Sometimes the Tetons get all the credit and glory in terms of wilderness props. But other mountains around Jackson also offer phenomenal opportunities for hiking and recreation, especially in the summer. You'll get the same amazing wilderness experience, with no entrance fees or fighting with a herd of tourist-filled RVs. The locals know the Gros Ventre Wilderness, located in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, is a great place to enjoy some peace and quiet and where you can find some of the best hiking in the area—minus the national park-level crowds.
While most activities don't require a permit, be sure to check out the regulations for this area before planning a trip. Groups are limited to 15 people and 25 horses, and you can't camp for more than 16 days. This is black bear and grizzly country, so keep food out of bears' reach, whether it's on your back while hiking, in a vehicle, bear box, or hung properly if you're staying out overnight. If your plans include hunting or fishing, be sure to obtain a valid license from WY Game and Fish and follow all rules and regulations. For overnight visitors, be sure to check fire danger and see if the Forest Service has any restrictions on campfires. Dogs are welcome in these areas, but be sure your animal is under voice control at all times.
Below, our recommendations for five great Gros Ventre hikes. (And if these options leave you craving more, the Bridger-Teton National Forest offers plenty of options, too.) But before you head out, be sure to bring a good topographical map of the area where you plan to hike, a compass, food, water, rain gear, bear spray, sturdy boots, a first aid kit, and everything else you'll need for a day (or multiple days) out in the wilderness. Make sure you understand wilderness navigation and have the proper tools to safely find your way. You may not see a soul the entire time you're out, so be prepared to be self-sufficient. And it's always a good idea to wear some blaze orange during hunting season, since some areas are open to hunting.
1. Gros Ventre Slide National Geological Site
Gros Ventre Slide National Geological Site offers a peek into an earth-shaking geological event that occurred nearly 100 years ago. In 1925, a massive landslide occurred, unleashing 50 million cubic yards of debris from the mountain that swept down the hillside at 50 miles per hour. This mile-wide slide blocked the river and formed the lake known today as Lower Slide Lake. The actual landslide is still very much visible from Gros Ventre Road. An interpretive trail winds through the debris and offers signs explaining the geology of the event as well as the site's recovery. You might even feel an earthquake out here, as it's a very geologically active area. To reach it, take Gros Ventre Road past Kelly to the Gros Ventre Interpretive Site.
2. Grizzly Lake Trail
Head up to Grizzly Lake for a pleasant day hike or an overnighter. This trail will bring you through the sagebrush and on up to great views of the Red Hills and beyond. To reach the trailhead, go down Gros Ventre Road and continue past Slide Lake. You'll see the Red Hills Campground and, shortly after it, you'll see a trailhead kiosk on the right with plenty of room to park nearby. Begin the hike on the trail at the kiosk, then continue up a small hill and the trail will soon level out. A small trail sign will show the way up the hill into a meadow of sagebrush, where you can enjoy views of the Red Hills and Tetons. Continue along the trail as it climbs and descends a few times through open hillsides, forests of pine and aspen, and even few creeks. At 4.5 miles in, you'll reach the Blue Miner Lake junction. Head straight to reach Grizzly Lake (or left to check out Blue Miner Lake).
3. Cow Creek Trail
If you're ready for a climb, head up the Cow Creek Trail to Cream Puff Peak. This 12-mile out-and-back will reward you with great views, but be prepared to climb from the 6,360-foot trailhead to the 9,685-foot summit of Cream Puff Peak. To reach the trailhead, head south from Jackson towards Hoback Junction, and turn left towards Pinedale, passing the Camp Creek Inn. Just past the Hoback River bridge, turn left onto a dirt road. You'll see the parking area and the trail will begin on the left side of the road (there's a small sign). Head up on an open hillside, then follow the trail through an aspen forest, heading up to Cream Puff Peak, which you'll reach in about six miles.
4. Goodwin Lake Trail
Bring a picnic and relax once you reach this gorgeous alpine lake, or consider jumping in for a chilly dip. This hike is about three miles each way from the trailhead to Goodwin Lake . To reach the trailhead, start in Jackson and turn down the Elk Refuge Road at the end of Broadway. Take a right at the Curtis Canyon sign, head past the campground and stay right at the Sheep Creek Junction, continuing to the Goodwin Lake Trailhead (high clearance vehicles recommended). The trail starts in a pine forest, then you'll reach some sagebrush and then the real climbing begins. Continue heading up through the forest and follow the ridge (black bears are often seen up here). The trail then follows a more open, rocky slope, and heads back up through the forest until you reach your destination at Goodwin Lake. Continue along to connect with the Granite Creek Trail or head up Jackson Peak to extend your hike.
5. Shoal Falls Trail
To enjoy stunning waterfall views, try the Shoal Falls Trail . To reach the trailhead, head south from Jackson towards Hoback Junction and turn left towards Pinedale. When you see a large sign for Granite Creek Hot Springs and Campground, follow the dirt road, and follow the Forest Service's directions to reach the trail. Once you arrive, start at the kiosk and follow the trail through the sagebrush. Enter the forest and take a right at the junction, winding through pine trees. The trail climbs to the top of the ridge, through open meadows with great wildflowers, and through pine and aspen forests. You'll reach an overlook with views of Shoal Falls, then the trail will drop and you'll cross the creek before reaching another junction. Take a left toward the waterfall (this trail stops at a small camping area, but you can bushwhack to the falls) or go straight to reach Shoal Lake.