The ridgeline cut a toothy silhouette across the eastern sky. The stillness in the air, a serene contrast to the dramatic peaks piercing the horizon, was undercut only by the heartbeat pounding in my chest. The Buffalo Drop loomed. On the previous lap I’d taken the cheater line around the aptly-named feature. The rock roll feels as though you’re jumping a mountain bike into a steep landing off the back of the largest bison imaginable. My ego couldn’t stomach skipping it again. It wasn’t that large. Not compared to the gargantuan Tetons I was gaping at, anyway.
After a few deep breaths while pretending the impressive vista, rather than lurking dread, was precipitating my delay, I conquered the precipice through some combination of luck and advanced engineering. The modern mountain bike is a wonderful thing, indeed. The Buffalo Drop is a notable centerpiece of Grand Targhee’s mountain bike park (3330 Ski Hill Rd., Alta, Wyo., 307-353-2300) but just one of an expanding network of trails crisscrossing down the mountain. Chunky descents with cascading rock rolls through forested slopes and ultra-smooth sweeping berms through alpine meadows can be found in equal measure. Complete beginner or seasoned expert, Targhee’s bike park has something for any rider. And everyone can enjoy the views.
Grand Targhee—technically in Wyoming but just a stone’s throw from its burgeoning mountain town base in Driggs, Idaho—is best known for the walloping winter storms that frequently deposit far more snow on its slopes than its better-known counterpart on the lee side of the range, Jackson Hole, receives. The resort, and surrounding community in Teton Valley, is fast making a name for itself as a summer destination in its own right. Hop in the car and find out for yourself. The quiet side might just be the grander side of the Tetons.
Can You Driggs It?
Teton Valley has long been something of an hidden gem in the Gem State. It’s in part due to flashier locales in and adjacent to the state, like Sun Valley and Jackson Hole, absorbing broader attention. Teton Valley is gradually transforming from an agricultural and ranching community into one built on recreational tourism. It’s part of a long evolution of the area, the ancestral lands of the Shoshone-Bannock and Northern Paiute Indian tribes, which, in typical American fashion, has a checkered history marked by calamity and reinvention. The 19th Century Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, an annual gathering organized by fur trading companies, has been replaced with the Wydaho Rendezvous, a bike festival hosted by Grand Targhee each summer. The former abandoned the area following the infamous battle of Pierre’s Hole in 1832. The latter, thankfully, is famous for the “sloshie,” a delightful frozen boozy concoction at the Trap Bar (3330 Ski Hill Rd., Alta, Wyo.). Times change, but the spirit of exploration and community has undeniably carried over on the western slope of the Tetons.
Where to Play
Exploring Teton Valley doesn’t necessitate an adrenaline rush. As we found, those incredible mountain vistas are often best enjoyed from a serene perch while literally floating. An early-morning wake-up call is worth it for a ride with Elevated Ballooning (98 E. Little Ave., Driggs, 208-709-0777). Upon returning to earth, we opted for another type of float, this time down the Teton River. Teton River Supply (107 W. Bates Rd., Driggs, 208-534-8784) rents a variety of inflatable vessels from kayaks to stand up paddleboards to canoes starting at just $45 per day and will even arrange a complimentary shuttle from the shop in Driggs to the put-in and take-out of your choice. The snaking journey down the Teton River is languid, relaxed and perfect for soaking in those mountain views.
Eager to more intimately explore the stunning terrain of the Targhee National Forest, we headed out for a hike the following morning. For a quick family-friendly jaunt, we went to the Sheep Bridge Trail, a roughly five-mile out-and-back that follows Teton Creek. For a far more adventurous and arduous undertaking, head up to Table Mountain. On the trek you’ll have remarkable views of the Tetons as well as Mount Owen and Teewinot Mountain.
Back from the trail, it was time to wind down with some tunes. Every Thursday night through August 12, the Teton Valley Foundation hosts Music on Main at the Victor City Park (80 N. Main St., Victor). Some of the best musical acts from all over the country hit the stage from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. Local food vendors serve up a variety of wonderful cuisine to help keep the audience’s energy high, and beer, wine and hard seltzer sales help fund the Teton Valley Foundation.
Where to Eat and Drink
A strong craft beverage culture permeates Teton Valley, so a local brewery tour is on tap. Start by renting a hybrid cruiser bike from Peaked Sports (70 E. Little Ave., Driggs, 208-354-2354) and take an eight-mile scenic ride on the rail trail to Victor for a pint at Grand Teton Brewing (430 Old Jackson Hwy., Victor, 888-899-1656) and then Wildlife Brewing Company (145 S Main St., Victor, 208-787-2623). For something a little different, stop in at Highpoint Cider (7565 Lupine Ln., Victor, 307-264-2151) before heading back down the path to Driggs for a nightcap and some appetizers at Citizen 33 Brewery (364 N. Main St., Driggs, 208-354-207).
