GET OUT: Jade Lakes

By on July 16, 2013
Jade Lake’s stunning waters beckon hikers and skinny dippers. (Jake Nichols)

Jade Lake’s stunning waters beckon hikers and skinny dippers. (Jake Nichols)

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – When it’s hot like it’s been, I like to hunt a mountain lake or two … or three. Come with, we’re headed for the photogenic Jade Lakes and, if you’ve the notion, further on to Upper Brooks and Rainbow lakes.

It’s cooler and there are fewer bugs at 9,532 feet (elevation of Upper Jade Lake) and a refreshing dip in the emerald green waters will put a skip in your step for the return trip. All told, the Jade Lake loop covers 5.25 miles with one short stretch of elevation gain. An additional out-and-back to Upper Brooks and Rainbow will top your pedometer at close to 8 total miles, unless you find the easy-to-miss cut-off to Lower Jade marked by its outlet creek.

Upper Jade is the more picturesque of the twin lakes that abut the Continental Divide north of Sublette Peak. Some hikers opt for a “quickie” and head to this lake only. It’s an easy 3.5-mile run that will take you all of a couple of hours, including the mandatory skinny dip.

I might suggest camping at the Brooks Lake campground, but I won’t. The last time I was there an elderly volunteer couple ran the campgrounds like Stalin. They gave me grief for having dogs off-leash, claiming they could attract bears into camp even though they were both sound asleep under my trailer at the time. I told them if a bear came into camp I would shoot it. They called the sheriff and a deputy drove all the way in from Dubois to tell me to cut the geezers from Indiana some slack.

Also, soft-sided tent camping is currently banned in that area for frequent bear activity. It’s possible you could run into one on the Jade hike, but this time of year and during the heat of the day it is not terribly likely.

Green means go

The trail begins at the campground near the boat ramp. Incidentally, I’ve never had much luck fishing the enormous Brooks Lake. It always seems to be windy, and I think it gets hit pretty hard between the campers and Brooks Lake Lodge guests. The first three-quarter mile is out in the open and flat. Then the pull starts. You will climb 500 feet in exactly a mile. Not torturous, but you’ll work up a sweat.

Upper Jade pops into view without warning. Its name will be immediately evident as the emerald-green waters are stunning and contrasted by the grey stonewall backdrop. It was clear after comparing photos of the lake from my 2004 and 2008 visits that pine beetle kill around the lake has been significant. Lower Jade is less “jadey” and sits 150 feet below Upper and about a tenth of a mile to the northeast. A lesser-trod trail takes you there and loops you out into the open meadow of Brooks Lake Creek.

From there you could stray north up toward Bear Cub Pass and check out Upper Brooks Lakes and Rainbow Lake. They aren’t much to look at, honestly. Rainbow is shallow, swampy, weedy and warm to swim in. Upper Brooks is a yawner.

The trek to the Jades is fairly popular, though I have yet to see a horse rider or too many fellow hikers in three trips there. I think the Jades fish pretty well, (a bald eagle was having success the last time I was there) but I’ve only tried once and grew quickly agitated at the lack of good spots to cast from.


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