We’re off to Denver to do a round trip taking in Yellowstone. We would like to do a 2 or 3 day wilderness trip in a canoe or kayak - fairly flat water and somewhere where we can hire the kit.
Has anyone got any suggestions?
Possibilities seem to be Yellowstone Lake, Jackson Lake, Flaming Gorge, Bighorn Canyon, Upeer reaches on the Colorado.
I suggest the classic Loma to Westwater run on the Colorado. But it is on the Co/Ut border and you may not be going that far West. It goes through canyon country, through a wilderness study area, but you'll get woken up by freight trains in the night on the lower part. Tends to be a bit crowded at Black Rocks, but otherwise, you mostly have the river to yourself, especially if you arrange for a mid-week trip. Still, it is well worth doing - scenery is fantastic, and you have a good current most of the way. There are outfitters in Grand Junction to rent from and get shuttle service. You can do the trip easily in two days; three allows more time for exploring the canyons.
Unfortunately,your criteria rule out almost everything else outside of Yellowstone. In the mountains,roads and railroads follow all the river valleys, and the river valleys were the first places settled because of the need for water and grazing, so no wilderness there. Once you get up far enough into the mountains to get away from the roads, you are talking class IV if its paddleable at all.
The Missouri R in Montana might be another option, if you are travelling that far North.
The Green River below Flaming Gorge is also a real nice trip that can be done as a 2 or 3 day trip, and is basically class 1 if you start at Little Hole, and portage the class III Red Creek Rapid. It is also very popular as a trout fishing float trip and you'll see a fair number of other people, but I wouldn't call it crowded; the upper half of the trip is away from roads (and no trains, but the lower half (take out at Swinging Bridge above Brown's Hole Nat'l WIldlife area)has some raods crossing it and drive to the river roads - however, I don't think that there are any local outfitters for canoes or kayaks, though you can arrange for shuttle service easily enough.
Thanks, Mattt. I’ve looked up that stretch of the Colorado and it sounds really good. We are going that far West, dropping South from Yellowstone to Flaming Gorge, then Dinosaur to Grand Junction.
It looks like a toss-up between Yellowstone Lake and the Colorado with the Colorado just edging it now!
Lots to choose from
I don’t know much about the rentals, other than that there are some outfitters in the Jackson Hole area. We’ve seen guided trip groups in Yellowstone every time we’ve gone there.
Now, as far as your short camping trips, you have some great choices.
Both Jackson Lake and Yellowstone Lake are large enough that you can select several different short camping trips (or make one longer trip). For some ideas, get the book “Paddling Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks” by Don Nelson. His trips are by no means the only ones you can do there–we have used his book to get an idea of what some campsites are like but we have never replicated his trips exactly.
Jackson Lake gives you the humongous famed mountain views but has more powerboat traffic. It is a reservoir (dammed). Yellowstone Lake allows powerboats but is quieter, and portions of the three arms are motor-free.
You didn’t mention one of my favorite paddle-camping places, Shoshone Lake. It is the largest backcountry lake in the lower 48 states. What this means is that of the places you named, it is the only true wilderness location: no motors, no roads. You can only acccess it via an 8-mile hiking trail OR by paddling from Lewis Lake and Lewis River. The paddle from Lewis Lake is fairly short but includes lining or portaging your gear up the river channel for perhaps 1 to 2 miles, depending on water levels and flows.
If you want to paddle around ALL of Shoshone Lake/Lewis Lake, that would be more than a 2-night trip. However, you could still get in a visit to the undeveloped Shoshone Geyser Basin with a 2-night trip. That’s what we did our first time there. It is an INCREDIBLE place to see, because there are no boardwalks, signs, or other tourist-kiddie-prevention stuff. Just the hot pools, geysers, and colorful waters/soils.
For all of the above, you must reserve the designated campsites with the park ranger backcountry office. The camping itself is free; reservations ahead of time entail a small fee. For any paddling in these two parks, you also need to buy an inexpensive boat permit, available at the parks.
For a day paddle with gorgeous views of the Tetons, head to String and Leigh Lakes. There is a short portage between the two, well worth it with unloaded boats. You can also camp there but it appears to be heavily used by backpackers.
If you don’t want to deal with permits, you can do a short trip on Flaming Gorge. In 2005 I paddled around the reservoir, which took 8 paddling days (I took one day off due to high winds, which the northern section is famous for). Mentally, I divide Flaming Gorge into two sections. The northern section is where most people DON’T paddle: open, windy, typical Great Basin look of sagebrush and rolling hills. The southern section is the canyon part: narrow, rock cliffs, colorful, more crowded. Though there are a few boat-in campsites, they are not designed for kayakers and might be full. Dispersed camping is allowed; keep in mind that at least one section (Red Canyon) is sheer cliffs with no landing sites for a few miles. At all times, there could be powerboats, though I found most of them courteous.
Water in Yellowstone, Shoshone, and Flaming Gorge is clear and cold, unless you hit Flaming Gorge when the “lake is turning over”. Generally good for filtering and drinking. Water in the Colorado is silty, so if you go that route, let the water settle in a bucket before you try filtering it (or just carry your entire drinking water supply).
That’s great, Pikabike. Shoshone Lake is now on my list, that’s just what I was after with a winderness trip. I think we’ll also do the Colorado as the kayaking there is quite a different experience. Hopefully this will give me the buzz to try something more adventurous in future.
Loma to Westwater
I just returned from this trip. I took less then 2 days. Rather hot, but the water is cool. Can get windy in the afternoon. I used “Rimrock Adventures” in Fruits, CO to shuttle my truck. You need to have a portable toilet as it is a requirement. You can rent one at Rimrock.