swan Valley then to Irwin. Just past Irwin I took a left on Old Irwin Rd/Palisades Creek Road. Then 2 miles in on a dirt road to the campground. Just past the campground is the trailhead for Palisades Creek Trail. I saw five head of deer along the edge of the trees as I pulled into the trailhead parking lot. They saw me and scattered so I wasn’t able to get a photo of them.
The trailhead parking area sits at an elevation of 5500 feet and has a restroom and info board with map of the area.
Beginning the hike
At the trailhead I crossed the first of many bridges along the way. It is a pleasant 4 mile hike from here to Lower Palisades Lake with only about a 500 foot elevation gain. Because of this you can make good time and if you push it you can make it to the lake in two hours. It took me a lot longer as I stopped often to capture images of the beauty around me.
Less than 1/4 mile up the trail the US Forest Service has a sign-in area and asks for hikers to register on their way in and again on their way out. I wish all trailheads had one of these. Just another way to make a hiking experience a little safer.
The trail follows Palisades creek pretty much all the way into the lower lake. It had rained during the night and everything was fresh and clean looking. The Trees and bushes were getting there leaves and grass was growing, the colors vivid!
This is a very scenic and fast moving stream, swollen and muddy now due to snow melt.
Because the water level was so high there were 3-4 areas where the stream overflowed its banks and sent water down the trail creating a new stream for short distances. This is one of the reasons I use trekking poles. They help me keep my balance as I try to keep my feet dry and also are great for gauging the depth of water in case I need to cross.
There are about 5 bridges between the trail head and the lower lake as the trail crosses back and forth across the stream. These are bridges built not only for human traffic but also horses. This trail is popular for horseback riding and also mountain biking.
Palisades Creek Trail changes elevation quite a few times from down level with the stream to a few 100 feet above the stream with some grand views.
Many parts of this canyon are lined with cliffs and sweet looking rock formations. If you take time to stop and check the cliff ledges above you, you might see some mountain goats. I had been told that there were quite a few in this area but didn’t see one until about a mile or two up the canyon.
Mountain Goats love to eat along the cliff edges and watch hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers from their lofty perches. Many hikers I’m sure walk right by them without seeing them.
This goat watched me the whole time I watched it.
The trail pulls away from the creek at times and meanders through some beautiful groves of trees and vegetation.
Not long after I walked across the fifth bridge of the hike I started up a rocky incline which would be the first of five switchbacks before reaching the lake.
Just before I reached the lower lake there was a nice campground off to the right of the trail with several campsites and an outhouse off in the trees behind the area.
Lower Palisades Lake sits at about 6100 feet elevation. I read that it was created by a huge rockslide blocking the stream ages ago. The lake was muddy brown from runoff but still picturesque. I ate my lunch and visited with a couple of hikers who arrived shortly after I did. They were some of the first people I had seen since early morning. (I ran into three hikers when I first started my hike. They were finishing their hike and had spent the night at the upper lake the night before.)
After lunch I headed back to the trailhead. I ran into several hikers and mountain bikers on the way back and saw some more mountain goats. It started to rain when I was about 30 minutes from the car. I keep a rain poncho and waterproof jacket in my pack but decided to relax under a big tree with lots of cover until the rain stopped which was long enough to reflect on this beautiful hike and plan my next one. I decided I would hike this same trail next time but keep going until I reach the upper lake and maybe go a little farther up into Waterfall Canyon. Already looking forward to it! Happy hiking!!
A couple of weeks ago I drove up to Mesa Falls, about a 45 minute drive from where I live. This area is located just north of Ashton Idaho on the Mesa Falls Scenic By Way. What a beautiful drive, most of it along the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. After you pass the Bear Gulch area one of the first turnouts you come to is the Lower Mesa Falls parking lot. If you walk over to the viewing area you can see the lower falls down in the canyon. Personally I have not shot a photo of the lower falls from this viewing area because I haven’t found an angle that I like. You really need a long lens to get a decent shot from this vantage point. Less then a mile up the road is the turn off to Upper Mesa Falls. This is a fee area and there is a visitor center there that is worth checking out.
HIKING MESA FALLS NATURE TRAIL
As I parked my car in the parking lot I put my backpack on with the intention of hiking the Mesa Falls Nature Trail. The trail head is at the south end of the parking lot and is an easy 2.2 mile in and out hike that takes you to a plateau just above the lower falls. My plan was to hike this trail, get some shots of Lower Mesa Falls and then shoot the upper falls. It’s a pretty hike through fairly thick forest. I saw and heard plenty of birds during this first part of the hike. About half way down the trail I decided to leave the trail and hike over to the edge of the canyon for some photos but also to see if there was a way down into the canyon. I wanted, if possible, to find a way down and then hike up river to get a shot of the upper falls from a different vantage point.
There are steep cliffs pretty much all along the canyon below the upper falls. I searched at great length for a way down and found a few places where I MIGHThave been able to descend safely but I probably wouldn’t have been able to climb back out so I gave up.
At that point I discovered that I had lost my water bottle somewhere so I searched for a while but didn’t find it. I decided not to hike the rest of the way down to the lower falls and back without water. So I hiked back to the upper falls to get a few shots.
Upper Mesa Falls is about 114 feet high and 200 feet wide. You can hear the roar of the falls from the parking lot. There is a half mile of boardwalk and viewing platforms between the falls and the visitor center. After exploring some of the paths and enjoying the view from some of the platforms I headed home, did some research and and found out that there is indeed a way down into the canyon.
DESCENDING INTO THE CANYON
So… today’s trip to the falls was for the purpose of getting some shots from down in the canyon. I arrived just before sunrise before anyone else was there, loaded my camera gear, water and snacks into my backpack and headed down to the southern most viewing platform. I then carefully climbed over the guard rail onto a rocky outcropping and then down a very steep mostly unused trail.
In the above photo (upper right corner) you can see the stairs down to one of several viewing platforms. To the right of the platform is where the trail begins. I doubt very much that the park staff want visitors climbing over the rail. That’s why I went early before the visitor center opened or any other visitors arrived. I didn’t want anybody else following me over the rail and down the steep dangerous trail. If you are not a photographer I would not recommend doing this. Its just not worth it considering there are better views of the falls from above.
ON THE RIVER BELOW THE FALLS
It took me about 20 minutes to reach the river. One thing not real noticeable until you see the falls from this perspective is that Upper Mesa Falls is actually a series of two falls with a smaller water fall just below the big one.
The hike back out with 25-30 lbs on my back was definitely more challenging then the hike down. After climbing back out and over the rail, the bench in the viewing area was a welcome sight and sorely needed until I got my breathing under control and some water down me. No regrets though. Another little adventure checked off my list. I still want to finish the Mesa Falls Nature Trail hike and explore the Lower Mesa Falls area and will do so in the near future.