Rafting, Kayaking, Boating & Swimming

Fun on the Water in Yellowstone National Park

Get Wet - Leave dry land behind to explore the rivers and lakes of Yellowstone

1. Boat Tours of Yellowstone Lake

Scenic cruiser tour boat on Yellowstone Lake with the Lake Hotel in the background
Scenic cruiser tour boat on Yellowstone Lake with the Lake Hotel in the background Photo: NPS/Jim Peaco

You can drive by the stunning Yellowstone Lake or hike along its shores, but that would mean missing an entertaining and engaging boat tour aboard the Lake Queen.

From the Bridge Bay Marina (map), you’ll set sail across the largest high-elevation lake in the Lower 48. At 7,732 feet, the lake covers 136 square miles. As you explore the lake and make your way around Stevenson Island, you’ll learn about the colorful history of the area, including that of the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, which you can’t miss from the lake since this hotel, originally built in 1891 to lure and accommodate tourists, is large and yellow. If you are lucky, you will spot eagles, ospreys and possibly the land-bound bison loitering on the lake’s shores.

Tours aboard the Lake Queen are offered mid-June through mid-August. They are offered several times in the morning, afternoon and evening, so call ahead or go online to learn the exact departure times and to book your tour. You can call 307-344-7311 or visit www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/adventures/water-adventures/.

Be sure to arrive 15 minutes before the tour starts because the guides will present a safety talk and all travelers must be present. If you miss this, you cannot board the boat. Bring layers as the lake can get cool when winds pick up, especially in the afternoon and evening. Children three and under are free but do need a ticket.

2. Boating in Yellowstone

Fishing from a motorboat in Yellowstone Lake
Fishing from a motorboat in Yellowstone LakeNPS Diane Renkin

Visitors can hop in a motorboat or rowboat and cruise the scenic waters of Yellowstone Lake (there are a few non-motorized zones) and Lewis Lake for fishing and access to shoreline campsites.

Boat permit required ($10/week; purchase at South Entrance, Bridge Bay Ranger Station or Grant Village Backcountry Office). Rentals available at Bridge Bay Marina. Visit www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/adventures/water-adventures/ for more information.

3. Paddling on Lakes in Yellowstone

Kayak lesson on Yellowstone Lake
Kayak lesson on Yellowstone Lake NPS/Diane Renkin

Escape the shoreline crowds in a kayak or canoe and Yellowstone’s serene lakes are yours to explore. Non-motorized vessels are allowed on most park lakes and the section of the Lewis River between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes.

Yellowstone Lake is by far the largest paddling ground and offers dozens of remote campsites. Shoshone Lake, the largest backcountry lake in the Lower 48, is even quieter because it’s accessible only by kayak or canoe via Lewis River.

Boat permit required ($5/week; purchase at South Entrance, Bridge Bay Ranger Station or Grant Village Backcountry Offices). No rentals available in the park, though several outfitters run trips such as Geyser Kayak Tours and Yellowstone Hiking Guides.

4. Fishing in Yellowstone

Fly fishing on Yellowstone's Firehole River
Fly fishing on Yellowstone’s Firehole River Grant Ordelheide

Dream of fishing in a remote canyon? A placid lake? A blue-ribbon trout stream? Miles of prime rivers and streams are open to fishing (some are fly fishing only) in Yellowstone. Head to the Madison River for brown and rainbow trout, Yellowstone Lake for native cutthroat trout and the Gardner River for brookies, rainbow and browns.

National park fishing license required inside Yellowstone for adults 16 and up; $18/3 days, $25/week or $40 for a season pass. More about fishing in Yellowstone.