Phelps Lake, Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve

By: Marc Bowen

One day in September as I was exploring some of Grand Teton National Park’s back roads I came across a sign that said ‘Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve’. The gate was open so I drove in and discovered a really special place. I hadn’t realized that the trail head for the Phelps Lake area began here. It was late in the day and the visitor center was closed but I decided that I would come back here before winter set in and hike into Phelps Lake. In preparation for my return trip I did a little research on the origin and purpose of this preserve.



In 2001 Laurance S Rockefeller, son of John D Rockefeller, donated what was left of his family’s ranch as a preserve. The donation came with special preservation and maintenance restrictions, and with the vision that the preserve remain in place where “visitors can experience a spiritual and emotional connection to the beauty of the Lake and Teton range”.The preserve is a 1,106 acre refuge within Grand Teton National Park about 1.3 miles south of Phelps Lake.



I am always interested in history and how things evolved or came to be. I learned that this land was first homesteaded by Dave Spaulding in 1903. In 1906 Louis Joy purchased the land and with Struthers Burt turned the property into Jackson Hole’s first dude ranch called the JY Ranch. In 1927 John D Rockefeller purchased the ranch as well as much of the land in Jackson Hole for the creation of the Jackson Hole National Monument and the expansion of Grand Teton National Park. The Rockefellers chose to keep the 3,100 acre JY Ranch as a family retreat. Still over the years the family ended up giving most of the ranch lands away to GTNP and then LS Rockefeller turned the last of the land into a preserve.



I drove back to the preserve in October to do some hiking. I got there by taking US Hwy 26 north out of Jackson to Moose junction, turned left on Teton Park Road then left on Moose Wilson Road. I traveled about 4 miles then looked for the sign marking the entrance to the preserve on the left.



LSR Preserve parking lot – Photo by: Marc Bowen

There is ample parking there although it can fill up fast during summer months. Because it was late in the season, early morning, and possibly because it was cold (20 degrees f) mine was the only car in the parking lot. It may have been cold but the views were amazing! The parking area is open from May 1st-October 31st but the restrooms and visitor center close the end of September.

LSR Preserve restrooms – Photo by: Marc Bowen

I was impressed with the nice, clean restrooms at the south end of the parking area and a large map of the area and trail system was just a short walk away.

LSR Preserve visitor center – Photo by: Marc Bowen

The trail from the parking lot to the visitors center is a short stroll through sagebrush flats and the visitor center seems to be almost part of the landscape. In the above photo as you look over the roof of the center Phelps lake sits just over the hill under the clouds at the base of the mountain. From the visitors center there is a whole network of about 8 miles of  trails most leading to or around Phelps Lake.

Lake Creek – Photo by: Marc Bowen

The trails and bridges are very well maintained and lead through aspen and conifer forests, wetlands and sagebrush meadows.

Lake Creek Trail – Photo by: Marc Bowen

From the trails there are views of Lake Creek, Phelps Lake and the Teton range. The trails range in difficulty from easy to moderate. I took the Lake Creek trail which is probably the most direct route to the lake. It’s a pretty hike that follows the creek most of the way. It’s not a very long or difficult hike, only about 1.3 miles to the southern shore of Phelps Lake and about 225 feet of elevation gain.

Phelps Lake – Photo by: Marc Bowen

Phelps Lake is glacially carved and the 6th largest lake in Grand Teton NP. Directly across the lake from this vantage point is Death Canyon between Albright Peak (10,552 ft) on the right and Prospectors Mountain (11,241 ft) to the left of the canyon.

On this hike I chose to hike only to the lake and back. There is a trail that goes all the way around the lake and up and out of the preserve into Death Canyon. It’s a much longer hike and as you get into Death Canyon much more challenging. So I will definitely be back next year to explore these other trails during warmer temperatures and hopefully bring a hiking buddy.



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