Lewis River into Shoshone Lake question

I am planning a trip this summer to paddle the lakes (by canoe with a partner) in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I am considering Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone. Two questions:

It seems necessary , going up Lewis River into Shoshone Lake, to get out of your canoe, wade upstream, and drag the boat for some distance. I have read that the water is frigid. So do you need waders to do this? Or can you do it barelegged in shoes or river sandals? Anyone have any experience here?

Second question, would you recommend Shoshone Lake over Yellowstone Lake? Yellowstone Lake does have some areas where motors are not allowed.

Thanks for any and all advice!

G in NC

I’ve done it a few times

– Last Updated: Mar-25-14 3:18 PM EST –

You basically paddle up the Lewis River as far as current and shallowness allow, then line/portage the rest of the way. We never needed any special footwear, just our normal paddling booties. The water is cold but it will be in summer, so not that bad if water is not really high. But if it were really high, you would not be wading in it anyway.

I like Shoshone better than Yellowstone, for its remoteness, and for the fact that you can easily access the Shoshone geyser basin, which is undeveloped (no boardwalks etc), without car access.

However, Yellowstone has nicer views from its north side, you can paddle by the West Thumb geyser basin from the opposite side of the thermals as the tourists are gawking, and there simply aren't that many powerboats on it. They are prohibited in the 3 arms on the southeast side. I wouldn't avoid the other parts of the lake, because (as just stated) there aren't many powerboats anyway. The cold water must keep them away. Jackson Lake is less cold and closer to town, so that's where they go.

Camping-wise, both lakes are subject to horrid swarms of mosquitoes in certain sites, both get crazy windy suddenly when a storm blasts in, and both have cold water. You will need to get a cheap boating permit from the park for either lake. It used to be maybe $5 per boat for a week; I don't know what they charge now.

If you do only day trips, no other permit is required. If you intend to camp, you must attend backcountry orientation (30 minutes) and get permits for camping. It's bear country, and that is what the orientation will focus on.

The red tape isn't bad and preps are well worth the experience. Have a great trip!

Thanks, Pika!
Great info.


Bear spray will likely be needed
if you backcountry camp. The rangers at the orientation are VERY insistent about having it along.

I’m cool with bear spray.

They didn’t push it on us

– Last Updated: Mar-25-14 9:05 PM EST –

We never carried any there, and it was not required, nor did the orientation dwell on it. Maybe things have changed since then.

The emphasis of bear prevention was to put food away between meals and secure it in bags hung up between trees or poles, which the park has built in many (if not all) of the designated campsites. Also, avoid "perfuming" the site with fragrances of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. The bears equate those with human presence, and therefore with food to grab.

Here's the strange part: One ranger told us that he had never heard of a bear in any Shoshone lakeside site, and maybe only one at a Yellowstone Lake lakeside site. Where the bears tended to go was at BACKPACKING sites on well-used land routes. It's a matter of more hikers = greater chance of getting food. There just aren't as many kayakers or canoeists. But again, things may have changed for the worse.

Shoshone is nice
I went to Shoshone in July ‘12. It was nice, well worth it. I have not paddled on Yellowstone.

Wading in the Lewis River water was tolerable. I do recommend stout shoes and some walking sticks.

The bottom is 6" - 2’ boulders that can be slippery and it is easy to wedge your foot in between boulders. I had on neo booties and strapped Tevas over them for the stiffer sole and tread, and was glad I did. Walking through the bolders with current flowing and a boat tugging me backwards, it was easy to slip, and I longed for a hiking stick or two to help keep my balance. It was difficult to find anything for a hiking stick, so I suggest you tuck a couple in your boat before you get there.

The rangers scared me into buying bear spray. I tried not to see any bears by making a lot of noise. I didn’t encounter any bears.

The bear bar–log suspended between two trees–at my site was 20 - 25 feet off the ground.


For stringing up your food, be sure to bring enough rope to get over the bar and back to the ground.


I paddle and camp…
both lakes several times each year. Be more than happy to answer any questions you might have, feel free to shoot me an email.

From our trip report

Sept 9 At Yellowstone - We kayaked 13 miles.

We kayaked at Lewis Lake, which at elevation 7,800 is the highest place we have ever kayaked.

It was 24 degrees when we got up, and by the time we drove the seventy miles to get to the lake, the temperature was up to the mid thirties. We dressed properly in layers, and were very comfortable, and by the afternoon were able to shed some of the layers.

We put in at a boat ramp on the south end of the lake, then crossed to the west side and paralleled the shoreline heading north. After about four miles we turned into Lewis River, and paddled up stream for about two miles until we came to some shallow rapids. Since it was about our turn around time we decided to go back rather than portage the rapids and continue. We had braced ourselves for some high winds and big waves when we got back to the lake, since it was windy and choppy on the way, and we were told by the rangers that the afternoon can become fierce on the lake, but we were presently surprised to find just a gentle breeze and a light ripple which was that way all the way back.

On the west side of the lake, we paddled into some hot springs, which were bubbling right out of the ground at the shoreline. We located them by the rising steam that we could see from a long way off. This was another paddling first for us. At one time when I put my hand in the water, and almost scalded it, I figured we better not hang around there too long, not knowing how the plastic kayaks would sand up to the heat. I could visualize my kayak bending in half!

We also paddled by a lone bison on the shore, and while we were in Lewis River watched a coyote lope up a hill while all the time keeping an eye on us.

