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A Water Lover’s Guide to Yellowstone Lake

A Water Lover’s Guide to Yellowstone Lake

Written by: , May 01st, 2024
Categories: Plan Tips

Hit the Water in Yellowstone

While Yellowstone National Park is renowned for its thriving wildlife and breathtaking geothermal wonders, it also offers abundant recreational options beyond land. Yellowstone Lake, a water lover’s paradise, presents opportunities for world-class fishing, boating, and sightseeing, adding another layer of adventure to the park’s attractions.

Situated at 7,733 feet (2,357 m) above sea level, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake (above 7,000 feet / 2,134 m) in North America. It is roughly 20 miles (32.2 km) long and 14 miles (22.5 km) wide, with 141 miles (227 km) of shoreline. The lake usually thaws in late May or early June, and the Bridge Bay Marina opens by mid-June. Yellowstone Lake remains quite cold year-round, with an average water temperature of 41°F (5°C). Because of the extremely cold water, swimming is not advised. Yellowstone Lake also has the largest population of wild cutthroat trout in North America, which brings in an amazing array of birds that incorporate trout into their diets, like bald eagles, osprey, and pelicans.

Visitors seeking a water-based experience need only head to Bridge Bay Marina, just two miles south of Lake Yellowstone Village. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here because we’re tucked back away from the road,” says Bridge Bay Marina Manager Crystal Cassidy. The marina provides various options to enjoy the lake, whether it’s for a few hours, a full day, or over an extended period.

Rent a Boat

Enjoy the lake on your own with a rental boat. If you think Yellowstone Lake is beautiful from the shoreline, you’ll really love being out on it. Explore the north end of the lake, drop a line and try catching a prized Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, or simply enjoy the cool breeze as you cruise along the shore. Rent a 40 hp/18ft motorboat by the hour, on a first come, first served basis. (Rental boat passengers must be at least 2 years old.)

Go Fishing with a Guide

Back of a boat with a person watching fishing rods

The fishing in Yellowstone is regarded as some of the nation’s best. At Yellowstone Lake, there’s a catch-and-release rule for native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. But you can catch and keep as many non-native Lake Trout as you like due to the efforts to eradicate the exotic invasive species.

No experience is needed. “We get a lot of people who are trying it for the first time,” says Cassidy. However, you will need a Yellowstone-specific fishing permit; we recommend purchasing your license online in advance and downloading a copy to your phone.

Private guided fishing charters (two hours minimum) accommodate up to six people. Equipment is provided, and your guide will even clean your catch.

Private Sightseeing Charter with a Guide

Boat on the water with steam vent in the background

Our charter boats can also take you on your own private sightseeing charter. Your guide will marvel you with historical tales of the lake. You can visit the wreck of the SS E.C. Waters and see some of the geothermal features along the shoreline. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife above the water, as Eagles and Osprey are frequently sighted on the lake.

Shuttle to the Backcountry

Group of people posing on a boat

For the truly adventurous, take our backcountry shuttle, lovingly named The Otter. It ferries up to six passengers across the lake to some of the park’s most remote spots for overnight camping and backpacking. A choice of drop-off points is offered. You can bring your own canoe or kayak, or rental canoes are available with backcountry boat service. Or lace up your hiking shoes and tackle the renowned Thoroughfare hike, which takes you into the most remote region of the lower 48 (yes, another superlative!).

Not interested in hiking or boating? The Otter will also take you to various points on the lake simply to spend the day. Plover Point offers great views, a sandy beach, picnic tables, and outhouses—a wonderful place to get off the beaten path and spend a half or full day! Effortlessly feel like you are in the wilds of Yellowstone!

If you will be bringing your personal canoe or kayak, please know that all watercraft (including float tubes) must have a current Yellowstone AIS (aquatic invasive species) inspection and boat permit to launch in Yellowstone Lake.

Rent a Dockslip

boats in Bridge Bay Marina

If you have your own boat, and want the convenience of having it available whenever you’re ready for a Yellowstone Lake experience, consider renting a dock slip at the Bridge Bay Marina. Choose from nightly, monthly, and full-season boat slip rentals. Boats up to 40 feet in length can be accommodated.

Bridge Bay Marina offers non-ethanol gasoline and access to a free sewage dump station. Private boats require a permit from the National Park Service and an AIS (aquatic invasive species) inspection prior to entering the water.

Take A Scenicruise

Picture of a boat on a lake

Last but not least, the 41-passenger Lake Queen II cruises the water on our popular one-hour narrated tours. The route offers splendid views of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel from the water, built in 1891, it’s the park’s oldest lodging and, arguably, its most elegant. Also on the itinerary is Stevenson Island, where the wreckage of the steamship E.C. Waters is visible. In the early 1900s, the boat (licensed to carry 609 people) ferried passengers from stagecoaches to the Lake Hotel, and your guide will tell the tale of how this steamship met its demise.

The Lake Queen II is covered and (if necessary) heated, making it a good option on bad weather days.

There is no bad way to enjoy Yellowstone Lake, even if it’s from the shore. But getting out on the water is a sure way to experience all this unique lake has to offer. Check out all of our water adventures and plan your lake escape. Near Bridge Bay Marina you’ll find Lake Village with two overnight lodging options and beautiful lake views. Stay at the historic, Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins or opt for a more rustic lake stay at the Lake Lodge Cabins.

For A World of Unforgettable Experiences® available from Xanterra Travel Collection® and our sister companies, visit

Want to experience Yellowstone in-depth? See what makes Yellowstone National Park a great place to work for a season or longer!

Partial editorial contribution from Jayne Clark, a Washington, DC-based freelance writer and former travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.