Crystal Butte’s first mile is infamous for its steepness and ascent. Gaining an average of 100 feet every tenth of a mile, the trail climbs at a relentless rate, all the while providing outstanding views of the town of Jackson, and from higher up, the valley of Jackson Hole crowned by the Teton Mountains. Though not for the faint of heart, the Crystal Butte hike will reward those who can overcome it’s challenges.
Distance: 1-2 miles (one way)
Type: Out and back
Crystal Butte Trail Description
From the trailhead, begin ascending up high desert brush, on occasion passing through rustling quaking aspens. Continue past the junction for the Crystal Light Trail, which is a shorter and more accessible trail that features a few similarities to the main Crystal Butte Trail.
Through the aspens and continuing to climb, the trail connects at another junction. This one allows you to branch off to the Putt Putt Trail to the right, or Woods Canyon straight ahead. Turn left to begin a challenging ascent up the mountainside.
Over the course of several lengthy and steep switchbacks, the trail makes steady gains in elevation, allowing hikers the opportunity to pass off breaks as admiration of the views. Throughout the climb, much of the mountainside is exposed, with few trees to provide shade, so avoid hiking it in the middle of the day if it’s warm out.
As you begin to approach the three-quarter mile mark (?), you’ll start to notice signage marking the Gros Ventre Wilderness. It’s not until you see the third sign that you actually pass into the designated wilderness area. It’s at this point also that the trail actually becomes steeper, potentially leading to a slip on the loose dirt, which you’ll be reminded of on your way back down. On the plus side, this particular spot also welcomes in a few more trees, allowing the opportunity to escape some direct sunlight finally and cool off in potential shade.
A final feature of this point is that the switchbacks come to end and the trail takes a more direct route to the top of the ridge above Woods Canyon, now straight ahead. Though the trail still continues to gain elevation, there are a few moments where the ascent slowly begins to let up. Emerging from the coolness of the trees, the trail opens up into another bare hillside, though now with ample views of the north, giving you outstanding views of the valley of Jackson Hole and the Teton Mountains.
A short distance ahead, the trail hits the southern rim of Woods Canyon and immediately cuts north. Here you can not only find inspiring views of the Tetons and the valley below, but also look east up into the Cache Creek drainage. For many, this is the end of the trail. For many others, the trail continues north along the ridgeline. Either way, take a moment to admire the views.
While the views north and west don’t get much better continuing to hike north, the views to the south and southeast become much more interesting. Continuing to gain elevation, though at a much more manageable pace, you begin to see more peaks rising in the distance, as well as the Snake River Range, and even the Wyoming Range much farther south. To the east, more prominent Gros Ventre peaks rise up in the distance as you hike along the Woods Canyon rim.
After another mile or so, the trail gets significantly more forested, for many more people, this will be their turnaround point. Continue to explore or head back out the way you came.
Getting to the Crystal Butte Trailhead
From Town Square, head east on Broadway until it dead-ends at the National Elk Refuge. Turn right at the 3-way junction, and proceed for a half mile until you see the parking area on the left.