Distance: 4.1 miles (one way)
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2015 September
The Atherton Ridge Trail is a relatively forgotten trail, but is well worth the effort. Neither side is considerably easier to climb than the other, but most people prefer to hike east to west because of the great views that unfold of the Teton Mountains in the distance to the west.
Atherton Ridge Trail Description
Across from the Atherton Creek Campground, the trail immediately begins climbing, bringing you from an open meadow to aspen groves and thick willow growth. At roughly .5 miles, another trail will fork off to the right, the main trail continuing straight ahead and through meadows, aspens and willows. Farther up the trail, the trail crosses a few muddy areas from streams that trickle out of beaver ponds just up Atherton Creek. These only appeared a couple of years ago, so the trail’s been rerouted slightly to avoid stressing them out. Please respect this and don’t cause them any unneeded stress by getting too close. A good vantage point is just up the trail where it comes out of the trees where a small knoll lies just off of the right of the trail. This provides a good look back toward the ponds.
At this point the trail begins a steep ascent up a grassy hillside that will give you some great views over Slide Lake once you gain some altitude. The trail then begins to take the shape of an old 4WD road as two paths begin to parallel each other. The trail will go up and down a couple of small hills and then bend sharply to the north past an old evergreen tree that looks like you could push it over, but don’t try. The trail climbs steeply for a brief section here, before winding back to the west and smoothing out. At the top of this hill you’re treated to some magnificent views of the Tetons over some nearby hills. You’ll also notice that a trail veered off to the right to head back farther north. In fact there are many trails in this area and you could potentially spend an entire day or more exploring them. To remain on the Atherton Ridge Trail, either look for the trail at the top of the hill that goes to the left, or if you can’t find it, take the most obvious trail down the hill into the small valley below you. Either trail will intersect with another running north-to-south on the other side of the small valley, where you’ll want to begin heading south (left) along it.
Tip: This area’s used frequently by the Gros Ventre River Ranch for horseback rides. If you come across them, please step off the trail and let them pass.
Once on the other side of the small valley, the trail then climbs a short distance as it goes through an aspen grove and continues to climb up to a small hill. You’ll notice more trails branching off here and there, but as long as you’re continuing toward the Gros Ventre Slide (the massive landslide in the mountain to the south) you’re headed in the right direction. Of course if you want to explore a few trails, feel free. Just remember when you’re ready to start back, follow the trails in the direction of the Gros Ventre Slide.
The main trail will top out a small hill where the trail actually disappears, but can be easily found on the other side of the small hill. A bit past the hill, the trail will fork again next to a small section of an old fence. This is where you’ll want to branch off to begin your descent.
It descends steeply down the hillside for a short distance, then flattens out where it winds around a treeline before dropping again where some sandstone is exposed. It climbs back up a short distance, then the trail then forks again at the top of a steep ridge, one trail leading down the ridgeline to the right, and two seeming to head straight down. Of the two heading straight down, pick the one that looks the least steep to you and begin making your way down. They’ll connect again just a short distance down.
Continue your descent down and over the hills, and eventually the trail will pass through a lush aspen grove. As you pass through the aspens, the road pops out in front of you, as well as the parking area where you left your shuttle car.
Want to see more photos? Check out my photography website’s Gros Ventre Mountains Gallery here.
From Jackson, take Highway 89 north out of town 6.8 miles to the Gros Ventre Junction and make a right. Less than seven miles later, you’ll reach the town of Kelly where the road bends sharply to the north. Continue for just over another mile and you’ll see a paved road to your right. Turn right there and continue on that road for another six miles, passing Kelly Warm Springs immediately to your right, then the border of Grand Teton National Park farther back, followed by the Gros Ventre River Ranch, and after more twists and turns, Slide Lake. The parking at the trailhead is very small and tight, so pull off of the road as best as you can on your left where you see the trail heading up just across the street from the Atherton Creek Campground.
Along the way, just after you pass the Gros Ventre River Ranch, the road climbs through a forest and bends sharply to the left. There is a big parking area here on top of the hill. This is where you’ll want to leave the shuttle car, otherwise you’ll have to do the whole hike the other way.