Kayaking Leigh Lake | Grand Teton National Park

Devin Ashby

Don't Bust The Crust!
Mar 4, 2016
I haven't done a trip report in a while, but I had such a great time on this trip, I wanted to share it with everyone.

This summer I will finally graduate from UVU with my degree in Outdoor Recreation Management, and this trip was the final trip i'd take for my college career as a student. I get to return in the fall as an adjunct faculty member, teaching intro to backpacking classes!

So the class was a Kayak Touring class that only had six students signed up. Which made it really convenient to find a place to go since group size was so small. We had a choice between Teton or labyrinth canyon floating the Green River. We settled on going to Teton NP because of the weather, and most of us had not been to Teton before.

I had just literally got home the day before from 3 days in Teton and Yellowstone with my wife and two girls, so it was a treat to go back to Teton and experience the park in a very different way.

Day 1: We drove from Orem to Teton NP and stayed the first night at the Colter Bay campground. It took us quite a while to get to the park because of a long lunch, and construction on I-15.

Day2: This would be the true start of the trip and where we would actually put in the boats and head to the backcountry camp site on Leigh Lake.
We put in at String lake, which is where most people put in for this trip, and then portage to Leigh Lake. Fortunately the portage is only about 200 yards, so not bad at all. String Lake is really pretty with the Grand as a prominent feature to the south. It's not a big lake by any means and mostly felt like a slow moving river between Leigh Lake and Jenny Lake.
Scott paddling the last day on Leigh Lake
We paddled around String for a bit before heading north toward our camp. When we got the portage we took about and hour to eat lunch and just enjoyed the views. There were quite a few people out on boats and one group even warned us of how bad the wind was coming down Paintbrush Canyon, which is right where our camp would be.
After eating lunch at the ramp for the boats on Leigh, we loaded up the boats and got back on the water to go get camp setup and get making dinner. The wind warning was not a joke. We were paddling straight into the wind the entire time and it made for a totally exhausting experience. I don't have a lot of boat experience, especially in a kayak, so it was even worse for me. But everyone stayed upright and we all got to Camp 16 where we would spend the next two nights.
It was about 3pm at this point, and so we paddled around checking out the shore along where out camp was and just having a great time.
I was kind of surprised at how close the park had the camps to the water. My Leave No Trace red flags were going off, but I guess it's not an issue. There wasn't a requirement for WAG bagging either, which apparently was that was a few years ago.
We got camp setup and made some dinner. Nice to be able to eat a little more gourmet in this kind of setting since the boats can carry so much stuff.

Boats at the String Lake portage​

Then the rain started... and it rained for several hours until about 4am. I was trying out a new tent that I got and got a little nervous about it a couple times, but it worked out okay. I was using the Black Diamond HiLight tent, and now have concluded it's not the best tent for humid weather. I mean it is single wall, 4 season. But with it raining most of the night, we got into bed pretty quick because everyone was tired from paddling against the wind and there wasn't much to do but stand around and get wet. A good book was handy in this setting.

Day 3: Day three for me started out with an amazing sunrise! I woke up at 5:30 to use the bathroom and my tent was literally facing the sunrise, looking out over the lake. Was one of the best backcountry scenes i've been able to experience. I just zipped down my tent door and watched the sun come up for the next hour or so.
It was easily one of the most peaceful backcountry experiences i've ever been able to experience. The water was so calm and the birds singing in the trees above me was just awesome. Everyone else in the group was still asleep during this, and it was pretty awesome to sit there and experience this by myself in the quiet.

We were able to get camp 16 for two nights in a row, so we just made this day a fun day of paddling and paddled across the lake to go hike down past Bearpaw lake and then down to Bearpaw bay. Was a nice little hike because we had it all to ourselves and it also wasn't the most trafficked trail, so it felt really remote. Everything was so green and just absolutely beautiful!

As were loading up and putting the boats back in after our hike, we had two visitors join us. Two bald eagles swooped in and one of them hovered above us for a good 10-15 seconds maybe 10 or so feet above us. It was incredible to see that. On our way paddling back to camp, we mostly paddled along the north shoreline of Leigh to see if we could spot any wildlife and just see more of the lake, but no animals besides the eagles.

It was only about 1pm at this point and so we got back to camp, made some peanut butter and jelly pitas for lunch, sat around camp for an hourish, then we decided to go for a little hike up Paintbrush Canyon, cause while out on the lake, I noticed there was quite a bit of water coming down the canyon and I wanted to see what it looked like.
So we got up, and hiked up to see the falls. I was amazed at how much water there was.
After checking out the falls, we made a fire and literally sat around the fire from about 3pm until 10pm. It was incredibly relaxing and some of the best camp fire talk i've had. These are the kind of experiences I live for when I go into the backcountry.

Day 4: It rained most of the night and into the morning, so we broke camp down in the rain. It wasn't too much of a worry for me, and since we were headed home anyway, I didn't really care about wet gear at that point. But we got the camp cleaned up and boats loaded. Out on the water it was still raining and the water was smooth as glass. We had such a great time paddling this part of the lake back to the portage. The rain made for kind of a magical experience. That sounds really dumb, but you would have needed to be there to experience it.

Overall it's one of the best trips i've ever been on and easily one of the best school trips I took. If you're interested in a full video of the trip, here is a link to the video. Otherwise, enjoy more photos below.

Enlight109.jpg IMG_2797.jpg IMG_2803.jpg IMG_2817.jpg IMG_2823.jpg IMG_2833.jpg IMG_2852.jpg IMG_2868.jpg IMG_2912.jpg IMG_3002.jpg IMG_3027.jpg IMG_3036.jpg
Fantastic! Thanks for sharing. Give me some ideas of things to do that I hadn't thought of before.
Magnificent, Devin! This TR has me more stoked to watch your video now.
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