Family Trails in the Tetons

Ski Lake Trail
By Jerry Painter

Trail Distance: 4.6 miles round-trip from the parking area
Elevation Gain/Loss: 850 feet up and down
How Strenuous: Almost easy, not quite moderate. With rests and patience, your preschoolers should make it all the way; not recommended for toddlers.
When to Go: Late June to October
Animals to Watch For: Deer, elk, moose, songbirds, eagles, small mammals, and waterfowl at the lake
Main Attractions: A beautiful alpine lake tucked in against the mountains, songbirds, wildflowers, and mostly easy hiking
Getting There: From Wilson, Wyoming, drive 4.5 miles west on Highway 22 toward Teton Pass. Watch for the sign for Phillips Canyon. Pull off the road there and into a parking area on the left (south) side. From the parking area, walk across the highway and up the jeep road for about 0.3 mile. The sign for the trailhead is on the left.

This trail surprised us in that we were expecting a tougher hike. The hardest part of the hike seemed to be fighting off the occasional black fly. With a few exceptions, the elevation gain is spread out pretty evenly across the two miles of trail.

This is a popular trail just outside Grand Teton National Park, and it is not unusual to see more than a half-dozen cars in the parking area off the highway.

You start off by hiking up the jeep trail about 0.3 mile. The trail goes through several open areas that feature an abundance of wildflowers in midsummer. The forest is mostly lodgepole pine, with some spruce and fir mixed in.

At the one-mile mark, the trail forks at a large flat meadow that is about the size of a couple of football fields. Early in the summer this meadow has a small stream passing through it. The stream is usually gone by midsummer. The right fork heads up to Phillips Pass, which is another three miles up. Even though this trail climbs to the crest of the Tetons, most of the hiking is moderate. Much of this is due to the fact that the trailhead starts out at such a high elevation. This is a popular starting point for hikers connecting with the Teton Crest Trail—a trail which traverses the length of the mountain range.

The left fork trail continues on to Ski Lake. In a few hundred yards this trail comes to another stream which often has a good flow until late summer. The stream is only a few feet wide and has nice steppingstones for crossing. This nameless stream comes from a pond to the southwest of Ski Lake. A little distance past this stream the trail begins its only serious climb. Remember to look back during one of your rest stops for a nice view of the Jackson Hole valley and the Gros Ventre Range beyond.

The trail soon follows the outlet stream of Ski Lake. During dry years, the shallow-outlet stream dries up by midsummer.

Ski Lake is a beautiful lake jewel about a dozen acres in area and tucked right up against the peaks. As you walk around it you will notice that its bottom quickly drops out of sight. The deepest part is up by the mountain. Another view of the lake can be obtained with a bit more effort by taking the side trail that climbs up the north side of the lake.

Ski Lake is often visited by waterfowl, mostly ducks.

Final Thoughts

The only negative I can think of for this hike was that we did encounter some black flies. Unlike mosquitoes, black flies take big painful bites when they attack. There are a few repellents that keep black flies somewhat at bay. Don't forget to bring them along on this hike.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 12 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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