Steady as a rock—that’s Island Park.
Of course, when you’re talking about Island Park, that rock is covered deep by
the more than 200 inches of snow that falls each winter in eastern Idaho, home
to this famous riding area.
We say steady as a rock because Island Park
once again checks in at No. 3, the same place it has occupied in last year’s
Top 15 list and due to the fact it’s a perennial top five favorite among SnoWest readers.
The reason Island
Park is such a favorite
among our readers is the area’s broad appeal to riders of every kind of skill
level and ability.
Snowmobiling here can be as easy as a rider needs it to be
or as difficult as any horsepower junkie can handle. And everything in between.
And we mean everything.
For starters there are about 500 miles of groomed trails and
hundreds more ungroomed trails that criss cross just about all of Island Park. The
trails—both groomed and ungroomed can be found at all elevations as well. In
other words, not all trails are on the valley floor. Some reach nearly to the
tops of the mountains in this area, including to the world renowned Mount Two
Top (elevation 8,710 feet).
There are also ridgelines where you get a bird’s eye view of
the giant volcanic caldera (it blew about 1.3 million years ago) where Island Park
is located. The caldera’s south rim is just after you climb the hill out of
Ashton and from there you’re riding essentially in a giant bowl. The only other
remnant of the caldera is the west rim, which is the ridgeline you see to the
west as you drive north through the bowl. The caldera is about 18 miles long
and 23 miles wide.
Still another reason Island
Park is a perennial favorite among
sledders is the very reason most travel to this corner of Idaho—mountains. Who hasn’t heard of Mt. Jefferson
(10,203 feet), where some of the best hillclimbing anywhere can be found, or Mt. Sawtelle
(9,866 feet) and Reas
Peak. We should also
point out that Mount Two Top is actually in Idaho
although most associate this famous viewpoint as being in the West
Yellowstone trail system.
Mount Two Top is just west of the Idaho/Montana border,
which means you can see forever in any direction on a clear day. To the west are
Henry’s Lake, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Sawtelle.
To the north is Targhee Peak (10,300 feet) while to the east is West
Yellowstone, Hebgen Lake and Yellowstone
National Park. Still
looking east and then south are the Tetons. We couldn’t even venture a guess as
to how many photos have been shot from just Two Top alone. Thousands and thousands.
Instead of thinking of Island Park and West Yellowstone as
big competitors, look at them as sharing some of the best riding in the West. The
Continental Divide separates the two areas but they still share many of the
same trails and that only adds to the fun and the experience. All together
that’s about 900 miles of trails. And that rivals any system anywhere,
regardless of whether it’s in the West, Midwest
There are places you’re not going to want to miss when in
the Island Park area. First, there’s the
aforementioned Mount Two Top, where you can see into three states—Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. There’s also Big
Springs, where you can feed the trout or catch a glimpse of a moose or other
wildlife that frequent the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork River.
Or head to Mesa Falls, where you’ll stand right at the
edge of the river as it cascades over an 85-foot drop. You can ride to Cave Falls (east
out of Ashton) inside Yellowstone
National Park or head to
Warm River Springs and see the river come out of the mountain.
Because Island Park is on the west side of the mountain dividing
Idaho from Montana, it manages to get several more inches (up to 75 more) of
snow than does West Yellowstone, thanks to the fact that the storm clouds get
hung up on the mountains before slipping over into West Yellowstone.
Parking lots can be found at various places along Highway
20, as can most of the eating and sleeping establishments. Island Park
can get crowded on the weekends as sledders from all sorts of cities head to
the hills, but hit the area during the week and you’ll see fewer crowds.