Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park is a gorgeous lake hemmed in by a terminal moraine. There are many ways to explore this lake from a short out-and-back, to a loop around the lake or even exploring the wooded ridges of the moraine.
The lake with the mountains backdropping is definitely the highlight and the trail that goes around stays true to the lake giving you views all day long.
There really are three hikes to explore Phelps Lake. We decided to do a crazy series of loops to explore all of them. After crossing the grassy meadows near the LSR Preserve, we hopped on the trail. Numerous accessible areas brought us to little cascades of Lake Creek. For those looking for a nice, shorter loop, you’ll take the Woodland Trail up to the foot of Phelps Lake and then come back down on the Lake Creek Trail, also known as the Lake Creek – Woodland Loop. These trails parallel Lake Creek, but on opposite sides.
We started out on the Woodland Trail, up along the lake and through the trees. The forest is a nice open forest that varies with denser stands and small meadows along the way. After crossing over the road, we came to the Boulder Ridge-Aspen Ridge Loop Trail. We left the Woodland Trail and started working our way up Boulder Ridge.
Boulder Ridge and Aspen Ridge are really part of the larger moraine that keeps Phelps Lake contained. Lake Creek divides the two. We started out on Boulder Ridge and continued on through the forest with occasional meadows and stands of aspens to break up the collection of pine and fir trees. As the goes up and down along the ridge, it loops back around to the lake, but gives you a really nice vantage looking up the Teton Range before ducking back in the trees and heading down towards the lake.
Once along the lake’s shore we were treated to its amazing views. The views from the south shore of the lake are stunning with Prospector’s Mountain and Death Canyon providing a wonderful, rocky backdrop to the aquamarine-colored lake.
After crossing over the outlet of the lake, we passed through a few meadows and began climbing up onto Aspen Ridge. This trail, like Boulder Ridge, goes up and down much of the time instead of simply climbing on the ridge and following it around. A wonderful section at the top of the ridge passes through tall, namesake aspen groves with wonderful views of Mt. Hunt and Rendezvous Mountain before dropping down to a small stream along the foot of the moraine.
We wrapped around and crossed over first the Lake Creek Trail, then Lake Creek before coming back to the original junction of the Woodland Trail (confused yet? check out the video above for an animation of our circuitous route!) We took a left and continued on the wide, well-worn path up to Phelps Lake.
From here we followed along the Phelps Lake Loop Trail that wraps around the lake giving wonderful views along the way. The trail stays true to the shoreline so we rarely were without views of the stunning color of the lake. A large rock juts out to the lake providing an incredible vista and a place to launch into the lake for those looking for a thrilling way to cool off.
After the rock, we finished the eastern shore to the sand bar at the head of the lake and crossed through the wooded area full of huge Douglas Fir and aspen trees in addition to sections that receive avalanches and are full of debris. This is a great section for smaller birds and the raptors that hunt them. We passed the trail that comes down from the Phelps Lake Overlook, then the trail that ascends into Death Canyon before crossing over the creek that exits the canyon.
From here, the trail climbs a bit through the forest, leaving the lake and heading towards Open Canyon. We came to the junction with the Open Canyon trail, then dropped down back to the lake to continue the loop. Once more, we were treated to wonderful views, especially as we traversed through avalanche chutes.
The continued theme of spending most of the time along the lakeshore makes for a wonderful loop and we thoroughly enjoyed it spying a Double-crested Cormorant and a family of Common Mergansers as we traveled the western shoreline. We left the lake very briefly as we came to the spur trail to Huckleberry Point.
This point is a small peninsula that just out to more fine views (notice a theme here?) and we briefly soaked it in before wrapping around the lake to the foot again. As mentioned earlier, the most popular way to explore this area is doing the shorter loop with the Woodland Trail and the Lake Creek Trail just to the shoreline, and as we got closer to that junction, we started coming across more of the park’s visitors.
We enjoyed one last look at the lake and the golden glow of the evening sun, before taking off down Lake Creek. This trail stays closer to the creek than the Woodland Trail giving you frequent views of the chattering creek as you pass through a mix of forests and meadows. We worked our way down, back across the road, then over to the LSR Preserve.
Phelps Lake is another great lake to visit in Grand Teton National Park. Due to restricted parking, it can be quieter than some of the other lakes, but still is popular. The views are wonderful and both the shorter loop along the creek to the lake as well as the longer Phelps Lake Loop around the entire lake are highly recommended. The Aspen Ridge-Boulder Ridge Loop is interesting, but not as compelling as many other hikes in the park.