Springtime trails that are ready to go

A cow and calf moose trim the brush on the far side of Palisades Creek above the Lower Lake during the spring of 2017. (Jerry Painter photo)

The fun thing about hiking mountain trails this time of year is that you can travel from summer to winter in a few hours.

About this time last year I hiked with friends to Waterfall Canyon above Upper Palisades Lake. We hiked over large stretches of snow in the upper canyon. On the way back we saw a mountain goat and moose and days-old calf.

The popular trails on the west side of the Tetons (some people call the “Idaho side” even though it’s all in Wyoming), allow you to start out on dry summery trails and hike up into the snow.

This is also the case with many of the offerings in the Lost River Range, Lemhi Range and Sawtooth Range of central Idaho. If you stay lower — say below 8,000 or 9,000 feet in elevation — you should generally encounter wet patches, perhaps a few snow patches in the shady areas. Above that elevation, things get snowy and wetter.

I remember once overhearing hikers from Georgia on the trail to Surprise and Amphitheater lakes in Grand Teton National Park being shocked that there was still snow along the trail on July 4. “It’s July 4th and we’re hiking through snow!” one girl exclaimed. “I can’t believe it. They’ll never believe this back home. Take a picture.”

As a general rule the lower elevation ranges, such as the Big Hole Mountains and Snake River Range (north of Heise and east of Swan Valley) are drying out first. There are still snowy sections on summits, in deep shadowy canyons and along north-facing walls. With warm weather and above-freezing temperatures at night, the snow will begin to disappear quickly.

Here are a few trails to hike now while you wait for less snow in the higher country:

• Palisades Creek trail in the Snake River Range. This trail never fails to delight. It’s good to go all the way to the Upper Lake. Expect snow patches going up to Waterfall Canyon. The falls in Waterfall Canyon are roaring this time of year.
• Moose Creek in the southern end of the Tetons east of Victor. This trail will have some snow patches but should be hikeable for the first 4 miles to the meadows.
• Targhee Creek Trail on the north side of Henry’s Lake is generally dry for the first few miles until the route starts to climb.
• Many of the trails in the Horseshoe Creek area on the east side of the Big Hole Range are drying out.
Aldous and Hancock Lakes trail in the Centennial Range northeast of Spencer are at a lower elevation and a good bet in the early season.
• In Yellowstone National Park, the Hellroaring Creek Trail in the northern part of the park (with a cool foot bridge across the Yellowstone River) is one of the first to dry out.
• In Grand Teton National Park, the trails around Two Ocean Lake are some of the first to be snow free.
Keep in mind that conditions can change quickly this time of year. Some of the thunderstorms that pass over can drop tons of water in a short amount of time and quickly turn trails into a muddy mess. Also be aware that trails with stream crossings (and no bridge) can be dangerous. That ankle-deep wet crossing you remember last fall can be a waist-deep raging torrent in the spring.

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