Distance: 6.8 miles
Best time of year: Summer, early Fall
Last hiked: 2016 October
The end of the Table Mountain Hike is what many people refer to as, "The best view in the Tetons." After finally getting around to hiking this extraordinary trail, I can now say, the statement holds up. Along the way are beautiful canyon views and high alpine vistas, culminating in a 360 degree panoramic view from higher than 11,000 feet above sea level.
From the parking area, head to the large signed trailhead for the Table Mountain hike. A smaller sign will indicate the trail distance: 7 miles. Just beyond the trail begins a rather steep ascent up the mouth of the North Fork of Teton Canyon. A large rocky outcropping is there for eager ones to explore, while most will continue past, up the trail. The climb continues through peaceful aspens and evergreens as you slowly begin to leave behind any noise below. To the east, the massive and dramatic cliffs of the east side of Teton Canyon wall off the views beyond.
The trail soon levels off slightly. You’re brought through numerous small meadows as you approach the Jedediah Smith Wilderness boundary, marked with a traditional wilderness sign. Along the way, the North Fork of Teton Creek grows louder as the trail begins wind closer.
Once you’re through the boundary, the trail becomes much more level. Climbing only gradually at times, you pass through one evergreen grove to one meadow after another. It’s beautifully and enjoyably repetitive. The enormous collective sound of water spilling onto one rock after another is never far.
Soon you begin to see the higher walls of the canyon begin to emerge from behind the trees. The meadows are now sprinkled with aspen trees, providing a subtle rustling with each refreshingly pleasant breeze.
Soon you notice an increase in steepness in the trail as you make your way to an aspen and evergreen grove. A small creek trickling down to the North Fork breaks up the otherwise silent air. Small footbridges help you cross the watered down land before the trail continues to head farther into the canyon over varying degrees of steepness, passing through meadows and aspen groves.
Soon you see steep rocky fortress cliffs towering above you. The elevation is becoming noticeably higher. The cliffs a little higher. The creeks a little less intense. It’s here you reach a large evergreen grove broken up with large boulders that have fallen from the rocky cliffs above. Following the trail, you’ll start to veer in a more eastward direction.
Leaving the groove, you’re led into a large and open meadow where the sound of rushing water becomes louder and louder as you reach an aspen grove on the other side. Into the aspens, you discover many flourishing willows as well fed by a small creek. The trail gets steeper. The sound of crashing water gets closer. Through the grove you arrive at a small cascading waterfall just off the trail. For those ready for a rest, this makes the first of many excellent opportunities. The trail veers away from the creek at this point, but it doesn’t stay far from it.
Another small waterfall awaits before you head into an evergreen grove, and then a large meadow. Here you’ll notice the views getting much more humbling. Small footbridges guide you over wetter areas and creeks. Small evergreen groves ripple across the trail, an inspiring and wild view at the other end of each bit of shade. Cascading falls sprinkle relaxing seats of respite along the trail.
After a larger creek crossing, the Table Mountain hike brings you up through rockier terrain. More cascades provide a monotonously calming and pleasant soundtrack, with views of the creek never far. A larger forested grove awaits before another relatively large creek crossing, and then it’s time for you to start gaining some elevation.
After a much steeper climb up a rocky ridge, your first views of Table Mountain come into view beyond another rocky ridge. Leaving behind the lower canyon elevations, you all of a sudden find yourself in a high alpine meadow. The trail is much easier and level as you cross the meadow to a ticket of willows. And then it gets steep.
Through the willows you begin to ascend much higher quite rapidly. The occasional leveling of the trail tricks you into believing you might be getting a break. Then the trail continues to climb ever higher. Paralleling the small creek nourishing the willows, you soon notice the imposing peaks of the Grand Teton and Mount Owen peeking over the canyon walls. The views look a little higher here. The air’s a little cooler. You climb a bit more and are free of the willows. Scree fields begin to form walls of the canyon near the trail. You find yourself able to gaze down the canyon in multiple directions down the canyon. The trail begins to switchback up a steep canyon wall. The Grand and Mount Owen become more distinct, and finally, you reach the top – for now.
Expansive, top-of-the-canyon vistas are scattered around a peninsula above the lower elevations of the canyon. There in front of you is a collection of the Teton’s finest peaks: Table Mountain; Mount Owen; and then Table Mountain, doing its best to look as significant, but only appearing more as an exposed knob on a ridge. In the other direction is Teton Valley, opening up to the Snake River Basin; an area where the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem meets prairie, or ranches these days.
Follow the trail across the top of the ridge as the canyon walls tumble down below you. The trail is very easy going as it meanders toward a high alpine forest comprised of trees no higher than 10-15 feet. It’s inside of here that you’ll meet the trail junction with the Face Trail. For those a bit shorter on time, this can be an alternate route down. Regardless, you should be able to see fantastic scenery looking up into Teton Canyon far below.
Continuing toward the Table Mountain summit, you’ll find the trail begin to gain a slight elevation as you head eastward. The gradual uphill climb will start to become gradually steeper. It won’t be long at all before the trees begin to fade away entirely, save for a sporadic loner struggling to grow higher than the average human. Even those fall off shortly thereafter though. You’re left out in the open on a completely exposed ridge (avoid this area during thunderstorms for obvious reasons).
A large field of talus will intersect the trail, encouraging you to get in a bit of large rock hopping. Though the trail is hard to spot through here, two things will help proceed in the right direction. One, look for large cairns to guide you through. Two, go where it’s higher.
Through the talus, you’ll notice the air has become much thinner and the trail much steeper. Nearing the base of the peak is a challengingly steep ascent toward the peak. Beyond that, a short scramble awaits up the rocky western edge of the peak. A faint trail follows a short switchback through the rocks until you’re finally able to walk up the last few feet of the trail to the summit.
Unfolding in front of you at the summit is what nearly everyone will agree is the best view in the Tetons. Dead ahead, just across the abyss of the South Fork of Cascade Canyon, the Grand Teton rises over 2,000 feet higher than you. Mount Owen, the second highest peak in the range, is dwarfed to its left.
From Driggs, Idaho, head east from the main intersection onto Ski Hill Road toward Grand Targhee Ski Resort. Follow that for 6.5 miles, then turn right onto signed Teton Canyon Road. The road will turn to a well-maintained dirt road after a short distance. After passing Teton Canyon Campground just beyond 4 miles, park at the Table Mountain hike trailhead parking just beyond. Another option is to park at the end of the road where the Face Trail trailhead is, and walk back a short distance to the Huckleberry Trail trailhead if you plan on doing the loop.