Kayaking in Yellowstone and Grand Teton
So it’s no surprise that together the two parks, which are situated only a few miles from each other, host more than 5 million people per year. But here’s the thing: most visitors never leave the road.
You would think that with a collective area of almost 4,000 square miles of pristine wilderness waiting to be explored, that more people would opt to head into the backcountry, right? Well, there’s just one problem. For many, backpacking conjures up not-so-pleasant thoughts of 50-pound packs, freeze-dried meals, and tons of planning.
So what if we told you there was another way?
If backpacking isn’t your style, but you want incredible access to areas few people see, a kayaking trip may be the answer. Here’s what you need to know about kayaking in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
When to kayak: June – September
When you explore the glacially-fed lakes in Grand Teton National Park by kayak, you’ll find yourself in a solitary paradise. Miles from roads or cars, you can paddle around endless shorelines, inlets, and islands and spot moose, bears, and bald eagles from the safety of your boat. Kayaks are permitted on Jackson, Jenny, Phelps, Emma Matilda, Two Ocean, Taggart, Bradley, Bearpaw, Leigh, and String lakes. Rent kayaks from Jenny Lake for a day trip, or for a truly remote experience, take an overnight trip.
As the only park concessioner with an overnight permit for Jackson Lake, O.A.R.S. offers a one-of-a-kind paddling experience in Grand Teton National Park. Spend anywhere from one to four nights sleeping under Wyoming stars at the base of the Tetons in truly unique campsites. As you reach the far side of the lake you’ll stay on Grassy Island, an idyllic camp with unprecedented solitude. From there, it’s easy to explore the Teton backcountry; take a dip in glacial waters after hiking to Leigh and Trapper lakes; or follow a rarely-used trail up Moran Creek for unbeatable views of Mount Moran, Triple Glacier, the Gros Ventre Mountain Range, and Jackson Lake itself.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
When to kayak: June – September
Yellowstone National Park also allows paddling on most of its lakes. But it’s Yellowstone Lake – the largest high-alpine lake in the country at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet – that offers up a true backcountry experience where you can explore wild shoreline for hours without seeing a soul.
Paddling on Yellowstone Lake provides unique access to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, where you can get up close and personal to an array of Yellowstone’s famous hydrothermal features (dormant, for now). Here you can paddle past caves dripping with boiling hot water and experience steam vents releasing streams of bubbles all around you. Also not to be missed are Lakeshore and Twin Geysers, which lie underwater, making for an otherworldly kayak experience. Go with an interpretive guide and they’ll explain the origins of sites like Fishing Cone Geyser where early visitors used to catch cutthroat trout and cook them in the geyser.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Permits for private trips are available through the National Park Service, but if you don’t have the gear or the skills to lead your own kayaking trip in Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks, excursions with an authorized national park concessioner like O.A.R.S. offer professional guides, deluxe meals (no freeze-dried food), as well as all the equipment you’ll need like camp chairs, tents, and waterproof bags to transport your personal gear.
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Travel Idea provided by O.A.R.S. West Inc., an authorized concessioner of Grand Teton National Park and a licensed commercial permit holder in Yellowstone National Park. Images: O.A.R.S. West Inc., and the National Park Service.