About Yellowstone

Relax and Unwind: 7 Best Places to Swim and Kayak in Yellowstone Country

Yellowstone Country is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. While the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park are a major draw, the surrounding areas also boast fantastic opportunities for water-based recreation. With its stunning landscapes, pristine waters, and abundant wildlife, Yellowstone Country is an ideal destination for those looking to relax and unwind.

If you're seeking the premium destinations to swim and kayak in this region, look no further. From serene swimming spots to exhilarating kayaking adventures, here are the best places to swim and kayak in Yellowstone Country.

Kayakers at Grant Village

1. Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone Lake, the largest high-elevation lake in North America, is a must-visit for kayakers. With over 141 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty to explore. The West Thumb and Grant Village areas are popular starting points. Paddling here offers opportunities to explore hidden coves, spot wildlife, and enjoy unparalleled views of the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges. Guided kayaking tours are highly recommended to ensure safety and enhance the experience.

While the water is cold—even in summer—the stunning scenery at Yellowstone Lake makes it worth the trip. It should be noted that swimming in Yellowstone Lake is not advised due to the year-round cold temperatures, but is allowed for the brave-hearted. However, there are warmer shallow areas, particularly around the West Thumb Geyser Basin, where you can dip your toes and enjoy the incredible scenery.

2. Hebgen Lake, Montana

Located just a few miles northwest of West Yellowstone, Hebgen Lake is a fantastic spot for both swimming and kayaking. Known as the premier stillwater fishing lake in Montana, this large reservoir offers calm waters and scenic views of the surrounding mountains. With several boat ramps and easy access points, it’s perfect for a day of paddling. The Madison Arm is particularly popular for its tranquil conditions and stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Rentals and guided tours are available nearby in West Yellowstone.

The lake’s warm summer waters make it an inviting spot for a refreshing swim. Keep an eye out for local wildlife, including bald eagles and ospreys, as you explore the lake.

People enjoying Firehole Swimming Area

3. Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Inside Yellowstone National Park, the Firehole River Swimming Area offers a unique swimming experience. Due to high water and strong currents, the river is typically closed to swimming until mid-summer. Located in Firehole Canyon, the swimming area is easily accessible via a short drive from the park’s West Entrance. One of the few places where swimming is allowed within Yellowstone National Park, it’s a popular spot, so arrive early to secure a good spot along the riverbank.

4. Madison River, Montana

Flowing through the heart of Montana’s Yellowstone Country, the Madison River is renowned for its clear, calm waters. It’s a favorite among kayakers for its gentle current and stunning surroundings, providing a mix of calm stretches and mild rapids that are ideal for beginners and intermediate paddlers. Several access points along Highway 287 make it easy to find a quiet spot to launch your kayak.

The river is also great for swimming, especially in the summer months when the water is warm and inviting. Offering numerous swimming holes perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day, the river is the perfect summertime spot for both swimming and floating.

5. Shoshone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Shoshone Lake, located in the southwestern part of Yellowstone National Park, is one of the largest backcountry lakes in the United States. This remote and pristine lake is perfect for those seeking solitude and adventure. Accessible only by foot or paddle, it offers a true wilderness experience. 

Kayakers can explore the lake’s many coves and inlets, surrounded by dense forests and rugged mountains. Keep an eye out for otters, eagles, and other wildlife, or paddle to the Shoshone Geyser Basin along the lake’s western edge. After a long paddle, the cold, clear waters are ideal for a quick dip.

6. Lewis Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Lewis Lake, located in the southern part of Yellowstone National Park, is another fantastic spot for kayaking in Yellowstone. It's less crowded than Yellowstone Lake but offers equally beautiful scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. The lake's southern end provides access to the Lewis River Channel, leading to Shoshone Lake, offering a memorable paddling route through a wild and remote area.

7. Ennis Lake, Montana

Nestled in the Madison Valley, Ennis Lake is a tranquil spot for swimming and kayaking. The lake is fed by the Madison River and is known for its warm, shallow waters. It’s a great place for families, with several sandy beaches perfect for picnicking and swimming. Kayakers will enjoy exploring the lake’s calm waters and the stunning views of the nearby Madison Range.

Kayaking on Yellowstone Lake near West Thumb Geyser Basin

Tips for Safe Swimming and Kayaking in Yellowstone Country

Permits and Regulations: Check for any required permits or specific regulations, especially when kayaking in national parks.

Safety First: Always wear a life jacket when kayaking and be aware of the water temperatures, especially in Yellowstone's lakes and rivers, which can be very cold even in summer.

Be Bear Aware: Yellowstone Country is home to a healthy population of bears. Always carry bear spray and be vigilant, especially in remote areas.

Check Weather Conditions: Weather can change rapidly in the mountains. Always check the forecast before heading out and be prepared for sudden changes.

Stay Hydrated: The high elevation and dry climate can lead to dehydration. Bring plenty of water and drink regularly.

Respect Wildlife: Keep a safe distance from all wildlife and never approach animals, especially in or near the water.

Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash and be mindful of your impact on these pristine environments.

Yellowstone Country offers some of the best places to swim and kayak, with its breathtaking landscapes and serene waters. Whether you're soaking in the warm waters of the Firehole River, paddling the serene stretches of Shoshone Lake, or exploring the majestic Yellowstone Lake, these experiences provide unforgettable ways to connect with nature. So pack your swimwear and kayaking gear, and get ready to relax and unwind in one of the most stunning outdoor destinations in the United States.

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