Phelps Lake is an inviting lake with crystal clear waters at the bottom of a gorge named Death Canyon. You might not expect to find paradise in a place named after mortality, but the Grand Tetons work in mysterious ways.
Death Canyon itself gapes impressively thanks to glaciers that carved out a valley between stark cliffs, thousands of years ago.
Since then, the glaciers have retreated. Now, the sun beats down in the summertime and lake goers sunbathe in its rays. The bravest ones are known to jump off a 40-foot rock referred to by locals as “Jump Rock.”
From Death Canyon Trailhead, it’s a 1-mile hike to Phelps Lake Overlook, which offers excellent views of Phelps Lake and Death Canyon from a 400-foot perch.
If you continue down the switchbacks, it’s another mile (and some change) to Phelps Beach, a pleasant sandy beach on the lake.
- Distance: 4.5 miles
- Hike Time: 3 hours
- Elevation Gain: 988 feet
- Fee: $35 for a 7-day pass to Grand Teton National Park
- Dogs: No
- Difficulty: Easy
Hiking the Trail to Phelps Lake
We started our hike on a Thursday afternoon. Unexpectedly, there was ample parking at the trailhead. In part, this was because the dirt road in was sorta rough. On our way in, we passed a string of sedans and SUVs that had given up and parallel parked.
Our F-350 pickup handled the road with ease, but I can see it being a challenge for a vehicle with low clearance. There are sources that call it a “4WD” road, but I think that’s a stretch.
From Death Canyon Trailhead, the trail follows a gradual incline through a shady forest of lodgepole pine and aspen.
At 1.1 miles, you will reach Phelps Lake Overlook. At 7,200 feet, this is the highpoint of the trail to Phelps Beach and the view is terrific.
From here, you begin a series of switchbacks down to the mouth of Death Canyon. 0.7 miles after the overlook, continue straight at the junction with Death Canyon Trail.
In another 0.2 miles, you will reach another junction. Bear left here to continue 0.5 miles to Phelps Beach (on the right). From the beach, we had a grand ole time swimming and picnicking. In the distance, we noticed cliff jumpers leap off of “Jump Rock” periodically.
Death Canyon Trailhead is located at the end of a dirt road off of Moose-Wilson Road (to the right). From U.S. Route 191, turn onto Teton Park Road and turn left onto Moose-Wilson Road after the Visitor Center.
- Best Easy Day Hikes Grand Teton National Park by Falcon Guides