Snake River Range


The Snake River Range is an exceptionally beautiful area in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. It runs from northwest to southeast encompassing an area between Hwy 31 (Idaho) and Hwy 26 (Wyoming). It is bordered on the southwest by the Snake River / Palisades Reservoir and on the northeast by Hwy 22 (Teton Pass) which runs from Victor ID to Wilson, WY.

Locals call this area the Palisades backcountry, and the roaded areas are popular with the weekend crowds out of Idaho Falls. Unlike the Big Holes to [img:247428:alignleft:medium:Ferry Peak above the Snake River Canyon]the northwest, there much greater limits on motorized travel here. Large canyons stretch from southwest to northeast with large streams in the bottoms. Pine, Rainey, Palisades, Big Elk and Indian Creeks are the largest with many smaller ones mainly draining into the Snake River. A few streams on the northeast side drain into the Teton River. A particularly rugged and beautiful area borders Hwy 26 between Alpine and Jackson WY.

Hiking and climbing / scrambling opportunities abound. Big game such as moose, elk and mule deer are common. Black bear are occasionally seen and even the odd Grizzly now and again.

There are even a couple of craters formed from a meteor impact in the Little Elk Creek/Sheep Creek bench area.

A person could lose themselves for weeks here and never retrace their footsteps. A very special place indeed.


Very similar to the Big Holes, the Snake River Range lies within the Idaho-Wyoming thrust belt, with the Absaroka thrust cropping out about half way up highway 31 toward Pine Creek Pass. This regional structure puts Paleozoic on Mesozoic rocks..

The sedimentary formations of the thrust belt were folded and broken much like a thin layer of wet cohesive snow ahead of a snow shovel. The results are geologic folds with amplitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet and thrust faults which move layers over one another with up to 50 miles of displacement. [img:201589:alignleft:medium:Blowout]

The Snake River Range is composed mainly of sediments ranging from the Devonian to Cretaceous. These sediments plus steep slopes combined with wet seasons can produce slides. There have been several large slides in the past. Both the lower and upper Palisades lakes were created from slides. Blowout Canyon contains a very large slide and debris field that looks like it happened yesterday, but in fact is a few thousand years old.


Early Natives
Prehistoric inhabitants were highly mobile. These individuals took advantage of ripening plants and migrating game animals. Prehistoric natives also needed an intimate knowledge of the landscape and the behavioral patterns of game animals. However, anthropologists theorize that wild game, though necessary to the prehistoric diet, was less predictable and, therefore, of secondary importance. By contrast, the great quantity of edible and medicinal plants was vital to the survival of these people.

The areas earliest humans utilized the Snake River Plain to survive winters and moved into the mountains in the early spring, then moved to higher elevations during the summer and early fall to follow ripening plants. Root crops included spring beauty, bitterroot, Indian potato, biscuit root, and fawnlily. All of these plants have fleshy taproots, corms, or bulbs, are available throughout the spring and summer months, and continue to bloom just behind the receding snows at subsequently higher elevations.

A trail used by these people started in the lower elevations of the Snake plains and followed ridges south and east into Wyoming. They migrated back and forth, dictated by the seasonal changes of a year. Arrowheads and teepee rings can be "found" if you know where to look.

This area saw the Astorians pass through in the early 18th century and other trappers later plied the rivers and streams to supply the booming fur trade.

Early Settlers to Present
[img:201768:alignleft:small:Before and After]
Mormon settlers farmed rocky ground next to this range in the late 18th to early 19th century. Cattle grazing was perhaps more profitable as they let the animals graze into the high country (a practice that is now restricted to certain areas).

A large earth filled dam was built in the 1950s (Palisades Dam) controlling the spring runoff and creating a large body of water behind it to use downriver for irrigation. It also serves fishing and boating recreationists.

The Swan Valley area is now being bought up by the rich and turned into small individual ranches with million dollar homes. Still, few people venture into the backcountry, Palisades Creek being the most used. Hopefully the pristine nature of this area will remain for those who do visit.

Red Tape

No permits are required to hike and climb here.

There are some resrictions on fishing in the Snake, such as catch and release and barbless hooks. Big Elk Creek is used by spawning Kokanee Salmon and there may be a limited or no fishing statute.

Check Your Regulations...

Camping / Lodging

There are many Campgrounds in the area, Palisades, Big Elk, Blowout, Alpine. The stretch of road between Alpine and Hoback Junction also has several Campgrounds.

Many Bed and Breakfasts are to be found in the Swan Valley area and a couple of Motels in Alpine WY.

But it is the backcountry that offers 5 star accommodations. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Other Recreational Activiries

Excellent Fishing and Boating are to be found in both the Palisades Reservoir and the Snake River.

White Water Rafting can be found in the Snake River above Alpine in the Snake River Canyon, a very exciting wild stretch of this river.

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

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brendon - Oct 26, 2006 4:57 pm - Voted 10/10

Great road and trail maps

The Palisades Ranger District has a page of downloadable maps of the district, which includes the Big Holes and Caribous

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