Four Family-Friendly Hikes Near Star Valley, Wyoming

Nestled between national forests, Star Valley has many great hiking opportunities perfect for families. For those looking for solitude and plenty of signs of wildlife (beaver dams, prints, bird sightings), here are our recommendations for great hikes that can be easily accessed with any type of vehicle (no four-wheel drive needed).

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Packstring Creek Hike (22 miles south of Afton in Bridger Teton National Forest)
About 5 miles south of the Salt River Pass on I-89, a dirt road goes north (a coral is immediately opposite on the south side of the road) and after a few feet it opens to a makeshift parking lot on the left. From the car it’s just a few steps west along the road to the intersection with the Packstring Creek Trail. The beaver activity is quite noticeable; look for signs of chewed trees, beaver dams, and beaver trails at the water’s edge. The trail goes on for miles into the mountains, but we found the first mile or so has a great mix of interesting stream scenery to the left and rocky outcroppings to the right.

 

 

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Strawberry Creek Trail (turn off I-89 between Afton and Thayne)
Look for the Forest Service sign for “Strawberry Creek” heading north on I-89 past Afton, and follow the paved road all the way to a dirt parking area just over a small bridge. For the hike itself we mainly stuck to the dirt Forest Service road and make excursions along the creek from there. The most memorable part of the hike for us was exploring Strawberry Creek itself and viewing the dramatic mountain scenery all around.

 

 

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Near Tincup Creek Historical Marker (Caribou National Forest in Idaho)
We’re not sure of the exact location of this hike, but heading west on Idaho 34 from Freedom, Wyoming, you’ll enter the National Forest and look for a small parking lot and large wooden bridge crossing the stream to your left (if you reach the Tincup Creek historical marker, you’ve gone too far). Just over the bridge the stream splits into a maze of smaller currents, and we spent hours crossing back and forth while exploring the banks.

 

 

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Cottonwood Lake (Bridger Teton National Forest near Afton)
The turn east for Cottonwood Lake is well marked and just south of Afton. The paved road soon turns to dirt, but we found it to be in good condition and definitely passable by two vehicles at once. We didn’t make it all the way to the lake because of snow on the road, but we pulled off at a nice picnic area turn off about 1.5 miles after you enter the National Forest. In addition to the many cottonwood trees all around, expect lots of rocks to climb and streams to explore.

An Elevated Easter

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Is there such a thing as the Easter Elk? While we can’t say for sure, we certainly found lots of Easter cheer as we spent the day out and about in the Jackson Hole area and Grand Teton National Park.

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We started our Easter adventure at the National Elk Refuge, a spot where elk and other wildlife winter before heading for higher elevation when the heat sets in. While the elk were far away from the dirt road that winds through the backside of the refuge, there were plenty of bighorn sheep, ground squirrels, and waterfowl to spot.

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DSC08756We next headed into Grand Teton National Park. The Teton Park Road along Jenny Lake and other sites doesn’t open until May, but Route 89 is open year-round and provides access to Jackson Lake and the border with Yellowstone. We had originally planned to hike part of the family-friendly Hermitage Point Trail that starts at Colter Bay and follows the shoreline of Jackson Lake past some smaller lakes and ponds. However, the lure of sledding under the lodgepole pines was too great. We found a nice spot to picnic at the shores of the still-frozen lake and caught occasional glimpses of the Teton Range as the clouds swirled around them.

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DSC08763DSC08771DSC08775Driving back south through the park back to Jackson, we stopped to take in the views from the Snake River overlook, watch some munching moose, and explore the Craig Thomas Discovery Center. This visitor’s center is very well done, and there were lots of hands-on activities teaching all about the local plants and animals, as well as the unique glacier activity that sculpted the mountains to rise so dramatically directly from the valley floor. The Discovery Center was also in holiday mode, and an inspired snowshoe hare had hidden eggs throughout the building earlier that morning. Although we never were able to uncover any of the eggs, we can certainly say Easter and outdoor spirit abound when you spend the day high above sea level.

Spring Is in the Air

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With the temperature here in Wyoming regularly climbing into the 60’s, it is definitely feeling like spring. To celebrate the official start of spring yesterday, we planned a trip to one of our favorite spring sites, Lava Hot Springs in Eastern Idaho.

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Since we last visited a year and a half ago, the town’s wonderful outdoor spa complex has been our “happy place” whenever we are chilled to the bone (such as when we spent the night on an unheated, overnight train from Serbia to Greece as part of our Eurail adventure). Lava Hot Springs is still as wonderful as we remembered, and the 90 minute drive from Star Valley was a small price to pay for a day of relaxing in the numerous, naturally mineral-rich pools.

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We started with soaking in the “cold” pool (102 degrees), and gradually worked our way up in temperature from there. This time around, the kids proved more adventurous with the largest and hottest pool at the far end of the complex. Instead of just dipping their toes, they all took the plunge into the 112 degree waters. We managed to stay in for a little while, long enough to admire the views and signs of spring all around us.

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As always, our day flew by, and we decided not to stick around after dark to soak under the stars (though it was a tempting thought). As we left Lava Hot Springs we had one last spring surprise. Driving through the next town east, Soda Springs, Five of Hearts spotted a giant jet of water rising above one of the buildings downtown. We pulled into the parking lot behind Main Street to investigate and arrived just in time to catch the end of the hourly eruption of the carbonated springs. It was yet another sign that….wait for it…..spring is in the air 🙂

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What a Difference a Window Makes

It has been a long time since we have enjoyed a rental with such wonderful windows and views. Over the past year we’ve stayed in a few rentals with no windows at all, and many others with protective bars over the windows. We’re all feeling very fortunate to be staying at a house in Wyoming until May that has an abundance of windows with gorgeous views. We’re still getting our schedule back on track after returning to the U.S. and haven’t had much of an opportunity to get out and do our usual exploring. However, catching up on work and school hasn’t felt quite so confined with sunshine streaming in and many opportunities to take in the scenery.

View from the kitchen window.

View from the kitchen window.

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View from the living room.

View from the mater bedroom.

View from the mater bedroom.

 

Stallions and Sledding

DSC08512Now that we are settled into our rental in Western Wyoming, we have been making the most of our rural surroundings and spending as much time as possible outdoors. Admittedly, we haven’t ventured too far (we haven’t lost sight of the house), but there is no real need to. For one, Captain, a neighboring dog, has been paying us daily visits to play in the snow and hunt mice (his idea, not ours).

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There is also plenty to explore just across the street, the site of a large horse pasture. We definitely prefer our horses wild and free, but the kids cannot resist visiting with the mules and horses when they come back to this part of the pasture every 3-4 days. Each kid has made their own equine buddy and makes sure to provide them with the choicest grass from the other side of the fence.

The hill next to the road even makes for a pretty respectable sledding hill, just the right size for sliding without a sled. The Younger Fives even inspired Captain to take a turn sliding down the slope. It turns out you don’t need much to catch up on a long overdue dose of sunshine and fresh air 🙂