We recently returned from our Utah & Wyoming Windy Adventures! We had a great time, yet absolutely nothing went according to plan. Prior to leaving, we mapped an itinerary for each day, but the weather seized almost every opportunity to sabotage it – sometimes in a very extreme way. And, the weather forecast for each day was almost always wrong, too! We adjusted our plans for each day accordingly, and found ourselves relaxing (down time) significantly more than we had on our Great Montana Adventure. I suppose that was not a bad thing, but it is just something that we are not used to. We do not travel places to just sit around.
The first part of our Utah & Wyoming Windy Adventures took us back to Bear Lake, Utah, where we seem to frequent each summer. The second part of our Utah & Wyoming Windy Adventures took us to Alpine and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While we are familiar with Jackson Hole, Alpine was a new place for us to explore. It would be an understatement to say that we fell in love with the town of Alpine. The people are super friendly, the grocery store is nothing short of spectacular (especially the deli and bakery) and the local pizza joint is fantastic! We could see ourselves retiring there, although that would be 22 years from now. Yikes!
NOTE: We like to include the maps for everything that we do in our posts. However, the app that Larry uses was not working properly all of the time. As such, we do not have all of them in this post, and the ones we did include may not be 100% accurate.
Continue reading to learn more about our Utah & Wyoming Windy Adventures!
Utah Windy Adventure ~ Day 1: The Base Camp @ Grand Lake Chevrolet Tahoe rolled into Bear Lake State Park around 11:00 am, located on the east side of the lake. My parents were already on the beach getting ready to kayak with us. We were shocked and disheartened to see how terribly low the water level was (at least ten feet). The dramatically low water level resulted in an estimated 300 yards of exposed mushy sand, which was where everyone parked their vehicles in an effort to get closer to the waterline. Typically, we launch the kayak (aka “The Big Mango”) at the boat launch, but the area was dry. It was so sad.
After only a few minutes of kayaking, rainclouds had begun to develop. And after we had kayaked for about 10 minutes, the rain began. We all headed back to shore and loaded up our kayaks and gear. It was a huge disappointment because Larry and I had planned to kayak around 15 miles that day. And more importantly, it was the only time that my parents have had the opportunity to kayak in well over a year.
Once everything was packed and loaded, we all headed to Garden City, located at the west side of the lake. There, the city hosted their annual Raspberry Days Festival. Naturally, the rain had ceased. We walked around for a short time, looking at the crafts offered at the tents. By that time, there was a clear blue sky and it was hot! Larry and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and go paddleboarding.
I love stand up paddleboarding, and I especially love doing it on Bear Lake. The beauty of the cerulean blue water and the fish floating around/under my board always captivates me. We launched the boards at Hunter’s Point and headed south. We paddled just shy of 4 miles and had an amazing time; the water was warmer than bathwater. Afterward, we showered and headed to dinner with my parents. It was a great way to end the day.
Utah Windy Adventure ~ Day 2: The plan for the day was to bike with my parents, play games and just hang out. Unfortunately, my parents received news that morning that one of their horses had been injured at the boarding facility; they needed to return home immediately. We had not seen each other since the prior summer when we were on our Epic Wild West Summer Vacation 2020. After we said our goodbyes, Larry and I took off on a bike ride.
We always stay at the Bear Lake/Marina Side KOA, which was where we jumped onto the Bear Trail-Road Bike path, as it runs directly in front of the KOA. Prior to this year, a large part of the bike path used to run through town right on the sidewalk. Now, however, that portion of the path has been moved behind the buildings that are on the main road. It is fantastic, and such a great idea!
The bike path is entirely paved starting from Harbor Village, eventually paralleling the main road and terminating about a 1/2 mile south of Ideal Beach. The path also had recently been extended, but to get to that new part of the path, you have to bike along the highway for a short distance where it ends at Hunter’s Point. I am not comfortable with biking on the road. We biked about 10.5 miles before returning to our cabin at the KOA. We just relaxed for the remainder of the day/evening since it had been too windy to kayak or paddleboard.
Utah Windy Adventure ~ Day 3: The plan for the day was to kayak or paddleboard 15-20 miles; weather seemed more conducive to kayaking. We launched the “The Big Mango” at Hunter’s Point and paddled toward Rendezvous Beach, which is the south beach. Just as we had reached the point, the wind unexpectedly kicked in. We had only paddled a touch over 3 miles. We promptly returned to our launching point and loaded up the kayak. Throughout the remainder of the day, we kept hoping that the wind would die down, but it never did. For the remainder of the day/evening, we just relaxed.
