Three words: The Snake River. Three more. That’s not all. The mighty Snake, offering both flat water and whitewater sections, does run the length of Jackson Hole, but we’ve also got dozens and dozens of lakes. Enough of these have boat ramps and are accessible by car to keep you occupied for a summer. For those valley lakes that aren’t so easily accessible, there’s a new type of watercraft called a packraft. A company here, Jackson Hole Packrafts, is one of the few in the country to rent these boats, which weigh about 5 pounds, fold up to fit into a medium-sized backpack, and can inflate in about five minutes so you can take them most anywhere boats are legal. There aren’t any backcountry lakes on my list below, but if you’re feeling adventurous and want a lake to yourself, rent a packraft and hike to any of the Top 5 Lakes to Visit in Grand Teton National Park. But a day on a section of the Snake River, or on a shimmering, glacial-fed lake at the foot of the Tetons is pretty perfect too.
String Lake is the most boat- and family-friendly lake in Grand Teton National Park because of its uniformly shallow waters and its picnic-perfect northern shore. Living up to its name, this long, skinny lake connects two larger lakes, Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake. Paddle up String, negotiate a short portage and you can paddle on Leigh Lake too.
Lower Slide Lake
Created when a 1925 landslide dammed the Gros Ventre River, Lower Slide Lake’s crystalline waters are perfect for SUPing (rentals available in Jackson). Canoeists and kayakers also love the lake for its up-close views of the long-ago landslide—the whole area is a national geologic site—and the unique experience of paddling among ghost trees.
Snake River Dam to Pacific Creek
The Oxbow Bend turnout off Grand Teton National Park’s main road is arguably the most popular spot for photographs in the park. Why settle for views from the road when you can paddle Oxbow Bend itself? A five-mile section of flat water that begins just below Jackson Lake Dam allows you to navigate into Oxbow Bend before paddling back to the main river and continuing down to the boat ramp at Pacific Creek.
Snake River, Pacific Creek to Deadman’s Bar
Equally great for fishing and photos, this stretch of river doesn’t have rapids, but multiple channels and downed trees make it ill-suited for beginners. If you have the skills, expect to spot wildlife like moose and elk in addition to mountains on this TK-mile section. Double your paddle by continuing to Moose rather than ending at Deadman’s Bar.
Best for experienced paddlers because of its size and unpredictable winds, Jackson Lake has canoe- and kayak-to campsites on its western shore that feel wonderfully remote. The largest island (and maybe the only island) in Wyoming, Elk Island, is in the middle of the southern end of the lake and makes a great day destination.