Teton Pass

Yellowstone Park lies on high volcanic plateau. Rides over the paved, named passes in and around the park have hardly any climbing at all. There is one exception. The Teton Range to the south is breached by just one paved pass. It takes advantage of a low gap, so that views limited. There is a nice bike trail following an old abandoned road on the east side. But it's a bit difficult to find without signs.

1.(00.0km~00.0mi, 1890m~6201ft) START-END EAST: Wy22 Snake River crossing, west of Jackson
2.(02.0km~01.2mi, 1943m~6375ft) route turns left onto Old Pass Road, now a trail
3.(09.2km~05.7mi, 2517m~8258ft) path rejoins road
4.(09.5km~05.9mi, 2570m~8431ft) TOP: Teton Pass
5.(17.7km~11.0mi, 2081m~6827ft) Hungry Creek Rd (dirt) joins from right, shortly afterwards Burbank Rd from left
6.(22.4km~13.9mi, 1984m~6509ft) route turns right onto Old Jackson Highway
7.(28.9km~18.0mi, 1899m~6230ft) START-END WEST Victor


From West.  The small town of Victor has a big surprise. Big enough for one food market, the town is also big enough for clearly painted, wide bicycle lanes. Three cheers for Victor. But actually - the best way to get out of town is to head west for one or two blocks and take the "Old Teton Highway" mixed use trail, paralleling the new highway. The mixed use sign indicates everything from roller skating, skiing, bicycling to automobiles. Watching out for all of these transportation modes, I only encountered two automobiles on the entire length. The road/trail merges with the new road at the entrance to the mountains. - What a shock, more traffic than the Long Island Expressway during rush hour. As the road crosses into Wyoming the width of the shoulder increases to a comfortable width, and the road begins to climb more steeply. At one point you see the pass ahead, where a transmission line crosses a hardly impressive gap in the forested ridge. It did not seem as high to me from that vantage point, as it did once I arrived there. The road becomes quite steep getting nearer the top and winds to the summit with a few wide curves. There are no views to speak of on this approach - until you get to the top, from where one can wonder at Jackson lying in its picturesque hole. At the location where you discover this sight signage informs in forced local Gunsmoke lingo: "Howdy stranger, yonder is Jackson - last of the old west".

From East. (also described upwards). From Jackson the road has a wide shoulder that makes the rush hour national park traffic bearable. The profile starts where the road crosses the Snake River. Adjacent is the Emily's Pond conservation area, also the only view of the Teton peaks along the entire route - the only but also a very nice view (picture in second row below). In the small town of Wilson a bike trail on the left side of the road starts. At a junction the bike route continues up Trail Gulch Road. There are no signs, other than the road name at this junction, so that the bike route just appears to end. The bike route is so secret you might suspect that local resident Dick Cheney is in charge of bicycling in Jackson. Also, bike route may be a little of an overstatement, it's really the old, abandoned, deteriorating road bed,  that is now being taken over by wild flowers. But currently there is still enough pavement left to warrant a through going path to the top. After a mile on Trail Gulch Road, the road reaches a sign that finally shows a map of the trail together with a whole network of mountain biking trails, crisscrossing the hard topped bike path and new highway. The path climbs steeply, but looking ahead the modern highway already seems hundreds of feet above. It seems hardly possible. The highway did this with the help of a wide swerve to the north. The bike path catches up in altitude to the new highway with a few closely spaced switchbacks, and finally closely parallels the new highway for the last half mile or so.


Picture locations: top left: bike trail and Jackson Hole; top right: modern road, bike trail in foreground; bottom left: bike trail again; bottom right: Snake River crossing at eastern start of profile; bottom: summit view looking east during late afternoon light.


The Fur Trade. Lewis and Clarke had crossed the enormous east west extend of the Louisiana purchase in 1806 via Lemhi Pass. While Lewis and Clarke did not return to the new western frontier, for other participants of the expedition, this was only the beginning. Lewis wrote to president Jefferson about the potential for trading furs from the Rocky Mountains, and lobbied for a trading post on the Columbia River. Jefferson encouraged John Jacob Astor, a German born fur capitalist, who had dreams of controlling the fur trade from Russia via China to America. But he was not the only one, interested in profiting from the fur trade. There was also the Canadian Fur Company headed by Simon Frazier, and the independent Spaniard Manuel Lisa. God help the beaver from the onslaught caused by the whims of fashion. Beaver of Montana and Wyoming were on their way to becoming nothing but fur lined hats. Employed by Manuel Lisa was also a member of the Lewis and Clarke expedition - John Colter. Later he would become famous for his legendary solitary exploits in what is now Yellowstone Park. In the winter of 1807 Manuel Lisa and 40 of his employees established an impermanent settlement for the winter on the east side of Bozeman Pass, near the confluence of the Bighorn River with the Yellowstone: Fort Lisa. This location, east of where Billings is now, was familiar from experience with the Lewis and Clarke expedition.

