Jackson Hole doesn’t have the density of aspen-covered hillsides that Park City or Logan, Utah does, but this valley ringed by mountain ranges still puts on quite a show during the autumn months with its cottonwood-lined rivers and hillside stands of aspen. (Yes, we do have our share of aspen). Here are some of RootsRated’s favorite fall places for mountain and road biking, running, and hiking. If you’re looking to hit the valley at it’s fall peak this year, we suggest the week of Sept. 22nd.
1. Roll with It
We love the Ashton-Tetonia Rail Trail in the fall because you can run, walk, or bike the trail. If you do either of the first two, we recommend just going with a section of this 30-mile long rail trail. Completed in 2011 after an infusion of $1.4 million of federal funds, it, as its name implies, connects Tetonia, Idaho to Ashton, Idaho via an old rail bed.
There are more than 15,000 miles of rail trails across the country used by millions and millions of people annually. This Ashton-Tetonia Trail is the closest rail trail to Jackson Hole. On the western slopes of the Tetons, it offers a different view of the range. Not only do the range’s main mountains—the South Teton, Middle Teton, and Grand Teton—look like they’re backwards, but their foregrounds feature rolling fields of wind-blown wheat. If you can tear your gaze away from the bucolic agricultural scenes with mountains exploding behind, you’ll see the trail passes through plenty of golden stands of aspens. Treat yourself to a strawberry shake at the Frostop Drive-In in Ashton before turning around and riding back to Tetonia.
2. Soak up more than Colors
There are beautiful colors up Swift Creek, but we also love this hike in the fall because we can take a dip in Granite Hot Springs’ naturally-fed 104-degree pool post-hike. (Fair warning: the pool is closed for maintenance for a stretch this September. Call 1-307-690-7284 to make sure it’s open if you have your heart set on soaking).
The Swift Creek Trail starts right at Granite Hot Springs. We found that it disappears about six miles up. This could be because we’ve only hiked this trail where there’s been several inches of snow on the ground. It’s most likely the trail continues—this is what maps indicate—but just gets faint for a period. If you want to scramble up 11,407-foot Antoinette Peak, the Swift Creek Trail is the easiest way.
It’s not just the Swift Creek Trail that takes you through some showy leaves, but the 10-mile drive up the Granite Creek Road to the trailhead (and hot springs) from the highway. It’s a dirt road for its entire length, but well maintained. Pretty much any car can handle it.
3. Seeing Yellow on your Bike
Road cyclists looking for minimal vehicular traffic love Fall Creek Road in all seasons. Road riders looking for maximum visual pleasure put this ride at the top of their list starting around mid-September. Fall Creek Road, which heads south from Wilson at the base of Teton Pass, is always verdant and rural—think cows in the road and burbling irrigation ditches paralleling the pavement.
Come autumn, the cottonwoods that line the Snake River, sometimes flowing only a few hundred feet to the east of Fall Creek Road, go from green to a bright and bold yellow that’s difficult for even the Tetons to compete with, in terms of awe-inspiring beauty.
Fall Creek can be a nice road run too. We recommend starting around Mosquito Creek and running south.
4. Colorful Century
Even if Highway U.S. 26 wasn’t recently re-constructed with eight-foot shoulders, we’d have to put the Togwotee Century Ride on this list. Between the autumn red of the willows in Togwotee’s (toe-GO-tee’s) high alpine meadows and the vibrant aspens from the gradual pass’ base to summit, you’ll hardly notice how far you’ve pedaled. Riding up to the base of Togwotee from downtown Jackson, you also pass through Grand Teton National Park. The colors where the highway crosses Pacific Creek just south of the Moran entrance are particularly wonderful.
5. Multi-Sport Colors
Whether you come here to car camp, ride single-track, hike, or run, Shadow Mountain is at its best in the fall. Literally on the edge of Grand Teton National Park, this mellow mountain is just far enough outside of the park that no permits or entrance fees are required.
Shadow Mountain’s slopes are about as aspen-strewn as any around here. The single-track that descends from the peak’s summit, 1,500-feet above the valley floor, wends its way in and out of aspen groves, as well as pine, all along its three-miles. And then it finally hits the main (dirt) road running along the mountain’s bottom, but not before it passes through a final, full-on aspen explosion.