Darby Wind and Ice Cave, Grand Teton National Park

Darby Wind and Ice Cave, Grand Teton National Park

While working as an air traffic controller at Jackson Hole, Wyoming (more properly just “Jackson, Wyoming) I was blessed with the best office views in the nation, as seen below. I was also blessed to have a great church family, blood-relatives nearby, an amazing, Peruvian friend, and my beloved mountains. 

—Date of Visit: Mid-to-Late September, 2016

—Notable Features: Aviation Museum, Fossil Mountain, Darby Wind/Ice Cave, Memorial Plaque

—Total Miles: 7.52 miles (with excursions)

—Elevation Gain/Loss:
+/-2786 feet

—Elevation Min, Avg, Max: 7042, 8060, 9283

—General Route: Darby Wind Cave Trail, T-branch up Fossil Mountain, Return

The view from my office’s catwalk.

During the summer, my mom and I hiked a number of great hikes, but with the warmth waning, we decided to do a few jaunts in the Tetons. We visited Paintbrush Pass, some waterfalls in Idaho, and the backside of the Tetons. 

One of our hikes.

We also wanted to see some fossils, so we did a little jaunt to Darby Wind Cave. The trip from Jackson to Darby Wind Cave trailhead takes between an hour to an hour and a half, though I recommend stopping in at Big Hole BBQ in Victor. It’s a pretty delicious little eatery. They say that the seafood tacos are the best, though I’m not hugely fond of fish and water critters, so I can’t offer much of an assessment there.

Mom and I began the trip over Teton Pass under threatening skies, and the weather deteriorated as we journeyed onward. Below is a picture from the Pass as well as pictures of what it looks like to be on the “other” side of the Tetons.

Taken from Teton Pass.



We made a pit stop at the airport in Driggs and checked out the aviation museum, which is a collection of historic jets and props owned by Dr. Sugden, who is also an aviation medical examiner in Jackson. Dr. Sugden is friends with Harrison Ford and flies with him routinely, and he is also married to the gal who owns the King Rang in Texas. (Maybe you’ve seen the King Ranch edition Fords.) Anyway, it’s worth a quick stop and is free. The airport also has a nice little cafe.

The dirt road to the trailhead from town takes maybe 30-45 minutes but is very pleasant and well-maintained. We reached the trailhead in the early afternoon on September 29th and began the quick climb. I’d also done this trip 15 days before with my ATC buddy Chris, and Chris struggled with it, but he’s a big muscle-head, and usually such endeavors are a bit harder for them. I’ll attach pictures from both trips just so that you can see the area in various lighting.

We left the trailhead and quickly crossed the creek. Given that it’s a high-use area, the bridge over the creek is quite nice and also a good places to filter some water if you’re so inclined. On fall days, it’s a really short hike, so there isn’t too much need to get a bunch packed up. The hike then goes through lush boreal forests with ferns.  Half a mile in you’ll come to some huge, fallen boulders which means…it’s time to go uphill! 

While there are switchbacks, most of the going is just steady uphill that I found quite easy and pleasant. Mom and I didn’t need to stop for a breather or anything, but then again, it’s pretty low territory at a max elevation of only about 9,300 feet. 

At the mile-and-a-half mark you’ll find yourself ascending though 7,900 feet and you’ll notice a geologic formation (outcropping) on the left which you’ll have to get over, as it runs the length of the canyon and forms a horseshoe. A switchback mounts over it, from which point you’ll have consistently good views of the canyon walls. By mile 2 you’ll be crossing over exposed rock and beginning to curve right around the horseshoe toward the other side of the canyon, followed by an ascent toward the cave. If you’re like us, you’ll stop and get pictures with the waterfall before heading up to the cave. If you’re like us (both my trip with Chris and my trip with mom), you’ll also be doing this when the sky is pretending to be a waterfall as well. Now if you’re like ME, you’ll change into your military uniform really quick to make it seem like a bizarre expedition.

The entrance to Darby Wind Cave is about 120-feet tall. Watch out for thermal expansion and contraction. A boulder broke loose from the roof and almost hit me. You won’t survive that. Speaking of dying, there’s a memorial for some schoolgirls who were killed by lightning many, many decades ago as they approached the entrance to the cave. 

During the spring, the river that flows from the cave is pretty intense, but in the fall it’s a small creek that disappears into the mass of rubble. As you tackle the entrance, it goes from 120 feet tall to tall enough that you can only crawl on your belly, but it opens and closes off like that quite often, as most caves do. At some point, you’ll encounter a circular hole that you’ll need ropes to traverse. Be careful, as the the cave is labyrinthine. Last year a couple got lost in it and had to cut and burn their own hair for warmth (it’s an ice/wind cave even in summer), as well as their backpacks.   Anyway, mom and I rummaged around in the cave but found no dragons or gold.  You will find fossils in the actual walls of the cave, though, as it’s a part of Fossil Mountain!

We then exited the cave to constant rain, which gave way to snow as we continued to climb. We found a ton of fossils (you may not take them) and eventually made the return trek. We never saw anyone else. Beautiful! 


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

Detailed Explanation:

Beauty. Starting in forests, you ascend through geologic features galore, see fossils, fields, and piles of scree, explore caves and rivers bursting forth from rocks, and even hang out under waterfalls.
Camping spots. There are places to camp if you are doing this as part of a through-hike, but it is so close to the trailhead that I don’t see a reason to park it there. Special restrictions may apply.
Crowds. This is a moderately high-use trail system. I have never encountered others on it, though.
Difficulty. While having a great deal of uphill climb, I feel that this is an easy day hike for people who are in reasonable shape. I consider it the easiest of the hikes I’ve done.
Fishing. None.
History. An interesting plaque that I encourage you to look up the history on.

With love, always,

—Luke

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