After three days of hiking and sightseeing in Yellowstone last month, John and I drove south for our week-long stay in Grand Teton National Park. On our first full day in Grand Teton, the four of us enjoyed a lazy morning at Jenny Lake Lodge and then spent the afternoon floating down the Snake River courtesy of Barker-Ewing. The following day, John and I woke early in order to venture out on the trails in the Laurence S. Rockefeller (LSR) Preserve. We had debated which trail to hike first in Grand Teton, as we wanted to revisit last year’s lovely Jenny Lake hike but also desired to explore new terrain. In the end, we selected the Phelps Lake Loop Trail. It had similar features to the Jenny Lake Loop (easy-to-moderate hiking, stunning lake-mountains-trees scenery, 7 or so miles in length), but would allow us to take in novel sights in the southern portion of the park.
Driving to the LSR Preserve, we came upon a horde of cars and people at an overlook off the Moose-Wilson Road. Haphazardly-parked cars and gawking, camera-toting tourists were clear indicators of the presence of wildlife. Most of the time we drove on by, but we knew that moose frequented the area so we stopped, grabbing our camera on the way out of the car. Sure enough, a cow moose was wading and grazing in the wetlands below the overlook. We snapped our photos and returned to the car.
As I glanced back for one last look, a baby moose was carefully making its way through the water to join its mother! I was glad we had stopped. On our float trip the day before, we spied a bull moose chowing down in the brush along the river. We had now fulfilled our moose quota for the trip: bull moose, cow moose, baby moose.
We arrived at the LSR Preserve early enough in the morning that we didn’t have to wait for a parking spot (thank you, lady ranger at the Moose Visitor Center, for that tip). We grabbed our hiking pack and bear spray and hit the trail.
On the way to the preserve’s trailhead, we paused to get up close and personal with some cascading water. The snow-fueled mountain stream was not near as chilly as I had expected.
At the trailhead, John helpfully pointed us in the right direction. We would take the Lake Creek Trail up to Phelps Lake and the start of the Loop Trail.
Not surprisingly, the Lake Creek Trail followed the path of Lake Creek.
The path also could have been named Rocky Road, thanks to the many rocks protruding up from the otherwise-dirt trail. I needed to keep my eyes on the ground beneath me, but…
…this was not easy to do when the mini-rapids of Lake Creek kept gurgling my name!
As the trail neared Phelps Lake, John pointed out the specimens from which we should choose this year’s live Christmas tree. Were it not both illegal (to cut down) and impossible (to fit inside our house), the perfectly conical shapes of these beauties would make for an impressive holiday display.
We snagged our first view of Phelps Lake as Lake Creek Trail met up with the Phelps Lake Loop Trail. We would hike clockwise around the lake.
This metal boardwalk above a grassy wetlands area took us slightly away from the lake but gave us a scenic view of Mount Hunt.
Much of the trail, however, kept us near the shoreline of the lake.
We knew the LSR Preserve had its share of bears (hence the bear spray), but this marmot was the largest animal we came across while on our hike.
We detoured slightly away from the loop trail in order to visit Huckleberry Point. This was the closest I got to getting in the lake, although the clear, pristine water did look very tempting.
The trees closed in on the trail at several points in the hike, providing altering shade and light.
A unique feature of the Phelps Lake Loop Trail is the variety of walking surfaces to be found within it. Already we had tread upon rock-filled paths, metal boardwalks, and smooth, soft-pack dirt surfaces. Wooden boardwalks were our next surprise.
As we skirted the opposite side of the lake from where we’d begun, the trail moved up and away from the lake shore. The insect presence kicked up a notch as we came across a sea of wildflowers.
Up until now I’ve been full of praise about this trail, but one word of warning: large boulders teeter along the path, so you may need to hold them up for your hiking partner(s). Eat your Wheaties, folks.
Oh, and wear long pants. Unless you come armed with a machete (which is probably frowned upon by park rangers), you will have to wind your way through an area of lush vegetation that is attempting to reclaim the trail.
But once you survive these travails, you’ll be rewarded with the sight and sound of the babbling creek that feeds into Phelps Lake.
This grove of aspens was rather pleasant to look upon, as well.
A small strip of beach then beckoned to us, but a small family had already claimed the area for wading and we did not want to intrude upon their fun.
From this side of the lake, the sun shimmered splendidly off the water.
As we neared completion of the loop, we kept the lake in view on our right through the trees.
I especially loved the soft, reddish soil that made up the walkway on this section of the trail.
We took the Woodland Trail back to the LSR Preserve trailhead, and I took the opportunity to have one last bit of rock-related fun.
We hiked the 7-mile trail in 3 and a half hours, averaging 30 minutes per mile. Other than the inclines on the Lake Creek Trail and one section of the Loop Trail, the hike remained fairly level and easy. It turned out to be a comparable hike to the Jenny Lake Loop, as we had anticipated, and it had the benefit of being less crowded. While the Mount Washburn hike was my favorite of this trip, the Phelps Lake Loop would remain my favorite in the Grand Tetons.