Excursion

This is the view north off the Phillips Ridge Trail.

The Phillips Bench area is by no means off the beaten path. However, it is off the radar of many campers despite its easy access.

Even though it boasts a prominent U.S. Forest Service road (No. 30972A) that follows Phillips ridge all the way down to Fish Creek Road, this zone hasn’t garnered the popularity of Curtis Canyon or Shadow Mountain among car campers.

But why?

There aren’t well-established or designated campsites along this Bridger-Teton National Forest road as there are at the aforementioned popular car camping zones, but what it lacks here it gains in other amenities.

First and foremost, this is the perfect camping zone for groups composed of people with different outdoor interests, because there are a variety of activities easily accessible from here. Depending on how far along the service road you decide to camp, the trail to Ski Lake is just shy of 2 miles up, offering a great swimming hole and afternoon hangout area relatively close to the camping area.

If you are camped a little farther down the service road from the Ski Lake trailhead proper, this can actually make the hike to the lake shorter because the trail runs parallel to the service road for the first 3/4 of a mile.

For those interested in larger hiking objectives from their Phillips Bench base camp, this zone is often the starting point for many through-hikers on the Teton Crest Trail. Hiking up Phillips Pass, north off the Ski Lake Trail, goes toward Moose Creek Divide. This area is a 7-mile hike, but for those looking for a big day there are some spectacular views and high alpine lakes.

Perhaps mountain biking or trail running is more your cup of tea? This camping zone has you covered. The Arrow Trail begins across the Forest Service road from the Ski Lake trail. From here there are many options for running and biking enthusiasts. More geared toward running and cross-country biking, there is a 7-mile loop that begins going out the Arrow Trail until it meets up with the Snotel trail. Here, the loop continues up the Snotel trail before meeting with the Phillips Ridge trail that continues back to the beginning on Arrow. The Snotel trail crosses the Forest Service road, and that could be a great spot to start this loop depending on how far down the service road you’re camped.

Other mountain biking options include the ever-popular descents down Phillips Ridge or Phillips Canyon. Both trails have some short ascents in the beginning but descend all the way down to the valley floor to the Phillips trailhead on Fish Creek Road.

Phillips Ridge on the whole is a fast, smooth, predominantly dirt trail with berms and other fun features. Phillips Canyon, on the contrary, is much more rugged, with boulders and roots marking the trail’s surface and making for a much more technical descent.

For those larger groups interested in multisport days that involve more driving and logistics from their base camp atop the ridge, I recommend mountain biking down either Phillips Ridge or Phillips Canyon and having others in the group meet down on Fish Creek Road with tubes. There is a small corner of national forest where Fish Creek cuts across, allowing public access to the creek. From there you can float on tubes back to Wilson to grab lunch and other supplies before heading back up Teton Pass to the campsite.

While this area doesn’t have views of the Teton Range as Shadow Mountain does, it has spectacular views across the valley and the Gros Ventre Range to the east. Phillips Bench is convenient and offers a variety of activities, making it one of the more underrated car camping zones around.

Park looks forward to his next adventure camping on Phillips Bench and hopes to go for several nights in a row.

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(1) comment

Sam Campbell

...and all the nice things you just wrote about the area will no longer be true in 3, 2, 1...

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