Grand Teton National Park is one of the countries jewels. Most people see it via motor homes or cars and never see it from the water. I recommend paddling out into Jackson Lake and also the Snake River, which flows from the lake. You can paddle this as a day trip or multi-day trips. Either way you will need to obtain a $10.00 boaters permit at the Park headquarters in Moose Wyoming. This permit is good for the entire year. Also, if you plan to camp overnight on the lake, you will need to register for a designated campsite. These sites are limited and are a first come first serve basis. I did not have any difficulty getting camping sites even on July 4th weekend, even though there was a possibility of not getting any. There are about 10 sites on the lake in various locations. They all provide spectacular views of the Teton Range Mountains.
Jackson Lake is a large cold body of water and can cause serious problems if your not prepared. The lake is known for sudden wind and waves, which can appear quickly. I stayed on the lake three days, with two nights camping. One night I camped in Bear Paw Bay near Mt. Moran and the other night on Elk Island in the middle of Jackson Lake. Bear Paw Bay is isolated and quiet, but it does not quite provide the spectacular views as some of the other camps. On Elk Island, I had incredible views of the Grand Teton and the entire mountain range.
Along the western shore of the lake, you will find quiet bays and isolation with awesome views of Mt. Moran. In previous years I have paddled across the lake as a short way to access climbing routes in the Tetons, saving considerable time. You will encounter Bald Eagles, Osprey, Sandhill Cranes, Elk, Antelope, and possible Black and Grizzly Bear. During the last part of June and early July there will be plenty of wild flowers to enjoy on the shoreline and fields that surround the lake. All the camping spots have "bear- boxes" to store your food and gear while you are paddling and sleeping. These boxes protect your food from the bears that may come looking for food.
I started my trip at Signal Mt. Lodge Marina/Boat Ramp. There is a place to park your vehicle and also get last minute supplies at the Lodge, but the items are limited. I paddled out west toward the numerous large islands that dot the lake. The winds came up very fast causing 2-3 foot whitecaps and much paddling excitement. I stayed close to shore for safety reasons and worked my way across toward Bear Paw Bay and my first nights camp. The bay is isolated from the wind and waves, which is nice. The following day I followed the western shore of the Lake towards Waterfall canyon. I would recommend hiking up this canyon to view some of the remote waterfalls in the park. This canyon is seldom visited all summer. I paddled across to Elk Island, which is the largest Island on the lake and followed the many bays and inlets to my camp on the southeast shore. The views I had were incredible and the camp was rather quiet despite a few powerboats in the lake.
This park is a photographers dream with plenty of subject matter. I had a deer walk thru camp that evening and watched it for over an hour as it was feeding along the shore. The next day I paddled back across the lake to where I started, exploring a few small islands while enroute. You can spend a lengthy trip on this lake. I would make sure you hike up some of the side canyons to see the huge mountains and view wildlife. If you want a nice canoe or kayak trip, you could start at Flagg Ranch on the Snake River, north of the park. You would follow the river south as it empties into Jackson Lake and follow the shoreline around the lake etc. Your chances of seeing anyone else is slim and I bet you would see a bear.
Another adaptation of this trip is to take a day trip paddle to Moose Wyoming where the Park Headquarters are located. You will be paddling down the beautiful Snake River as it winds its way thru the park. The views are incredible and you're sure to see wildlife, especially moose. You can either start at Jackson Lake Dam, which is a mile from Signal Mt. Lodge where I started the lake-paddling trip. Or you could venture a few miles by road east to Pacific Creek Landing. It will take between 6-10 hours of paddling and drifting to get to Moose. The water is fast in spots and is probably rated class 1 with an occasional class 2 in high water or in certain spots. This is not too difficult except for the route finding.
The Snake winds its way through and around numerous islands and sandbars. The river is very braided, so you have to sometimes guess which way the main current flows. There are a lot of sweepers and logjams to avoid. I saw plenty of osprey, moose and even antelope along this section of the river. If your paddling this section of the river, the Park does not allow camping; so you will have to paddle all the way out of the park before you set up camp. I have done this numerous times. The park boundary lies about 3 miles below the bridge at Moose. (You could just paddle to Moose and not worry about camping; this makes a great day trip) You could also take a multi-day river trip all the way to Astoria Hot Springs below Jackson Hole. This is an easy three-day paddle from the dam at Jackson Lake.
The camping on the Lake only has "bear boxes" for you to store your food. There is NO picknic tables, shelters, or pit toilets. Jackson Wyoming has plenty of stores for food, film and camping gear. You can also rent Canoes and Sea Kayaks in the town of Jackson.
A $10.00 boaters fee is good for each boat for the entire year. No fees are needed for camping, but you must get a permit and register or you will be fined.
Jackson Lake lies in Grand Teton National Park which is about 30 miles north of the town of Jackson on Hwy -89. On your way north from Jackson, stop at Moose at the Park headquarters and ranger station for you permits and lake/river information. Or if your coming from the north thru yellowstone, The lake lies about 10 miles form the Yellowstone border. Signal Mtn. is about 15-20 miles north of Moose for your launching spot. As far as the Snake River section, You can start just below the dam or Pacific Creek , to the north and east of Signal Mtn. Lodge.
Contact Grand Teton National Park for more information at:
307-739-3300, Info packet at- 307-739-3600; FAX 307-739-3438
The visitors center at Moose has plenty of books, maps, and other info about the Park and Lake. The town of Jackson has plenty of maps and books as well.