Paddling in Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is best known for its majestic mountains and its abundant wildlife. It’s also a world-class paddling destination with clear alpine lakes and unbeatable scenery.

paddling grand teton national park
Kayakers on String Lake, Grand Teton National Park (photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

 

My family and I just returned from our second visit to the Tetons (it’s July 2017 as I write). We were reminded all over again of its incredibly beauty, ruggedness and opportunity for outdoor adventures.

While it seems many more folks are there for hiking, backpacking and camping, the crystal-clear alpine lakes are begging to be paddled—not just looked at and photographed!

The Best Places to Paddle

Of the more than 100 lakes in the Park, 10 are available for boating. Eight of those are for human-powered vessels only. That’s great news for those of us who love the quiet!

I’ve broken down the full map of the Park, below, to highlight the lakes open to paddling:

On the north end is Jackson Lake, by far the largest at 25,540 acres. Your best bet may be sticking to the smaller bays. Half Moon Bay and Colter Bay are popular, and also have rental options.

Jackson Lake is the only lake in the Park that allows sailing, wind surfing and water skiing. Since it’s so big, choose your location and time of day with care. Paddling in the bays will help keep you sheltered from some of the wind, or head out early before the wind picks up.

Paddling is allowed on Two Ocean Lake and Emma Matilda Lake. You’ll be able to see a view of the peaks over the treetops, but not the dramatic views you get from the other lakes. And you’ll have to portage your boat in to Emma Matilda since there’s no road right to it.

jackson lake tetons
(Maps courtesy of the National Park Service)

 

The most popular lakes to canoe, kayak and SUP are Jenny Lake, String Lake and Leigh Lake (shown below). They’re also very accessible, and lay at the base of the Teton Range’s biggest peaks. Incredibly scenic!! Tiny Bearpaw Lake, just a short hop north of Leigh Lake, is also open to paddling.

jenny string leigh lake tetons

There’s a well-traveled 100-yard portage connecting String and Leigh Lakes. You’ll need your own boat for these two, or you can get a daily rental from an outfitter outside the Park and bring it in.

Further south, Bradley, Taggart and Phelps Lakes are open to paddling. Since all three require portaging in on one of the hiking trails, you may be on the water all alone if you decide to make the trek yourself!

bradley taggart phelps lake tetons

You’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding mountains and canyons as you paddle across these pristine lakes.

The Best Times to Paddle

As in most places, you’re more likely to have less wind in the mornings and evenings. Also, as is typical in mountain areas, it’s not uncommon for an afternoon rain shower or thunderstorm to move in.

Get a forecast before heading out. You may not be able to see the clouds moving in from the west due to 7,000 feet of mountains in your way!

On our trip, we hiked on the String and Leigh Lake Trails first, and then went to Jenny Lake for some canoeing. Unfortunately, while String and Leigh were calm, the wind was whipping across Jenny, producing plenty of white caps.

We’ve done enough windy canoeing in Minnesota to know it wouldn’t be fun, so we decided to opt out. Next time we’ll get down there earlier in the day.

If you want to swim as well as paddle, shoot for July or August when the water “warms up.” (Being glacier-fed alpine lakes, they’re never really very warm!)

July and August are the busiest months in the Park for visitors, too. So if you prefer fewer people shoot for June or September. Get out early in the day as the parking lots start filling up by mid-to-late morning.

Rent or Bring Your Own Boat?

If you have room to haul them, you’ll have the most flexibility by bringing your own watercraft. No waiting in rental lines or following strict time guidelines. You’ll need a $10 Park permit per boat (including SUPs).

That said, there are three places in the Park that rent canoes and kayaks (these are 2017 prices):

  • Colter Bay Marina on Jackson Lake: $20/23 per person (not per boat—an important distinction)
  • Jenny Lake Boating: $20/hour per boat.
  • Signal Mountain Lodge on Jackson Lake: $21/hour for canoes; $19-25/hour for kayaks depending on whether it’s single or tandem.

There are a handful of outfitters outside the Park that offer rentals, too. You can find a listing of those on www.jacksonholenet.com. There’s a list of suggested outfitters on the Park boating page, if you’d like to go with a guide.

River rafting and guided fishing trips are other very popular paddling options. The Park boating page lists outfitters for those as well.

Know and Follow the Park Rules

The National Park (and Wyoming in general) is very serious about handling invasive species. If you bring your own watercraft, you’ll be required to have it checked before using it in the water.

If you’re thinking of bringing your pet(s) along, be sure and read up on Park rules about them. There are strict rules about pets throughout the Park including in the campgrounds, on the trails and in the water. We’ve always found it’s best to leave our dog at home.

Remember you’re in bear country. Never leave food in your boat if you decide to leave it on shore unattended. Here are the Park’s bear guidelines.

SUP string lake tetons
Standup paddleboarder on String Lake (Photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

 

People come from all over the world to see the Grand Tetons. You won’t regret adding it to your list of must-see places. When you do, consider paddling at least one of its beautiful alpine lakes for a one-of-a-kind experience.

More for you:

Source: National Park Service website