Frost crystals crack across the surface of our canoe, dry bags, anything that has touched water. I stomp my feet and squeeze my fingers into fists, looking east for the sun. In front of me, thick clouds are a blanket on glassy Shoshone Lake. A subtle sunrise pink guards the horizon before it is kissed by the early sun.
All is quiet, and then we hear the sound of an alpine autumn: an elk bugle- high and clean and unmistakable- cuts through the low fog and clouds. Then another. And at least one more.
By the time we get on the water at 8:19 a.m. on the second day of a 4-day trip, it seems our goal for the trip has already been met: be in the wild and distract ourselves fully from our long list of Peace Corps preparations.
There’s no better place for wild lands and distractions than Yellowstone’s backcountry. It’s a place that’s easy to return to, almost addicting. It never disappoints, and there’s always something new to be found there. After getting more than 300 miles of Yellowstone’s trails under my hiking boots, it was time to try something new on this summer’s trip to the park.
Alex and I hatched the plan in late Spring: buy a cheap canoe, practice all summer/learn how the heck to boat, circumnavigate the massive Lake Yellowstone, sell the canoe and leave for Mozambique.
An exciting but perhaps overly ambitious plan morphed into something more do-able as we learned more about ourselves inside a boat and more about the 5-foot whitecaps that sometimes churn up on the waters of Lake Yellowstone.
Shoshone Lake was the perfect pick for our first multi-night canoe camping trip. To help ourselves out we planned low mileage days so we could do all of our paddling in the calm morning water ,we practiced packing our canoe on a couple overnight trips on Lake Granby, and we devised a food system that allowed us quick and easy breakfasts and lunches for our paddling hours.
So, on day 4, we stopped for lunch at the mouth of the Lewis Channel with only 3 miles left ahead. We swam, we ate, but mostly we stopped here to flex our muscles-now 31 paddled miles stronger- for a picture next to the sign that reads ‘Closed To Power Boating Beyond This Point.’
Video credit to Alex Romanyshyn
Our first step to planning this trip was printing of the boating regulations and lake maps with campsites. After calling the backcountry office to get an idea of mileage between sites, we filled out this backcountry reservation form and paid $25 to reserve the sites for our trip.
When we got to Yellowstone, we set up camp at the Lewis Lake campground (where the boat launch is) and visited the Grant Village backcountry office to obtain our camping permit (a reservation is NOT a permit) at $3 per person per night, boat permit at $5 per week, buy a fishing license, and get an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) check on our boat. The AIS process was a little confusing in Wyoming. We received ‘clearance’ for our boat at the Wyoming/Colorado border and were given a piece of paper confirming this. We then had to present this paper at the Teton entrance station on the way through to Yellowstone. Then, we had to get a special AIS inspection at the Grant Village Backcountry Office in Yellowstone and received an AIS sticker for our boat.As a sidenote, when we boated in the Tetons after Yellowstone, we had to present the original AIS paper from the border and give all sorts of personal information to get a Wyoming AIS sticker mailed to us.
Anywho, once we were all set up with permits, we were ready to pack and go. We came into Yellowstone a day early to allow time for all the running around and getting permits organized. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this the day of your trip, as there is nowhere to get the permits that is all that close to the boat launch.
Once we got on the water, our mileage and sites were as follows, for a total of 34 miles:
Day 1: Lewis Lake Boat Launch to site 8Q7, 8.47 miles. This site was shaded in both evening and morning, which made it a bit chilly. It is backed by a beautiful meadow and Moose Creek. The bear pole and tent site were right on the beach, making unloading and reloading very easy.
Day 2: 8Q7 to 8T3, 4.74 miles. This site was tucked into a nook of shoreline, and it took some hard looking to spot the orange marker that signifies each site. The site itself was on top of a small hill, which made unloading and reloading harder, but offered awesome views of the lake and steam rising out of the nearby Shoshone Geyser Basin.
Day 2 side trip: 8T3 to Shoshone Geyser Basin, 4.45 miles roundtrip. Because our mileage between sites was so short on Day 2, we arrived at camp early and decided to take a side trip to the Geyser Basin even though we would be passing it on Day 3 on the way to our next campsite. From the water, you can see a large orange marker signifying the boat pull-out for the geyser basin. The trail starts right from the beach and winds up a mellow hill, taking hikers past a variety of geysers and thermal features. Our maps showed that this was a loop trail, but we did not find this to be true. At the top of the Geyser Basin, the trail petered off a bit. The most defined trail led us a ways away from the basin until we determined that we had gotten onto the South Shoshone Trail. Having never found the loop option, we did this as an ‘out and back’ that was about 2 miles long.
