I can’t figure out why you’d want to attribute something so beautiful, so uniquely made to the Devil, so why not call it something more appropriate – so much more accurate – the Stairway to Heaven? Because if you aren’t awe-inspired by the view from the top of the Stairway, all you have to do is walk a little further along the trail (which I’ll describe in another post) and I can guarantee you that the views of Alaska Basin will be truly worthy of heavenly places.
The trail to the top of the Stairway to Heaven is only 8.6 miles round trip, making it a quite short dayhike by western-side-of-the-Tetons standards. Going up to the Alaska Basin Overlook adds about 4 miles RT.
The morning we began our hike, it wasn’t particularly nice. We felt several sprinkles of rain while eating breakfast at the trailhead (quite a bit of free camping along the road in, as well as a real campground with a fee not far from the trailhead), but that didn’t deter us – we’d felt sprinkles on several mornings and the days always turned out beautiful (at least in the morning – clouds around noon aren’t uncommon). So we headed down the trail signed for the Devil’s Stairs, Alaska Basin, and Hurricane Pass. This is the wide trail in the middle of the parking area, just to the right of the sign kiosk – you can’t miss the trail, unlike the Face Trail up Table Mountain, which does its best to hide beyond the restrooms.
The trail is quite flat for a bit as it hurries along the creek, slowly becoming narrower (interestingly, no strollers are allowed on this trail – I wonder why?) After a bit, the trail crosses the stream, then begins its first uphill. None of the uphill or downhill is too steep; it’s basically a gently rolling trail through meadows and small forests. The views of Teton Canyon are fine, but not spectacular.
At 2.9 miles from the trailhead, come to a sort-of-well-marked trail junction, signed for Alaska Basin and the Devil’s Stairs. Turn right here on the only-heavily-enough-used-to-stay-open trail, leaving the wide and well-used Alaska Basin Trail behind. Actually, the sign is placed so wrong that all the arrows are off – but turn right near the sign and you can’t miss where to go.
We’d been dodging rainclouds most of the way up the trail, and at this junction, the clouds let loose not only in rain, but also in thunder. We had no interest in getting wet, let alone climbing a mountain during a thunderstorm, so we hid out under the trees (I know, I know, never get under a tree during a thunderstorm…) for two hours waiting for the rain to abate and the storms to move on. We figured we could have a snack to pass the time, so we opened a package of butter cookies with either “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe” stamped into them…why the cookie company did this and what it all “meant” was a rather good topic for waiting out a thunderstorm under a pine tree!
At last the rain stopped and the thunder moved on, so we were able to move on again.
The Stairway to Heaven Trail begins by climbing upward at an alarming rate. It’s not straight up, but it might feel like it! After the rain, the bushes were soaked, and since they all hang into the trail, pretty quickly those in front were going to have their pant legs and shoes soaked, as well. Then one of my group members had a brilliant thought – if those in the front waved sticks in front of them, wouldn’t that knock the moisture off of the plants? Answer: Epically Yes!
Exactly where the Stairway begins isn’t obvious, but after a bit of walking upward through the trees, the trail crosses a small stream and then begins to enter meadows. You’re now hiking up the Stairway to Heaven, and the views improve dramatically. The trail is through more and more meadows, then onto areas of rock. Expect slight scrambling, but nothing much more than Class 1 or Class 2 on the very outside.
Finally, 4.1 miles beyond the trailhead, the trail finally crests the Stairway to Heaven, and immediately splits. Turning left will take you toward the Alaska Basin Overlook and (eventually) the Teton Crest Trail near the Death Canyon Shelf. (Yes, there is a way to backpack a loop with this trail then back through Alaska Basin – or the other way around.) Straight takes you up to the Stairway to Heaven Overlook (not that you can see the Stairway, since you’re on it) and a small lake. We opted to go straight first.
It was a good thing to do. We sat atop the stairs to enjoy lunch. And as we sat there, the sun came out, turning a fine view (particularly of the cliffs behind us) into something totally beautiful!
We saw the lake, then decided to continue along the shelf to try and find another nice view… but that’s a story for another post!
Round Trip Trail Length: 8.6 miles
Lowest elevation: 6,955 ft.
Highest elevation: 8,536 ft.
Net elevation change: 1,581 ft.
Facilities: Primitive restrooms and water at the trailhead. Campground 0.25 miles back up the road.
Trail Notes: The trail up Teton Canyon is fairly flat. The trail up the stairs climbs at an alarming rate; near the top, it’s still a trail, but scree off the trail looks a lot like the scree on the trail, so pay attention (if you’re not too busy gawking at the view, at which point you probably don’t care whether you’re on the trail or not…)
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Key GPS Coordinates
Parking: 43.75578N / -110.91542W (43° 45′ 20.808″ / -110° 54′ 55.5114″) (6,907ft.)
Stairs beginning: 43.75557N / -110.91524W (43° 45′ 20.0514″ / -110° 54′ 54.8634″) (6,955ft.) (0.0; ended 12.75)
Alaska Basin / Devil’s Stairs Trails Junction: 43.72210N / -110.89799W (43° 43′ 19.5594″ / -110° 53′ 52.7634″) (7,415ft.) (2.9; 9.8 on the way back)
Top of Stairs; Trail Junction: 43.71967N / -110.90794W (43° 43′ 10.812″ / -110° 54′ 28.5834″) (8,519ft.) (4.1)
Top of the Stairs Viewpoint: 43.72046N / -110.90877W (43° 43′ 13.656″ / -110° 54′ 31.572″) (8,536ft.) (4.3)
The gpx file for the Stairway to Heaven and Alaska Basin Overlook can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.
Download File size: 183.0 KB Downloaded 37 times
Download File size: 109.3 KB Downloaded 28 times
(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website. Thanks!)
Getting to the Stairway to Heaven Trailhead
From the town of Driggs, Idaho (along Rt. 33), turn east at the stoplight onto East Ski Hill Road (also known as East Little Avenue). This is a left turn if you’re coming from the north (Yellowstone, etc.), a right turn if you’re coming from the south (Jackson Hole). Key Bank and Southby’s will be on the corners of this turn. Drive 6.6 miles, then turn right on Teton Canyon Road. Drive on this road for 4.5 miles — the road is quite passible by passenger cars (I saw a smart car do it), but it has quite a bit of washboard, so we couldn’t get over about 20 mph. You’ll pass a couple of campgrounds and a Boy Scout Camp before you reach the end of the road. This parking area – at the very end of the road – has a large sign by a wide trail stating that it is the Alaska Basin Trail. You’ve arrived! (Note: this is the same trailhead as for the Face Trail up Table Mountain, so expect the parking area to be crowded in the summer.)
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If you want some of the more unknown day hikes in the Tetons – as well as a few of the more popular hikes – this is a good book, with detailed descriptions and good maps of each trail.
Thu Aug 17
Plentiful sunshine. High 77F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph.
Fri Aug 18
A mainly sunny sky. High around 80F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph.
Sat Aug 19
A mainly sunny sky. High 81F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph.
Sun Aug 20
Except for a few afternoon clouds, mainly sunny. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 79F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph.
Mon Aug 21
Mostly sunny skies. High 79F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph.