Don’t Miss Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park

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 Southern shore of Phelps Lake

Southern shore of Phelps Lake

It seems many visitors to Grand Teton National Park are simply driving through and stopping at overlooks on their way to Yellowstone. Don’t be that family. You’ll miss out on some of the best hikes a national park has to offer. The Grand Tetons have plenty of family-friendly trails, meaning that they are easy and relatively short, but still stunningly beautiful.

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Grand Teton National Park is simply awesome with its jagged mountain peaks, alpine lakes, wildlife, sagebrush meadows, and forests filled with aspens and fir trees. You’ll find it all on this wonderful hike to Phelps Lake on the Lake Creek-Woodland Trail Loop.

 Morning photo of Phelps Lake

Morning photo of Phelps Lake

Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve

You can reach Phelps Lake from the trails found in the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, an 1106-acre refuge within the national park. The ranger-staffed Visitor Center is also worthy of a visit.

 Map courtesy of  OpenStreetMaps

Map courtesy of OpenStreetMaps

In its Visitor Center, you’re encouraged to reflect on nature with displays of videos, photography, and a soundscape room with nature recordings from the Preserve. My girls enjoyed reading the nature-inspired poetry along the walls and looking at the children’s books in the resource room with its comfortable chairs and large fireplace.

 Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Visitor Center

Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Visitor Center

Borrow A Nature Explorer's Backpack

Better yet, kids ages 6-12 can borrow a Nature Explorer’s backpack that includes a nature journal to complete during or after the hike. Note that it’s only one backpack per family. You can also get your Junior Ranger Booklets here. Open 9am-5pm.

Arrive Early

Unlike the hustle and bustle of most visitor centers, you’ll notice it’s quiet here. That’s a benefit of the small parking lot serving the area. But that also means it’s extremely important to arrive early (before 9am) or arrive later in the afternoon (after 4pm).

Parking is limited here and folks can wait up to an hour for a parking space. We arrived around 8:30am and had plenty to choose from. When we returned around 11:30am, there was a line of cars happy to see us leave. On the plus side, because of its limited parking, you can actually enjoy some solitude on the trails.

The Lake Creek-Woodland Trail Loop

The Lake Creek-Woodland Trail Loop hike brings you to the south shore of Phelps Lake. You’ll find the trailhead adjacent to the Visitor Center. Begin on Lake Creek Trail and return on the Woodland Trail for a total roundtrip hike of 3 miles. Or, you can make it an out and back on the Lake Creek Trail for roughly the same length.

 Map courtesy of  OpenStreetMaps

Map courtesy of OpenStreetMaps

 Lake Creek Trail

Lake Creek Trail

Note: If you have hearty hikers in your family, you can add more hiking miles to the above trails by circling the lake rather than stopping at its southern shore. If you choose to do this, your hike will total 6.3 miles roundtrip. Tip: I’ve read that the route along the eastern shore of Phelps Lake is far more scenic, especially in the mornings, if taken in a counter-clockwise direction.

We chose to keep it short (3 miles total) and took the loop trail via the Lake Creek Trail, stopped and played along the small beaches of the south shore of Phelps Lake, and returned on the Woodland Trail.

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The Lake Creek Trail was a beautiful, easy hike along Lake Creek with the soothing sound of its cascading waters along the way. We also enjoyed smelling “Christmas trees”, spotting wildflowers, and crossing bridges along the trail.

As you near Phelps Lake, the trail will lead you straight to a small overlook area with benches at the trail junction of Phelps Lake Trail. Snap some photos here of the beautiful reflection in the lake water and then continue right (east) on the Phelps Lake Trail to explore some other nearby beaches along the shoreline. If you wore your swimsuits and can stand the cold water, these would be fun spots to cool off or linger a while longer before walking back.

 The Overlook Area with a tree that begs to be hugged.

The Overlook Area with a tree that begs to be hugged.

Having walked both trails, I recommend returning the same way you came on the Lake Creek Trail. While the Woodland Trail was beautiful in its own right, the scenery didn’t seem to offer as much variety along the way as the water features on the Lake Creek Trail. Both trails, however, offer the smell of fir trees, wildflowers, and fairly easy walking (elevation gain 300’). This is a hike worthy of returning to time and time again.

Tips

Bring bear spray. Although you’ll find many visitors to this trail who have encountered bears, we did not see any during our hike. But be prepared.

Bring mosquito spray. Once you stop walking, the mosquitoes are happy to greet you.

Wear good shoes for this somewhat rocky terrain.

You’ll find restrooms with nice, clean, composting toilets at the trailhead as well as near the lake. Much better than a pit toilet!

Directions

From Jackson, head north on US-191 and turn left at Moose Junction. Follow signs for Moose-Wilson Road. Turn left on Moose-Wilson Road and drive about 3.5 miles until you see the turn-off for the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center on your left. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Jackson. Tip: As you follow Moose-Wilson Road, be on the lookout for moose, elk, and mule deer along the way. FYI: This slow, winding road is closed to RVs and trailers (vehicles over 280 inches, 23.3 feet in length).

 Full map can be found at the  NPS website .

Full map can be found at the NPS website.

Note: You can reach the north shore of Phelps Lake from the Death Canyon Trailhead (4 mile roundtrip) but you’ll miss out on the wonderful Laurence Rockefeller Preserve Visitor Center and will huff and puff a bit more with its more pronounced elevation gain.
 

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