On the drive to and from the lake we saw elk and bison everywhere, and at one time on the way we had to stop our car while a parade of bison came down the road toward us. It was about as comical as it can get. Some were in single file and some in pairs. There were big ones and little ones. The traffic on our side had to stop for fear of hitting them since there were only a couple of feet between us and them, and naturally they were holding up the traffic behind them. The pace that they were walking was just fast enough that the babies had to run a few steps here and there to keep up. I thought one of them was ancient. Since he had a white tips all over his head and hide, until Nanci pointed out that it was frost. Trailing at the end of the line was the long line of cars that they held up.

Jack L

Sticks – excellent advice
Thanks. Will follow your advice re good soles and a stick for balance. My guess is that the difficulty depends partly on water level, but my balance isn’t great anymore.

Bears prefe backpackers – Yay!!!

– Last Updated: Mar-26-14 7:13 AM EST –

My paddling partner is weirded out by the bears. She'll be thrilled to hear they're trailing the hikers, not the paddlers! :-)

We do keep a very clean camp in bear country and will follow the park's suggestions, repeated over and over, about bear safety.

I would like to see . . .
a line of bison holding up a line of cars!!!

Nice report, Jack. We hope to use the campground there at Lewis Lake to get a less rushed start to paddle across Lewis, up the river, and into Shoshone.



Campground at Lewis Lake
Not a bad place to spend a night, smaller and much quieter than most of the Yellowstone campgrounds we were at. We felt like we had it to ourselves except for the elk bugling. My better half decided against paddling in the cold, late September weather and I’ve always regretted not making it up to Shoshone.




We’re planning mid-July. Sounds like Sept is the time for wildlife and weather adventures!

Second what Pikabike said.
Try to get the most up to date information about paddling in the two national parks. I grew up visiting the parks a couple of times each summer and have been back for visits for paddling and cross-country skiing. Every time we go back the rules and guidelines have changed. I would suggest paddling any of the lakes they will let you paddle in both parks; you don’t know when they will let you back in. In my book Yellowstone lake is one of the best lakes in the Mountain West, and paddling at the foot of the Tetons, on Leigh, String, and Jackson lake one of my favorite memories of my youth.

I have been snowed on in July
on Yellowstone Lake.

Current weather patterns don’t look like that will happen but the weather in Yellowstone is always very unpredictable. It used to be when there was a strong Monsoon season, you would get heavy rains in July, doubt that will happen. However July is the absolute worst month to visit the parks, people everywhere.

People almost everywhere
I doubt you will see many people on Shoshone Lake. The park may be full, but the average tourist is unlikely to drag a boat up the Lewis. Once you are out there, you won’t see many people.

Lewis Campground may fill up–more likely on weekend. Get there early in the day to ensure you get a spot. Talk to the camp host about expected traffic for the day you return if you plan to camp the day you get off the Lake. I ended up renting my site for the night I was out on the Lake and my return day, which was a Saturday. Sure enough the campground was full upon my return, so I was glad to have a site already locked down.


I paddle it often
Been up there a bunch. Yeah you will probably have to wade about 1/4 to 1/2 a mile. It is not that deep which is why you have to wade. In really high water, I’ve almost paddled the entire way through. Not the normal thou…Its anywhere from ankle to knee deep and in the summer its warm enough and you are not IN the water long enough to get cold. I’m usually wearing shorts and sandals at this point. Dont worry about the cold unless you can’t handle any cold.

Some great camps in the middle of the lake and also to the north side…less used and easy access to trails where you could hike to the geyser basins if you want…or paddle there. WInds can get bad on the lake, dont be out in the middle. That lake is cold!!!

Yellowstone Lake is great too, just bigger and maybe has the feel of being more crowed but not really…since nobody can camp with you as each permit is for your group and not everyone…

If you want a great ttip do the SE shore of Y-stone lake…take you about a week(5-8 days) is good. Plenty to see and hike too. Shoneshone a smaller version of the big lake. Both good. Email me if you want more details or photos etc.


Avoid the Sturgis weekends

– Last Updated: Mar-27-14 1:17 PM EST –

Whatever you do, try not to be there either just before or after the Sturgis rally. The extreme noise is audible even from Shoshone Lake. And they swarm the campgrounds, even Lewis Lake's.

July should be OK but buggy, and make sure that the bears woke up early enough that the NPS doesn't delay opening backcountry camping in July. It has happened.

September sees fewer people but the weather becomes really seesaw-y. I've vacationed in Yellowstone twice in early September, and both times experienced prolonged downpours. I mean like a full day or two full days, not just summer thundershowers that blow by soon.

bear spray isn’t about being scared

– Last Updated: Mar-27-14 2:41 PM EST –

This is a bit off topic, but there was a remark above about being "scared into" carrying bear spray.
I work for a land management agency in the Greater Yellowstone area, and I can tell you that most field going professionals and local recreationists carry bear spray as a matter of course. These folks are not carrying it becasue they are scared; they are being responsible. You need to be able to deter an attack for many reasons other than fear. Not only may you be seriously injured or killed, but you seriously "inconvenience" other members of your party; you also may require rescue efforts that could be dangerous for rescuers (who really need to be on call for emergencies that are less preventable). Of course, the bear who successfully attacks you may also be removed from the population.
Personally, I have never had to use my spray (I also try to be noisey), but i have had it out of the "holster." The one time a grizzly was approaching us on the trail, we were far enough away (perhaps 100')that no charge reaction was triggered (the bear may well have heard or smelled us already, so no surprise; no fight/flight) -- the bear just altered its direction of approach enough to angle past us. Everybody being cool; no trouble, mon.