This two-lake combination paddle is a great way to get up close to the mountains without the crowds (if you go early enough). Though the smoke was still thick from wildfires, this was a great day of paddling in Grand Teton National Park.
At the suggestion of multiple folks, we stayed one extra day in our boondocking spot outside Grand Teton National Park in order to do the String Lake/Leigh Lake combination paddle.
Hoping to see more wildlife and to beat the crowds, we once again set the alarm for 5:00 a.m. But our thermometer said it was 35 degrees outside, so we stayed warm under our covers for an extra 40 minutes.
When we finally forced ourselves to get up, I stepped outside and for the first time since we've been here, I could smell the smoke from distant fires. We've seen it at varying levels, but today the odor was strong.
Minutes later, I heard two packs of coyotes howling and yelping across the valley. In the smoky dawn, it was both eerie and wonderful, and I didn't notice the cold.
Even with our sleeping in delay, we were loaded up and off before 6:30. We saw the large elk herd we saw the other day in the same spot. And then we saw a smaller group of females in a field.
As we went south on the inner loop road, Linda spotted more elk in the woods. But, we didn't see any other wildlife.
The sun was rising and trying to shine through the thick smoke. It made for some interesting color.
We made it to the String Lake canoe launch parking lot and were the only ones launching. We inflated the Sea Eagle SE 370 and I got the obligatory pre-launch photos.
String Lake is very shallow. Except for one section of deep water near this boulder, it probably ranges from six inches to four feet deep.
Steam was still coming off the water as the sun continued to rise in the haze.
I'm not sure how long String Lake is, but the shoreline trail to Leigh Lake is about a mile. The lake isn't very long but has a couple of turns and in one section you can easily get stuck in the shallows.
Here's a shot looking behind us, ....
and here is one looking forward with Mt. Moran and its reflection.
Just think what it would like like without all the smoke.
At the north end of String Lake, we found the portage sign.
Next to the sign is a food storage box for those that are making multiple trips to get gear.
It's a pretty easy portage to Leigh Lake. I'm guessing it's about 75 yards, a 100 yards at most, on an easy trail. This is the view back from the Leigh Lake end.
There is another food storage box there, and steps leading down to Leigh Lake.
There we saw a group of three canoes floating across the glassy water - the first people of the day.
They were returning from camping. There are a half dozen or so campsites on Leigh Lake which is almost 1800 acres and has a max depth of 250 feet. It's a big lake.
In fact, even with lots of people on the lake, it's still quiet because everyone is so spread out (and motorboats aren't allowed).
Once launched, we paddled to the left around a large island.
We passed a couple of the boat-in campsites ....
and prepared to turn a corner around a point revealing Mt. Moran.
Mt. Moran and its cousins slope into Leigh Lake.
We paddled the shore opposite Mt. Moran. Some fisherman in a canoe paddled by giving some perspective to the mountain.
We beached the boat at another of the campsites to take a break. The views from there aren't too shabby.
We continued on around past some glacier-melt streams until we were looking up the side of Mt. Moran at the rocky path of its own glacier melt.
Oh yeah, the water is crystal clear - not Lake Tahoe clear, but pretty darn close. The water itself is beautiful.
Fortunately, the wind stayed down as we paddled to the north end of the lake and then along the eastern shore. When I say "we" paddled, I mean "I paddled".
I then paddled us out to another island where we beached the boat and stretched our legs.
Soon we were off again. And the smoke was getting worse. Some of the mountains we could see earlier were gone.
Linda decided to assume her favorite boating position, and then she took it one step further with her head on the side and her hat shading her face. Nap time.
The breeze was just starting to pick up as we approached the portage stairs.
We hadn't intended to paddle the entire lakeshore, but we did. Technically, it was "we" as Linda made about ten strokes on Leigh Lake.
All I can tell you is we would most certainly do the String Lake/Leigh Lake trip again. In fact, we have vowed to come back in the spring when there is more snow on the mountains and no smoke. I'm not sure there is a better, quieter, less crowded place to take pictures of the Tetons.
We made our little portage back to String Lake. It was probably about noon and there was a flotilla of canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards coming at us. And the shoreline of String Lake had turned into a day at the beach. Boy, was our timing ever good - even if we did have to brave thirty-five degree temps early in the morning.
Not only were there a lot of people, but the smoke had gotten to be the worst we had seen during our time here. There was no point in taking any more photos.
Still, what a fantastic morning!