Words: Andrew Whiteford
Heading out for a mountain bike ride from town, you’re hard pressed to beat the fun and adventure of West Game Creek. Hiding behind Snow King, West Game allows you relatively quick access to the sublime feeling of solitude. In addition to flowing singletrack, significant portions of West Game Creek were burned by wildfires in September 2012, providing for a dramatic backdrop on a ride. However, I’m getting a little ahead of myself, because before you can ride West Game Creek, you’ve got to get up there!
Starting from the Cache Creek Trailhead, we’ll climb about 1,500 vertical feet to Ferrin’s Saddle, tucked to the west of the summit of Snow King. To accomplish this, I generally aim for the path of least resistance and begin by spinning the pedals up Hagen Highway, then left to Ferrin’s Trail. Ferrin’s is frequently used as an out-and-back, but we’ll climb the switchbacks and get occasional glimpses of the Elk Refuge and Tetons through dense conifers. Topping out at Ferrin’s Saddle, we are rewarded with incredible views of the Tetons to the northwest. Relax and snack, and know that the toughest climbing is behind us!
Descending the opposite side of Ferrin’s Saddle, the singletrack ducks in and out of forest before contouring along a hillside. This portion of trail was constructed in the summer of 2013 to avoid the original route, which was a bumpy straight shot badly damaged as firefighters worked to control the human caused fire that burned roughly 2500 acres. The new route enhances the ride and brings us through dramatic sections of the burn. Two years on and flowers and grasses have quickly reclaimed the forest floor, and in the coming years we’ll see the forest continue to regrow. At present, the charred bark of the standing dead trees provides a strong juxtaposition to the vibrant colors of our new growth.
Mule deer and elk graze these meadows and newly opened forests. While extremely rare to see, it’s important to remain alert to the chance of encountering dangerous animals such as black bears, grizzly bears, and mountain lions. These animals are risk averse and generally avoid humans, but it is wise to carry pepper spray just in case. (I’ve never needed to use mine, but it’s gonna be worth it’s weight if I ever have to!) Be alert to your surroundings and not only will you have a safe ride but you’ll also notice so much more than if you’re staring at your front wheel the whole time.
After cruising through several burn zones, we reach an intersection where West Game Creek will climb left, away from the original trail that can lead to Leak’s Canyon (rarely used) or Wilson Canyon (very technical descent). Compared to the earlier climbs in our ride, this ascent is short lived and provides for more varied views as we mix in stands of aspen and open meadows. We’ll pass over a few little false summits before a quick, steep grunt brings us to the top of the West Game Creek descent. A fine spot for another break, you can look as the surrounding forest know that we’re just scratching the surface of all our awesome trails.
Lower your seat and tilt your visor up because the descent starts with a steep and fast drop in before diving into serpentine twists that continue to lose elevation. Traction can range from loamy soil to dry loose rocks, so keep those eyes looking as far ahead as possible to analyze what you’re offered with each new turn. A few root drops mark the end of the steeper section, and we pop out of the dense forest on to more open hillsides. It’s easy to let off the brakes and let your speed ramp up, but use caution! With every entrance back into the trees, the trail seems eager to challenge your guesswork on how sharp any corner might be. As the canyon opens more, we find ourselves cruising through dense willows that benefit from increased water due to the exhaustive work from beavers downstream. Moose frequent this riparian community, so it doesn’t hurt to make a little more noise as the sight lines become shorter. A few bridged stream crossings bring us alongside the beaver ponds and we finally merge with the Game Creek trail.
We can descend Game Creek out to Highway 89 and ride the rec path back to town or we can keep our tires on the dirt and climb left up to Game Creek Divide. While we’ve been on the trail for quite some time, I’d say it’s worth the sweat to add to our already awesome ride. This portion of the Game Creek Trail has been worked on in recent years to provide for more flow and the curves help lessen the grade as well. Once we gain the divide on top of Game Creek, we have a short (1 mile) steep descent through a couple rock gardens that dump us along Cache Creek. Cross the bridge, and head left, towards our starting point that waits at the end of 4 miles of mellow downhill. If you find some energy reserves, you’re free to spend them on the Hagen or Putt Putt trails that border Cache Creek to either side.
The entire ride from the trailhead, up Hagen Highway, Ferrin’s, to West Game, down to Game Creek, up over to Cache Creek and down to the finish will be approximately 18 miles. You’ve been working hard, so hit up one of our awesome restaurants and refuel! Know that while you’ve covered a lot of trails, there are over 100 miles of other awesome mountain bike trails amongst the network you’ve seen, Teton Pass, Munger Mountain, and Teton Village.
For maps and more information on the trails check out www.tetonmtb.com and http://www.friendsofpathways.org/maps/. We’ve also got some awesome bike shops in town like Hoback Sports, The Hub Bicycle Service, and Wilson Backcountry. Intimate knowledge of the trails, supplies, and top notch mechanics can be found in any of these spots, and they can always help suggest a good spot for post ride rehydration!