Kayaking Into Nature On Jackson Lake


Photo credit: Kamryn Broschinsky

What’s the difference between a broke college student and a kayak? A kayak will sometimes tip.

Kidding aside, learning a new skill, testing the capabilities of your muscles, and surrounding yourself with scenery that can only be described as Middle-Earth-esque are all things I derive satisfaction from. Kayaking was the first time I’d ever experienced all three at once.

I’d never pictured myself as a kayaking kind of girl — I’m more of a drinking mimosas on a yacht kind of girl — but I guess I’m just full of surprises. In a desperate attempt to shake things up and broaden my horizons, I spent an entire summer working at Grand Teton National Park in Moran, Wyoming. And before you ask, no, I wasn’t a park ranger. I was a sales associate in the Grand Teton Shop at the Jackson Lake Lodge, so even though I was living out in the wild of Wyoming, I was comforted by the familiarity of retail. Lucky me.

Only after much convincing and bribery did I agree to go out on Jackson Lake. If you’ve ever been kayaking, you know there really isn’t much to it. Just move your arms in a more or less patterned motion and hope your mate doesn’t tip you — although, I must admit, I was damn near sure anyone tipping on this voyage would be me by accident.

If you’ve never been to Wyoming, you need to go now. If you’ve been to Wyoming but somehow skipped out on Jackson Lake, you’ve made a huge mistake. I’m dead serious — you need to drop whatever you’re doing, get in your car, and go. Or, on second thought, maybe wait until June since Jackson Hole saw more than 100 inches of snow this weekend.

When dressing for a kayaking trip, make sure you choose smart over sexy. Water is cold. Trust me. Layering is the best route if you want to successfully accommodate for pesky lake weather mood swings.

Wyoming is a strange and wild place. Not wild like the Serengeti or the Himalayas, but strange and wild nonetheless. It makes you think strange things you wouldn’t normally think and do strange things you wouldn’t normally do. Kayaking is so minimalist, so primal, and there’s something comforting in that. Even the word “kayak” means “man’s/hunter’s boat.” There are no fancy motors, no steering wheel, no sails. It is 100 percent man power, and if that doesn’t make you feel like you’re invincible, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Colter Bay Village, aptly described as a “summer camp for the entire family,” is nestled on the north shore of Jackson Lake, which is mostly glacial runoff and fed by a Snake River tributary. The lake is breathtaking, but with the towering Teton range as a backdrop, it’s actually unreal. You’ll feel like you’re in an Albert Bierstadt painting (or Bob Ross, if that’s easier to visualize). The marina at Colter Bay is where you need to go.

Once you’ve rented one of the weathered yet stalwart kayaks, and you are of course sporting a stylish life vest, then you’re ready to go. Now remember what I said — the water is going to be cold. It’s cold even in the middle of the day in the middle of August (in the hottest year on record). It’s a glacial lake. But being damp and a little chilly is a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime. Plus, you won’t be cold for very long — you won’t make it 10 minutes before your arms start to burn (unless you’re superhuman or something).

If you and your partner have somehow coordinated your strokes, then there is nothing you can’t do, and the world is yours for the taking. You can paddle over to the lake’s small island, perfect for stretching your legs and giving your arms a much needed break. This is also a prime spot for snapping the Instagram/Facebook photos you were too scared to pull your phone out and take while actually on the lake — just make sure to get one of you posing in front of your kayak, preferably doing a thumbs up or peace sign, so people can know how truly granola and in tune with nature you are.

The general shape and design of kayaks hasn’t changed much since they were first created, save for small improvements here and there to maybe increase maneuverability and lower the risk of capsizing (god bless). There is something about being part of such an ancient motion. After a while, it becomes muscle memory, therapeutic.

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