GET OUT: Game Creek (not that one)

By on October 29, 2013
Looking back at mouth of Game Creek from high on top.

Looking back at mouth of Game Creek from high on top.

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – I’m going to tell you a secret. You can’t tell anyone. Promise?

If you want to see wildlife, especially bears, I can put you on them, practically guaranteed. Go up Game Creek.


Now for those impatient, ungrateful and undeserving slobs who took off and didn’t keep reading, let me elaborate. This Game Creek is in Idaho. It’s not the oft-travelled Cache connector that gets pounded so hard by dogs and bikes that the game has fled. This Game Creek is the forgotten doppelganger, the Dorian Gray of Jackson Hole’s Game Creek. For every critter that can’t be found in the Game Creek south of us, three pop up in its place over the hill.

When I was there I was literally surrounded by black bear. Scat was everywhere. Bear hair hung from low tree branches where it was scraped off the backs of bruins. I could smell them. Before long I saw one, two, six before I got out of there.

 Bear bait

If that’s your thing, bear watching, I’m sure the publishers of Planet Jackson Hole would like to take this opportunity to run a disclaimer that they are not responsible for the removal of your carcass. Leave a note on your windshield when you park at the Deer Run Road trailhead. Leave the keys somewhere they can be found. Can I have your mountain bike?

Black bear scat

Black bear scat

Head up the Game Creek trail. Feeling impatient? OK, quit the trail after a mile, just past the state line sign telling you you’ve entered Wyoming, and bust your hump up a steep draw on your left. Keep your head on a swivel when you top out – you’re in bear country. Need an exact location? GPS it at 43° 35.578’N; 111° 2.632’W.

There is a flat area on top – half in cover, half not – perfect bear habitat. The dimple on top seems to provide a good pocket of protection from the elements. Maybe that’s why bears like it up there. I’m not sure why, but this ridgeline between Game Creek and Sweet Hollow to the north is jackpot city for black bear. Better chance to see them in the spring. Like, June.

 More hiking

Just feel like stretching your legs? Keep hiking up the Game Creek trail. It’s practically flat for the first four or five miles. A footbridge at the beginning of the trail looks unnecessary until you’ve seen the spring runoff. Wow, can this canyon rage. A mile in there is another crossing. It is a tough one in high water. Soon after that, the trail ducks into a brushy spot with another crossing, this time a small, unnamed tributary rill from the east.

Keep plugging. At exactly two miles in you’ll come to the North Fork turnoff to the left. This two-mile trail is one of the gamiest in the region, I promise. When wildlife feel crowded and pressured, they love to hole up in spots like this because it’s a high, hanging canyon, heavily wooded and spring fed. It gets very little human traffic. Critters feel safe in here.

The entire two-mile run of the north fork will take you just south of Baldy Knoll and the wilderness boundary. There used to be an old two-track jeep trail here. There still is, but I’m pretty sure you are not allowed to drive on it anymore. It originates from 525S near Fox Creek.

The south-facing hills up here are a little sparser, allowing deer and elk to sun themselves in the morning. They then graze their way to the bottom spring, drink and hunker down in the gnarlier north-facing woods.

Staying on Game Creek, there is a chance to jump out, up and over to Plummer Canyon via the South Fork trail at the 2.75-mile mark.

For even more remoteness, keep going. At 4.5 miles, there is a canyon on your left. No trail. Head up and straight toward the massive Housetop Mountain (10,537 feet). The elevation gain is gradual across the 1.4 miles. You’ll top out around 9,500 feet, boxed in with nowhere to go. And somewhere in here, I promise you will see wildlife.

About Jake Nichols

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