Alaska Basin

Just outside the western boundary of Grand Teton National Park, the Alaska Basin Trail climbs from the floor of Teton Canyon to traverse a rugged, glacial basin. The trail can be hiked as a loop, with the entirety of the route staying within the bounds of Caribou-Targhee National Forest (a dog-friendly option). It can also be used to cross over into the national park, by going up and over Static Peak Divide or by negotiating Hurricane Pass (options for longer thru hikes or multiday backpacking trips). Because dogs are not allowed within the national park, the Alaska Basin loop provided us a nice opportunity to explore some of the wild terrain of the Teton Range while also allowing Sanchez to come along for the hike.

The Teton Canyon Trailhead is in Alta, Wyoming, easily accessible if you’re staying on the Idaho side of the park (e.g. Driggs or Victor). Located at the end of Teton Canyon Road, the trailhead is about 10 miles from the Grand Targhee Ski Resort. Alaska Basin’s 16-mile stem-and-loop trail climbs just over 4,000 vertical feet, winding through a scenic subalpine basin within Caribou-Targhee’s sprawling three million acres of protected area.

For reasons unbeknownst to us, Alaska Basin seemed to be Sanchez’ favorite hike to date. She had just finished hiking some 200 miles of Montana’s Flathead National Forest, but this trail seemed to be a whole new level of excitement for her. While there were certainly pika and ground squirrels scampering about, they were nowhere near the levels she discovered in Montana’s Swan Range. I guess we all just find things we love without explanation.

For the first 2.7 miles, the trail gained very little elevation as it followed South Fork Teton Creek through groves of aspen and thick scrub brush in the canyon. This is a great area to spot wildlife, and we were fortunate to spot a couple of moose (mom and calf) grazing in the vegetation.

After 2.7 miles, the trail split into a loop, with the trail to the right leading up Devil’s Staircase and the left-hand fork making a more gradual climb to the basin. With such a menacing name, we expected a much more aggressive ascent up Devil’s Staircase –  although I suppose the ‘stairs’ were significantly steeper than the first section of trail, gaining more than 1,000 feet over the next mile. From Devil’s Staircase, the trail climbed gradually for another 3 miles along the slopes of The Wedge and Mt. Meek, eventually reaching the highpoint (~9,750’) near Mt. Meek Pass.

From here, the trail crisscrossed the basin across increasingly rough, rocky terrain, passing near a collection of subalpine lakes with the pervasive peaks of the Teton Range to the east. Unfortunately, with a mix of wildfire smoke and clouds from an incoming cold front, the sun never quite peeked out to illuminate the craggy summits that surrounded us. That said, it was still a stunning backdrop.

After a brisk lunch beside the lake, we continued our counterclockwise loop back to the trailhead along the more gradual section of trail. We thought that with nearly 15 miles under her feet, 4,000 feet of vertical gain, and as much excitement as she’d seemed to ever have, that Sanchez would be starting to tire as we closed out the last couple miles of the hike. However, as soon as we were once again creek-side, she was hellbent on chasing rocks in the shallow water. Every time we tried to coax her back along the trail, she insisted that we return to the creek for more playtime. At one point, her inimitable Thai vocalizations caught the attention of a group of passing hikers, who thought they’d stumbled upon a bellowing moose. While her relentless enthusiasm was somewhat surprising, we were thrilled she had such a fun time.

While some sunlight would have made the scenery even more spectacular, we thought Alaska Basin was a really nice hike overall. It was pretty quiet on the trail, with just a handful of other hikers, and it allowed us a glimpse of the Tetons while still being able to hike with Sanchez.

Total distance: 16.4 miles
Elevation gain: 4,041 feet

Considerations:

(1) If hiking with your dog, be sure to stay on the Alaska Basin trail and don’t cross into the national park. The trails are obvious if you have the maps downloaded ahead of time.

(2) If you’re interested in exploring more of Caribou-Targhee’s enormous wilderness area, dozens of trails (both day and multi-day hikes) are listed on the National Forest’s website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/ctnf/recreation/hiking/?recid=53653&actid=50.

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