Day 3: 8T3 to 8R1, 5.29 miles. Originally, we planned to stay at 8R1 for two nights to have a layover day, and then go to o8Q6, which would have made this a 6 day trip. However, because the mileage was so short, we arrived at 8R1 at about 10a.m., so no longer felt like we needed a layover day or the extra day at 8Q6, just a short 3 miles away. Here we decided that this would be the final night! 8R1 has a great beach for lounging, fishing and relaxing, and this is exactly what we did all day on Day 3. This site is on the far side of The Narrows, the only spot that NPS recommends crossing Shoshone. This made it easy to get up and go the next day, paddling the most potentially dangerous portion of the trip first thing in the morning. The site itself was similar to 8T3 in that the bear pole and tent site were up a hill from the beach. Again we were awarded great views of a large portion of the lake from this site, and enjoyed our third and final night of cooking and eating on a beautiful beach 🙂
Day 4: 8R1 to Lewis Lake Boat Launch, 10.67 miles. With blue skies and sunshine, we had plenty of time for snack breaks, pictures, fishing, swimming, and dragging the boat down the Lewis Channel!
It’s not unusual for me to become fairly obsessive about food, enough so that Alex has deemed me the Food Liaison for our trips 🙂 Wanting to avoid day after day of oatmeal and Ramen, I set to work contemplating our menu for this trip weeks in advance.
I portioned out and packed everything for each breakfast and dinner into a gallon Ziploc for each day, including even instant coffee and other ‘extras’ so we wouldn’t have to dig through multiple bags for every meal. For lunches, I packed us each our own smaller Ziploc with snacks that ‘packed a punch.’ Then I packed this all in a dry bag, putting the last day’s meals on the bottom and stacking up to Day 1 from there. On top I included a bag of extra snacks. Each night we took out the next day’s breakfast and lunch to avoid opening one more dry bag in the morning. This system was AWESOME! It was so nice to not dig through tons of bags to get what we needed for each day and to only hang one dry bag of food on our bear pole.
Pita breakfast pizzas with almond butter (individually packaged), banana chips, craisins, pumpkin seeds, and toasted coconut.
Oatmeal with trail mix
Couscous with dried, chopped mango, coconut, almonds, cinnamon, and honey. ( We ate this after the trip ended, since we cut the trip short by two days…but it was scrumptious 🙂 )
***Alex had the brilliant idea of filling our big Thermos with boiling water each night after dinner and using this for breakfast and coffee the next morning. This system worked great and saved us time messing with the stove in the morning.
Lunch/Snack bags included some combination of:
Individually packaged almond butter or peanut butter, beef jerky, non-refrigerated cheese-like laughing cow (we found something similar at Cost Plus World Market), individual summer sausages (also from Cost Plus), Triscuits, fruit leathers, Clif bar or another granola bar, trail mix, salty snack mix, snack olives (woot woot Cost Plus).
All I can say is that I couldn’t wait to get hungry mid-morning every day so I could choose a snack from my snack bag. I loved this system as well and would definitely use this for backpacking or long day hikes too.
Chicken Fajitas: This was our Day 1 dinner, so we were able to pack fresh chopped bell peppers with pouch chicken and spices.
Thanksgiving Dinner: A gem of a backcountry dinner, first discovered by Alex when students cooked it on this year’s high school Leadership Trip in the school district where we worked! Cook instant mash potatoes and stuffing together, add pouch chicken, and top with craisins and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. You could even get crazy with gravy if you so desire.
Pesto pasta with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes: Again, eaten after the canoe trip ended, but a great backcountry meal nonetheless. Combine pasta with a pesto sauce packet and pouch chicken, and add a little color with sun-dried tomatoes, which don’t require refrigeration until opened.
In addition to these meals, we had originally planned soup with rice every other day of the trip. I bought the Campbell’s Go soups because they are bagged instead of canned and pack wonderfully.
Finally, don’t forget beer, whiskey, and chocolate!
With full bellies and sore shoulders, we left Shoshone as we had wanted: happily distracted and energized by the wilds.