Utah Windy Adventure ~ Day 4: The plan for the day was to kayak or paddleboard 15-20 miles; weather seemed more conducive to kayaking. We launched the “The Big Mango” at the north beach; there we also parked far down on the sand. We paddled west, which was along the main road leading to the beach from St. Charles.
After we had paddled for a few miles, I mentioned to Larry that perhaps we should make our turnaround at the “white buoy,” located far off in the distance. Larry asked, “What white buoy?” I pointed to it, having expected that he would’ve easily spotted it. His reply to me was, “You mean the pelican?” I was utterly confused, until we paddled closer and I realized that the “buoy” was indeed an American white pelican. We nicknamed the pelican “Buoy,” and every time we saw a pelican, we had wondered if was Buoy.
When we reversed course, we paddled back along the north shore. At about 2:30 pm, the wind began to kick in. We had turned around just in the nick of time to get back to our launching point before the wind got too fierce, after paddling shy of 12 miles. We just relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Wyoming Windy Adventure ~ Day 5: The drive to Alpine that morning led to the rescue of a dog that we had spotted standing alongside the highway. Larry quickly pulled the truck off the road and I jumped out to get the dog. Fortunately, he came right to me and was very friendly. The dog’s home was just a short trek down the road. We walked the pup to the house and spoke with the owner, who didn’t seem to know his pup was outside, or he was simply indifferent…I am not sure which. Recollecting this situation is still difficult, and I hope the pup will never again be anywhere near the highway.
When we arrived in Alpine, we drove around to gather our bearings since the area was new for us, as well as locate our lodging. Afterward, we headed to a trail inside of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The trails there are either not well marked or not marked at all. We could not locate any signage.
Shortly after we got started on the hike, Larry said, “If at any point you start to feel uncomfortable, we can turn around.” That signaled a red flag in my mind, and I understood his sentiment. The area is a grizzly bear mecca, it is not heavily trafficked (we only saw two other people who were already back at the trailhead) and it is extremely dense with trees and berry bushes.
As we continued up the trail, we clapped our hands regularly to alert bears of our presence, as well as kept ready access to our bear spray. After we had had trekked a bit over a mile, we stopped short in our tracks when we came upon fresh bear poop smack in the middle of the trail; I poked at it with a stick. We immediately turned around and headed back down to the trailhead. However, we somehow got off the trail and ended up somewhere else than where we had originally started. When we made it back to the Tahoe, it was then that we realized we were not on the right trail to begin with. Oh well, nothing like a little bushwhacking.
We then decided to go kayaking on Palisades Reservoir. The water was alarmingly low, not only due to drought but also because the water had been intentionally drawn down to supply the parched crops of the Snake River Plain. The Palisades Reservoir is a large body of water, with about 70 miles of shoreline bordering Idaho and Wyoming. In the years past, Larry and I have discussed kayaking the whole thing over a period of three to four days, camping along the shore. We may still do that one day.
In Wyoming, there is one boat launch located in Alpine. However, the boat launch was dry. On the Idaho side, there are two public boat launches: Blowout Campground and Calamity Campground. This day, we launched the kayak at Calamity Campground. After paddling for less than ten minutes, the wind kicked in and we were forced to return to the beach and pack up. We were disappointed, yet again, with our luck with the wind. We headed to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Wyoming Windy Adventure ~ Day 6: Our plan for the day had been to kayak 20 miles on the Palisades Reservoir, but we decided to head into Jackson instead to kayak around Jenny Lake (8 miles). Originally, we had planned to this on Day 7, but I do not remember why we had changed it. Perhaps it had been because of our experience the day prior.
As we headed into Grand Teton National Park, we had somehow missed the road where we should’ve turned to get to the boat launch for Jenny Lake. Instead, we ended up at the kayak launch for String Lake, unbeknownst to us. Thus, Larry dubbed this day as the, “The Unexpected Journey.” We are huge fans of the movie, “The Hobbit,” so the title seemed to fit perfectly.
As we began kayaking, we looked at our surroundings with confusion because it looked nothing like where we should’ve been. When we realized that we were not on Jenny Lake (it was immediately obvious), Larry thought we were on Leigh Lake. However, we were actually on String Lake. String Lake is a shallow lake nestled between Jenny Lake to the south, and Leigh Lake to the north. The lake is named after Richard String, who was known as “The West’s last mountain man.”
The lake was three to four feet deep at the most. We had to carefully navigate and take extreme caution to avoid colliding with rocks and trees just under the water’s surface. Given this, I would not recommend going out on an inflatable kayak/paddleboard. And, we certainly would not take our paddleboards out there due to imminent risk of scratching them and/or damaging the fin.
