Jackson Lake - Grand Teton NP

Anyone have experience paddling on Jackson Lake? I have backcountry reservations for three trips up to Leigh Lake in July & August. The July trips are 4 nighters with 2 nights at an east side camp and 2 nights at a west side camp. For August I could only put together a 3 nighter with 3 different camps. I’m thinking about how to add some extra paddling in GTNP to the August trip. I know Jackson Lake is big, with some longer paddling distances and power boats. There is one camp that’s about a 1 mile paddle from Colter Bay Marina. Little Mackinaw Bay camp. There are a bunch of small islands and bays in that area. I’m thinking of staying at that camp for 2 nights & doing some day paddling to explore. It seems like a safer way to dip my toe into Jackson Lake paddling since this part of the trip (or maybe the whole trip) might be a solo affair. I have found one YouTube video so far of a solo paddler who did a 3 night loop on Jackson Lake and stayed at Little Mackinaw camp.

Thanks in advance for any info.

There is a very good paddling guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. It describes day trips as well as multiday trips, including info about many of the campsites. My copy of the book is still packed, but if you search on Yellowstone paddling guide, it should come right up. AFAIK, it is the only such book available.

The descriptions are pretty accurate, based on my comparisons between several trips there and what he wrote. I also used both an Earthwalk waterproof map to the area and Trails Illustrated/National Geographic maps.

Is it a Falcon Guide by Don Nelson? I found it on Amazon. Thanks.

Yes, that is the book.

Looks like it might be out of print, but used books were available on Amazon so I ordered one. I’ll look for the maps. Thanks.

I’ve paddled there. Wind is ALWAYS a factor. Get an early start, as wind will usually pick up and make things dicey by 10 am.

@Loon_Watcher said:
I’ve paddled there. Wind is ALWAYS a factor. Get an early start, as wind will usually pick up and make things dicey by 10 am.

Thanks. I was pretty sure wind would be an issue. The wind seems to pick up on Leigh Lake between 1:00 & 2:00pm, sometimes earlier. I’m thinking that a two-nighter around the islands & bays close to Colter Bay Marina will be a good starting point to check things out. Little Mackinaw Bay camp would be a short distance paddle. Now I have to find some folks who are up for an exploratory trip. I have one friend in mind who just loves to paddle…any time, any place. I just hope my dates work for him. My July Leigh lake trips may get trumped by a rafting trip on the Main Salmon River in Idaho if we get lucky and pull a lottery permit. If the August trip ends up being my only Grand Teton trip then I want to make it a good one with as many paddle days as possible.

Would a short paddle to the Little Mackinaw Bay area be suitable for canoes? I may have some interest from tandem canoe folks.

I’d just have a back up plan. If you can’t paddle that day, you can go sight seeing, etc. A trip across the pass to Victor, then across Rt. 31 to Palasades reservoir in Swan Valley is a nice drive, and you can paddle the reservoir (also subject to wind issues).
Here’s a photo of the reservoir on the Snake river.

I know that reservoir very well. We raft & paddle the Snake above it through Alpine Canyon, and the Snake below it through the Southfork Canyon all the time. Looks like canoes are good to go. I have canoes , kayaks, and a few inflatables on the Leigh Lake trips I lead, but for Jackson Lake I’ll specify kayaks & canoes only.

I am well acquainted with the wind on Palisades. We were going to put-in just below the dam for a Southfork Snake trip a few years ago. We usually put-in at Conant. When we arrived at the campground by the dam, we noticed some smaller trees behind our campsite that were growing in a peculiar manner. In the morning we found out why. The wind was blowing like a hurricane off the dam. We couldn’t even keep the stove lit to make coffee. No wonder the trees are growing sideways. We went down to Conant to launch instead and it was fine.

There is a portage from Bear Paw bay on Jackson Lake you can reach Leigh Lake in about 1-hour. Worth the portage. so you can link the two lakes together. Its seldom done. Come out at the ranger station. Jean and Pete who are the rangers there may let you camp at there cabin. they love paddlers. Leigh has some nice camps on the west end bays.

I have campsites reserved on Leigh Lake for three nights. Beautiful lake that I’ve been paddling for the last two summers. I know Pete & Jean well. Great folks. The people that paddle with me usually hike over to Jackson Lake when we camp on the east side of Leigh Lake. When we camp on the west side, they hike up Paintbrush Canyon. I have a bad knee, so I don’t hike much anymore. I’m trying to add a few extra paddle days before my reserved camp dates on Leigh Lake in August. I’ve never paddled on Jackson Lake, so I figured paddling over to Little Mackinaw Bay camp for 2 nights would be a good way to start out. I now have Little Mackinaw Bay camp reserved for two nights the first week in August, then 2 days/2 nights in between, then Leigh Lake for 3 nights. One of my in between days will be the paddle from Little Mackinaw Bay back to Colter Bay, then I’ll either drive up to Yellowstone for a day, or maybe go to Two Ocean Lake for a paddle??? Either way, I’d like to put-in on Leigh Lake before noon. I’ll have to see if I can find some folks who want to join me in all or part of this little smorgasbord paddling adventure.

And put in at Flagg Ranch and camp within the National Forest before you hit Jax lake etc. Awesome and isolated, beautiful and not a soul around. Then you could paddle the west side of the lake.

Pikabike - I got the Don Nelson guide yesterday. Great book, with good descriptions & good suggestions for multi-day paddle routes. Thanks again.

Glad to have helped. It is one of the better guidebooks out there.

I’ve changed up my plan for August. I will do Leigh Lake for 3 nights, then paddle out and camp at Colter Bay for 1 night, then paddle to Little Mackinaw Bay for 1 night, paddle to Hermitage Point for 2 nights, then paddle back to Little Mackinaw Bay for the last night. I think I’ll advertise the trip to my outdoor club as “The Teton Sampler.”

According to the guidebook that pikabike recommended, this should be about 1 mile to Little Mackinaw Bay, and about a 4-5 mile paddle to Hermitage Point campsite. The guidebook gives info on a day paddle from Signal Mountain to Colter Bay and back to Signal Mountain. It lists the trip as 12 miles round trip, so Im basing my mileage estimate on that. I decided that if I was going to be up there, I might as well get more paddling in.

I think I paddled Signal Mtn-Colter Bay trip as a day trip. It was quite a few years ago, so I’m not sure if that was the one.

@pikabike said:
I think I paddled Signal Mtn-Colter Bay trip as a day trip. It was quite a few years ago, so I’m not sure if that was the one.
I know afternoon wind is always a concern. I’ll plan to be on the water paddling early each day. It looks like we can stay close to shore, with no long open water crossings between Colter Bay, Little Mackinaw Bay, and Hermitage Point. The guide book talks about coming around to the Little Mackinaw Bay campsite from the north end of the island to avoid waves on the western side of the island. I need to check on bear boxes at the camps, but I did see one video on You Tube that showed 2 boxes at the Little Mac camp. Hermitage Point is a group site, so I’m guessing it will have a bear box. All the camps on Leigh Lake have them. I see on the map that there’s a hiking trail out to Hermitage point so I’m sure any hikers in my group will be happy to have a layover day at that camp. My camps at Leigh Lake for this summer are planned with easy access to the hiking trails up Paintbrush Canyon & the one over to Jackson Lake.

I’ll need a better, more detailed map of Jackson Lake. I’ll look for the one’s you listed.

Paddled from Flagg to Signal a couple years ago as fall turned to winter. Got a foot of snow the last camp.

Paddled the Snake from Flagg Ranch into Jackson Lake last summer with paddletothesea. Great times, beautiful country, highly recommended!