The Rockefeller family has played a huge role in preserving the area we now know as Grand Teton National Park. In 1949, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated 33,000 acres to the National Park service. In 2001, his son, Laurance S. Rockefeller, paid tribute to that legacy of conservation with a donation of his own, gifting 1,106 acres of his family's remaining private ranch land. Part of Grand Teton, and yet administered by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve represents a contemplative and one-of-a-kind experience for visitors. Here are just some of the reasons why you can't miss this refuge of wilderness reflection. The rest you'll have to discover for yourself!
1. Escape the crowds
From the beginning, Laurance S. Rockefeller envisioned the Preserve as a place where visitors could experience the same spiritual connection that he himself remembered from his earliest visits to the Tetons.
When Jackson Lake Lodge was dedicated, he commented that "[t]he trees, the animals, the streams, the flowers, preserved as much as possible in their natural state of beauty, will in turn help preserve our most precious resource—the human spirit."
We think most visitors to the preserve agree. Reached by traversing the quiet and scenic Moose Wilson Road from the Moose or Granite Canyon park entrances, the parking lot is capped at a set amount of cars at any one time. This means that during the peak summer season, an average amount of 300 visitors per day (40,000 per year) saunter along the preserve's wooded trails and through the stunning Preserve center. If 300 per day sounds like a lot to you, keep in mind that Grand Teton National Park receives in excess of 2 million visitors per year.
This serene spot truly is a quiet nook where visitors can be alone with their thoughts, just as Laurance intended. Hear that sound? That's nature.
2. The Preserve has ADA accessible features.
To emphasize its inclusivity, the Lake Creek trail offers a steel feature that allows those traveling via wheelchair to hover safely at the cusp of a small, chattering waterfall. Along with bridges and well-maintained, broad trails, the preserve's entire 16-plus mile trail network serves to emphasize personal moments of interaction with nature. The Lake Creek and Woodland Trail Loop as well as the Phelps Lake Trail Loop offer good hiking options for families, complete with interpretive signs as you go.
The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve's building is special. For one thing, the U.S. Green Building Council has awarded it with a Platinum LEED Certification, the highest possible accolade for green-friendly building practices. What visitors often remember, however, is the poetry of the space itself. The golden, deceptively simple building seems perfectly perched in its sagebrush meadow, the peak of its roof gracefully echoing the curves of Death Canyon's U-shape behind.
Within, screens display the passing of the seasons in Grand Teton National Park, large windows allow light to stream in unhindered and a sound chamber creates a chapel-like space of peaceful nature sounds (all recorded in the preserve itself) cycling through. And, there's actual poetry there, too. On the walls of the preserve center, a poem by acclaimed conservationist writer of the American West, Terry Tempest Williams, begins with a small feather floating on nearby Phelps Lake. From that feather, readers can follow the journey across the walls to a greater message about the balance of all natural life.
This is truly one of the most beautiful, sensitively designed and meditative spaces in all of the nation's national parks. Take some time to nurture your own relationship to nature here.
4. The Jumping Rock
This one is a local secret that's all but gotten out. As part of the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve's trail system, you can break out along the Phelps Lake Trail, which encloses the entirety of the glassy, deep and indigo blue waters. Just make a right and follow signs when you've reached the terminus of the Lake Creek or Woodland Trails.
You shouldn't have a hard time picking out "the jumping rock." For one thing, there will already be some brave souls perched at the top, daring one other to jump. On a hot day, nothing feels better! Bring your swimsuit and towel and enjoy a little sunbathing post-dip, whether on the sunny boulder itself or on Phelps' version of a sandy beach just a little further along the trail. Once there, you might as well finish circuiting the whole of this gorgeous lake, enjoying views of the Tetons and Death Canyon from all angles.
5. Chatting with Rangers and staff
Another benefit of the preserve's intimate environment is the chance to get some quality face time with Park Rangers and the other staff—many of them volunteers—who are employed by the Laurance S. Rockefeller Foundation. Although the preserve is part of the park, it is administered by the foundation. In general, we always encourage visitors to, well, visit with park staff, as they are founts of knowledge about wildlife, geology and the history of the park. In the preserve, you get all of this, plus smaller group sizes for Ranger Talks and the chance to hold forth on all those questions you were just dying to ask.
With group sizes capped at 10, an Explore the Preserve hike lets you set off into the woods towards the shores of Phelps Lake with a Park Ranger as your guide. Along the way, he or she will share interesting park facts, point out cool sights such as wildlife and rare wildflower species and lead you and your group in conversation about your own treasured wild spaces. This is an aspect of programs in the preserve that differs slightly from ranger talks in the rest of the park and is part and parcel of Laurance Rockefeller's wish that every visitor leave with a renewed commitment to the preservation of wild spaces, big or small.
Other options include an informal gab session with a ranger over coffee and the chance for kids ages 6 to 12 to check out Discovery Backpacks, which include activities and journals. Be sure to check the park newspaper for current schedules or call 307-739-3654 to make inquiries or reserve a spot on a hike.