With volatile spring weather still the norm, you might wonder where to play in the backcountry.
It’s still winter above 9,000 feet. Grand Teton National Park is reporting all mountain trail passes are 100 percent snow-covered. This is good news if you’re looking for a place to prepare for a climb up Mount Rainier or a Himalayan peak.
But it’s game on below 9,000 feet. That means most of the trails in the Kelly Canyon area are good to go (expect some muddy sections). The trail up to the Upper Palisades Lake is good. Beyond that, you’ll be in snow quite a bit.
Here’s a trail to commit to this year (or even this spring): The Ashton to Tetonia Rail Trail.
This is sweet, mellow riding through one of the state’s most scenic areas. With rolling agricultural land, giant trestle bridges over deep canyons and the backdrop of the Teton Range, you can’t go wrong on this rail trail.
This 30-mile roadbed is perfect for mountain bikers and horseback riders. If you’re doing the entire route, start at North Fremont High School parking lot in Ashton. Take the road east out of the parking lot (toward the church), then turn north. After about a hundred yards, you’ll come to the beginning of the rail trail. The trail is part of the state Parks and Recreation Department. Often, the best clue that you’re on the right path are signs saying “No Motorized.”
The trail is about the width and texture of a jeep road. It takes you past rolling farm and ranch land and often near farm homes. At first, the trail crosses a few paved roads, but after a few miles, you’re out in the boondocks enjoying country only seen by cows and a few farmers.
Some of the more exciting sections are the tall, steel trestle bridges. The first big one is over Falls River. These refurbished bridges smell of the creosote-treated timbers used for the bridge decking. If biking over a tall bridge a couple hundred feet above the river canyon makes you nervous, just remember that the bridge once held fully loaded railroad cars a thousand times your weight. The bridge is railed on both sides and you’d have to do some climbing to fall off.
The second half of the ride is popular with bikers starting out from Tetonia or the tiny community of Felt. Most ride up to the tall bridge over Bitch Creek, and return back to their starting point.
Besides the ubiquitous horses and cows, look for sheep, sandhill cranes, bald eagles and hawks, ground squirrels, rabbits, song birds, badger holes and only a few people.
While most of the trail is easy to follow, one section, about midway, comes to an abrupt halt against private property where a landowner refused to let the trail past through his property. A short jog along a steep up-and-down farm road back to Highway 32 after a 1.5-mile detour gets you back on the trail.
Although the grade is generally mellow, some days the prevailing winds can add to the workout. Depending on conditions and how often you stop to take photos, you should arrive in Tetonia in 3 to 4 hours.
The south end of the trail ends on the west side of the giant grain silos in Tetonia just off Egbert Avenue. Here, there is plenty of parking and a kiosk.
For current information and updates on the trail, check the state Parks and Recreation website at https://parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/ashton-tetonia-trail.
One main obstacle to overcome on this ride is transportation. Most people aren’t interested in riding the trail from one end to the other, then turning around and riding it back — making for a 60-mile ride (perhaps that would be fine if it were paved). So many people ride halfway up, turn around and come back to their car. Others leave a car at one end and ride the entire trail to their second vehicle. This involves a lot of driving but is satisfying when you’re done. Another method that works is to have two groups start at opposite ends and exchange keys to vehicles when you meet in the middle.
GETTING THERE: The south end of the trail ends on the west side of the giant grain silos in Tetonia just off Egbert Avenue where there’s plenty of parking. On the north end of the trail, drive to North Fremont High School in Ashton and park on the east side. Take the road east out of the parking lot (toward the church), then turn north. After about a hundred yards, you’ll come to the beginning of the rail trail. There is also parking and a restroom where the trail crosses Highway 47 (Ashton’s Main Street) east of town.