In 1871, F.V. Hayden, leader of expeditions to Yellowstone in the late 1800s, described Yellowstone Lake as “a vast sheet of quiet water, of a most delicate ultramarine hue, one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever beheld. Such a vision is worth a lifetime.”
Nothing compares to the excitement generated by paddling a kayak into the coves and inlets in the pristine southern arms of Yellowstone Lake. This is one of the best inland paddling destinations in the country. Encompassing over 135 square miles, with 20-mile stretches of open water, and 110 miles of shoreline, Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the United States above 7,500 feet. The Southeast Arm, the largest of the lake’s branches, is seven miles long and one to four miles across. This remote and secluded sound is by far the best place to view the snow-topped peaks of the Absaroka Range and experience the amazing concentration of wildlife in the looping channels of the Yellowstone River, and the broad Thoroughfare Valley through which it flows. Earning its name from early trappers and explorers, the Thoroughfare was a convenient natural passageway from Yellowstone Lake to Jackson Hole.
This southeast corner of Yellowstone is the least-visited section of the park, and farthest distance from any pavement one can get in the continental United States. Looking east, the Absaroka Range, rough and jagged as a row of bayonets, stretches far into the horizon, while the spectacular ice- and snow-covered Grand Teton spires glistens 45 miles to the southwest. The sprawling blue expanse of Yellowstone Lake dominates all to the northwest. The lake’s arms, fingers, and thumbs are clearly defined, almost as if gazing down on a colossal relief map. It is an unspoiled view not so different from what Lewis and Clark would have seen if they’d scrambled up these peaks 200 years ago.