Grand Tetons kayaking
This page includes information about the De Anza College Outdoor Club trips to Grand Tetons National park for kayaking, links to water level information for Jackson Lake and the Snake River, to park rules about boating and float trips, how to load a kayak on a car, how to do a canoe over canoe rescue, and more. The main trip information page is at Grand Tetons
If you have decided you are going on this trip, reading a step by step description of loading kayaks on the De Anza trailer will make the job go easier.
Bring your full rain suit, warm clothes for under it and borrow a dry bag for your camera from the club as we do not turn back when rain starts unless there is a thunderstorm.
(Weather could cancel kayaking as we never risk kayaking during thunderstorms.)
Part of our club policy for kayaking includes: You do not need experience to go on our flat water paddles, but you do need to read and follow all directions, including this whole page for our Tetons trip.You must wear a securely fastened lifejacket. Out paddling you must agree to stay with the group. Each kayak (or canoe) must be in talking distance, not just line of sight, of another kayak. This means fast paddlers may have to wait for others, and the next-to-slowest people will have to wait for the slowest. Fast paddlers can go out to the lead, then double back and visit with people at the back if it gets too boring for them on longer routes. Stronger paddlers can volunteer to paddle with a slower partner.
Fall and/or summer kayaking/canoeing
Kayaking will probably start with a brief outing on Colter Bay, just down the road from the campsites/cabins. This is flat water with little current and is a good way for people with no kayaking experience (such as our spring break and October Monterey trip) to get a first experience.
Or if Colter Bay is a mud flat, some years we have launched at String Lake, it’s a good place to have a beginners paddling lesson as the water has relatively little current. There’s a lot of parking, a canoe launch area, picnic tables and restrooms. After paddling in shallow, relatively warm (less cold?) String Lake we could swim:
Pictures are at: String Lake, Grand Tetons
Each year we have made at least one pre-sunrise launch at Oxbow Bend on the Snake River. According to a park brochure, Oxbow Bend is “a cut-off meander” of the Snake River which “provides a rich habitat for a diverse array of wildlife including herons, waterfowl, pelicans, muskrats, beavers, river otters, and moose.” It winds back and forth in various channels, only some deep enough for kayaks in drought years.(We have seen all these animals and more over the years. You might or might not see them on this trip.)
Photographer E. J. Peiker has a large panorama photo of the Oxbow with glorious fall leaf color (scroll left to right) at
We have not yet experienced a fall Oxbow Bend sunrise or sunset that was lacking:
Going kayaking at sunrise requires getting up while it is still dark to hook up the kayak trailer for towing:
Everyone is expected to keep up with the group, so if you envision yourself just going out a few hundred yards and sitting around when we are exploring, don’t sign up for this trip. Sometimes you have to paddle hard to keep the wind from pushing you where you don’t want to go, or to stay with the group. If we have a hike or picnic at a destination and you don’t want to participate, you must wait. Water depth on the Snake river averages 2-3 feet but exceeds 10 feet in some parts. We need to take into consideration traditionally strong upstream winds. Weather in the Tetons in the fall can be quite cold, so no water fights are allowed.
When we are out on Oxbow Bend we are there to watch ducks, birds and possibly mammals. We may not paddle much at all, and just sit quietly and watch. We will see more animals if we are very quiet at Oxbow Bend. Out on String Lake, or one of the inlets/islands near Colter Bay, where we might have a practice paddle for first timers before we try Oxbow bend, we can have more talking and play.
We sat in our kayaks and watched this eagle eating a fish for at least fifteen minutes one morning. No other people could have watched this from shore as we were in behind a couple of islands. Other birds were darting in and sometimes getting a few bits.
