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Hiking

Hike Phelps Lake Trail in Grand Teton National Park

Choose your own adventure on this hike, whether that means jumping into frigid waters or picnicking lakeside.

Near the mouth of Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park, Phelps Lake is an indigo mirror reflecting the area’s glacially-carved mountains. It’s the seventh-largest lake in Grand Teton behind the iconic Jackson and Jenny lakes. This moderately-rated loop hike with highly-rated scenery takes you through sagebrush flats, mixed forest of aspens and lodgepole pines and a rocky shoreline. The hike starts in the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, a former dude ranch now dedicated to conservation.

How Long is the Phelps Lake Trail?

The park service clocks the Phelps Lake Loop at 6.3 miles roundtrip, while other hiking sites like Gaia say it’s slightly more than 7 miles because you have to walk a little ways to the official trailhead. This trail starts at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve (www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/lsrpvc.htm) where you’ll find restrooms, a visitor center and the Lake Creek overlook.

Past these points, you can either hike left on the Lake Creek Trail or right on the Woodland Trail to reach the Phelps Lake Loop Trail. However, if you travel counterclockwise, you’ll get scenic views of 10,557-foot Albright Peak and 11,246-foot Prospectors Mountain.

About 0.6 miles in from both directions, the trail crosses the Moose-Wilson Road. From there, the rocky shore is about 0.7 miles away. At the northeastern edge of the lake, there’s a sandy beach, backcountry campsites and the famed jumping rock. This is also where the Phelps Lake Trail briefly turns into the Valley Loop Trail for about 0.4 miles before it returns to the Phelps Lake Loop Trail.

Over the hike’s duration, the trail gains about 720 feet in elevation. Depending on your pace, fitness level and time spent at overlooks, this hike could take between 2.5 and 5 hours.

With several intersecting trails along the loop, you can also extend the hike for an even longer day. Add the Boulder Ridge Trail bypass (1.7 miles one way) for more time in the nature preserve. Or for a panoramic view of the valley, continue to the Phelps Lake Overlook, about 400 feet in elevation and 0.75 miles one way from the Valley Trail Junction.

Phelps Lake Overlook in Grand Teton National Park
Phelps Lake Overlook (Photo: NPS/Adams)

Where Do I Park for Phelp Lake Trail?

Hikers can park at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve lot, located off Moose-Wilson Road. To get there, you can either travel south from Moose or north from Teton Village. Because it’s a popular area for backpacking and hiking, consider starting early to avoid driving in circles for a parking spot.

Because this hike is within the park, a park pass or $35 entrance fee is required. Remember to also have your ID readily available to present to the ranger at the entrance station.

How Do You Get to the Phelps Lake Jumping Rock?

To get to the Jumping Rock from the loop trail, hike either clockwise or counterclockwise on the Phelps Lake Loop to the northeastern shore (about 3 or 4 miles from the trailhead). You can also reach this spot from the Death Canyon Trailhead.

Off the shore, you’ll see a rock rising about 20 feet, depending on the water level. It’s a popular swimming hole for locals and visitors to cool off during hot days.

Keep in mind that Phelps Lake is a glacial lake and water temperature often dips below 40°F. The sudden immersion can shock your brain and body, so plunge with caution and in the company of others for safety.

Jumping off Jumping Rock at Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park
Jumping off Jumping Rock at Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park (Photo: Getty Images)

When is the Best Time to Hike the Phelps Lake Loop?

Generally, May through September is the peak window for this hike. It’s possible in winter, as long as the roads are open and you’re willing to navigate the snow. Traction devices like MICROspilkes or YakTrax can come in handy. In spring, look for spotted leopard lilies, white bog orchids and other wildflowers along the way. In fall, admire the golden aspens and other changing colors. During summertime, snag a backcountry camping permit (www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/back.htm) and cool off in the lake before spending the night.

Because the trail starts at 6,800 and ascends about 700 feet, weather conditions at this altitude can vary throughout the year. Keep an eye on the forecasts for afternoon thunderstorms, which can be dangerous especially near a lake.

Trail around Phelps Lake in autumn
Trail around Phelps Lake in autumn (Photo: Getty Images)

What Should I Bring for My Hike to Phelps Lake?

As always, supportive and sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots are recommended for this rocky hike. And as with anywhere in Grand Teton, it’s best to keep bear spray accessible in a backpack hip belt or pocket. You’ll hopefully not have to use it, but this is grizzly bear country.

Along with bear spray, pack in a backpack enough water for everyone in your group, a raincoat for afternoon thunderstorms, snacks or lunch, and sunscreen. If you plan to swim, bring a swimsuit or change of clothes and towel to warm up after your dunk. Leave your pets behind, as dogs are not allowed on the trail.