Yellowstone, Tetons, other options

Please help me plan my family’s summer trip. We live in Duluth and will be heading to Yellowstone this summer for two weeks in July/August. I’m an experienced canoeist, and my wife and three kids (14,12,9) have been on numerous BWCA trips up to 5 nights. I’ve been eyeballing Shoshone as a fine destination to build a trip around. We’re not equipped for backpacking, and I view canoeing as a way to get off the beaten track and away from the hordes. I wonder if there are some other good options in addition to Shoshone? I think I need more than 2-3 nights on Shoshone to justify hauling my canoes and gear that far. We’d probably spend a few days in the Badland/Black Hills on our way out there and the rest of our time in Yellowstone/Tetons area. I’m not looking for whitewater. I’d thought about heading for the Missouri (White Cliffs, etc) but may need to save that for another trip.

Also, we’re locked into late July early August. Any reason to avoid Shoshone that time of year? Thanks.

The book
You should check out Don Nelson’s Paddling Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I picked it up when out in Yellowstone a couple of years ago. I remember wishing that I would have brought a canoe.

the area
Shoshone is a good paddle. It can be very dangerous due to very sudden winds crossing the bay as you enter the lake. Take the shore no matter how calm. It has taken a lot of lives.

Lots of bugs in July!!

Other options. A 15 minute drive north to Grant Village---- You can paddle all or parts of Lake Yellowstone. Nice camps on the south shore. You can opt to get a drop to the remote areas and paddle back if you like.

Another option… 20 minute drive south of Shonshone to Flagg Ranch. Put in right at the bridge…paddle the Snake River to Jackson Lake…hug the west shore…some good camps, awesome sceanary, wildlife etc…you can take out on the south side of the lake in and around Signal Mtn Lodge or COlter Bay. Or better yet…get a topo and do a 1/2 hour portage over to Leigh Lake…not a marked portage but a locals secret…once on Leight Lake Paddle the western edge of the park to the south…to a portage of 10 minutes to String Lake and take out at the parking lot… A great way to expereice one great River (snake), three great lakes, wildlife, not a lot of people, good potential side hiking etc great camps and a trip you will never forget.

Other options. Snake river two nights/thgree days to south of Jackson.

Or Yellowstone River below Yankee Jim Canyon to Livingston. Through Paradise Valley. There are houses, but its still nice views, class 1.


Black Hills
the original post mentioned something about the Black Hills. I’ve been there once and it was really beautiful, and a great place to camp. Wasn’t into paddling at the time, anybody know of good paddling in the Black Hills?

Black Hills
Nothing huge to paddle and last year when I was out there, some of the nice reservoirs where pretty much dried up. That said, there’s some really nice lakes to paddle in Custer State Park. Sylvan Lake is probably the most beautiful.

Western Paddling
In the Tetons, JAckson Lake pretty big and prone to high winds, but worth paddling. Can’t remember the bay near the marina. String and Leigh lakes were the most beautiful places I’ve probably paddled in my life. Awe-inspiring views everywhere you look. Another small, beautiful lake was on the Teton side of Dubois, I think it was Wind River Lake. Didn’t get to paddle the Wind River, but would have liked to. Also didn’t get to paddle the snake because some non-paddling Ranger scared my wife with a story about somebody dieing in the WW section.

In the Black Hills, there are a few small, pretty lakes that you can paddle in Custer State Park. Sylvan and Bismarck were my favorites. They’re not long paddles, but good, easy “Family” paddles. Don’t try to hit Sylvan on the weekend, it will be too crowded. Take a drive to Devil’s Tower while you’re in the vicinity, it’s very impressive also.

Here’s a couple pics of the aforementioned lakes to give you some ideas. WW

Wow!! Thanks for all the helpful
responses. And, Wildernessweb, thanks for the pics–beautiful spots. I’m strongly leaning towards two nights on Leigh and two nights on Shoshone, with day trips on Jackson (weather permitting) and the Snake. I’ll probably also get the Sawyers some exercise in the Black Hills if we camp near water.

I have some follow-up questions. I’ve heard quite a bit about the winds on Shoshone. Are they primarily westerly? If I plan two nights on a site on the southern shore just west of the outlet to Lewis, might the winds prevent a day trip to the Geyser Basin? I’m wondering if I should plan an extra night in Shoshone to allow for high winds/bad weather. Also, anyone have any specific campsite recommendations on Leigh or Shoshone? I’d like to enhance the view from camp while avoiding any site that has a hiking trail running through it. Finally, I see that you can get a permit a day or two in advance once at the parks. I’m wondering, though, if it isn’t wise to reserve a site? If so, when is it recommended to reserve for late July/early Aug camping? Thanks again.