Was it the same eagle we saw the next year, while otters stole his fish? There are more pictures of these two mornings at:
Another morning we got out well before sunrise and launched into thick mist. We went around one corner and saw a moose cow and calf on an island so we just sat still and watched. In the opposite direction, on another island, were another cow and calf. Photos were impossible, as the cameras couldn’t decide what to focus on with all the fog. We watched for at least a half an hour, and we got a little cold, despite the layers of warm clothes. We decided to bring insulating pads for canoe/kayak seats in the future. A while into sunrise the second cow entered the water and started swimming. Her calf was still on the bank. We heard her call quietly. Then the calf started swimming too. They crossed to the safety of another, bigger island. At one point we could tell that she was in water depth where she could walk, but the calf was still swimming. The picture below is from a video I was barely able to take in the low light and mist. If we had started paddling after sunrise we would not have seen them.
Yet another morning on Oxbow Bend we watched a bull moose thrash bushes with his antlers then a second later start grazing.
After more eating he moved elsewhere.
On another island we found a cow napping, and a bit away from her, another cow browsing.
And on another morning, a cow moose who wanted to eat, but her calf wanted to play
more pictures of these two are at:
A five mile stretch of the Snake River from Jackson Lake Dam / Cattleman’s Bridge just above Oxbow Bend, down to the raft launch just past Pacific Creek at the landing north of the Moran entrance station, works if we shuttle cars. There are less obstructions along this part and only a couple of islands to go around, so we won’t get lost, as inexperienced people have a bit further downriver. When the river flow rates exceed 5,000 cfs, we’ll need to do a portage at Cattleman’s Bridge. We should also check out the landing in advance, as we may need to land short of the landing in quieter water upstream depending on river flow.
In 2010 we did that early morning paddle in drizzle and watched a bald eagle and osprey compete for food.
2015 we set up a photo for fun:
The rest of the Snake River is not for beginners, your flat water experience will be of little use, and if you want to see it you should plan on bringing money for a scenic raft float trip or a whitewater raft trip on your own. (The water flow in the Snake River peaks around the end of May.)
A shorter kayak exploration of the north end of Jenny Lake is a possibility. If the dirt road is passable we could go to Two Ocean Lake.
Grand Teton park’s river etiquette brochure for raft trips says: “The quality of float trips depends largely on the wildness of the river. The very presence of other boaters threatens this quality. Help preserve the tranquility of the river scene. Reduce congestion at landings by preparing craft away from launch slips. Launch when other boats are out of sight, and maintain this interval throughout the trip. Excessive noise disrupts the solitude others seek. Silence is important when passing wildlife. When encountering other boaters and anglers, respect their rights by steering clear of their boats and lines.”
“Do not approach or disturb large animals, such as bears, moose and bison. Several bald eagles nest near the main channel. To protect this threatened species, nest areas are closed to river bank use. Ospreys and great blue herons nest near the Snake River. Do not stop near nests as these birds are also susceptible to disturbance while nesting.”
“Any boating accident involving a collision or casualty must be reported to a Ranger Station within 24 hours. All trash must be packed out.” (And it is Outdoor Club habit to collect trash we find others left behind as we paddle or hike, or even in trailside parking lots.)
The Grand Teton Park floating the Snake river brochure is at:
The boating brochure is at:
Rangers would also like you to note: “Be a responsible wildlife observer. ….Always maintain a safe distance of at least 300 feet from large animals such as bears, bison, moose and elk. Never position yourself between an adult and its offspring. Do not feed wildlife, including ground squirrels and birds. Do not harass wildlife. Harassment is any human action that causes unusual behavior, or a change of behavior, in an animal. Repeated encounters with people can have a negative, long term impact on wildlife, including increased levels of stress and the avoidance of essential feeding areas.” This is why it is immoral to howl like a wolf in Yellowstone. If a moose grunts, and you grunt back, it isn’t illegal, but it is dangerous because he may chase you. They are big animals but they are fast and have more of a temper during the fall rutting season and summer baby raising season.
The pictures below are from a video we took. We watched a moose family at Oxbow Bend one morning for at least two hours. First we saw the cow, then later the bull. A different bull came on the scene, but left when approached by the first bull. The moose family wandered towards the far shore from us, where there were a bunch of photographers. We paddled along, keeping our distance. A photographer came down too close towards the shore and was charged by the bull back up the hill (he was unhurt), then the bull moose ran his family to safety (slightly blurry picture captured from video, running through shallow water along the shore). Up until then, because we had been quiet and stayed away from them, the moose had been acting normally. We felt as if we were right in the middle of a famous nature company video, only better with the smells and feel of the morning, and views 360 degrees around. With binoculars we could see everything up close.
