Phelps Lake

Phelps Lake, Grand Teton National Park
Plelps Lake from the Death Canyon Trail

Tucked at the base of the imposing serrated peaks of the Grand Teton Mountain Range in Grand Teton Park lies Phelps Lake that once served as a centerpiece of the Rockefeller family retreat. Here, elk wander through sagebrush meadows, bald eagles fish for cutthroat trout, and marmots sunbathe on rocks alongside peaceful, meandering trails. Phelps Lake is a gorgeous; it is the sixth largest lake in Grand Teton National Park and is set right at the base of the Teton Range, left behind by the glacier that formed Death Canyon. The water of Phelps Lake is so clear you can count the rocks beneath the water's surface for as far as your eyes can focus. The lake sits at the base of the towering mountains and the mouth of Death Canyon. Phelps Lake sits at 6,633 feet above sea level, so the elevation gain to the lake is modest.

The views around Phelps Lake are incredible, from the south shore; you see the lake set against the Tetons. From the north shore, you see the lake set against the Gros Ventre Mountains. Sit on a bench or boulder beside the lake and take in the majestic views, or make a detour and hike around the lake to sandy beaches on the opposite shore. Watch for pelicans skimming the water's surface and ospreys fishing for trout.

cutthroat trout
Cutthroat Trout

Fishing is good in Phelps Lake, Mackinaw, brook and cutthroat are present and willing to come up for a visit. Phelps Lake is loaded with lively cutthroat trout, brook trout, whitefish, and lake trout. Fish here are usually less than 20 inches, fishing deep with trolling gear from a boat during hot summer months.

It can be reached via trails that run through the park's southern end, some of which are highly popular due to their short and easy to follow routes. Many hikers use a trip to the lake to reach Death Canyon and go further into the Grand Tetons for backpacking and climbing excursions. The Death Canyon/ Phelps trailhead is between Teton Village and Moose on the Moose-Wilson road. It’s a two-mile hike to the lake.

This slice of the West, a scenic parcel of lakeside wilderness known as the JY Ranch, has been off-limits since 1932, when philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the JY, a working dude ranch, in 1932 for $90,000. And kept it for his summer retreat.

Until now, few people have ever seen beyond the entrance of the JY Ranch, a discreet gate on the gravel Moose-Wilson Road, or the wooden buck-and-pole fences that mark its boundaries. But, the property is now open to the public.

The donation of the JY Ranch marks a kind of coda to the family's involvement in Jackson Hole, which began when John D. Jr., son of the founder of Standard Oil, first visited here in 1926. The next year, he started secretly acquiring land in the area with the eventual aim of giving the entire valley to the government, which would protect its dramatic scenery and wildlife within the national park system.

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