Jack Creek Day Hike
Twelve miles east of Ennis, Jack Creek descends out of the foothills of Fan Mountain, and a well-established trail along the stream makes for a fantastic hike. It’s an ideal way to spend a late-spring afternoon, so we pack a bag and jump in the Jeep for a quick adventure in the mountains. The drive up takes us through the hamlet of Jeffers, where a white church sits against a panorama of barley fields and snow-capped peaks. Here we trade pavement for smooth, hard-packed dirt, and we slowly gain elevation as we speed between vast fields of grain. Antelope graze alongside cattle, contentedly munching the native grasslands. We follow the signs for the Diamond J ranch until we catch our first glimpse of the water. We have reached the foothills. Quickly surrounded by steep wooded slopes, we continue up the draw towards the trailhead. We pass a ranch, where horses lazily graze in a green pasture framed by lodge-pole pine forest. We park in a rough grassy lot, and the dog leaps out to race after a ground squirrel.
There is a well-built wooden bridge that marks the start of the trail for our hike. We stride along single-file, crossing the stream only once, but always remaining within earshot. Legend has it the stream gained its name when a cart overturned and an unfortunate donkey met his demise. Today, the creek is swollen and cold from the melt of the snowpack, but it doesn’t keep the dog from diving in for a swim. The Indian paintbrush and columbine dot the hillside with bright reds and pale blues, while a pair of bald eagles glide easily overhead on the updraft. The scent of pine is strong on the breeze as we pause for a drink. Continuing upwards, we pass piles of shale and timber, evidence of past rock slides and winter avalanches. The dog lopes ahead of us, sniffing after the trail of some critter in the bush. We cross a footbridge made from two halves of a split log, minding our balance to avoid falling into the burbling rapids beneath. Small fish, likely young trout, flash between the shadows of half-submerged boulders.
We turn back after an hour of easy hiking when we reach a shallow but un-bridged crossing, electing to keep our feet dry. The slight downhill grade eases our hike back to the car, and we make good time. As we drive out of the canyon, the valley opens before us. An enormous herd of elk sprawls across the bench, an unbroken dark form highlighted against the pale yellow grass. From here it is obvious why they call it Big Sky country. To the south we can see clear into Idaho, the amber benches tapering down to the green ribbon of the Madison River and the town of Ennis below.