Truthfully I was expecting a little more history than a rusted-out oil drum.
Until a month ago I had never heard of the History Trail on Teton Pass. Still, having now heard of it, I wanted it to live up to its name.
The History Trail is mostly through the forest and mellow, usually not the type of hike/run I gravitate to. But two weeks out from surgery, mellow is my new name. Last Friday was supposed to be the first day I could walk a mile. I didn’t tell my amazingly talented and concerned reconstructive surgeon that I had walked a mile the Friday before.
I thought walking up the History Trail for a little bit last Thursday was a nice compromise between what I wanted to do and what my doctor wanted me to do. (I know, I’m a horrible patient. I did walk slowly enough that I didn’t break a sweat even though it was 80-some degrees.)
The History Trail appealed to me not only because I had heard it was mellow, but also because it is restricted to hikers and horses. Post-surgery, I didn’t want to have to dive out of the way of any mountain bikers.
Kelly and I started on the trail right from the Trail Creek trailhead, which is where Old Pass Road is closed to cars. If you care to walk up Old Pass Road itself for 30 minutes, you can also pick up the History Trail by Crater Lake. There’s a map at the trailhead.
My plan was to do a loop. A woman had told me how to turn the trail into a loop that should take you 45 minutes to one hour car to car. That was the exact length I was looking for. But, perhaps so fascinated and distracted by the rusted oil drum, Kelly and I missed the turnoff for the loop, so we ended up doing an out and back.
The trail isn’t particularly shaded. It passes through groves of pine and spruce, but most often it bisects meadows, already so verdant with plants and flowers that sometimes you have to push them out of your way. Hikers with dogs should know that there is water along the trail. You cross two creeks right at the beginning, and then you cross another one about a half-mile above Crater Lake. I cannot write about water above this point, as this is where Kelly and I turned around.
Even though I expected more actual pieces of history along the trail, its route certainly is historic. Before the U.S. Forest Service built Old Pass Road in 1913, this is approximately the route wagons and freight sleighs took over Teton Pass. At points where the trail is on the old wagon bed there are sometimes bright orange route markers on trees.
We can credit local historian Doris Platts for salvaging this route. After Old Pass Road was built, this wagon route fell into obscurity. Platts searched for and marked it in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2010 the Forest Service, with the help of Friends of Pathways, the Wyoming Business Council and volunteer Boy Scouts, finished reconstructing the trail.
It was only a little more than a century ago that wagons and sleighs traversed this track by the hundreds and numerous rocks along it were painted as “billboards” advertising businesses and services in Jackson. Today the only reminders left of that are chunks of rusted metal. In addition to the oil drum, there is an old tractor, the engine of which was once used to power a ski lift on the Pass. And also the Reed Hotel’s billboard — faded but still visible on a flat-faced boulder on the side of the trail.
I’ve been to numerous places in the state where the ruts that wagons traveling the Oregon Trail made are still 2 feet deep.
Along the History Trail, instead of wagon ruts expect wildflowers, wildflowers and more wildflowers. Of course, once you get to the top of the trail (and the summit of Teton Pass), there are bigger views, but the bottom 2 miles are all about the micro: columbines, spruce and pine.
You can start the History Trail at the bottom or the top and it’s an easy shuttle to set up if you want to hike it only one way. Its grade is about that of Old Pass Road.
I didn’t find the 26-page point-by-point guide to this trail by the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Bridger-Teton National Forest until after I had hiked it. Read it beforehand and you’ll appreciate the history of the trail more. It’s online at FS.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3818457.pdf.