The views surrounding this small lake were nothing short of breathtaking. The water was crystal clear glass, jutted up against the edge of the forest. I highly recommend having a can of bear spray if you venture out onto the lake because the water is so shallow…it is a perfect wading pool for a bear or moose.
We kayaked the perimeter of String Lake, roughly 3 miles, and then quickly loaded up the kayak with the goal of finding the boat launch for Jenny Lake next. By that point in the day, it was about 1:00 pm. Larry felt certain that we would be able to get all the way around Jenny Lake without any interruption from the wind.
We launched “The Big Mango” at the boat launch off of Lupine Meadows Road. There is a sign just before the parking area stating, “No hiker parking.” Of course, almost everyone parked there were hikers, leaving no spot open for us or other people with boats. When Larry had returned from parking the Tahoe up the road, we began paddling north along the eastern shore. The wind and water were both calm, so we were feeling pretty confident and excited about completing the entire journey around the lake. However, those positive vibes were very short-lived.
After paddling a touch over a 1/2 mile, the wind swept in with such a sudden ferocity that we needed to make an important decision very quickly: do we kayak across the width of the lake so that the bow of the kayak faces the direction of the wind? Or, do we reverse course and have the wind blast us from the side of the kayak? The second option would be a shorter distance.
However, having the wind coming at you from the side is never a safe option because you risk having the kayak flipped. But, you can do a zig-zag technique (think tack & jibe when sailing), which involves kayaking into the direction of the wind and then turning around and kayaking with the wind at your back; repeating that pattern frequently. This does work well in windy conditions, BUT you need to plan the turns very, very carefully. If you turn the kayak around at the wrong moment, you risk getting capsized (or completely soaked).
The wind was ripping at 15-20mph with gusts near 30mph. Ultimately, we decided to battle the wind head-on and cross over the lake. No matter how strong you may be, kayaking through 30mph gusts is extremely hard work! It is not only physically challenging, but also mentally. In a tandem kayak, you have to work as a team and know exactly what to do (how to paddle) at any given change of the wind/waves. We were not concerned because we have been in worse conditions. Conversely, I think we were just plain mad!
It seemed to take forever to cross over the lake. And few times, the wind completely shifted directions, resulting in the constant need to change our course. By the time we had reached the other side of the lake, we had hoped that the wind would not shift yet again. Wrong! The entire way back to the boat launch we had to zig-zag, which isn’t fun because it has to be timed with precision, as mentioned earlier. And, it’s a lot of work to gain only a short distance.
When we had finally reached the boat launch, I was astonished to see a bunch of inexperienced kayakers getting ready to head out (on rental kayaks). I gave them as stern of a warning as I could, but none of them had heeded it. While Larry went to get the Tahoe, I peeked out onto the lake. They were either going in circles or were beached along the shore just a few feet from where they had launched. “Told you so!”
Between String Lake and Jenny Lake, we had only kayaked a little over 6 miles, but we were done with kayaking for the day. Completely done! Our aspirations then transitioned to biking. Inside of Teton National Park, there are a few different bike trails and they are so much fun. They are fully paved, well marked and have gentle rolling hills.
We parked the Tahoe at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor and biked north. This direction takes you to Jenny Lake Visitor Center. The ride going this direction is a gradual incline, with only one steep section just after the entrance to the park. Naturally the ride back was a touch easier, with a fun ride going down the steep hill. I loved it! The total bike was 14.63 miles.
After our bike ride, we drove to the top of Signal Mountain. During our Jackson Hole: Winter Paradise Take II, we snowshoed almost to the top of Signal Mountain, short of about one mile. We were not able to go any further without risk of avalanche. Driving on the road in a vehicle really puts that snowshoe trek into perspective: “Holy ***. We snowshoed up this whole thing!”
Wyoming Windy Adventure ~ Day 7: The plan for the day was to stand up paddleboard about 15 miles on Palisades Reservoir. The forecast predicted no wind for the day, so you can imagine how elated we were considering the bad luck we had had on our trip thus far. We parked the Tahoe at the Blowout boat launch and eagerly set out, paddling south along the eastern shore toward Alpine. The entire reservoir is surrounded by dense forest, and normally we would have been jutted right up again the forest line had the water level not been down so low.
The water in many areas was extremely murky, covered with a blanket of algae. We do not know if that is typical or if it was due to the low water levels. But it stuck to the sides of boards like a sickly green film. After we had paddled 5 miles, we decided to reverse course toward our launching point and then paddle along the shore going north. Just like magic, the exact moment we turned around, the wind swept in.