These people on shore another year have almost surrounded a bull moose. Behind them is a steep bank down to the river. If the bull moose gets nervous and wants to escape some of them could be hurt.
You will r e a l l y want your own binoculars.
The club owns a few pairs of waterproof binoculars, but not enough for a large group. With binoculars you can see the river otters up closer when we are out paddling:
The park service also says “If your actions cause an animal to flee, you have deprived other visitors of a viewing opportunity. Use an animal’s behavior as a guide to your actions and limit the time you spend.”
The Forest Service also also reminds us:
“YOU ARE TOO CLOSE TO WILDLIFE IF:
· The animal stops feeding or resting.
· The animal starts moving either toward or away from you.
· The animal starts panting, huffing or making unusual sounds.
· The animal begins pawing the ground or swinging its head.
· Neck hair or feathers stand up.
· The animal appears nervous, uneasy or stressed.
If you notice these signs you are disturbing the animal and it is time
to slowly move away.The safest way to view wildlife is through
binoculars or spotting scopes.”
grizzly bear in a meadow next to the Oxbow: (your safety in grizzly bear territory)
From the National Park Service Morning Report of July 15, 2002:
Yellowstone NP (WY) – Visitor Gored by Bison
A bull bison gored 37-year-old Paul Jocelyn of Albertville, Minnesota, near
Old Faithful Lodge on the afternoon of July 13th. Witnesses said that the
bison was grazing near the boardwalk that connects the lodge with Old
Faithful geyser. A group of visitors approached to within ten to fifteen
feet to take pictures of the animal. Jocelyn stepped out from the group and
walked around to the front of the bison to see if it would raise its head
for a better picture. The bison chased Jocelyn into the trees, picked him
up with his horns, and threw him three to four feet into the air. The bison
then stared at Jocelyn and the other visitors for several minutes before
walking off and resuming grazing. Jocelyn sustained a puncture wound to his
inner right thigh and various scrapes and bruises. Rangers provided initial
care; he was then taken to Old Faithful Clinic for treatment of his
injuries. Criminal charges are pending against Jocelyn for harassing
wildlife. No action will be taken against the bison.
see also: before a bison charges
If this trip has a large number of participants, we can’t all be out on Oxbow Bend at the same time and expect to be able to see wildlife. The faculty advisor may limit the number of people allowed to kayak at a given time as a result. (Everyone we have kayaks for, who can rent canoes, or can bring their own, can be out on String Lake / Leigh Lake / Jenny Lake at the same time.)
-By signing up for this trip you are agreed to all of this. If, upon reading all this, it seems like too many rules for you (you don’t want to paddle with the group, you don’t want to wear a lifejacket,
or you don’t want to stay completely quiet while watching or anticipating watching wildlife), please remember: people on previous kayaking trips have been barred from attending future club events because they did not follow trip rules, and you could even be kicked off this trip before it is finished. If all this puts too many restrictions on your “freedom,” please don’t join us.
If you want to go on a potential kayak overnight you MUST read String Lake to Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National park
Pictures and info about visitor centers, Cunningham Cabin, Menor’s Ferry, Chapel of the Transfiguration, Cascade Canyon, Signal Mountain summit road, Colter Bay Indian Arts Museum, Morman Row and the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway are at: Grand Tetons sightseeing
The Teton Wilderness and the Gros Ventre Wilderness are much of the land to the east of Grand Teton National Park up to Yellowstone and to the east of and below the town of Jackson.
Rafting/kayaking index is at:
Forest Service River Etiquette:
“By following a good river etiquette, you can help others have an enjoyable experience.
To reduce congestion at river launches, always prepare and de-rig your boat away from the boat ramp.
Smaller boats should give the right-of-way to larger, less maneuverable boats.
Allow the boat ahead of you to pass through a rapid before you begin your approach.
Please keep the river clean by using designated restrooms and packing out garbage.
