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Intermittent Springs

Intermittent Springs: Another Lesser Seen Regional Waterfall

The World’s Largest Intermitting Spring — only 75 miles from Jackson

Wyoming has numerous little known gems. Intermittent Springs is one of them! We’ve lived in Jackson Hole for 29 years and I never knew it was there.

Springs SignAfter seeing the roadway sign in downtown Afton, I did some Internet searches and knew I needed to make the trip. Other than a few photos I found online, I didn’t know much about what I might find. My recent trip was intended as a reconnaissance mission, arriving at noon on a sunny day. That’s far from my ideal time of the day for photography.  As it turned out, the entire trip was filled with little gems — not just the Spring itself! After making the impromptu trip, I now know I want to go back in more favorable conditions for photography.

Technically, I guess it is a cascading spring and not a waterfall, but when viewed as a whole, it looks a lot like one. On the day I went, the upper section of the Spring remained in shadows, so photography was tough. I think the shoot would be much better on an overcast day, very early in the morning, or late in the evening. Possibly the rest of this page will help you get the most out of your visit! The sites I found online about Intermittent Springs all said to go there in August or later to see the intermittent action. From what I understand, if you go early in the year, you may only see a continuous flow of water. Even then, it would still be very impressive!

Canyon Walls

The entire area is amazing, and totally unexpected! Swift Creek tumbles down much of the five mile gravel road from Afton. Impressive granite walls line both sides of the narrow canyon in most areas with lush vegetation adding color and diversity. Fall is just around the corner and I’m going back!

Area Map

Afton is 70 miles South of Jackson. Many people drive through the town on their way to and from Jackson and Salt Lake City. Watch for the signs along the highway in Afton to get you headed in the right direction. The parking area is roughly 5 miles east of town on 2nd Ave. If you happen to get confused by conflicting names, the spring is sometimes referred to as “Periodic Spring” as seen on the map above. The trail marker identifies it as Intermittent Spring. The gravel road is open from May 1st to December 1st. I don’t know if you can still hike or bike into the area when the gates are locked.   Since the Spring runs essentially north and south in the canyon, it will be in shadows both early and late in the day. The lay of the land could allow a photographer to get an even exposure and try out some long exposures. Next time!

Shawnee Falls

Intermittent Spring is the big headliner, but there are two additional waterfalls on the way up. Shawnee Falls is tough to see because of the roadside trees and shrubs, but it’s definitely worth looking for anytime. Imagine this shot with oranges and yellows of Fall! This trip was taken during the days of thick smoke in the region from some of the western wildfires. Hopefully, it will be much clearer next trip.

Janee Falls

Janee Falls tumbles off a canyon wall just up the road from Shawnee Falls.

Swift Creek

There are a couple of picnic tables and a restroom at the parking area. A sign just upstream from the parking area informs visitors of the 3/4 mile hike to the base of the spring. Swift Creek runs alongside the pathway. The path is wide and gravel covered with a gentle incline. The last 60 feet or so before the bridge over Swift Creek takes a little navigation through some laundry basket sized boulders.

Bridger National Forest Sign

Once across the bridge, you’ll find this well worn sign next to another shaded picnic table.

Spring Sequence 1

The Spring runs for 18-20 minute intervals, then slows down for roughly the same period. At least when I was there on August 20th of 2015, “some” water was flowing down the boulders at all times. I don’t know if it ever completely dries up during the off periods?

Spring Sequence 2

This group of three shots was originally taken in the vertical orientation, but to show the pulsing spring, I cropped the images for this post.

Spring Sequence 3

Within a minute or so, a wall of water begins cascading down the boulder field and onward several hundred yards into Swift Creek at the bottom.

Intermittent Spring

This shot was taken at about halfway up the cascades as the water made it’s way towards me. The sound of the tumbling water intensifies for a while, then gradually lulls. A trail continues up the canyon where people can see the actual opening where the water emerges from the hidden cavities. Several of the sites I found stated the last part of the climb can be treacherous. While there, I saw several people climb up and then disappear. I was there by myself and had a backpack full of lenses and a tripod, so I didn’t attempt it this time. I saw an older couple slide down one section on their butts. They told me it felt too dangerous to try to navigate over the loose gravel and steep terrain.

Creekside Wildflowers

In between pulses of the spring, there are plenty of additional subjects worth exploring.

Butterfly

I saw a few critters like Chipmonks and Ground Squirrels, but no big game in the middle of the day. Insects and bird sounds were common, including the hissing of Cedar Waxwings feeding on the berry bushes.

The trail down

When I walked up to the Springs originally, it was already in the middle of a new surge. I hung around for two more before heading back down on the gravel path.

Clear Pool

I hiked the path with my photography gear this time, but the fishing looked promising. After making it to the van, I headed back down the gravel road. There was another pool with lots of trout milling around in the clear water. I pulled out the fly rod. After about 30 minutes of frustrating fishing, I figured out what they were interested in eating. I caught quite a few and lost a bunch more. They were all 12″ Snake River Cutthroats, reportedly stocked by the Game and Fish.

Nanny and Kid

The drive to and from Afton will take you through the Snake River Canyon. Watch for wildlife, especially the Mountain Goats near the mouth of the canyon. In recent years, they have been most common in December, February and March but I hear reports of people seeing them off and on all year. The area between Alpine and Afton is mostly agricultural with the Salt River running through most of it. I saw numerous Osprey nests closer to Palisades Lake, still with birds ready to fledge. In the Fall, expect to see brightly colored Mountain Ash and Aspens along the Snake River Canon walls.

This is a great day trip and it is relatively close to Jackson! Take a picnic basket, water and necessities.You don’t have to be a photographer to enjoy this little slice of Wyoming!

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Comments (8)

  1. Jeanene Esterholt

    Mike, thank you so much. It makes my day when I open my email and there is your post. I don’t get out as much as I want and this helps see what’s out there.

  2. Jeanene, I agree 100%. Posts like these get me going. When Mike posts one of these”odd” places to visit and take photos it gets me motivated. This one encourages me to take a trip south to Star Valley. And I certainly would like to take another trip on late September or early October.

  3. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, such a wonderful place to go to . As you said you do not have to be a photographer to enjoy a place like this and just reflect as you are watching the sounds of the falls . Looks like a hidden treasure.
    Lowell

  4. Lowell, Soon there will be screaming red, orange and yellow leaves on the Mountain Ash trees down the Snake River Canyon. That would make the trip even better!

  5. Going to be in the area in 2 weeks which hopefully will be peak fall color. I easily found Intermittent Spring on the maps but can’t find any reference to the other 2 falls. Are they fairly easy to find? Love your entire site. It has helped me plan several great trips to the Tetons.

  6. Hi Joe,
    I never knew about either of the other two falls until I drove down the road. There are two wooden signs with arrows pointing to the falls along the roadway. Neither of them are huge, crowd attracting features, but are still worth a shot or two. Thanks for the comments! MJ

  7. John Larson

    I live right at the base of the canyon this is in, I hike it at least three times a summer, ALSO< FOR THOSE OF YOUR PLANNING A LATE SEASON HIKE IN(or early) I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND IT, THERE WILL BE SNOW! this makes it so you can't go all the way to the top to see the spring.

  8. Hey John! Thanks for the note. Maybe you can check in once in a while and let us know when things (the spring and the foliage) is optimum! I kept hoping to get down there in the fall but got busy with the tours. MJ

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