Togwotee, for me, has always been one of those mystical riding meccas. When I was younger and limited to riding local areas, it seemed like everyone was always talking about Togwotee. Deep snow this and steep mountains that … my first mental images of the place were like something out of a Himalayan documentary—without the yaks.
Togwotee is nestled in the shadows of Angel Mountain in the Teton National Forest. And while Togwotee Mountain Lodge can be pinpointed on a map, the Togwotee riding area spans an area more than 35 miles north to south and 50 miles east to west. And that’s just the area you can ride straight from the lodge. Were you ambitious enough to trailer east toward Dubois, the riding opportunities expand even greater.
Just 48 miles north of Jackson Hole, WY, Togwotee attracts a wide variety of visitors to its vast riding grounds. After all, Grand Teton National Park and the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park both lie between Jackson and Togwotee. Just a couple of reasons why Togwotee is such a popular spot on the vacationer’s map.
Togwotee is a one-size-fits-all wonderland. There are 675 miles of trails in the Togwotee system—600 of them groomed. They lead through every type of terrain imaginable. The simple trail names, legible map and excellent signage make for easy navigation through this northwestern Wyoming region. (Trails are named by letters and are color-coded for simplicity.)
There are plenty of parking areas between the Teton National Park border and Dubois along U.S. Highway 26/287. And due to the trail system’s design and the lay of the region, parking near your riding destination is fairly simple.
Breccia Peak stands at 11,010 feet and Grouse Mountain at 10,337, though most of the trails stay closer to 9,000 feet. But if that’s not an indication as to the off-trail riding available among the groomed trails, you’re not reading between the lines. Togwotee may have 675 miles of trails to brag about, but its ace in the hole is what’s not seen from a marked trail.
That’s where my recent trip to Togwotee comes into the story (you didn’t really expect me to go on and on about the trail system, did you?). I met up with professional tour guide Scott Edwards, who works at Togwotee Mountain Lodge, last January. Not having ridden Togwotee enough to know my own way around, I expected Scott to show me the back forty—the side of Togwotee I’d always heard about.
In For A Ride
As is typical of winter in Togwotee (even on a bad year), there was a foot or two of fresh powder in the hills. Scott started our day heading east on the north side of Highway 26/287. Now, there is an important bit of information to keep in mind if you go to Togwotee and explore the area without a guide: there is a Wilderness boundary about three miles north of the highway. The border is marked by Angle Mountain and the Breccia Cliffs on the west side of Togwotee Pass. On the east side, the Continental Divide marks the boundary. Check it out on a map before you head out. However, as Scott showed me, there is still some fun country between the boundary and highway. If you find a decent vantage point near Lost Lake, you can see Breccia Peak and Simpson Peaks in the Wilderness area.
Scott took us below the Breccia Cliffs until we neared Togwotee Pass. Back on the south side of the highway, we were no longer limited by Wilderness boundaries. You can pretty well ride until you’re out of gas before you’ll run out of room. In fact, it would take the better part of a week’s vacation to cover the bases of the Togwotee/Continental Divide system. Scott and I rode most of the day and barely made a dent, though we were after the higher play areas.
Somewhere off in the hills southeast of Togwotee Mountain Lodge, Scott and I hit upon a series of open meadows and hillsides—untracked even. I was surprised, especially since the lodge seemed somewhat full and sleds were buzzing around the parking area in the morning like crows on road kill. I kept expecting to come across some massive group of tourists tracking up the pristine powder, but we never saw any. In fact, we rode from mountain to mountain, crossing open drainages and gigantic playgrounds one after another without seeing a single rider. I’m still not sure if Scott was showing me the secret places that guides go to on their days off, or if Togwotee is so expansive that you can literally have hundreds of acres to yourself at a time—no matter how many other sleds might be buzzing around the trails.
At one point, we rode through a high meadow blanketed with powder until we reached a cliff overlooking Squaw Basin a thousand feet below. I stepped to the edge and gave my best awestruck look as Scott named off mountain ranges in the distance. We could see the Big Horns, Wyoming Range, Salt Rivers and Tetons. Squaw Basin lies between us and Lava Mountain on the Continental Divide. The valley spread out and crawled up various canyons until it was overtaken by trees.
South of that overlook, we dropped back down through a forest of mature trees until another riding playground opened up. This area had all the goodies: a low basin, tall, rolling ridges that went for miles, steep mountain sides and big high mountain bowls. You could start at the bottom of the basin, pick a ridge and spend 10 minutes following the backbone of it to the 10,000-foot mark. The trees are big enough and spread out enough that you can pick a line and go and go and go. If you want steep stuff, it’s here somewhere.
Scott and I worked our way southwest, across Grouse Mountain and down Dry Lake Creek until we hit South Fork and K trail. K trail was as far south as we made it that day, and, as the crow flies, we were only 10 miles south of Togwotee Mountain Lodge. Already I had sampled enough country to keep me occupied for a three-day weekend.
If you’re going to ride the Togwotee area, you might as well do yourself a favor and stay at Togwotee Mountain Lodge. Sometime in 2002, Cowboy Village was purchased by the owners of Brooks Lake Lodge. The new owners changed the name back to Togwotee Mountain Lodge. This past spring, the new owners renovated the bathrooms in the lodge guest rooms. The hot tubs were moved from the room next to the main entrance to an upstairs room with a view of the Tetons.
Outside, the resort features 54 log cabins, most of which have their own fireplaces. Each cabin has a kitchen and bathroom, and can accommodate six people. All together, Togwotee Mountain Lodge has 89 total rooms—plenty of room for its average 240 weekend winter guests.
Grizzly Steakhouse handles the on-site dining needs, while the Red Fox Saloon provides evening entertainment. There is a fireside room with pool tables and plenty of room to talk about your ride. A pavilion out among the cabins is large enough for 100 people. With catered meals and two hot tubs of its own, the pavilion is the ideal spot for a large group gathering. There is a snowmobile and clothing rental shop as well as gas station with a small plethora of parts, clothing and accessories, including a line of safety and avalanche preparedness products. A gift shop inside the lodge provides out-of-state registrations at the standard fee.
The rental outfit has 10 guides at service for both trail and backcountry guided rides. Togwotee Snowmobile Adventures in Jackson staffs 6-8 additional guides. The adventures service provides tours through Yellowstone National Park, Greys River area, Granite Hot Springs and the Gros Ventre Range.
Simply stated, Togwotee is a self-contained snowmobiling nation. If what you need isn’t at hand, it’s no more than 40 minutes away. The terrain and riding opportunities can’t be beat. And while Togwotee might not be exactly like the Himalayas, you can rest assured you won’t need to rent a yak. (Though I’m sure someone in Jackson could arrange for one.)