I drove up to Yellowstone on the first morning of my 3-day weekend. My kayak was loaded on my car, gear in a plastic tub, and plenty of food in another. I�d been wanting to paddle on Yellowstone Lake for a while now. Being in the Greater Yellowstone area, and missing the Great Lakes, Yellowstone is a natural choice. Big, cold, windy, with good campsites.
I had a vague plan, to get a permit, put-in at Grant Village, and paddle east to a campsite for a couple days. I�ve paddled in Grand Teton, so I knew I�d need to have my boat inspected for invasive species, get a park permit sticker, get a Yellowstone fishing license, and get a backcountry permit for camping. I planned to go directly to a ranger station for all of this, pack, and then set off. I asked about all of these services when I entered at Yellowstone�s south gate, and the ranger told me it�d be best to go to Grant since I intended to paddle on Yellowstone. If I were planning to paddle on Lewis and Shoshone Lakes in the southern part of the park, he�d have a boat inspector drive down.
At Grant Village, I located the backcountry office, and went in. After waiting for my turn, I told them I�d like a boat inspection, boat permit, fishing license, and backcountry permit. We worked on these in order, first going out to my car & boat with a ranger for the inspection, then back inside for the rest. I filled out papers for the fishing license, then we discussed backcountry campsites on the lake. The ranger on duty informed me that it was breezy here, but would be very windy out on the lake, especially on the southeast shore of Yellowstone Lake�s West Thumb. He also told me I�d likely not be able to paddle in the waves coming onto the shore there, may capsize, and even die. I replied that I was aware of that, would dress for immersion, wear my PFD, and was prepared to turn around, as well as wait out any bad conditions on shore.
Some sites on the Lake�s south, as well as eastern shore were taken, some just not available, and others they told me, were too far to travel to today. Finally, I got sites for two nights on the southern shore, requiring a move on Friday, then a paddle back to Grant Village on Saturday. I was again informed of rough conditions, cold water, the danger of paddling solo, and other hazards. I replied that I was aware of those dangers, and that I felt able to handle them safely. I assured them that I�d turn around if I had any doubts.
Leaving with all of my paperwork, I drove to the Grant marina and started to pack up dry bags with food, camping gear and other supplies. In a bit more than an hour, I�d stuffed gear into dry bags well enough to set out. Being somewhat hasty, I packed more than I needed, but that�s better than not enough. Another party in 3 canoes was in the process of putting in.
I have a good assortment of dry bags, in a few different colors, and pack roughly as such: yellow = camping gear, orange = 10 essentials, survival stuff, tools, etc., and green = food. I also rounded up paddles, PFD, spray skirt, wetsuit, maps, and fishing gear. Carrying my boat to the beach first, then supplies, finally donning wet suit before I packed up my boat and hopped in.
It was breezy on this somewhat sheltered western side of the lake. The wind was coming from the northwest, perfect for making waves where I was headed. Once out of the West Thumb, though, I hoped for calmer waters. As I got into my boat and pushed off from shore, there was a large guided party just landing on shore, coming back from a trip. They looked tired, and one tandem kayak was being towed by a guide. It looked windy out there indeed.
I set off going basically straight downwind. This took me away from shore about a half mile, almost directly in line with Solution Creek on the southeast side of the West Thumb. The wind grew in intensity as I got further from shore, as did the waves in size. At their largest, the waves would come up over the stern and give me a wash around the torso. The bow of my boat would submerge in the troughs of waves as well. I paddled slower than the waves to avoid surfing and broaching. I used my rudder.
Paddling in closer to shore at Solution Creek finally I started turning to the left, leaving a comfortable downwind run and starting to work with quartering aft waves and then waves directly on the beam. This took a little getting used to. I�d had enough excitement already to wake me up though, so it adapted quickly. I could see the party in canoes was sitting on the beach. The waves were around two feet or so, I guess. I�m 6′ 4″ and while sitting in my boat, they were around shoulder height. I�ve paddled in waves like this before, and felt good enough to continue. I stayed away from shore enough that they weren�t dumping, and paddled on, ready to wet exit and swim ashore.
Thankfully that didn�t happen though, and I continued north around to the neck between the West Thumb and the main part of the lake. Eventually I was running downwind again, toward a sand spit with a lagoon, just west of Breeze Point. Here I got out of my boat for a quick break and pulled through shallow water into the lagoon, and did the same to exit. I could�ve paddled around just as easily, but did this for a little less exposure, and some novelty too. I took another quick break at Breeze Point and paddled south around the point into the bay by campsite #6L1.
Padding south into the bay I set up for another downwind run around the next point to the east, where I�d again go south to another bay. South of here is Wolf Point. At the tip of Wolf Point, I headed east into the wind a short bit, and then hugged the shore again. At each of these points, the waves would grow again. Not as big as the first stretch, but I preferred minimizing exposure, and the possibility of being blown into the open waters of the main lake.
I was headed toward campsite #6L6, past Snipe Point, in Eagle Bay. I reached it around 8pm, after putting in at about 2:30/3pm. Distance estimated (following shoreline from Grant) is 15 miles.
6L6 is a great campsite. It�s a boat campsite though, so you may not be able to get it in canoes or kayaks. But, it is very nice, with a dock, picnic tables, bear box for food, and an outhouse. I spent a great night and morning here, catching fish, having a fire, and enjoying the views.
I slept in until 9am or so. Usually I get up much earlier, but the calm and quiet morning was very peaceful. After an unhurried morning of sunshine, coffee, and a few casts of the dock, I packed up and headed back to #6L1.
This was a short day of paddling, so I took breaks, stopped to fish from shore, and just enjoyed a warm sunny day. Arriving at the campsite, I fished some more, sat on a small beach and relaxed. This site is a canoe/kayak site, meaning that there isn�t a dock, bear box, toilet, etc. It�s a nice site though. I fished and relaxed until evening and went to sleep. Mosquitoes were present, but not what I�d call bad, in early June.
The next morning was quiet and still. I took my time packing, drinking coffee, tea, and eating breakfast. I wanted to leave early enough to avoid stiff breezes back in the West Thumb, but didn�t want to hurry either. The water was still calm when I left the campsite, and I enjoyed 4 or 5 hours of intermittent paddling, fishing, and onshore breaks before returning to Grant Village Marina, where I unpacked, rinsed and dried my boat before driving home. It being a lovely day, I drove northeast toward Lake Village, stopping at pullouts for views of water and mountains before heading back.
Backcountry campsites. Some sites are for boats, and they often have docks, picnic tables, fire rings, bear boxes, and outhouses. There are also canoe and kayak sites, which don't have these amenities.
Wilderness Systems Cape Horn 17' Poly Kayak Werner Shuna Padde Bending Branches Whisper Paddle SealLine Baja Dry Bags Astral PFD Harmony Spray Skirt Marmot Hammer 2p Tent Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag 15 degree Therm-a-rest Neo Air Sleeping Pad MSR Whisperlite Stove
$5 Wyoming Aquatic Invasive Species Sticker
$10 Non-motorized Yellowstone Boating Sticker
$3 per person per night backcountry permit fee
$30 week or $80 Annual Interagency Park entrance fee
Yellowstone Boating Regulations:
Grant Village/Yellowstone Lake by the South entrance of Yellowstone Nat'l Park.
National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map - Yellowstone Lake
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water