A liquid diet won’t cut it when you’re in the mountains all day, and there’s some incredible food options throughout Teton Valley. Start your day with a gourmet doughnut from Yeti’s Post (98 E. Little Ave., Driggs, 208-354-1444) or a breakfast sandwich from Victor Valley Market (5 S. Main St., Victor, 208-787-2230), where you can win a massive cookie if you correctly answer the day’s trivia question. For a midday refuel, check out Big Hole BBQ (22 W. Center St., Victor, 208-270-9919) for brisket and smoked wings or to Captain Ron’s Smokehouse (415 Main St., Driggs, 307-690-1298) for a burger with pimento cheese and bacon.
Wrap things up in the evening with a Neapolitan-style pie from Tatanka Tavern (18 N. Main St., Driggs, 208-227-8744). The Fungus Amongus with garlic oil and roasted mushrooms is a delight. For something a bit spicier, stop in at the legendary Teton Thai (18 N., Main St., Driggs, 208-787-8424) for authentic Thai cuisine—the Gang Karee Beef Curry is a favorite—and a local beverage from the in-house brewery. Try the Money Penny British Pale Ale.
Where to Stay
Glamping right at the base of Teton Pass at Moose Creek Ranch (2733 E. 10800 South, Victor, 208-510-0216) really fits the vibe of Teton Valley better than a luxury hotel. Deluxe tents, cabins and even customized airstreams make for a variety of glamping options depending on how rustic you want to get. Rates start at $129 per night.
Located on the bank of the Teton River, Teton Valley Lodge (3733 Adams Rd., Driggs, 208-354-2386) is an all-inclusive fishing resort in the heart of Teton Valley with 25 fishable sections of river and excellent guides—not to mention charming—private one, two and three-bedroom cabins and great food. A variety of all-inclusive packages and separate day-trip activities are available.
Teton Teepee Lodge (440 W. Alta Ski Hill Rd., Alta, Wyo., 307-353-1000) is just over the border in Alta, Wyo., a few miles from Driggs. This lodge is a unique, affordable basecamp, with 18 rooms around circular common area with a fireplace. Rooms start at $129.
ROAD TRIP 1
Rockhound Road Trip
Start: City of Rocks / End: Riggins
Whether you’re a rock climber, an avid hiker, a geology enthusiast or simply enjoy some dramatic mountain views along the way, Idaho’s geology has transformed the landscape into an incredible playground.
1. City of Rocks National Reserve
On the southern Idaho border, the surreal spires rising above the City of Rocks are composed of uniquely pocketed granite. It’s a mecca for rock climbers, but even the less vertically inclined can enjoy the history of Camp and Register Rocks, where hundreds of 19th-century signatures were written in axle grease by travelers on the California Trail.
2. Castle Rocks State Park
Sharing a ranger station with the City of Rocks, Castle Rocks has a wealth of mountain biking and horseback riding trails. You can also sign up for guided rock-climbing trips on the many granite routes throughout the park.
3. Craters of the Moon National Monument
750,000 acres near Arco are covered in basaltic lava from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Hulking cinder buttes and snaking lava tubes compose the dreamlike landscape. Survey the scenery from Devil’s Orchard and explore the swirling lava tubes of the Caves Trail.
4. Land of the Yankee Fork State Park
Head up the Salmon River Scenic Byway to the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park. The scattered collection of gold-mining era ghost towns—Bonanza and the wonderfully-restored Custer—are a portal to a bygone time.
5. Stanley and Redfish Lake
The Sawtooth Mountains loom above the quaint downtown of Stanley. The mountains offer incredible hiking opportunities but are perhaps best enjoyed from a kayak on nearby Redfish Lake where the toothy peaks reflect off the water’s surface.
6. Hells Canyon
West of the ski town of McCall is Hells Canyon, a nearly 8,000-foot-deep gorge cut by the Snake River through a volcanic basalt plateau. You can explore the deepest river gorge in North America on a jet boat tour with River Adventures in Riggins.
ROAD TRIP 2
Northern Idaho Wine Country Tour
Start: Lewiston / End: Sandpoint
Northern Idaho isn’t all about rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking. There’s a more relaxed side of the panhandle in wine country. Bring a corkscrew and get ready to tip your glass with the Gem State’s finest winemakers.
Idaho winemaking originated in the Lewis-Clark Valley in the 1870s with French immigrant Louis Desol. It remains the heart of Idaho wine country today and was named the state’s newest American Viticultural Area. A host of outstanding wineries, including Clearwater Canyon Cellars—the gorgeous patio overlooks the Syrah grapes, so give that a try for a multi-sensory meta tasting—Lindsay Creek Vineyards and Vine 46.
