Elevation: 6,805 ft
This peak is not in the book, although I skied to its summit several times in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Given the popularity of Kelly Mountain, this page contains route descriptions by Rick Baugher, Ken Jones and Livingston Douglas. Updated November 2019
Kelly Mountain is a broad hump-shaped peak on the South Edge of the Big Hole Mountains. The Snake River runs along its South Side. The Kelly Canyon Ski Area is found on the peak’s West flank. The mountain also harbors the highest point in Jefferson County (information for reaching the county high point is found below). USGS Heise SE
Kelly Mountain by Rick Baugher
Editor’s Note: Rick has ascended this peak more than a thousand times.
“Kelly Mountain is a 3-mile long volcanic ridge located in portions of Jefferson, Madison, and Bonneville counties. The high point (6,805 feet) occupies a dramatic overlook of the South Fork Snake River Canyon. If you live in the Idaho Falls/Rexburg area, this corner of the Big Hole Mountains is your nearest National Forest portal. Kelly Canyon attracts all the varied users one expects (or dreads) on lower-elevation segments of public land. For this writer, the sweet spot is when the Kelly Canyon Ski Area is in operation, mid-December through early March. At this time, motorized travel is not permitted in this section of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The Idaho Falls Ski Club maintains a hut and nordic trail system here during Winter.”
All photos are courtesy of Rick Baugher (2/26/07)
Out on “the point,” the wind can roar like a freight train. Under these conditions, a 10-foot cornice will form during a 24-hour blow. New ski tracks disappear in minutes. Then, when the wind shifts, tracks made a month earlier are uncovered.
Jefferson County HP by Ken Jones
Date of Climb: July 8, 2001
From US-26 east of Idaho Falls, take the signed road north toward Heise and the Kelly Canyon Recreation Area. Follow the paved road to the ski area and continue on the (now gravel) road to a fork in a saddle at 6,230 feet. Turn hard right, and proceed 100 feet or so to another fork. Both routes are gated. You want the one on the right. Park here.
Kelly Mountain is a web of ATV tracks and roads. I’m sure there must be a better way than how I went, but this is the only way I know. Pass the right-hand gate and follow the jeep road. You can cut some switchbacks out by taking an ATV track more directly uphill by the first ski lift. After 4 or 5 crossings, the ATV trail merges back into the jeep road. Follow the most major jeep road to its end at the top of another ski lift. At this point, there is probably a track which would work better than the way I went. You might want to explore, if it’s not starting to rain and get dark. Here you are on top of the northern of the two NW-SE trending ridges that make up Kelly Mountain. You need to get to the South Ridge.
I followed a jeep road SE hoping to find a connection, but didn’t. So I returned to the area by the saddle between the two ridges (by the “N” in “National” on the 7-1/2″ quad) and thrashed my way over to the other ridge. I picked up another track here and turned NW. There is a Forest Service boundary sign and gate when you cross the county line. From here, the road passes north of the 6,664-foot high point, and very close to the 6,660+ one. In both cases, a good fire will be required to remove the vegetation before you’ll be sure which is the highest rock, but the one I picked as most likely is near the 6,664-foot point in thinner brush, set back a bit from the edge of the plateau overlooking the Snake River Valley.
On my return, I followed another track that seemed to be heading northeast down the draw between the two ridges. I became concerned that it was going too far, and thrashed back to the northerly road. When I hit it, I suspected that I might have come out at the ski lift had I stayed on the track, but it was getting dark, and I wasn’t taking chances. With the right route, this is probably 3 miles and 1.5 hours. I walked about 5 miles in 2.5 hours. The elevation gain is roughly 500 feet if you can avoid some of my ups and downs.
Northeast Shoulder/East Ridge, Class 2 by Livingston Douglas
Date of Climb: August 19, 2019
Kelly Mountain is the monarch in this section of the Big Hole Mountains. It even hosts a small ski resort. Its high point has a USGS benchmark and a large cairn. Shamefully, the USGS topo map fails to show all of the roads and trails on this mountain. The easiest ascent route is via the Leaning Fir Trail/FST-169 up the Southeast Ridge, which goes all the way to the summit. FST-169 is signed and is located in Table Rock Canyon along FSR-217.
From the signed [and infamous] “Y” junction of FSR-218 and FSR-217, drive 0.7 mile SE down Table Rock Canyon on FSR-217 to Poison Flat. The Table Rock Group Campground is located here. Park along the road in a minor pullout (5,700 feet). The summit of Kelly Mountain lies directly SW of this point, but this is going to be a STEEP climb.
From Poison Flat, cross to the S side of FSR-217/Table Rock Canyon Road. Bushwhack S across a tiny stream and up onto a densely forested shoulder with lots of brush. Bushwhack W then SW then S up this awful shoulder. The brush here is thick, chest high, and has plenty of thorns to poke you and get in your socks/clothing. Wear gaiters for this climb. This is a BATTLE ROYALE.
Once you reach the East Ridge, you will be in open scrub and life is now MUCH EASIER. You are helped by an old cattle fence and a cattle trail. Grind your way toward the summit. Just before you reach the top, you will intercept an old jeep road (FST-169) coming up the Southeast Ridge. Follow the steep, rocky road for a short stretch to reach the large cairn on the summit ridge crest. The USGS benchmark isn’t obvious, but it may be buried underneath the talus of the cairn. The antenna-clad West Summit is about ¼ mile away. It may appear to be higher, BUT IT IS NOT. If you plan to climb Lookout Mountain, this is a good vantage point from which to do some recon.
East Ridge (Descent), Class 2
Same as for the Northeast Shoulder/East Ridge Route
There is a pronounced East Ridge coming down from the summit of Kelly Mountain. It is open, terrain initially and isn’t too steep. But it soon becomes forested and very brushy. The blowdown will add to your misery. The East Ridge morphs into a face at about 6,000 feet. The face descent from here is simply WICKED. It descends through dense forest, chest-high brush, and blowdown and is VERY STEEP down to 5,600 feet.
The slope eases as you approach the road (FSR-217), but the trees/brush/blowdown don’t. You might just kneel down to kiss the dusty road when you reach it. Sweat will be pouring off your body unless it’s the dead of winter. Follow FSR-217 upstream to get back to Poison Flat and your awaiting vehicle. My best advice to you is to not do either of the routes presented. Instead, hike up FST-169/Leaning Fir Trail to the top and save yourself a lot of aggravation. You might actually enjoy that hike!