Eastern Idaho is heavily agrarian: not just the potato capital of the world, the region is also a big producer of wheat, alfalfa, barley and hops. I'll bet you didn't know Idaho is the country's top-producing barley state. (Fully half of Anheuser-Busch's malting barley comes from Idaho.) And the Gem State is #2 in the production of hops. One wonders if "Beer Grows Here" might be just as appropriate a license plate slogan as "Famous Potatoes."
[Speaking of Anheuser-Busch, the Idaho Falls Budweiser plant processes 300,000 metric tons of barley annually. Fremont, Madison, Bonneville and Jefferson counties - all in Eastern Idaho - are the largest malt barley producers in the U.S. Draw a rough obtuse triangle from Idaho Falls to Ashton to Driggs and back to Idaho Falls to get an approximation of Idaho's barley-sweet-spot.]
At any rate, all those acres of fields under production are especially beautiful in late spring when everything is lush and green. Meaning right about now. Throw in the Teton Range as a backdrop and you've got a pretty sweet landscape.
One of my favorite drives is heading eastbound on Route 33 starting in Sugar City and ending in Tetonia (roughly 35 miles). You won't find this excursion listed in the guidebooks but it's lovely. Tractors, Tetons, and mile after mile of emerald green.
This is hilly country; the elevation steadily increases as you travel out of the Snake River Plain and toward the mountains (from 4900 to 6100 feet). When the road dips and curves it occasionally hides the Tetons from view - but as you climb again they reappear in all their springtime glory, still covered with snow and dominating the skyline. Once you travel far enough east you'll have wonderful views of the Big Hole mountains, too, which are spectacularly green this time of year.
The pot of gold at the end of this country drive is the Teton Valley, nestled between the Tetons to the east, the Big Holes to the west, and the Snake River Range to the south. "The Quiet Side" of the Tetons. Picture perfect.
A few miles after you enter the valley, Route 33 intersects with Route 32. This is roughly the mid-point of the Teton Scenic Byway - which most definitely is listed in the tour guides, and worth exploring.
ThunderheadsThe Teton River cuts a path through the Teton Valley - which is never more lovely than in late spring and early summer, awash in green. Here, thunderheads climbing high into the sky dominate the scene.
Just under 70 miles in length, the byway begins in Swan Valley - home to the South Fork of the Snake River (considered to be one of the finest trout fishing rivers in the country). It'll take you into the Targhee National Forest, then up into the Big Hole Mountains and over Pine Creek Pass. As you begin descending toward the town of Victor you'll catch your first glimpse of the Grand. The route parallels the Tetons through Driggs and continues on to Tetonia.
For an exceptional high-elevation view of some of the tallest peaks in the Teton Range (not to mention a beautiful vantage point from which to take in the breadth of the Teton Valley as well as the Big Holes), consider taking a detour to visit Grand Targhee Ski Resort where you can jump on the chair lift and ride up to the summit of Fred's Mountain.
Ski Hill Road is easy to find. Driggs is a one-stoplight town; Ski Hill is at that intersection. Turn north and follow it to the end. Grand Targhee is actually located in Wyoming so you'll cross the state line into Alta along the way.
A few indoor activities to consider while in Driggs:
Teton Aviation Center's Airplane Museum, which houses aircraft like the Navy FJ-4 Fury and T-2 Buckeye, the Air Force T-28 Trojan, and the Soviet MiG-15 and MiG-17, all of which still fly. I saw the FJ-4 and the MiGs at a local air show a few years ago.
Teton Valley Historical Museum (10am-5pm Tuesday thru Saturday)
Grand Teton Vodka Distillery (make an appointment for a tour)
Back on the byway, there are many lovely, expansive views of the western slope of the Tetons between Tetonia and Ashton. In this area you'll also see dryland farms - meander around on side roads and you'll be treated to some lovely landscapes with fields free from irrigation equipment.
Route 32 terminates on the outskirts of Ashton. Should you be in the mood for further exploration, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway starts here. I'll save that for another post.
They say you can traverse the Teton Scenic Byway in 2.5 hours but why in the world anyone would want to complete it so quickly is beyond me.
Especially with fuel costs in the stratosphere, it's a bonus when the mileage delivers something special. These are two country drives that won't disappoint.
Keywords: Big Holes, Driggs, Grand Targhee, Idaho, Teton Scenic Byway, Teton Valley, Tetonia, Tetons
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