A Short Paddle Trip Leads to a Sumptuous
Camp on the Shores of Yellowstone Lake
A glass of chilled chardonnay in hand, I sit back and listen to the call of a distant loon while dozens of chipotle-buttered shrimp sizzle on a nearby grill. At my feet lie the still waters of Yellowstone Lake. Behind stand acres of untouched forest. Other than the members of our 10-person party, there's not another human being visible for miles.
"Ahhh, I think to myself. "This is how camping should be done!"
I'm on a guided, Far and Away Adventures excursion into the backcountry wilds of Yellowstone National Park. For three-days and two nights, I will experience a remote side of Yellowstone most visitors can only imagine.
"At Far and Away, we want to offer people a comfortable existence in the outdoors that doesn't require much acclimation," proclaims owner Steve Lentz.
Our trip begins at Bridge Bay on the 136-square-mile lake's northern side. There, we board a powerboat for a 35-minute voyage to a jutting peninsula known as Plover Point. Beyond here, motorboats are limited to trolling speeds, which makes it perfect kayak country.
After lunch Steve and his crew load our bags, which carry little more than clothes and toiletries, onto their supply boat. We then hop into two-person sea kayaks for a one-hour paddle to our campsite off the lake's South Arm.
"We're not going to wander more than 40 feet from the bank," Steve assures us. "I want everyone to get comfortable with the boats."
Winds remain calm, the water flat and even those who have never played Nanook of the North before have no trouble paddling Yellowstone's benign waters. I scope the shoreline for deer and elk while my rowing mate, an admitted birder, searches the skies for eagles and osprey. With the exception of being in colorful kayaks instead of dugout canoes, we're paddling through a land that appears little changed from when explorer John Colter first visited the future park in 1807.
Colter, however, didn't share a camp like ours where a half-dozen domed tents stand at the edge of a shoreline meadow. While the manufacturer markets them as "six-person" capacity, each Far and Away camper or couple here get their own private quarters. Inside, mattress-padded cots hold pillows and rectangular sleeping bags. There's a cloth-covered nightstand with an LED lantern, and the floor is carpeted with a soft throw rug. My college dorm should have been so posh.
The camp kitchen lies a comfortable distance from the tents. Here a crew of four uncorks wine and prepares meals worthy of a gourmet chef. A long dining table stands nearby, its surface set with glassware, linen and china. After chipotle-shrimp appetizers, Steve's wife Annie serves us a dinner that begins with a spinach and raspberry salad followed by orange-glazed duck confit, stir-fried organic vegetables and a dessert of Dutch oven-baked gingerbread smothered in rum sauce. This sure beats my Boy Scout days' beanie-weenie fare.
The area teams with wildlife. Coots swim in the lake while elk frequently roam the sprawling meadow behind camp, guide Dan Schroeder assures us.
"I was here a couple of weeks ago and they were in there at night," he says. "They were barking, chirping and making all kinds of noise!"
The one form of wildlife I don't want to see around camp are bears. The grizzly threat of an encounter with a grizzly, or a black bear for that matter, has long served as my excuse for not camping in Yellowstone's backcountry.
"We really try to keep camp clean, and at night we hang anything that has any kind of odor up on the bear pole," Dan assures me. "Besides, the area where we're camped is pretty poor habitat for bears. There are no fields of berries or anything like that."
In the light of the rising sun, guide Sadie Grossbaum goes tent-to-tent, delivering warm face towels along with our choice of hot chocolate, tea or French-pressed coffee. A mountain man-worthy breakfast follows.
It's then time to choose the day's activities. Dan will lead hard-core campers on a seven-mile paddle with a six-mile hike thrown in for good measure. Steve will take the softies on a shorter kayak excursion to a nearby cove where he often finds moose. In the relaxed spirit of this camping caper, I opt for easy. Unfortunately Bullwinkle's buddies don't show up, so we paddle back to camp early.
While the macho contingent is brown-bagging lunch, we wimps enjoy chipotle shrimp salad and hot Swiss and pastrami sandwiches served with wine. That's followed by a leisurely afternoon of reading, fishing and basking in the wilderness solitude. Steve even hangs a hot-water shower for those of us wanting to get spruced up before a Kobe beefsteak dinner followed by evening campfire camaraderie.
Unfortunately, all good things must someday end. After breakfast omelets the next morning, it's time to paddle the kayaks back to Plover Point where we'll meet our motorboat. We share that rendezvous point with a handful of other Yellowstone boaters, kayakers and campers. The park suddenly seems too crowded.
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Contact Far and Away Adventures for information and reservations.