On the Lake

August 24, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Jackson, Wyoming is a mountain town and a gateway to two spectacular national parks. But it's also a mountain town with water. Lots of it.

You might not associate Grand Teton National Park with, say, water skiing - or a challenging sail - but a lot of people do.

In addition to the Snake River and its tributaries, there are six morainal lakes at the base of the main mountains (Jackson, Jenny, Leigh, Taggart, Bradley, and Phelps) and dozens more alpine and backcountry lakes. 

Jackson Lake, though, is in a class by itself because of its size: it's one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the country. With nearly 90 miles of coastline, the lake is 15 miles long, seven miles wide, up to 425 feet deep, and is dotted with more than a dozen islands.

Its setting at the foot of the massive Teton peaks is spectacular, and the lake is somewhat unique in that, though located within a national park, it allows boat traffic. Between the three marinas (Colter Bay, Leeks, and Signal Mountain) there are nearly 300 moorings. They're in high demand. Put your name on the waitlist but don't hold your breath. People without slips or buoys trailer their boats in for the day.

Sailboats. Power boats. Kayaks. Canoes. Sightseeing vessels. 

The marinas are busy.

While this might sound like a day on Jackson Lake could remind you of being stuck in rush hour traffic, it's anything but. A feeling of solitude is quite easy to find. Whether or not it remains peaceful is up to Mother Nature; conditions on the water can change rapidly. Calm to chaotic in the blink of an eye.

The western side of the lake has no hiking trails and no development, unless you count the handful of campsites which can only be reached from the water. Vast canyons rise up from the shoreline and Mount Moran towers over everything. There is abundant wildlife: bears, elk, eagles, kingfishers.

Much of the northern Teton Range is accessible only by boat. If it's backcountry you're after, Jackson Lake is your ticket in. 

You already feel almost as though you can reach out and touch the mountains when on terra firma. Just wait until you get out on the lake. From a photographer's perspective, this accessibility to the wilderness of the western shore is special. The canyons are breathtaking. Viewed from the water, Moran is even more stunning. Truly! You'll be so close to the scenery you won't need more than a 70-200mm zoom.

Admittedly, boating season is short. But if you're going to be photographing in the park during the summer months and have some extra time, consider getting out onto Jackson Lake. 

You can rent a motorized boat out of both Colter Bay and Signal Mountain marinas. Alternatively, scenic boat tours are offered at Colter Bay. 

If you wish to camp along the shore, a backcountry permit is required. 


In Local News

Gas prices continue to climb. The current going rate in Jackson is about $4.20/gallon; it's $4.30 in West Yellowstone. Expect to pay more in the parks.

Yellowstone National Park hosted nearly 970,000 recreational visits in July. Year-to-date the total is north of 2.4 million. I haven't seen any numbers for the Tetons.

Autumn is near. Last week in GTNP I saw quite a bit of ground-level vegetation turning color in the north end.  


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