The eastern side of the Teton range (the Jackson Hole side) gets a lot of attention. It gets the national park, the tourists, the celebrities, and the photographers. Less explored is the western side (the “Idaho side”). And this is not a bad thing. Because honestly, the western side is just as amazing as the eastern side, but you have to work a little harder to get to all of its secret treasures. The eastern side (Jackson Hole) kind of just puts more out there at the get-go because it doesn’t have the foothills of the western side. It just goes from valley floor to sheer steep mountain sides. But nestled into the foothills of the Idaho side (which is technically just over the Wyoming border), if you have the desire to seek them out, are some of the more amazing places the Tetons have to offer.
One of these many places is the Devil’s Stairs. Deep in Teton Canyon, near Driggs, Idaho, the Devil’s Stairs hike lives up to its name. It goes from an easy meander to pretty demanding very abruptly. There is a point where the trail experiences a roughly 1,000-foot elevation gain within a mile. But it offers a worthy spectacle to its travelers both during the hike and at its end. The trail to the Devil’s Stairs branches off of the trail to the much more renowned Alaska Basin and is near the trail to the famous Table Mountain. The Devil’s Stairs is like the forgotten stepchild of Teton Canyon in comparison to some of these destinations. But it offers some amazing and unique views unavailable elsewhere. It’s also much less grueling and lengthy.
The trail head starts out at the same parking lot for the other destinations I just mentioned. My band of hikers and I traveled down the trail to Alaska Basin for about 2.7 miles before reaching the junction to the Devil’s Stairs. During this stretch, the trail is mostly through alpine meadows and evergreen or aspen thickets. It follows a creek nearby, where we resorted in order to sprinkle our sweaty faces with cool water.
When the trail branches off (watch for the signs), so begins the sudden ascent I mentioned. There is a zigzagging set of switchbacks that will offer stunning views of the canyon and take you up to the Teton Canyon shelf. This is the part where persistence pays off,
When we arrived at the top of the switchbacks, we were welcomed by a beautiful field that had an edge, just like a shelf. A stream meanders through it, with patches of trees and snowbanks dispersed throughout. A sheer cliff extends up from the shelf, thus making it seem like a gargantuan step ladder. I was unsure of whether this is what was referred to as the Devil’s Stairs (apparently the devil is a big dude) or the switchbacks we had previously summited.
We took some time up here to enjoy the visual spoils of our journey. We played in the creek, ate some lunch, and just rested for a bit. From here, hikers can return to the trailhead. This place also offers a detour to the Alaska Basin.
The Devil’s Stairs is a hike of roughly 8 miles in-and-out. It’s worth a visit, and chances are good that you’ll have the place mostly to yourself (which can’t be said of most hikes in the Tetons).
HOW TO GET THERE
If you can get to Driggs, Idaho, you are in good shape. Head east toward the mountains on E Little Avenue towards Alta, Wyoming by starting out at the Driggs Chamber of Commerce on the intersection of E Little Ave. and Main Street. The road will turn into Ski Hill Road then Alta Ski Hill Road. You will reach Alta in about 10 minutes. After about 6 miles you will turn right on Teton Canyon Road. You’ll continue about 5 miles, past a boy scout camp and just past the Teton Canyon Campground. Here you will see the sign for the trailhead.