Kayaking in windy conditions is hard enough. But battling the wind on a stand up paddleboard is whole other game entirely. The gusts blasted us at 25mph and it took every muscle fiber in my shoulders to keep my board going straight and to not tip over. We had to constantly zig-zag to avoid getting capsized; we definitely did not want to fall into that green slimy water. We still had 4 miles of paddling to get back to the Tahoe and there was no way that we were going to be able to do that.
We beached the boards after paddling about 1 mile and spent an hour contemplating what to do, after which Larry walked over half-mile up the beach to a guy who was camped there (Dan). Dan then drove Larry to the Blowout boat launch to get the Tahoe. Meanwhile, I walked around the beach inspecting all the different animal prints embedded into the mud and sand. One of the prints I had observed gave me cause to constantly look back at the dense forest line behind me. We did not pack bear spray…
After about 45 minutes, I saw Larry park the Tahoe on the beach far off in the distance; it was just a black speck. I could not imagine why he had parked so far away! Plus, I did not see him get out of the Tahoe, so I had begun to panic. After about 30 minutes of wondering what was going on, I finally saw him in the far distance walking toward me. A small degree of panic had subsided, but I was still confused about what was going on.
He explained that he was unable to park the Tahoe anywhere near where our boards were; someone had already gotten stuck there the day prior. The low water levels allow vehicles to park far down on the sand, but the closer you get to the waterline, the softer the sand becomes. Thus, you need to take great caution about where you park to avoid the tires sinking in and getting stuck.
I contemplated that, looking back and forth between where we were and where the Tahoe was. How were we supposed to get our boards over to the Tahoe? The answer was all too obvious, and my heart sunk. We would have to jump on them and paddle over there. By that point in time, close to 3 hours had passed since we had beached them, and I was exhausted. Reluctantly, we jumped on our boards and paddled over to a small cove that was somewhat closer to the Tahoe.
The next challenge was getting the boards out of the water. Under normal circumstances, this is not a difficult task. However, the shoreline in the cove was nothing but rocks and mucky mud; Larry had to park very far above it. When we hopped off our boards, our feet sunk into mud up to our ankles, and trying walk steady in that while stepping on rocks mixed in with the mud was miserable! And, there was no smooth, dry sand to place our boards upon, so when we got them out of the water, they were coated with mud. Sadly, our boards sustained large scratches on the bottoms of them, despite our ultra diligent efforts to protect them; it was inevitable.
Whenever we remove our boards from the water, we always immediately place them in our Suspenz SUP Stand so we can clean and dry them off prior to loading them onto the Tahoe. But even that had been a challenge due to the degree of filth covering them, plus they had to be carried over a rocky ledge to get to the Tahoe! After another hour, we were finally ready to leave and head to the hotel. To say that this experience sucked would not truly depict my feelings about it. The only good thing about that day had been the delicious dinner at Driftwood Pizzeria.
Wyoming Windy Adventure ~ Day 8: The plan for the day was to do a long bike ride; we did not want anything to do with the water. Jackson Hole offers exceptional paved paths for biking, and it is one of my favorite things to do there in the summer. The views of the Teton Range are mesmerizing, making the ride nothing short of spectacular! We parked the Tahoe at the Jackson Hole Welcome Center and biked north, which runs along the National Elk Refuge. In the summer, we usually do not see many elk congregating there, as winter is the time of year that you’ll see the large herds.
The bike ride heading to Moose Junction is a slight incline that you really don’t notice until you’re heading back the other direction. There is only one steep hill about a 1/3 mile in length, otherwise it is a fairly easy ride. The path crosses over the Snake River, which was almost completely dry in that section. Once we had reached Moose Junction, we reversed course, and thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of ride going down. It was very hot that day, and by the time we had completed the full journey, 26.44 miles, we were a bit tired.
Once we had cooled off and ate some snacks, we stopped by an area named, “Mormon Row,” so that Larry could get some pictures. Mormon Row, once known as Grovont, was homesteaded in the late 1890’s by Mormons from the Salt Lake region. Visitors come to Mormon Row to see the famous barn, in particular.
Afterward, we headed to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and walked to an overlook area along the shores of Jenny Lake. We silently stood there, reminiscing about our hectic paddling adventure that we had had on the lake two days prior. The wind at that moment was not too bad, but knowing our luck, the moment we would attempt to put the kayak or paddleboards in, the wind would creep up and sweep us away. We headed to an early dinner and relaxed for the remainder of the evening.
