By Marc Bowen
Phelps Lake Loop Trail To Phelps Lake Overlook
- Trail Location – Laurance S Rockefeller Preserve
- Round trip – 9.5 miles
- Trailhead Elevation – 6405 feet
- Total Elevation Gain – 870 feet
- Highest Elevation – 7200 feet
- Trail Difficulty Rating – 10.94 Moderate to Strenuous
When thinking about where to hike this month I considered the Alaska Basin hike from the Driggs Idaho side of the Tetons. But I swear I am still recovering from my hike into Holly Lake last month. I was having a hard time getting excited about doing a strenuous hike this time around and felt like doing more of a leisurely stroll through the mountains. So I thought about Phelps Lake. I hiked into this lake last fall. There are several trails into the area and most of them are moderately strenuous. It’s a beautiful place and definitely worth a second visit. So I mentioned it to my daughter Nicole and not having been there before herself, she was excited to check it out. To read the post from my hike in this area last fall click Phelps Lake, Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve.
From Jackson turn left at Moose Junction onto Moose-Wilson Road and drive 3.6 miles south to the turn-off for the preserve which is on the left hand side of the road.
We arrived in the preserve’s parking lot early morning to find a half dozen cars there before us. Make sure you start this hike early in the day because the parking lot fills up fast! Once parked we grabbed our gear and headed across the sagebrush meadow to the visitor center a few hundred yards from the parking lot. There we checked in at the registration box, grabbed a complimentary trail guide of the area and headed up the trail. There are 4 different trails you can use to hike into Phelps lake. We chose the 1.6 mile Lake Creek Trail for this hike. The trail follows a beautiful stream through a mixed forest of spruce, fir and lodgepole pine. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the lake.
Phelps Lake has a surface area of 750 acres and is the 6th largest lake in Grand Teton National Park. From the southern shore looking north across the lake we could see the mouth of Death Canyon.
Elevation at Phelps Lake is 6633 feet. The surface of the lake was very calm and created some nice reflections of 10,552 foot Albright Peak.
This (above) is a new bridge that was built late last fall and provides several platforms and seating areas for fishing or soaking in the scenery.
As I have mentioned in previous posts I carry about 20lbs of gear on my day hikes. I usually hike alone so I try to have what I would need if I should have an emergency and need to spend the night on the mountain.
Our plan was to hike along the eastern shore (2.2 miles) until we reached the north shore of Phelps lake then take Death Canyon Trail up to the overlook which would be another mile each way.
Some of the scenery as we hiked around the lake towards the eastern shore.
About 1.5 miles up the east shore of the lake we came to a rock they call ‘Jump Rock’ or ‘Jumping Rock’. This rock is 25-30 feet high and is a popular place for hikers to cool off by jumping into the deep cool water below. If we had planned a little better we would have worn our swim suits under our clothes and brought a couple of towels…It would have been fun to drop off that rock into the lake.
By this point in the hike the sky was filling with these cotton-like clouds and the resulting reflections produced a serene zen-like atmosphere.
The view of Death Canyon from the top of Jump Rock Is breath-taking. The ‘U’ shaped canyon was formed by retreating glaciers. If you look closely at the photo above you can see a sandy beach on the lake’s north shore.
I took the above photo while standing on a narrow strip of beach on the north shore looking back across the lake to the south shore.
We left the beach on the north shore and began the climb up Death Canyon Trail toward the Phelps Lake Overlook. At this point we ran into some men with horses and pack mules headed up into Death Canyon.
This Mule Deer doe (above) had 2 fawns with her. She slowly made her way down the trail toward us I think more concerned about all the hikers coming down the trail behind her then she was with us.
We finally reached the overlook, took some photos and then headed back the way we came. From this overlook you can see the lake, ‘Sleeping Indian Mountain’ and Jackson Hole in the distance.
This hike was a pleasant 5 hour round-trip for us and we will definitely be back. Next time we won’t forget our swim suits!