From Lewiston head to Moscow, a surprisingly lively town that’s home to the University of Idaho and numerous winemakers. Stop in for a sampling at the Colter’s Creek tasting room in Moscow or visit their other location just down the road in Juliaetta to try the eponymous Juliaetta Rosè. The Juliaetta location is situated right on Potlatch Creek, formerly named Colter’s Creek (after the famous scout John Colter who was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition through the area in the early 19th century).
3. Coeur d’Alene
Spend your morning on the water in search of some classic summer fun before heading to Coeur d’Alene Cellars. In the tasting room—nicknamed Barrel Room No. 6—try a few favorite vintages along with some hors d’oeuvres like the meat and cheese board. Come on a Saturday evening for some live music to accompany your tasting.
Sandpoint’s historic downtown winemakers stick to tradition. The Pend d’Oreille Winery uses classic French winemaking methods in a restored building featuring original brick walls. The Cabernet Franc pairs well with the traditional French vibe, as well as with the hand-tossed pizzas.
ROAD TRIP 3
Hot Springs, History & Watering Holes
Start: Boise / End: Lowman
Idaho has a rich western tradition rooted in exploration and the outdoors. Ramble through the state’s remarkable landscapes to discover mountains, hot springs and plenty of history along the way.
Start your trip in the Gem State’s capital. Explore the network of trails, crisscrossing the town’s foothills, aboard a mountain bike. After that, enjoy a beverage from one of Boise’s dozens of local breweries. You can’t leave without trying the sour and barrel-aged brews from Barbarian.
2. Bruneau Dunes State Park
Climb the sandy peaks of Bruneau Dunes State Park and catch a stunning sunset while you’re at it. Created in part by the Bonneville Flood during the last ice age, the dunes uniquely form from the center of the basin, which has acted as a natural trap for 12,000 years.
3. Banbury Hot Springs and Blue Heart Springs
Start with a soak in the soothing, natural Banbury Hot Springs. After spending the night, rent a kayak and paddle to Blue Heart Springs, a natural oasis with crystal clear, Caribbean blue water surrounded by lava rock walls. You won’t believe you’re still in Idaho.
4. Sun Valley
Sun Valley needs little introduction, but the home of the world’s first chairlift is an incredible summer destination, too. Go for a soak in Frenchman’s Bend Hot Springs, enjoy some fly-fishing with Silver Creek Outfitters along the legendary Silver Creek and wrap it up with some prime rib from the famous Pioneer Saloon and a beer from Grumpy’s in downtown Ketchum.
5. Galena Lodge
Head north from Ketchum to the Galena Lodge. Hike and mountain bike on the nearby trails through the remote, scenic wilderness before spending the night at one of the Lodge’s fully furnished yurts. Just bring your own food to cook.
6. Pine Flats Hot Springs
Head back towards Boise if you plan to finish where you started, but spend a final night at the Pine Flats Campground and Hot Springs. A series of hot springs line the nearby Payette River, where a warm, relaxing soak comes with incredible mountain views near Lowman.
ROAD TRIP 4
Start: Coeur d’Alene / End: Bear Lake
Don’t leave home without the crooked sticks because Idaho is a paradise for golfers. World-class courses with unique layouts in incredible settings are scattered throughout the state. Tee it up and take your best shot.
1. Coeur d’Alene Resort
Kick-off your golf journey with a one-of-a-kind experience at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course. The movable, floating island green on 14—the only one of its kind in the world—requires a boat to reach and hides 11 feet of its structure below the water’s surface.
2. Jug Mountain Ranch
Jug Mountain Ranch was built to showcase Idaho’s natural beauty with the 18-hole course integrating the terrain, water and trees into its design. In addition to renowned aesthetics, Jug Mountain Ranch is noted for offering unbeatable value.
3. Warm Springs Golf Course
A spacious, 18-hole championship course is just minutes from downtown Boise at Warm Springs. The well-shaded course is along the banks of the scenic Boise River and is a perfect place to spend the morning before venturing into Idaho’s cultural epicenter.
4. Sun Valley Resort Golf Courses
Talk about options. Sun Valley Resort near Ketchum has three courses—Trail Creek, White Clouds and Elkhorn—with 45 holes and an endless supply of mountain vistas. You can even catch a glimpse of Ernest Hemingway’s Idahome while hacking it up at White Clouds.
5. Bear Lake West Golf Course
Not every day on the links needs to be hoity-toity and exclusive. Sometimes you just want to hit it around for a half-day in a beautiful place. The nine-hole Bear Lake West Golf Course is the perfect place to do just that while leaving enough time to explore other recreation Bear Lake has to offer.
For more travel ideas, head to visitidaho.org. This feature is part of Salt Lake magazine’s 2021 Travel Series. Read our road trips to Colorado and Wyoming.