Be considerate. Not everyone welcomes a water fight.”
The Colter Bay Marina is at the end of the road below the Colter Bay cabins and Colter Bay campground where we often stay for this trip. Don’t be surprised on our fall trips if you go to take a look and find that the marina is all mud.
In September of 2002, 2004 and 2005 the lake was being drained so much for irrigation, etc. that the marina area was a mud flat. (But that meant Oxbow Bend had deeper water and we could kayak all over in it). In 2010 the oxbow had shallow water and we could not explore as much.
How much water is in Jackson Lake (reservoir) right now?
Check out the boat ramp link below. Full pool of Jackson Lake (reservoir) is 6769′. The end of the boat ramp at Colter Bay is at 6753′, at the end of the boat ramp at Signal Mountain Lodge is 6737′ and at Leek’s Marina it’s 6735′.
The webpage tells you how high the water level has been on Jackson Lake for the last five days. (Scroll down past the drawing at the top.)
The answer to the question: What is the water flow in the Snake River right now?
Grand Tetons whitewater rafting is not an official part of our trips
Wyoming requires an annual Aquatic Invasive Species decal, (prices from the website in 2017) $10 for motorized watercraft registered in Wyoming, $30 for those registered in other states, $5 for non-motorized owned by Wyoming residents, $15 for non-motorized owned by non-residents. (Inflatables under ten feet were exempt as of 2014, but we found no later reference.) You will have to have your boat inspected if coming from out of state.
Boating in Grand Teton National Park also requires an annual park permit (prices at the website as of 2016):
$10 Non-motorized boat permit (includes canoes, kayaks, SUPs and drift boats)
$40 Motorized boat permit
(Seven day permits will no longer be offered, as of 2015.)
Motorboats are permitted on Jenny Lake (10 horsepower maximum) and Jackson Lake. Sailboats, water skiing and windsurfers are allowed only on Jackson Lake. Jet skis are prohibited on all park waters.
Human powered vessels are permitted on Jackson, Jenny, Phelps, Emma Matilda, Two Ocean, Taggart, Bradley, Bearpaw, Leigh and String Lakes and the Snake River 1000 feet below Jackson Dam. Only human-powered rubber rafts, canoes, dories and kayaks are allowed on the Snake River within the park, but most parts of the Snake River have swift water and braided channels where route finding is difficult and are not for beginners. The beginner level section is from Jackson Lake dam to Pacific Creek Landing. There is fast water at the landing and people should scout it before launching.
Inner tubes, air mattresses, float tubes and similar swimming/fishing flotation devices are prohibited “as a means of conveyance on all streams and rivers.”
The Park says: “User fees for operating a boat within the park help cover the costs for maintaining routine patrols of park lakes and the Snake River. Boating fees also help in supplying equipment and training for aquatic rescue operations.
As of 2014 the Grand Teton permits were no longer reciprocal in Yellowstone and if we want to boat there we will need to pay again.
Boats, and anything that comes in contact with the water (a boat trailer that you drive into the water to launch, waders, paddles, Tevas, nets, etc.) must be cleaned before use in the park. They must be cleaned again before use in Yellowstone waters and again when you come back to the Tetons.
New Zealand mud snails, shown on a dime in this NPS photo, are only about a quarter of an inch long. They form dense colonies on rocks and aquatic vegetation and crowd out native aquatic insect communities, which are a primary food for fish, which are food for many animals. They also eat the majority of alqae growth in streams, which is a primary food for aquatic invertebrates.
This map shows the first areas (in red) in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton area invaded by mud snails as of 2010. We check at the start of each trip and stay away from any waterways affected.
There are how-to pictures at: loading a kayak on a car ,
canoe over canoe rescue also can be used for kayaks.
Kayaks (and trailer) use has practical hints for drivers of tow vehicles that tow the kayak trailer on our trips.
photos below of Oxbow Bend are by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com, all rights reserved.
For details about our next club trip to Grand Teton National Park, go to: Grand Tetons.
Grand Tetons trip pages index has brief descriptions of most of the pages about this trip.