Distance: 5.5 miles
Best time of year: Summer, Fall
The Sleeping Indian, known formally as Sheep Mountain, is often overlooked by many tourists due to it being located opposite from the Teton Mountains. Yet frequent visitors and locals develop a fond admiration for the mountain as, once the image is seen, it becomes a popular target to watch sunset fade over. As the tallest visible peak to the east from Jackson Hole, it dominates the southeastern valley views, and also attracts hikers from two different trails up to its summit, which is the "belly" of the "Sleeping Indian." The route described here is much shorter than the Blue Miner Trail, however is also much steeper, climbing over 4,000 feet in just 5.5 miles.
Begin the trail by heading up the old two track at the trailhead, which is now only used a hiking trail. It begins as a moderate climb and doesn’t let up any time soon, so be ready for a steep and consistent climb. With the Teton Mountains at your back, head up toward the treeline where the two track will merge into one standard trail just a short distance from the trailhead.
You’ll begin ascending into a small and shallow canyon and into the forest at the base of the Sleeping Indian, climbing just above the valley of Jackson Hole. Though in the trees, the trail is still mostly exposed in the middle of the day, so hike early or late to avoid the sun. Climbing higher into the small canyon, the sounds of nature begin to take over. Birds chirp. Breezes rustle through the tops of trees. A small seasonal creek trickles through rocks and fallen branches. All the while, the trail continues its steady ascent higher and higher through the lush and somewhat overgrown small canyon bottom thanks to a parallel direction with the creek.
Soon the shallow canyon walls shrink even more, opening up growing western views where some Teton peaks begin to peak thru the trees. Aspen trees begin to decorate a small meadow as the trail hops up and over small rises through the aspens and mountain vegetation. A bit more climbing through a nurturing aspen grove reveals a large and expansive meadow. Though parts can be steep and strenuous, the now wide open vistas above Jackson Hole welcome rest breaks to absorb the rate at which you’re climbing higher.
Crowning the horizon are the Teton Mountains, shooting out of the valley like a supervolcano explosion of granite rock frozen in time. To the south, the underrated but locally adored Jackson Peak shows off every reason not to underrate it. From the valley it blends in as just another majestic peak, but from this vantage point, the massive crags and steep cliffs can be appreciated in much more detail.
Bending around and through the meadow, follow the trail to the top of the meadow where even more expansive views await before a more strenuous climb along a forest boundary toward a ridgeline above. Just before reaching the ridgeline, the trail snakes to the right as it wanders into a large and shaded forest. The old forest provides much more shade than previously experienced on the trail, a kind of shelter from the sun and a cozy respite before the last major push upward. Small lush meadows break up the dense forest of old mountain growth.
The ridgeline you were ascending toward moments earlier can occasionally be seen just above, the trail continuing to parallel it below. The trail emerges into a large meadow just after a smaller meadow before reentering the forest where the ascent maintains a steady ascent. As the trail finally meets the ridgeline, the forest breaks up. The summit of the Sleeping Indian is now peeking above the trees in the foreground ahead. A sense of scale for the size of the mountain can now be more realized. Beyond the main peak ahead rise Jackson Peak and many of the southern peaks in the Gros Ventre Mountain range, all immense, foreboding, and underestimated.
Follow the trail along the ridgeline where another steep climb begins up an adjoining ridge. At the top of this climb, the belly of the Sleeping Indian, aka, the summit, finally comes into breathtaking view. From here, the trail begins a full assault up toward the treeline, giving a major push to once and for all leave the trees behind. Through spruce, fir, whitebark pine, and sadly, pine beetle killed trees, the trail maintains a steep and steady pace as the trees begin to thin out, becoming more sparse with each challenging step. Finally, all the trees are below a quiet breeze, leaving you alone in the alpine tundra looking out over unfathomable distances.
The trail will persist for a short while longer up toward the summit, but will ultimately fade into the alpine landscape. A few cairns may or may not be visible to help guide you up, but in general, continue heading up taking a slight southerly direction to point you toward the summit. You’ll soon crest a small ridgeline where the summit emerges in front of you, sharp, cragged, and in more detail than you’ve ever seen. Head in its direction and continue ascending through the open alpine vistas.
Upon reaching the base of the belly, expansive views of the northern Gros Ventre Mountains are revealed as they fade into the Absaroka Mountains. Directly below is a small unnamed lake just above the popular Blue Miner Lake, accessible by descending around the top ridgeline where you’ll meet the Blue Miner Trail, if desired. Even farther in the distance is a small visible portion of the Red and Lavender Hills of the Gros Ventres near the confluence of Crystal Creek and the Gros Ventre River, marked by a large open valley. To your right is the final ascent, a steep scramble up talus and loose rock.
A faint trail plus a few helpful cairns will guide you up to the final summit, climbing 300 feet in about a quarter of a mile. Once at the top, however, all the effort was clearly worth it. To the west, the Teton Mountains, now far in the distance, are dwarfed from the altitude of 11,220 feet. To the north, endless mountain views from the Absarokas join the Teton Mountains at the enormous Yellowstone Plateau and caldera. In the east, the boundaries of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem can be seen fading into the desert beyond Dubois, Wyoming. To the south, rounding out the unparalleled panoramic views, are the highest Gros Ventre peaks, whetting the appetite for more adventures in these often overlooked but well-loved mountains. Just below in the southern view is what appears as the nose from the valley, a massive pile of rocky hoodoos extending hundreds, or sometimes thousands of feet into the air.
Revel in the views, and when you’re ready, head back the same way you came.
From downtown Jackson, head east on Broadway for 1 mile where it ends at the National Elk Refuge. Turn left into the National Elk Refuge and follow the main road back for 8.5 miles directly to the trailhead. Since it’s not an official trail, there’s no indication that it’s an actual trail, aside from a rough parking area at the two-track trail.
Note: If you’re not in a high clearance vehicle, you’ll want to park at the Bridger-Teton National Forest boundary roughly 1 mile before the trailhead, then follow the trail above Flat Creek to the main trailhead. The road is in brutal shape and anything without high clearance will most likely be damaged.