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GET OUT: Game for Leeks Canyon?
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The first time I hiked Game Creek through to Leeks Canyon I wasn’t intending to. I had started up Game Creek for the millionth time, hit the Cache Creek connector split and felt pretty fresh. That was three miles in after negligible elevation gain.
“What the heck,” I thought. “Let’s keep going ’til we pop out somewhere.”
The dog looked less than thrilled. With no map or solid recollection of where the trail would lead to I forged on. I was confident it would have to eventually top out in the vicinity of Snow King and likely offer several ways of getting down and out. I was right, but the realization came after second-guessing myself a few times somewhere around the five-mile mark.
This hike covers nine total miles. Elevation gain is 1,300 feet at a gradual clip. In fact, the steepest section is the final two-mile drop into Leeks Canyon. Mountain bikers enjoy these trails as they are not too gnarly with harsh drops or numerous rocks.
This time of year it is possible to see almost anything in the way of wildlife back here. Mountain lions enjoy the backside of Snow King. Black bears also are known to frequent the upper Cache area. Elk and mule deer will be among your most likely sightings, however.
Step by step
Start at Game Creek. At 1.6 miles, you’ll notice a little box canyon on your left. I once saw a monster mule deer buck up in there standing on the ridge. At three miles in, it starts getting boggy. A tighter box canyon on your left leads up to a lame sort of hunt camp. The trail splits here – left to Leeks, right to Cache Creek. Straight ahead is a massive wall that shields the Cache Creek drainage from view. It is the very ridge firefighters made their last stand on to keep the Horsethief Canyon Fire from dropping into Cache and heading to town. After hanging a “Louie” you’ll lose most of the oncoming mountain bike traffic.
The trail continues fairly marshy for another mile. Soon, though, you’ll climb out of the bottomland and by 7,000 feet it is smooth sailing. About five miles in is your best chance to see wildlife. This is as isolated from most casual users as you will get. At 5.5 miles you will top out at 7,500 feet – the highest you’ll get on this hike. Snowpack up here is minimal after this warm spring.
At the six mile mark, you’ll drop into a saddle of sorts before another rise to 7,500 feet. There is a sign in this area – I think it reads: West Game Creek/Game Creek Trail. I have no idea what the Forest Service thinks West Game Creek is. There is a crossroads at this point. One trail heads north, taking you to Ferrin’s Trail and into the Cache-Snow King area. Another trail leads south into Wilson Canyon.
I’ve never taken this one so I can’t say for sure how good the trail is in the middle stretch before popping out. I once went up Adams Canyon behind the Animal Shelter and came back out Wilson and there wasn’t much of a trail beyond the first mile or so from the Little Horsethief subdivision.
You’re home free at 6.6 miles; standing atop a crest where you can see the radio towers on Snow King and Leeks Canyon stretched out before you. The descent could be tough on the knees for some folks. Later in the season, hikers may encounter cows grazing in Leeks Canyon. Technically, I suppose it is closed to the public so be warned. I go anyway.
Leeks Canyon is named for Stephen Leek, a fine Canadian, who homesteaded in South Park in 1891.
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This column describes hiking from Game Creek into Leeks Canyon. The column “supposes” that there is a tract of private land that is “technically” closed to the public blocking access to Highway 26/89/189/191 from the Leeks Canyon trail. It has been brought to our attention that the trail does, in fact, terminate above the highway. There is private property between the terminus of the trail and the highway, and the owners of that private property wish to make it clear that it is indeed closed to the public. – JHW