The Mountain Goat Gallery

High School Butte: The First Hike of the Season

Posted by Jim Steele on April 13th, 2008 filed in Around Town

 High School Butte is one of my favorite after-work hikes. The trail is on the south end of town, you can be at the top in 20 minutes, and you are rewarded with an essentially 360-degree view. In short, it?s the perfect end-of-the-day workout.

The trailhead is on South Park Loop Road between Broadway and Blair Drive. If you?re coming from town, turn west on South Park Loop Road at the Maverik / Loaf ?n Jug / Super 8 stop light. Watch for the trailhead on the north side of the road just east of the four-way stop sign at Blair Drive (by the middle school). The trailhead isn?t marked, but this trail is tough to miss.

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The trail follows a series of switchbacks up the steepest portion of the hike before the grade lessens near the top. The hike is exposed; the tallest thing you will walk past is sagebrush and a few small trees. You gain about 500 feet. The trail is on the south slope, so the snow melts quickly in the spring and it dries out quickly. As a result, not a lot grows on the south slope, so the hill is seeing an erosion problem as flowing water carves gullies during rainstorms and in the spring. To help reduce the problem, I encourage you to use the switchbacks.

From the top, you can see north to the Tetons and the Jackson Hole Airport, virtually all of Jackson, south past Rafter J, and West toward Wilson and the Teton Pass. The view is incredible, especially since you didn?t have to leave Jackson and you only need an hour or so to complete the hike. This is a great evening hike; on a day with a good sunset, the view from High School Butte is unbeatable. Some people jog up the trail for an even better workout. High School Butte is also a popular area for hang gliders.

For the hike down, you have three options.

First, you can go back the way you came.

Second, you can go down the east face and come out by Albertsons, making a loop. The trail isn?t clear the whole way, but it is very obvious where you are trying to go. From Albertsons, follow the highway and South Park Loop Road back to where you left your car. The disadvantage to this option is that you have to fight the traffic along Broadway.

Third, you can follow a smaller trail from the top that goes west, skirting the edge of a forest on the north end of High School Butte, before connecting with an old service road. The trail from the top to the service road is steep. Follow the service road south to its first switchback, then follow a faint trail to one of the switchbacks on the south face of the butte. This loop option is my favorite.

This is one of the first hikes to open up in the spring because the trail is on the south face of the Butte. When I went up on April 11, the trail was mostly dry, although there were a few muddy spots. There was still a snow field at the top, but it was firm and I didn?t posthole. For now, you?ll have to go down the way you came up ? along the south face. Neither of the loop options that I mentioned is feasible yet. This trail remains accessible through November. A few die-hards even go up the trail in the winter.

The only large wildlife I have ever seen on High School Butte is deer. You are more likely to see them exploring the forest on the north end of the Butte.


The Trail

Jackson from the top

The Tetons from the top

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