Teton Valley, Idaho
The west side of the Tetons differs dramatically from nearby Jackson Hole. As the road descends from Teton Pass into Teton Valley, Idaho (a.k.a. Pierre’s Hole), the lush farming country spreads out before you, 30 miles long and 15 miles across. This, the “quiet side” of the Tetons, offers a slower pace than bustling Jackson, but the Teton Range vistas are equally dramatic.
In recent years the growth in Jackson Hole has spilled across the mountains. The potato farms, horse pastures, and country towns are now undergoing the same transformation that first hit Jackson in the 1970s.
As land prices soar and affordable housing becomes more difficult to find in Jackson, more people have opted to move over the pass and commute from Idaho. Glossy ads now fill Teton Valley Magazine, offering ranchland with a view, luxurious log homes, cozy second homes, private aircraft hangars, espresso coffee, mountain-bike rentals, and handmade lodgepole furniture.
Despite these changes, Teton Valley remains a laid-back place, and spud farming is still a part of the local economy. The primary town here—it’s the county seat—is Driggs, with Victor nine miles south and tiny Tetonia eight miles north.
The area now known as Teton Valley was used for centuries by various Indian tribes, including the Bannock, Blackfeet, Crow, Gros Ventre, Shoshone, and Nez Perce. John Colter—a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition—was the first white man to reach this area, wandering through in the winter of 1807-1808. In 1931, an Idaho farmer claimed to have plowed up a stone carved into the shape of a human face, with “John Colter 1808” etched into the sides. The rock later turned out to be a hoax created by a man anxious to obtain a horse concession with Grand Teton National Park. He got the concession after donating the rock to the park museum.
Vieux Pierre, an Iroquois fur trapper for the Hudson’s Bay Company, made this area his base in the 1820s, but was later killed by Blackfeet Indians in Montana. Many people still call the valley Pierre’s Hole. Two fur trapper rendezvous took place in Pierre’s Hole, but the 1832 event proved pivotal. About 1,000 Indians, trappers, and traders gathered for an annual orgy of trading, imbibing, and general partying. When a column of men on horseback appeared, two white trappers headed out for a meeting.
The column turned out to be a group of Gros Ventre Indians, and the meeting quickly turned sour. One trapper shot the Gros Ventre chief point-blank, killing him. A battle quickly ensued that left 38 people dead on both sides and forced rendezvous participants to scatter. Later rendezvous were held in valleys where the animosities were not as high. For the next 50 years, virtually the only whites in Pierre’s Hole were horse thieves and outlaws. Hiram C. Lapham was the first to try his hand at ranching in the valley, but his cattle were rustled by three outlaws, including Ed Harrington, alias Ed Trafton.
In 1888, a lawyer from Salt Lake City, B. W. Driggs, came to the valley and liked what he found. With his encouragement, a flood of Mormon settlers arrived in the next few years, establishing farms along the entire length of Teton Valley. By the 1940s the valley was home to a cheese factory, sawmills, a railroad line, and numerous sprawling ranches. Teton Valley’s population plummeted in the 1960s, but in 1969 development began at Grand Targhee Ski Resort, and the economy started to turn around. Recent years have seen the area come into its own as tourism-related businesses began to eclipse farming and ranching. Over the last decade or so the valley has boomed, making Teton County, Idaho one of the fastest-growing counties (on a percentage basis) in the nation.
Teton Valley Recreation
Outdoor enthusiasts will discover all sorts of activities at all times of the year in the Driggs area. The Teton River runs the entire length of Teton Valley and is renowned among fly-fishing enthusiasts, canoeists, and bird-watchers. A plethora of hikes can be found both to the east in the Tetons and to the west in the Big Hole Mountains. The Forest Service office in Driggs has details on other hiking options if you’re looking for a less crowded experience.
The nonprofit Friends of the Teton River (36 E. Little Ave., 208/354-3871, www.tetonwater.org) works to preserve the Teton Basin.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS, 166 E. 200 S., 208/354-8443, www.nols.edu) has an office off the main road south of Driggs; headquarters is in Lander, Wyoming. The Driggs office—housed in an old Mormon church—runs summertime backpacking and whitewater training, plus backcountry skiing classes in the winter. Courses last 2-3 weeks.
Kids and their parents will appreciate the Driggs Town Park, with an attractive playground and sprinklers that make for impromptu summer fun. It’s on Ashley Street. A paved bike path parallels Highway 33 between Victor and Driggs, providing a pleasant running, cycling, or inline skating opportunity. A wide bike lane heads east from Driggs all the way to the Targhee Resort. The nonprofit Teton Valley Trails & Pathways (208/201-1622, www.tvtap.org) has online maps showing local routes.
Peaked Sports (70 E. Little Ave., 208/354-2354 or 800/705-2354, www.peakedsports.com) rents mountain bikes, bike trailers, and kayaks in the summer, along with skis, snowboards, and snowshoes in the winter. Stop by for a helpful biking map ($12) of the area.
High Peaks Health and Fitness Center (50 Ski Hill Rd., 208/354-3128, www.highpeakspt.com) has $10 day passes.
The Links at Teton Peaks (127 N. 400 W., 208/456-2374) is a Scottish-style nine-hole golf course.
Horseback rides and pack trips are available from Dry Ridge Outfitters (208/354-2284, www.dryridge.com) or nearby Grand Targhee Ski Resort (in Alta, 307/353-2300 or 800/827-4433, www.grandtarghee.com). For horseback rides and winter sleigh rides, head to Linn Canyon Ranch (130 E. 600 S., 208/787-5466, www.linncanyonranch.com).
Bagley’s Teton Mountain Ranch (265 W. 800 S., 208/787-9005 or 866/787-9005, www.elkadventures.com) raises more than 100 elk as breeding stock and for their antlers. It offers summertime wagon rides and wintertime sleigh rides among the elk for $9, plus horseback rides (starting at $35 for a one-hour ride).
Teton Aviation Center (208/354-3100 or 800/472-6382, www.tetonaviation.com) is best known for its scenic glider flights ($250 for a one-hour flight) past the Tetons, but it also offers airplane rides and has an impressive collection of vintage military aircraft.
Teton Balloon Flights (208/787-5500 or 866/533-6404, www.tetonballooning.com) offers one-hour hot-air balloon flights over Teton Valley for $265 per person in the summer.
Teton Valley Events
The main summer event, the Teton Valley Summer Festival (208/354-2500), comes on Fourth of July weekend. Highlights include hot-air balloon launches (more than 40 balloons) and tethered rides for the kids at the airport, a parade and crafts fair in Victor, a rodeo in Tetonia, arts exhibits, a pig roast, live music, and evening fireworks in Driggs.
Grand Targhee Ski Resort pulls out the stops for the always-popular Targhee Bluegrass Festival (307/353-2300 or 800/827-4433, www.grandtarghee.com) in mid-August, with nationally known acts. The music attracts a throng, so make camping or lodging reservations well ahead of time.
In mid-August, the Teton County Fair (208/354-2961) brings down-home fun with livestock judging, arts and crafts, quilts, and pies, jams, and other fare on display.
On Thursday evenings in July and August, Music on Main (208/201-5356, www.tetonvalleyfoundation.org) brings free concerts (two bands nightly) to Victor City Park. This is a surprisingly big deal, attracting nationally known acts.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition