Distance: 4.4 miles (one way)
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
For those that don’t have the time and/or energy to hike the full Teton Crest Trail, the in-and-out hike to Phillips Pass is an easily accessible segment. Since the trail starts out at 7,800 feet already, the elevation change isn’t as bad as other areas along the full crest trail, making this a great day hike.
From Highway 22/Teton Pass, begin hiking on the dirt road at the Phillips Canyon Trailhead. The Teton Crest Trail, for which you’ll be hiking the first 4.4 miles of, makes use of the Ski Lake Trail as well. Both begin heading north along the Tetons, gradually veering away from the dirt road you entered on. The trail itself begins 0.2 miles after the kiosk illustrating the area along the dirt road.
You’ll soon notice the dirt road dropping off to the right as you begin ascending gradually through groves of evergreens broken up by lush meadows. You’ll temporarily top out at a large overlook where views to the south open up into the lower Gros Ventre and Wyoming Ranges. By now, much of the noise from Highway 22 has also faded away, leaving you with just the peaceful sounds of nature.
Follow the trail into a thick evergreen grove where you’ll descend toward a seasonal snow-melt creek passing under a small footbridge at the edge of a large pristine meadow. You’ll continue along the trail until at 1.3 miles in, at the other end of the meadow, you reach a fork. Left will take you to Ski Lake, while right will bring you to Phillips Pass.
If you saw a lot of people hiking to and from Ski Lake, you’ll soon notice this trail is much quieter. It’s also an easy-going stroll for the next mile or so since there is much less elevation gain for this stretch. It’s simply a peaceful and relaxing hike through gorgeous aspen groves, lush mountain meadows, and crisp mountain air. Most meadows are adorned with a small seasonal stream fed by melting snow from above, creating a calming white noise to add to the soothing mountain breezes. Dozens of different types of birds can also be heard chirping and singing throughout the surrounding forests.
In and out of small evergreen groves, you pass through one final grove before the trail abandons its leisurely pace. Before that happens though, you’re treated to an outstanding view of the valley of Jackson Hole below some relatively rocky peaks of the Teton Mountains. On the other side of the valley, the Sleeping Indian rises out of the Gros Ventre Range above the Gros Ventre River flowing from the often-overlooked mountains. If you’re not interested in getting all the way to the pass, this spot makes a great point to turn around.
Just beyond the overlook, the trail begins a steep descent into a thick evergreen forest before winding through a small gully and meadow. (Remember you’ll have to hike up this on your way out!) Upon reaching another meadow, you’re treated to more distant Gros Ventre peaks rising above Phillips Ridge in the foreground. This time it’s Jackson Peak and Cache Peak towering above the surrounding terrain. After enjoying the view, it’s back into the woods where you’ll continue the steep descent downward into Phillips Canyon.
It finally levels off in a large meadow capped with rocky cliffs high above. From here, you’ll parallel a creek as you climb slightly higher before crossing that creek. A short distance after, you’ll cross the main creek. Just beyond that you meet up with the Phillips Canyon Trail.
Depending on the season, the main creek will be gushing with melting snow, creating a powerfully strong cascading waterfall just above the crossing. As you begin the strenuous climb through alpine meadows, the roar of the waterfall begins to fade into the background. On the opposite side of the creek is a small talus slope where an occasional pica may be heard calling. Almost immediately, the expansive alpine meadows overtake the forest, diminishing the once prevalent evergreens into tiny islands in a sea of never-ending hills covered in grass.
The ascent will wind around a small grove before leveling off, and will continue this pattern more than once as it continues its steep climb up the hillside. Soon the trail winds around a couple of hills to reveal larger peaks up above. From here, it’s a steady ascent up to Phillips Pass with a small twist and turn.
Once at the top, views from 8,900+ feet stretch for dozens of miles to the southeast, opening up distant views into the Wind River, Gros Ventre, and Wyoming ranges. To the west, jagged and rocky cliffs of larger Teton Peaks block out the view across Moose Canyon. Find a cozy spot to enjoy the view, or if you’re feeling ambitious, continue up the Teton Crest Trail from Phillips Pass for even more stunning views.
To return, either hike out the way you came, or head out Phillips Canyon provided you’ve got a shuttle vehicle ready at the bottom.
From downtown Jackson, head west on Broadway for 1.4 miles to the junction with Highway 22 and take a right to begin heading west on Highway 22. Follow that for 9.5 miles through the town of Wilson where you begin driving up toward Teton Pass. At 3.75 miles from Wilson, look for the large Phillips Canyon Trailhead parking lot on the left. Park here and access the trail on the other side of the road, being very mindful of fast moving cars and trucks.