The Mountain Goat Gallery

Signal Mountain

Posted by Jim Steele on February 10th, 2009 filed in Cross Country Skiing

            Signal Mountain makes for an interesting little adventure – you get nice views of the Tetons and the Gros Ventres and could see just about species of wildlife imaginable – but I’ve never been too crazy about hiking to the top.

The Teton Range seen from Signal Mountain on March 11, 2007.

            What strange words to put on a Web site that’s all about hiking. “I’ve never been too crazy about hiking to the top?” What gives?
            Well, a paved road leads to the summit. Why not drive up Signal Mountain, I have reasoned, and save your hiking energies for a trip that is not accessible in even the smallest of cars? My attitude might be different if Signal Mountain was the only hill in the region, but it’s not like there aren’t plenty of other great trails nearby.
            But I have an entirely different philosophy in the winter, when the road up Signal Mountain is closed to all motor vehicles, including snowmobiles. This creates the possibility of a really interesting cross country skiing adventure. You follow the road the whole way, which means that the grade is reasonable. 700 feet of elevation gain and up to six miles of trail later, you’ll be at the top, most likely a little sore but rewarded with really cool views. From Jackson Point, you see part of Jackson Lake and the Teton Range. Continue another half mile or so to the summit and you’ll enjoy a cool view of the Snake River and Gros Ventres.

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            It’s unique to be able to cross country ski to the top of a mountain without having to worry about steep slopes and avalanches. Even better, it’s unlikely that you’ll have much company – I’ve never seen more than a few people skiing to the top. There is sometimes a decent set of tracks, although there’s no guarantee that you won’t be breaking trail. However, Union Wireless maintains a cellular tower at the top and seems to have to access its installation frequently, so it’s not uncommon for there to be snowmobile tracks to ski on. The Park Service does not groom this trail.
            To get to the trailhead, drive to Signal Mountain Lodge. The Inner Park Road is not plowed in the winter, so you have to take U.S. Highway 89/191/287 to Moran Junction, drove northwest about three miles to the Jackson Lake Junction near the Jackson Lake Dam, and then head southwest for three miles to Signal Mountain Lodge. The Inner Park Road is gated just south of the Signal Mountain Lodge area. This is where your trip begins.
            To follow the main trail, ski one flat mile south on the Inner Park Road to the junction with the Signal Mountain Road, which shortly turns north and begins to gradually gain elevation as you climb to the summit. After about a mile, you’ll pass a small pond to your right. From here, it’s a slow, steady grind to the top. You’ll be in forest the whole way, so you don’t get too many chances at a view. However, there are some places where Mount Moran, Jackson Lake and the Willow Flats areas are visible through breaks in the trees, giving you a unique perspective on the northern end of Grand Teton National Park. You’ll also see a variety of animal tracks scampering through the forest. I saw tracks that could have been left by a mountain lion during a late-season hike in early December, along with various others.
            You also have an option for a shortcut. Just south of the gate on the Inner Park Road near Signal Mountain Lodge, the Signal Mountain hiking trail begins. There is a sign, but it could be covered by snow late in the season. You can take this trail, stumble through the forest for about a third of a mile, and then join the Signal Mountain Road at the pond. It’s a tough trail to ski because there is some elevation gain, but you’ll shave about 3.5 miles off your round trip. The savings is possible because the Signal Mountain Road and Inner Park Road essentially parallel each other for a couple of miles.
            You’ll finally emerge from the forest near the top at Jackson Point, which is 200 feet off the main road and offers you a great view of the Teton Range and part of Jackson Lake. You’ll also be able to make out the ski runs on Snow King, Jackson Peak and Sleeping Indian. Although you’re still in the trees, you will be able to get a mostly unobstructed view of the Tetons. The Signal Mountain hiking trail ends here.

Mount Moran rises behind Jackson Lake, viewed from Signal Mountain on March 11, 2007.

            You might think that you’re at the top but the actual summit of Signal Mountain is about a half mile up the road. Initially the road traverses a ridge that offers you views of the Gros Ventres, then reenters the forest. At the summit, you’ll see the Snake River flowing toward Moran below the Jackson Lake Dam, the glacial “Potholes,” Jackson Peak, Sleeping Indian, more of the Gros Ventres, and towards Jackson. You don’t see the Teton Range.

The view of the Snake River from the summit of Signal Mountain, photographed on March 11, 2007.

            At the top, there is an outhouse, a picnic table, and a cell tower. Take some time to enjoy the view while you’re up here – it’s unique to be able to cross country ski to the top of a mountain. The summit is also an interesting place to reflect on the geology of Jackson Hole. You can see the glacial canyons of the Tetons, the moraines they left behind, and the glacial kettles, or “Potholes,” in the flats.
            The trail isn’t steep enough that you can just coast to the bottom, but the trip back will be a breeze compared to the ascent. If you need to warm up when you get back, Signal Mountain Lodge keeps the restrooms in the registration building open throughout the winter.

2 Responses to “Signal Mountain”

  1. jguinn Says:

    have you XC skied Cache to Game? It’s one of my favorite local hikes and bikes, but I have never skied it.

  2. Jim Steele Says:

    Yeah, it’s a great hike and bike ride. I’ve skied up Cache about a mile past the Game cutoff, but I’ve never skied down Game. Skiing Cache is great but you do have to watch out for heavy traffic over the first couple of miles.