GET OUT: Shoal Falls
JACKSON HOLE, WYO –
The first time I hiked to Shoal Falls I came at it from the west via Swift Creek trailhead. Boy was that dumb. It’s more scenic that way because you get a good view of the Open Door to start and then you look down on Jack Pine Creek, where supposedly there is an old placer gold mine cabin called the Webb Cabin, but I’ve never seen it. Later you look up at some impressive cirques to the north as you climb Deer Ridge. In all, you will climb a total of 2,600 feet (and come down 1,300) over 6.5 miles. It takes its toll.
This trail is not well-maintained by the Forest Service but local outfitters and packers keep it fairly cleared. The only people you will see on this hike are horseback parties. Hardly anyone hikes it. There is one trail split to watch out for right around the top of Deer Ridge, about 5.35 miles in. Stay left. Right takes you down into Shoal Creek.
Drive the Granite Hot Springs Road for 7.4 miles. Turn right at the sign for the Girl Scout Camp. This is Forest Road 30520. Cross the bridge and make a left on FR30522, then a quick right to the Swift Creek trailhead. Start hiking here and stay right when the trail divides, which will be soon into the journey. I think there is a sign reading Shoal Falls. If not, take anything saying Shoal Lake, but not Swift Creek.
For a shorter trek, approach Shoal Creek from the east via Tin Can Park. Drive toward Bondurant. About 3.4 miles past Cliff Creek Road (on your right) look for Dell Creek Road (on your left). Zero out your odometer. Drive Dell Creek Road for about 3.65 miles and hang a left on Riling Draw. Take that until you’ve travelled a total of 6.25 miles from the highway. You’ll see a small parking area and a kiosk.
The hike starts with a drop down into Shoal Creek in the first half-mile. It starts getting soggy here and you will likely see a moose or two. I always manage to spot a coyote in here as well. At the half-mile mark you will have to cross Shoal Creek – not difficult this time of year.
The trail is fairly flat with frequent marshy areas as you parallel Shoal Creek on your right. At 3.5 miles in, it gets tricky. Follow the trail to your right as continuing straight will connect you to the aforementioned route to the falls. You will cross Shoal Creek again and almost immediately the trail splits one more time. Right takes you back south through Tin Can Park to a hunt camp and eventually on through Rock Creek. Go left.
You’ll continue up the Shoal Creek drainage with the creek now on your left. You climb pretty steeply until the 4.75-mile mark. When you top out here look for a trail on your right. That heads up to Shoal Lake – a beautiful mountain lake at 9,800 feet that fishes pretty well. Horse people overnight up there, but few hike to it.
Ignore the trail to the lake and freelance your way down into some timber at about 11 o’clock. The trail is very faint here and disappears at some points. GPS the falls at 43°20.434N; 110°20.953W.
I always like to climb up the slippery falls a little ways, but then again, I’m an idiot.
You’ll see plenty of wildlife in here. Beaver have dammed the creek in numerous spots. Expect deer, elk, and especially moose. Mountain lions are in here as well and a bear sighting – black or griz – would also not be out of the ordinary.