The 6 mile (one way) Phillips Canyon Trail is an infrequently traveled trail, particularly to access Phillips Pass. Since most of it is tucked away in the forest, most would agree it’s not the most scenic trail, but what it lacks in scenery, it more than makes up for in solitude and silence.
Phillips Canyon Trail Description
From the small parking area, cross the street where you’ll ascend a small rise onto private land. Please respect this person’s land and rules as you travel a short distance through to access the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Once in the national forest, you’ll travel along a healthy creek before crossing it. The trail will bring you to a kiosk where multiple trails will branch out from there.
Continue straight to begin climbing into Phillips Canyon, where the sound of rushing water and birds create the soundscape for much of the trail. The gradual ascent you were first treated to soon becomes not so gradual as you pass through meadows breaking up the forest.
At a level point in the trail, a creek can be heard rushing through far below. It maintains its steady elevation as you pass through more meadows, staying well above the creek, with only a small incline here and there. Soon the sound of the creek grows closer as you near it, where you’ll notice a large granite overhang on the opposite side of the canyon. You’ll cross the small clear stream, then emerge into a meadow below southern Teton peaks towering high above, teasing a glimpse of what’s yet to come.
Follow the trail as it climbs again into another beautiful meadow, this one lined with healthy aspen trees. The trail will descend slightly to cross a small footbridge, where it will immediately begin to climb steeply again. High above the creek, the trail switchbacks high into a side canyon where dramatic views peek through the forest. After the trail climbs back into Phillips Canyon, the trail levels off for a bit, where you’ll hear the sound of the cascading creek now far below once again. Behind you, a relatively sweeping view into Jackson Hole can be seen above the surrounding trees.
The sound of the creek soon fades as you continue climbing higher, and a bare rocky peak soon comes into view above a pleasant meadow rolling down the mountainside. You’ll then reach a larger meadow overlooking the creek below, where the mighty and old lodgepole pines that have been towering above you the entire time now begin to thin out as you near alpine meadows.
The creek is soon back along the trail, where you’ll switchback above it, and then parallel it. At 4.2 miles, you’ll reach a fork where you’ll head right to stay on the Phillips Canyon Trail. Soon after, you’ll also notice the trees beginning to break up a bit more as you begin to reach a more alpine elevation. A short distance later, you’ll reach another fork where a large alpine meadow opens up in front of you, complete with a large cascading waterfall just off the trail to the left. The two other trails here will bring you either to the Ski Lake area of Teton Pass by going left, or up to Phillips Pass by continuing right.
Ascending to the right, you’ll begin climbing through the large meadow, hearing an occasional pika calling from a large rocky outcropping across the rushing creek. The steep climb takes you through expansive alpine meadows that have now shrunk the forest into small islands of shade and sanctuary. The terrain soon gets hillier as the massive Teton peaks begin to make their presence more known. Climbing up one last hill, you finally reach the beautiful Phillips Pass.
To your north the Tetons begin to grow mightier and larger. Across Moose Canyon straight ahead, a sheer rocky cliff thousands of feet high steal the western view. With no shortage of places to relax, grab a scenic spot and take out a well deserved meal. When you’re ready, you can head out either the same way you came up, or by heading out either upper Phillips Canyon back at the previous junction, or by descending into Moose Canyon just on the other side of the pass. If you do either, make sure you have a way to get back to your car.
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