Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Shoshone Lake

Shoshone Lake, the park's second largest lake, is located at the head of the Lewis River southwest of West Thumb. It is possible that fur trapper Jim Bridger visited this lake in 1833, and fellow trapper Osborne Russell certainly reached the lake in 1839. According to James Gemmell, he and Bridger visited the lake in 1846 (in Wheeler, "The Late James Gemmell," pp. 131-136). Gemmell referred to it then as "Snake Lake," a name apparently used by the hunters.

Fr. Pierre-Jean DeSmet's 1851 map showed a "DeSmet's L." in the approximate position of present-day Shoshone Lake. In 1863, prospector Walter DeLacy visited the lake and named it "DeLacy's Lake." The lake was also called "Madison Lake" because it was erroneously thought to be the head of the Madison River. Cornelius Hedges of the 1870 Washburn Expedition named the lake after the party's leader, Gen. H.D. Washburn. By 1872, Shoshone Lake had already borne four or five names when Frank Bradley of the second Hayden Survey added a sixth. Bradley wrote: "Upon crossing the divide to the larger lake, we found it to belong to the Snake River drainage, and therefore called it Shoshone Lake, adopting the Indian name of the Snake [River]" (American Journal of Science and Arts, September 1873, p. 201). Bradley's name thus returned in spirit to Gemmell's and the fur trappers' name "Snake Lake."

Park Superintendent P.W. Norris thought that the name Shoshone Lake was "a fitting record of the name of the Indians who frequented it" (Fifth Annual Report, p. 44). The Shoshones lived mainly to the west and south of present-day Yellowstone National Park, but there is evidence that they occasionally entered the area and may have visited the lake each summer. Their arrowheads and other artifacts have been found in various places around the park.

The meaning of "Shoshone" has long been debated. Some authorities believe that the word represented an uncomplimentary Sioux expression given to the tribe by their Crow neighbors. David Shaul, a University of Arizona linguist, believes that the word literally translates as "those who camp together in wickiups" or "grass house people."

Shoshone Lake is 205 feet at its maximum depth, has an area of 8,050 acres, and contains lake trout, brown trout, and Utah chubs. Originally, Shoshone Lake was barren of fish owing to waterfalls on the Lewis River. The two types of trout were planted beginning in 1890, and the Utah chub was apparently introduced by bait fishermen. This large lake is the source of the Lewis River, which flows to the Pacific Ocean via the Snake River system. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that Shoshone Lake may be the largest lake in the lower 48 states that cannot be reached by road. No motorboats are allowed on the lake.

Visitor Information
307-344-7381 (recorded information)


Directions from West Thumb Junction: Travel west.