Distance: 2.1 miles
Best time of year: Summer, Fall
Ski Lake is a very popular hike among locals. It’s outside of Grand Teton National Park, which means it doesn’t have a big tourist draw. Likewise, it’s not the most spectacular lake in the Teton Mountains, but it is beautiful and nestled near the treeline of the southern Tetons. Though not terribly strenuous, it does make for a great workout over the course of just over 2 miles.
The Ski Lake Trail begins along a dirt road that branches off of Highway 22 a short distance below Teton Pass. A sign up the hill along the road will confirm you’re in the right area for the trail. Just beyond this you’ll cross a small creek in the road.
Continue up the road where you’ll pass a small spring on the left trickling onto the road. The road will bend and just beyond that you’ll see a sign instructing you that the trail officially begins to the left.
You pass through a large meadow with steep hillsides, but you’ll notice the dirt road is still just below. Fortunately, the road doesn’t get much traffic, so aside from lingering road noise from Highway 22, the forest will be getting more and more peaceful.
As the trail veers away from the dirt road and into the trees, you’ll notice nature’s peace beginning to flood the forest. These are still the Teton Mountains after all. A somewhat steady and relatively steep ascent brings you higher until it levels off at a small knob in the forest. Ahead lies a small grove of old growth, adding a bit of eeriness to an otherwise bright and open trail.
Through the old growth, the trail will bob up and down before it emerges into a large meadow, complete with a footbridge to carry you across a small seasonal creek from snow melt. On the other side of the meadow you’ll reach a fork in the trail. Right will bring you to Philips Pass while left will bring you to Ski Lake. With the former being for another post, we continue on with the latter.
The trail begins to climb steadily here, sometimes steep, sometimes not too steep. You pass through rustling quaking aspen groves, lush healthy meadows, and large evergreen groves offering shade and protection as only they can.
As you continue upward, the lower Teton peaks of the area begin to come into view above a large meadow. If you time it right in late spring and early summer, the meadow will be splattered with color from dozens of varieties of native wildflowers. Towering above them are lesser Teton peaks. But even lesser Teton Peaks are still brilliantly majestic.
Higher and higher you continue to climb. Soon you notice another seasonal creek joining the trail off to the right. A short distance later another footbridge brings you across the creek, this bridge noticeably larger than the former. After the crossing you’re brought through another jaw-dropping meadow adorned with more of nature’s wind chimes in the form of aspen trees. You’ll continue through another towering evergreen grove before passing through another meadow. Then as you approach the next evergreen grove, you’ll find the trail finally beginning to level off. On the other side of the grove lies the uniquely blue-green waters of Ski Lake. It can be enjoyed by wandering along the trees that line the southeast shore, or by following an unmaintained trail higher to get a bigger picture of the lake.
To return to the trailhead, head out the same way you came.
From downtown Jackson, head west on Broadway for about 1.3 miles to the large intersection with Highway 22. Turn right onto 22 and continue on it for 9.5 miles, through the town of Wilson and head up toward Teton Pass. From the base of the Teton Mountains in Wilson, it’s approximately 3.8 miles to the trailhead. After a large bend in the highway, you’ll notice a large parking area on the left and a dirt road immediately across from it on the right. Park in the lot on the left and begin hiking up the road on the other side of the highway.