One way to get beaver fur was to trade for them. All it took was beads, shawls and other trinkets, and Indians would part with their furs. John Colter was willing to venture alone to the Crow Indians and try his luck. This winter walk of John Colter has become a legend of wild west history, and how much truth it contains has been debated in many books. Later John Colter would tell stories of petrified birds singing petrified songs and other tall tales. The kernel of truth turned out to be as strange as the fiction that surrounded it: the geysers of Yellowstone Park.

What is known about Colter's journey is that he traveled by foot, carried 30 pounds of supplies and started his long walk by crossing Prior's Gap south of Billings. From there he reached present day Cody within striking distance of Yellowstone Park. From there on speculations of his route differ, but one biography by Burton Harris has Colter crossing Togwotee Pass into Yellowstone and then Teton Pass twice back and forth from Jackson to the west side. In any case, Colter unraveled the geography of the area and that included the Jackson Hole area. Subsequent legends have him stripped naked by Blackfoot Indians, escaping assured death by alluding them and diving into a beaver lodge and then somehow making it back to Fort Lisa.

Two years later in 1810 more bad experiences with Indian torture sent Colter back to Missouri. Manuel Lisa had a new partner, Andrew Henry, who again headed south from the old Lewis and Clarke route to build Fort Henry near present Anthony, Idaho. From there they continued over the barely perceptible present day Raynolds Pass ascended Teton River to the top of Teton Pass. Fort Henry only lasted a year but it helped to pass on the knowledge of Teton Pass.

Along with Andrew Henry were three hunters Hoback, Robinson and Reznor. These three ended up passing on the knowledge of Teton Pass to the competition. This is the turn of events that lead to the surprising events. In 1811 John Jacob Astor put together two expeditions, the socalled Astorians, to reach the Pacific coast and establish a fur trading post. One was to go by sea, the other by land. The one by land was lead by Wilson Price Hunt of Trenton New Jersey, whose main qualification for the job was having tended a store in Saint Louis. Their intention was to follow the Lewis and Clarke route. One day, near present Niobrara, Nebraska - who comes floating down the Missouri - but our three hunters from the Andrew Henry Trip: Hoback, Robinson and Reznor. The latter experts warned the Stuart novices about the fierce Blackfeet and impending Indian attacks. And so Stuart persuaded the three hunters to postpone their homeward trip down the Missouri in order to guide the competing Astorians as far as Fort Henry. For the three trappers this also meant abandoning the boats in favor of horse travel. Their route would lead them across the Bighorn Range over Powder River Pass. The direct route familiar to the three hunters would have lead them over Togwotee Pass towards Fort Henry. But two Indian guides told them about a detour over Union Pass south along the Wind River Range. The Indians guides argued this route was better because of better game hunting for provisions. This lead them eventually to approach Teton Pass from the south east at Jackson Hole. On September 5, 1811 Hunt described Teton Pass as an easy well beaten trail; snow whitened the summit and northerly slopes at the heights. At Fort Henry Hoback, Robinson and Reznor left the Hunt expedition, and so did the Indian guides. As it turned out, this would not be the last time that Astorians crossed Teton Pass.

Hunt did eventually reach the Pacific, but the trip could not be described as a success by any stretch of the imagination. They got lost, food ran out, illnesses, water ran low, others drowned. Six months earlier the Canadian David Thompson had laid claim on the area for England. As far the see faring Astorians, they had succeeded in building Fort Astoria beneath a large American flag, but business was poor, and the ship was no more. It had been seized by Indians and the captain was murdered. Subsequently the boat was blown up with the Indians still aboard. All the two branches of the Astor expedition could do was unite and try to make their way back home to the east and tell Astor the the bad news. The return trip lead them over Teton Pass again, but not before Indians and other perceived dangers had caused them a 26 day / 260 mile detour over Wyoming ranges to the south (among them Salt River Pass).  After crossing Teton Pass for a second time the detours continued. On this last detour they stumbled over a discovery that would have more impact on westward expansion than anything else the Astorians had done. They found South Pass. This route which can really not a mountain pass in the conventional sense, but a shallow path around the mountains. From a historical perspective it was the one discovery that made easy east west movement of goods and people possible.

Exploration by Military and Surveyors. In 1860 Captain Raynolds was assigned a whole set of exploratory tasks, which he happily condensed into what he called "the exploration of the Yellowstone (River)". With Jim Bridger as a guide they left Fort Casper and ended up taking Sheridan Pass and Union Pass to Jackson Hole. From there they crossed Teton Pass to Pierre's Hole. A week's worth of travel north along the Teton Range brought them to the crossing that the captain is still remembered for Raynold's Pass.

Montana Gold Rush (<Badger Pass|Raynolds Pass>): As gold in the Bannack City / Grasshopper Creek area of Montana was depleted a new fever hit the mining crowd. The latest riches were located on Alder Creek and Virginia City sprang to life. Teton Pass served as a miner's road from from Jackson Hole and Green River, continuing over Raynolds Pass and Enis.


An out and back ride with lowest western point at Victor <> Teton Pass <> Jackson Hole, with a few slow extra sightseeing miles around Jackson and a short additional approach from FR391 measured 55 miles with 4200ft of climbing in 4:4hours (r2:10.8.4).