Wyoming Windy Adventure ~ Day 9: The plan for the day had been to kayak 15-20 miles on Jackson Lake, but we were reluctant to attempt paddling on any body of water. Plus, the Coulter Bay boat launch was completely dry, which meant that we would have to carry the kayak a long distance to get to the water, and then deal with mucky mud. No thanks – we were done with that.
Our plan transitioned to going to Phelps Lake. Phelps Lake is located at the southern end of Grand Teton National Park, and it is the entry point to Death Canyon. The road getting there is an experience in and of itself. It is a dirt road mixed with large rocks, which is why the sign in the park recommends four-wheel drive vehicles. Naturally, there were many vehicles not intended for that type of road.
There is a looped trail that goes around the entire lake, but we opted to hike the Phelps Lake Overlook. The trail was a fairly simple trek, with just a slight incline to get to the overlook. If one were to loop the lake, a popular stopping point is “Jumping Rock.” Those brave enough to take the 25 to 30 foot plunge will be rewarded with a quick cool down upon entering the water.
After the hike, we headed to Teton Village, home of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Teton Village also boasts wonderfully paved bike paths for bikers of all ages. We parked the Tahoe in the resort parking lot and headed south. After biking 6.5 miles, we encountered a fork in the path and decided to check it out. That portion of the path heads into a beautiful open area that has some ranch land as well as a home development. This section of the path continues onto Wilson Elementary School.
The temperature that day was in the low 90’s, and I was disturbed by all of the people who were walking dogs, especially on blacktop. Not only was it far too hot to walk dogs, in general, but many of them also did not have any water with them. We encountered a young couple walking a black Scottie Terrier, who looked exhausted. They did not have any water for the pup, so I asked if they would like some water from my pack. As I attempted to get off my bike, I fell off from it instead. It was a smooth move. I then proceeded to explain how dangerous it is to walk dogs in hot weather and the importance of always carrying water.
When we returned to the Tahoe, we had completed 14.5 miles. That is not a significant distance, but it was too hot for me to bike any further. I was so overheated that I drove my hands and arms deep into our cooler full of ice. My heart broke for all the dogs that we had seen, trying to keep up with their owners, who didn’t have the decency (or knowledge) to walk them early in the morning or late in the evening. From now on, I will always carry a separate water bottle/cup in my pack, specifically for dogs in that situation.
After our bike ride, Larry had wanted to drive to Two Oceans Lake to get some photos, located at the north end of the park near Moran, Wyoming. Two Oceans is a glacially carved lake named after Two Ocean Pass. We ended up not driving there, and instead, headed to dinner and then relaxed for the rest of the evening, dreaming about the thing called, “retirement.”
Utah & Wyoming Windy Adventures ~ Trip Summary: I have mixed feeling about this trip for two reasons. First, we did not get to do anywhere near as much kayaking or stand up paddleboarding as we had planned. On our Montana Adventure, we paddled a total of 55.5 miles. We had hoped to paddle significantly more on this trip, but we ended up paddling significantly less – all because of the wind. Second, our time with my parents had been cut short due to a sad and unfortunate situation with one of their horses (but he is recovering well).
On the positive side, however, it is always great to spend time with one another in the outdoors doing what we love. Plus, we visited an awesome new place (Alpine), as well as spent time in two other places that we enjoy. If the opportunity presented itself, we would consider moving to Alpine within the next year or two. It is an ideal place for us, for many reasons.
At this point, we are uncertain if we will be traveling next summer. We might just spend all our free time in Grand Lake. Winter is typically the time of year when we do most of our traveling, and we are hoping for a ton of snow this year! Please see our plans below.
SOME OF THE GEAR USED:
- Perception Cove 14.5 Tandem Kayak aka “The Big Mango”
- Isle Glider Wood SUP
- Trek Dual Sport 3 (Women’s)
- SCOTT Scale 940
- Osprey Daylite
- Osprey Rev 6 Hydration Pack
- RTIC 45 Quart Hard Cooler
- RTIC Soft Pack 8
Oct 9-10 ~ Leadville, Colorado: This is a new area for us to explore: hiking, biking and kayaking.
Nov 20-22 ~ Steamboat Springs, Colorado: Tentative
Dec-Mid April: Trips to Aspen, Crested Butte, Grand Lake, Breckenridge, and a few other places. No dates have yet been confirmed, as it is snow dependent.
Feb 21-23 ~ Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Itinerary is planned for each day: snowshoeing and cross-country skiing all three days. This time, I hope to not see wolf prints.
Feb 24-26 ~ Alpine, Wyoming: Itinerary is planned for each day: snowshoeing and cross-country skiing for two of the days, and then a full day snowmobile trip.
May 1-7 ~ Orlando, Florida: Spending five days at the Disney World Parks.