Shoshone Lake - MAGICAL!
I have hiked to and camped on Shoshone Lake many times over the last four decades (although never paddled it). It is an absolutely magical place, and one of my all-time favorite spots. Heed the posts about the weather dangers however, they are very real.

More on Shoshone
I agree with you about “overhead” involved with short camping trips.

Our first Shoshone trip was only 2 nights, and that included hiking in the geyser basin (fantastic place). But almost nobody seems to paddle all around Shoshone Lake, which would fit your desire for 4 nights very well. We did that on our second trip, and we preferred the longer trip because it’s more of a getaway. It also gave us one full layover day. We had planned that layover day to devote to exploring more of the geyser basin (it’s much bigger than appears at first sight). Unfortunately, the weather cut our geyser day short, so it turned into more of a foul-weather layover day.

The possible downside, esp. with canoes, is that if you paddle around the whole lake there is a longer stretch between campsites/bailout points on the east side. OK if it’s not too windy, but could be bad in strong winds and/or summer storms.

Reservations etc
You can reserve in advance, after April each year if I remember correctly. If you reserve by mail, there is a small fee to hold the reservation. Otherwise, just go the day before and take your chances.

Make sure to get your boat permits; they’re cheap.

Some things to be careful of:

  1. Bugs…but you are probably used to that
  2. Cold water, even in summer
  3. Bears; heed NPS advice strictly
  4. Sudden, violent thunderstorms and wind (NO JOKE combined with #2)
  5. When walking in thermal areas, especially Shoshone’s unmarked, unboardwalked basin, be extremely cautious where you step. One time I was so focused on composing a photo that I almost stepped backwards right into a hot pool.

    Read the book “Death in Yellowstone” before you go. I consider it a must-read, along the lines of “Deep Trouble”.

Smith River, MT
This is simply one of the best rivers left in the lower 48. 3 or 4 nights on the river, very little access, you’ll love it… if you can draw out a permit. go the MFWP web site

You can apply online for $55. If you don’t draw a permit, you get $50 back. It is hard to draw a permit, but it is well worth the 5 minutes online if you get lucky. Good Luck!

Yellowstone options
I’ve paddled Shoshone a few times and highly recommend it for a trip of at least three nights. But come armed for bugs. I was there in July 06 and nearly got eaten alive;-)

Logistically, due to the prevalence of afternoon winds, you’ll want to shove off from the Lewis Lake dock by 9 or so, head over to the western shore if the winds allow, and work your way up the shore to the river channel.

There are some nice campsites on Shoshone not far in from the mouth of the channel – South Narrow Point has a nice beach, great tent sites – but if the winds pick up it could be a long day paddling from there to the geyser basin and back. Hillside (site 8T3)is much closer to the basin, but it’d be an awfully full day to reach it from Lewis, and the climb up to the campsite is steep, albeit short. When I checked on the site in 06 it was littered with blowdowns. For that trip my buddy and I stopped the first night at South Narrow, paddled the next day to the geyser basin and walked around, though an approaching thunderstorm forced us to cut that short and head on to Windy Point, a gorgeous site on the north shore of the narrows. We planned to head back to the geyser basin the next day but gusty winds all day long forced us to abort that idea. There is a nice marshy area just south of the geyser basin that is nice to explore and has much waterfowl.

Paddling the big lake (Yellowstone) also is a great trip. In the past I’ve put in at Grant Village and paddled into the South Arm. Great solitude. Again, though, gotta watch the winds. The first night we stayed in Flat Mountain Arm, then headed down to the South Arm. We backtracked the same way.

If you go to Yellowstone’s ( backcountry pages you can download all the information you need to plan a great trip.

Jackson Lake is OK, but there were too many powerboats for my liking. And it’s really not that big of a lake.

A nice aspect of these two parks is one boating permit is good in both. So you can do a multi-day trip in Yellowstone and day trips in Grand Teton.

The Snake River through Grand Teton can be challenging in places. From the dam down to Pacific Creek is a nice flatwater float with lots of wildlife (mostly waterfowl, although I’ve seen moose and river otters). From Pacific Creek down to Moose can be dicey due to fast water and changing channels. In 06, I believe, there was a fatal raft accident along that stretch.

Another option somewhat in the area is the Green River from its headwaters at Green River Lakes down to Warren Bridge at U.S. 191. That’s about a 60-mile stretch. The upper section is somewhat tight with rock gardens at low water (after mid-July it might be too low, but so far the snowpack this year has been great, so that might not be an issue). Then the river opens up, runs through a lot of oxbows and is just a great mellow paddle until you get close to the takeout, when it narrows up some (we lined through one short area). Of course, this trip would require a shuttle.

The river here runs primarily through BLM lands, so you pitch your tent mostly wherever you please.

In a nutshell, I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of these options. It all comes down to how much time you can afford.