Phelps Lake Loop
|Trail Features:||Scenic Lake Views, Wildflowers|
|Trail Location:||Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve|
|Roundtrip Length:||7.2 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||6405 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||475 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||132 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||6786 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||8.15 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||43.62662|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-110.77362|
|Nearby Lodging:||Teton Village|
The trailhead for the Phelps Lake Loop hike is located in the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve off Moose-Wilson Road. To reach the trailhead from Moose Junction, turn left onto Moose-Wilson Road and drive roughly 3.6 miles south to the turn-off for the Preserve on the left.
The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve is an 1106-acre refuge within Grand Teton National Park. The site, near the south end of Phelps Lake, was originally a dude ranch known as the JY Ranch. In 1932 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the 3100-acre ranch and turned it into a family retreat. Over the years the family gave most of the ranch to the national park. In 2001 Laurance S. Rockefeller donated the final 1106-acre parcel, which would become the Preserve. The guiding document establishing the Preserve states that it "will become a place of physical and spiritual renewal, and to serve as a model for achieving balance between preservation of natural values and public use and to demonstrate that our citizens working in partnership with their government can achieve important goals. The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve is intended to inspire appreciation and reverence for the beauty and diversity of the natural work, to demonstrate the importance of protecting the land while providing public access and to foster individual responsibility for conservation stewardship."
The hike begins with a short walk across a sagebrush flat to reach the LSR Visitor Center. Beyond the visitor center the trail enters a mixed forest dominated by spruce, fir and lodgepole pine.
At just over two-tenths of a mile from the trailhead you'll reach what appears to be an unmarked split in the trail. Actually, the side trail leading towards the left visits a small viewing area just off the main trail. To continue on towards Phelps Lake hikers should stay towards the right here.
A short distance later you'll arrive at the Woodland Trail / Lake Creek Trail junction. Although you can take either path, the Woodland Trail is the most direct route to Phelps Lake. Moreover, we chose this trail because hiking the Phelps Lake Loop in a counter-clockwise direction is by far the most scenic route around the lake.
At just over one-half mile the trail crosses over Moose-Wilson Road, and at roughly nine-tenths of a mile it reaches the Boulder Ridge Trail junction. This side trails offer hikers the opportunity to explore a larger portion of the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. To continue towards Phelps Lake hikers should proceed straight ahead here. At this point the trail has already climbed roughly 225 feet. Fortunately, much of your elevation gain for the entire hike has already been completed by this point.
At roughly 1.3 miles hikers will reach the Phelps Lake Trail junction. The rocky shore of the lake is only a short walk away from this point.
The southern shore of Phelps Lake offers outstanding views of the glacially-carved lake and the surrounding mountains. Sitting directly across the lake from this vantage point is Death Canyon and 10,552-foot Albright Peak. To the left of the canyon is 11,241-foot Prospectors Mountain. With a surface area of 750 acres, Phelps Lake is the sixth largest lake in Grand Teton National Park. From this vantage point we watched an osprey soar above the lake while looking for an early morning meal.
To begin the loop hike around Phelps Lake hikers should return to the trail and begin heading towards the north (in a counter-clockwise direction). As mentioned earlier, the route along the eastern shore of Phelps Lake is far more scenic, especially in the mornings, if taken in a counter-clockwise direction.
In less than two-tenths of a mile hikers will pass the Boulder Ridge Trail once again, and at just over 1.9 miles from the trailhead you'll pass the Wister Draw Horse Trail. To continue on the loop around Phelps Lake you should proceed straight ahead at both junctions.
Although the trail mostly stays within the confines of a mixed evergreen forest, hikers will remain close enough to the shoreline to have decent views of Death Canyon and the surrounding mountains as you skirt around the lake.
At roughly 2.5 miles you'll reach a huge boulder sitting on the edge of the lake. This bus-sized rock sits roughly 30 feet above the water, and offers outstanding views of Death Canyon. This is also a great spot for an extended break.
A little further down the trail you'll begin passing a series of backcountry campsites, and at just over 3 miles, will reach the northern shore of Phelps Lake where you'll find a small sandy beach.
A small sign at the beach indicates the direction you should take to reach the Valley Trail junction, which is located another third-of-a-mile away from the shoreline. Once at the Valley Trail junction hikers should veer left to continue on the loop hike. However, if you have the time and energy, you may want to consider taking the side trip up to Phelps Lake Overlook, which is less than three-quarters of a mile away from this point.
From the junction the trail heads downhill towards a nice meadow that offers decent views of Death Canyon. A short distance later you'll cross over Death Canyon Creek.
At 3.8 miles the Valley Trail splits off to the right, while the Phelps Lake Loop Trail continues downhill towards the left. While the entire loop around Phelps Lake features a variety of wildflowers, the west side of the lake will have far more as the season progresses. Depending on your timing, hikers may see fireweed, showy goldeneye, western coneflower, asters, Columbia monkshood, common yarrow and helianthella, among many other varieties.
At roughly 4.6 miles the trail begins traveling through a very large huckleberry patch. This is a good place to make a lot of noise and keep an eye out for bears. In fact, the entire loop passes through excellent bear habitat. During our most recent hike we saw fairly fresh scat in a couple different places along the route. Given the volume, I would venture to guess that both were likely from black bears.
A short distance later hikers will reach a side trail that leads to the aptly named Huckleberry Point. This short walk of only one-tenth of a mile is well worth the effort to see some excellent views of Death Canyon and Albright Peak.
Back on the main trail, at just over 5.5 miles, hikers will arrive at the Lake Creek Trail junction. This area also offers outstanding views of Phelps Lake and the surrounding mountains. To continue on the loop, and begin your return trip back towards the trailhead, hikers should turn right onto Lake Creek Trail. A short distance beyond the junction the trail begins following Lake Creek all the way back to the LSR Visitor Center.
At 6.3 miles you'll arrive at the intersection with the Boulder Ridge and Aspen Ridge trails. Hikers should proceed straight ahead on the Lake Creek Trail to return back to the trailhead. A short distance later the trail crosses over Moose-Wilson Road once again.
At just over 6.9 miles hikers will cross the footbridge over Lake Creek. On the other side is the Woodland Trail junction. Hikers should turn right here and retrace their steps to return back to the trailhead.