It was a magical experience that captured heart and imagination.
The hike up the mountain was fairly steep, but I didn’t mind the burning in my legs or my chest. I was too busy gawking at the scenery. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and a bright, yellow sun lit the clear, blue expanse. I was surrounded by fluorescent ferns, and flowers softly rustled in the wind. The trees were tall, and they teemed with vocal birds and chattering chipmunks. The animals were friendly, if a little standoffish; I had a staring contest with a deer, and a brown bear turned tail and headed off when it caught sight of me.
The cave entrance snuck up on me like an invisible giant. Like a lion yawning, an enormous opening in the soft-colored rock wall greeted my view. A waterfall, clear as crystal, fell through the air into the pool at my feet, lightly misting the area. I had finally reached it—the wind entrance to the Darby Ice Caves.
My brothers and I crawled around on the rocks and chased each other for an hour before my father called us together, and we began our descent into the cave. We put on helmets, kneepads, and head lamps, and began our descent. Unlike most caves I’d visited, the air felt fresh—a constant wind through the cave circulated cool air. It felt crisp on my face, but I was glad that I brought gloves.
Traveling through the underground tunnel at the back of the cave was an experience of opposites. For a while we’d crawl on our hands and knees through tight tunnels, pushing our backpacks in front of us, and then the tunnel would suddenly open into a wide chamber. We’d gaze in amazement at multicolored stalactites, carved by ages of water into unique shapes. The world was quiet and peaceful in there—and beautiful.
Our trip into the tunnels ended when, after an hour of hiking, crawling, and climbing, we reached a cliff face that required good climbing gear to ascend. We weren’t planning on making the full trip from the wind entrance to the ice entrance, though many a longing eye looked back at the wall that stopped us and wished we could have gone further. Next time, I’ll be fully prepared, and nothing will stop me from seeing all of the secrets that these beautiful caves have to offer.
The Darby Ice Caves are an exciting, hidden gem of Idaho. Teton County’s website gives the GPS location for the trailhead: 43.6866, -110.9688. If you don’t use GPS to help you travel, the trailhead is twenty minutes outside of Driggs, Idaho, and just south of the Spud Theater. Keep your eyes peeled—it’s easy to miss.
It takes about five hours to reach the trailhead from Provo, Utah, so BYU and UVU students could easily make a long weekend of exploring the beautiful trail up to the caves and the caves themselves. If you want to travel more than a few hundred feet into the underground tunnels, bring warm, waterproof clothes, good climbing gear, and knee pads. I also advise bringing an experienced caver or climber with you, even if they are new to these particular caves.
The first cave, the wind entrance, is at the end of a roughly 1800-foot climb. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. The second cave is a mile further up the mountain, the ice entrance. Most of the year this cave has ice stalactites not too far in.
The wilderness surrounding both caves is gorgeous, and a little further up the mountain than the ice entrance are stretches of mountainside peppered with flowers and ancient coral fossils. Truly, the Darby Ice Caves have something to excite and delight hikers, explorers, and adventurers of all kinds.
Disclaimer: Photos are not of the Darby Ice Caves. Photos were taken from a stock photo site, and were selected to represent the actual look of the Darby Ice Caves as closely as possible. Actual representation is not perfect.