We pushed through the exhaustion and slowly climbed up that last stretch of rocky incline. We had come six miles up the mountainside and we told ourselves it was just a little farther until we got what we came for. I had been here once before, two summers ago. And my reaction when I reached the flat rock at the summit of the mountain was the same. Absolute awe. Only the blind could be immune to the wonder of Table Mountain.
Table Mountain (also referred to as Table Rock, though there is a Table Rock near Boise) is on the west side of the Tetons. The trailhead is a short drive from Driggs, Idaho up Teton Canyon. It is long, and it is strenuous. But if you are in the physical condition and have the persistence it takes, you will remember it for the rest of your life. It is a hike for which you must work for your reward, and it won’t disappoint. The wildflowers on the trail paint you a picture. Sheer rock peaks juts into the sky like an enormous castle in the clouds.
There are two trails to the top. I prefer to take one up and the other down. The more difficult and steep but shorter (six miles) “Face Trail” is my way up. The longer but slightly easier and more scenic (eight miles) Huckleberry Trail. Neither trail is easy. Both are demanding. Please see the notes below on finding the right trailheads.
The Face Trail is hardest for the first mile or two. It is a steep climb through evergreen and aspen thickets. Eventually, you reach open, flowered meadows. Reds, blues, yellows, whites, purples, and pinks dot the sea of green grass. The trail gently rolls up and down over small stream beds. It passes again through short pines and other trees. Around this point, the two trails merge and continue on to the summit. Soon, the trail begins to run along the edge of a cliff to the left. I think it’s worth taking a little detour off the trail over to the edge to appreciate views of the Table itself and the Grand Teton shooting up into the sky. It is simply stunning, and neither words nor photos can do it justice.
Going on, the hiker passes over a small field of rocks. The top is in sight. A short but steep ascent takes you to the top.
From here, we saw the three Tetons in all their glory. Cascade Canyon stretches down into Jackson Hole to the north to the northeast. To the west you can see down the Teton Canyon all the way back down toward Driggs. No matter where you turn, you see 360 degrees of splendor. This is a great spot for a short power nap and a snack break. It can get a little windy and brisk up here, and a jacket came in handy. One friend wore sandals, and he complained of feeling the chill. The first time I came up (and I can only recommend going from mid/late-July to early/mid-September, but August is probably the sweet spot) my companions and I had no problem sunbathing on top. Take many pictures here. You will be happy you did.
It was down Huckleberry Trail that we began the descent. The trail branches off without any signs. On the way back down, the path forks. To the left is the Face Trail, and to the right is Huckleberry. Huckleberry follows the rim of the mountain and goes into switchbacks down a steep hill. Down into the canyon it goes, and tall, lush grass and flowers are everywhere. The path is rocky and long, through woods and meadows and along a creek. There are several points where we had to cross over the creek on logs. Don’t slip! This is a gorgeous trail, and even though we were tired, we still tried to take the time to enjoy it. It is long and took us two or three hours to get down to the parking lot.
Table Mountain is one of those places that is beyond the ordinary. There are few places in the world like it. It is one of the greatest destinations in the Rockies.
Finding the trailheads can be confusing. Once you get to the end of the road, there will be couple gravel parking lots. There are three trailheads. The most visible one is in the farthest lot and does not take you to Table Mountain. You’ll see on the sign where it leads.
There is a small, brown public restroom/outhouse in the corner of the lot. A small, unmarked trail lies nearby. That is the Face Trail. As you go up that, you will see a sign that says it is an unmaintained trail.
Huckleberry Trail is better marked. It is in the lot before the farthest lot, before you pass over the creeks to the left of the road. There is a sign for it that says “North Teton Trail” and that Table Mountain is 7 miles up.
Depending on how you decide to get there and back between the two trails, the hike can be anywhere from 12 to about 15 miles. It will take ALL day as day hike. It took me about 8-9 hours both times.
Remember that when travelling through this area, you are in bear country, so be sure to make noise and travel in groups.
HOW TO GET THERE:
You’ll need to get to Driggs, Idaho. The main intersection of the city has an old building with a big plastic or wooden bison statue. This is the intersection of Main Street and East Little Avenue. You will want to take E Little Ave towards the mountains (east). It will turn into Ski Hill Road, pass over into Alta, Wyoming (no big state sign) and turn into E Alta Ski Hill Road. Be careful not to speed on this road. You will need to turn right onto Teton Canyon Road, so keep your eyes open for it. If you miss it, you’ll end up at Targhee Ski Resort. It continues for a few miles past a Boy Scout camp, and past another campground. At the end you will find the parking lots.