Off the beaten path – Swift Creek Trail
Robert Galbreath photos
PINEDALE – Access to the Gros Ventre Range can be a challenge without 4-wheel drive, ATV, or a long weekend of backpacking. Towering above the Hoback River, the jagged facades of Antoinette, Triangle and Tosi peaks beckon backcountry users with spectacular scenery and adventure.
One popular access point is the road leading to Granite Hot Springs. The hot springs are extremely busy, and the washboard road leading to the campground and pool facility is chocked with campers and people fishing.
A smaller parking lot, approximately 7.7 miles up Granite Creek Road, lays on the eastern side of Granite Creek. While the other parking areas near the hot springs were full this weekend, only six cars scattered across the turnaround at the trailheads for Swift Creek and Shoal Creek trails.
I decided to take Swift Creek Trail and only passed a family of four and another lone hiker. My plan was to climb to the trail's highpoint, a small pass below Antoinette Peak where the trail then drops down into the Gros Ventre River basin.
I did not quite make it to my destination. The trail starts at 6,800 feet in elevation and the first mile masks the strenuous climb ahead.
The trail gently rolls along Swift Creek through a burn area, passing a few waterfalls. A hiker can feel the elevation increasing, but the grade remains easy. Vast swathes of Indian paintbrush and fireweed spread out beneath burned-out tree skeletons. A few monument plants rose up and some of the arrowleaf balsamroot still had flowers. Columbine lined the trail further up the canyon.
The trail crosses Swift Creek at a point where mighty granite cliffs become visible.
This is where the real climb begins. In 2 miles, the trail rises 2,000 feet. Many sections are filled with scree and the path winds up steep ridges.
The trail is open to stock, and people had clearly ridden horses up Swift Creek. Personally, I would be very nervous on horseback scrambling up the trail. Then again, I am probably not the best barometer for horsemanship, as everyone in Sublette County seems to ride like they grew up on horseback. I grew up in Wyoming, but I'm a "city boy" and my equestrian experience was limited to a pony and a gentle old gelding.
The canyon is already showing signs of drought this summer. Swift Creek is still running strong, but many of the smaller waterways that usually spill into the drainage are dry. The first time I hiked Swift Creek Trail was October three years ago. Snow banks from the previous winter created an obstacle on higher sections of the trail. The snow is nearly gone this July. If you bring a pet, extra water is a good idea.
The views near the top are well worth the climb. Antoinette Peak dominated the western skyline. Evening sun turned Corner Peak and craggy mountaintops a deep ochre. Below, Granite Creek wound its way toward the Hoback.