Cliff Creek Falls, along with Willow Creek and Monument Ridge, were at one time fairly popular(?) mountain bike trails in the area. The Book, a guide to mountain biking in the Jackson Hole area published in the early 2000’s, included these trails among the thirty-five total suggested rides between Jackson Hole and Teton Valley. This was before the trails on Teton Pass and Snow King had been fully developed and long before Jackson Hole or Grand Targhee resorts had begun building any trails. Since then we’ve gained a lot of great bike purposed singletrack in the region but classics like Cliff Creek are still around and still just as relevant as they were 15 years ago.
The last time I rode this trail was years ago with a couple of really good friends. It doesn’t seem like anything about the place has changed since then. I just wish I could say the same for the people.
Considering that this has probably always been primarily a horseback trail, the terrain is surprisingly very bike friendly, which is not to say that it’s easy. It’s only a 6.25 mile ride from the trailhead to the falls with less than 1,400′ of elevation gain but those stats are a little deceiving. The ride is loaded with steep pitches and technical sections, most of which can be cleared if you’ve brought you’re A game, but be prepared to walk at least a couple of times. You’ll also want to be wide awake for this one as there are a lot of rocks you’ll need to thread tires through and necessary pedal adjustments to be made to keep the trail from grabbing a hold of you. Add a few creek crossings, a large mudslide which the trail has conformed to, a couple of sections so densely vegetated that you’ll feel like your back in ‘Nam, and a 100’ + waterfall at the end and you have yourself a pretty interesting ride.
Before heading out there we made a couple stops along the way and were asked by several people about our destination, all of whom had either never ridden it or hadn’t done so in quite a while. This along with the fact that you have to cover some distance in a vehicle just to reach the place even though there are a lot of very well maintained riding areas much closer to town, gave me the distinct impression that the area would be a ghost town to mountain biking. Turns out not everyone has forgotten about it. On our way out to the falls we passed an inbound couple and after making it back to the vehicles a few hours later we met another solo rider about to set out and we saw a handful of hikers along the way. A lot of the time I’m usually hoping not to see other people on the trail, something about that feeling of having an entire landscape completely to yourself. But in this case I was definitely glad to see that it’s still getting some use.
The turnoff to Cliff Creek from Highway 189/191 is only a few miles past and across from Granite Creek Rd which happens to have some hot springs at the end and makes riding any of the trails in this area that much more awesome. Chris and I made it to the pool and spent a couple hours soaking before heading back to a site I spotted along the river to set up camp for the night.
Anyway, this is a great trail that I would highly recommend riding or revisiting if you haven’t been to in a while. I have a sort of attachment to this one, maybe because it reminds me how things used to be when I was first getting into the sport and exploring all these new places that felt so wild and remote and experiencing all this with really good friends that I never get to ride with anymore.