Motors Allowed?
Easy / Class A
6.00 mi (9.66 km)
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We know how stunning the Grand Tetons can be, and getting to view them from a kayak on the massive open waters of Jackson Lake is a dream come true. From the Colter Bay Marina within the Grand Teton National Park, you can boat and kayak out to deep blue water with the jagged mountain range sitting just above the reflection. You get great views of the northern canyons, several of which have no foot trails to access them. Paddle to the rocky beaches of the many nearby islands within the lake and take a dip in the frigid water to cool off on a hot summer day.

You can rent single and two-person kayaks at the marina, which is great for out-of-towners. Head west to exit the marina while hugging the southern end to avoid motorized boats. There is a small bay on the left as you make your way to the first channel into Colter Bay. If you head left here, you will go toward the Heron Ponds; this is one of the few places where you are not allowed to exit your craft and walk around because of the nesting birds in the area. You can pass that waterway and round the northern tip of Little Mackinaw Island and into its bay. There is a small backcountry campsite that can be reserved online or in person at the permit office near the marina.

Southeast of Mackinaw Bay is Half Moon Bay, which also makes it just south of the Heron Ponds. From this general area you can access multiple islands such as Sheffield and Badger, but keep in mind that the beaches have large stones that are not easy to walk on without footwear. Farther south is Hermitage Point, but that's about the limit of where you would be traveling to from Colter Bay. Bring the fishing poles to have a try at the cutthroat and brownies that are stocked from the nearby fish hatchery.

Bring your swimsuits and pack a lunch to enjoy at the far southern tip of Little Mackinaw Island while looking out to Elk and Dollar islands and the Tetons beyond. It is quite the place to have lunch, and it takes about three hours total to enjoy the islands. You can't go past a quarter-mile offshore (west) of these islands, which means no heading to the largest of them, Elk Island.

As the water levels change, so does your ability to paddle between islands, and sometimes the channels between islands become impassable in low water. You get a laminated map when renting the kayaks, so that comes in handy, and GPS and cell phones should work fine out there. Bring sunscreen, water, a large hat, and a snack. Life vests are provided when renting kayaks. Be prepared for rapid changes of weather at this park and the potential for afternoon lightning storms.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

National Park Pass


Amazing place to kayak. You can walk on the various islands. Easy access.


Rapid changes of weather in the park. Potential sun exposure.


Backcountry camping
Bird watching

Site characteristics: Water


Portage required




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