Whether you want to ride the rapids or enjoy a leisurely float, the rivers near Yellowstone deliver.
Nothing beats a whitewater rafting adventure for escaping the summer heat. Although there is no rafting inside Yellowstone, the waterways surrounding the park offer up everything from lazy floats to intense rapids—pleasing everyone from kids and grandparents to adrenaline junkies. Find your perfect whitewater (or flatwater, as the case may be) adventure on these favorite rivers.
1. Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This large, long waterway rises in Yellowstone and travels more than 1,000 miles through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to become the Columbia River’s largest tributary. The most popular rafting section of the river runs from Grand Teton National Park through Jackson Hole.
“Rafting and floating the river is my favorite way to see the park,” says Evan Toal, a guide for more than eight years and the head boatman at Jackson Hole Whitewater. “It’s the best way to take in the beauty of the area in a peaceful setting that is unobstructed by roads, buildings or any other human-made structure.”
Whitewater Rafting on the Snake River
Jackson Hole Whitewater is a small family-run rafting company that offers an 8-mile trip down Snake River just outside of Grand Teton National Park. If you want some added adventure, for an extra $5 a person you can take a smaller raft that requires more rowing and offers more excitement. During the high season, the company offers trips every 2 hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. departing from Jackson Hole. Reservations can be made online, over the phone or in person at Jackson Hole headquarters.(www.jhww.com)
Teton Whitewater offers a 3.5 hour roundtrip whitewater rafting excursion. It’s an 8-mile trip down the Grand Canyon of Snake River on a raft that holds 10-16 riders (tetonwhitewater.com/whitewater/classic-whitewater).
Lewis & Clark Expeditions in Jackson, Wyoming offers both scenic float trips and whitewater trips on the Snake River. Lewis & Clark has the smallest boats available on the Snake River, and, during midsummer, also offers riverside steak dinners. Half-day whitewater trips run on the 8-mile, Class III stretch of the Snake River from West Table Creek to Sheep Gulch. The trips are fantastic for families. The legendary Lunch Counter Rapids, along with Big Kahuna and other Class III rapids, will get everybody soaked. Whitewater and scenic floats can be combined for an all-day excursion. Half-day scenic float trips run 13 miles south of Grand Teton National Park, with fantastic views of the Teton Range and great wildlife habitat (lewisandclarkexpeds.com).
Visit Barker-Ewing Whitewater for whitewater fun and adventure on the Snake River, including rafting, overnight camp outs and breakfast combo trips and scenic float trips with lunch or dinner. It offers daily 8-mile rafting trips down Snake River from late May through early September. The trips take approximately 3.5 -4 hours round trip from Jackson, Wyo. (barker-ewing.com).
Grand Teton Lodge Company, in the national park, also offers trips on the Snake River. Choose a morning, afternoon, lunch, or supper float for epic scenery and wildlife (gtlc.com).
For most companies the minimum age limit is 6, but depending on the difficulty and intensity of the river at the time, the age limit could increase.
Scenic Float Trips on the Snake River
If your looking for a more relaxing way to take in the majestic scenery of Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding area, then a scenic float trip is in order. Enjoy a secluded trip down Snake River within Grand Teton National Park and experience the park in a unique way.
Dornan’s Scenic Float Trips offers 14-to-15-mile long guided tours down Snake River. The trips start in the town of Moose, wind through through Grand Teton National Park and end in Wilson. These peaceful excursions allow you to take in the scenery and the sounds of wildlife and the flowing river. Bring a camera or binoculars because it’s possible to see a variety of wildlife, such as bald eagles, moose, elk and otters. During high season, the company offers trips starting at 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. and they ask that you block out 4 hours of your time. If those times don’t work, you can schedule a private tour. Reservations can be made online, over the phone or in person at Dornan’s office in Jackson Hole. (jacksonholefloattrips.com/trips/)
Barker-Ewing offers a 10-mile scenic float trip wholly within Grand Teton National Park. The guide will provide you with information on the history of the park, the geology and ecology of Snake River and the various wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. A discount is applied to all fares purchased online. You may also visit the reservation desk in Dornan’s Gift Shop in Moose Village (12 miles north of the town of Jackson), located across the river from the float trip meeting location by Grand Teton National Park headquarters. (barkerewing.com/reservations/)
Teton Whitewater also offers a 10-mile scenic float trip entirely within Grand Teton National Park. Enjoy the Tetons, Jackson Hole and various wildlife sightings as you leisurely cruise down Snake River. The minimum age requirement is 4-years-old. Trips depart every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. (tetonwhitewater.com/grand-teton-naic-float-tours)
2. Yellowstone River near Gardiner, Montana
The mighty Yellowstone winds for almost 700 miles through some of the park’s most stunning scenery: Yellowstone Lake, the Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. From the park, it flows north to join the Missouri River, supplying plenty of whitewater action on the way.
Flying Pig Adventure Company, based in Gardiner, Mont., runs several trips here. All of the Pig raft trips launch from behind the Flying Pig Camp Store right in Gardiner. Choose from an 8-mile float (Class I, II, and III rapids), an exhilarating, 18-mile ride through Yankee Jim Canyon (Class III-IV), or a totally immersive overnight trip. Flying Pig also offers lodging, horseback rides, guided fly-fishing, a fly shop, park tours, Yellowstone vacation packages, and cowboy cookouts (flyingpigrafting.com).
Also in Gardiner, Wild West Rafting runs float trips through the Yellowstone’s majestic Paradise Valley (great for wildlife watching and photography) as well as high-quality whitewater and scenic river trips. Trips are suitable for the entire family, from beginners to more seasoned thrill-seekers (wildwestrafting.com).
Montana Whitewater Rafting and Zipline Company offers half- and full-day trips on the Yellowstone (Class II-III). Their Yellowstone Ranch Zipline, based in Gardiner, offers zips on the mountains bordering Yellowstone, sky bridges, and multiple 1,200-foot ziplines soaring 200 feet above Cinnabar Creek (montanawhitewater.com).
3. Gallatin River near Big Sky, Montana
From its source in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin courses north for 100 miles to join the Madison and Jefferson Rivers in Three Forks, Montana. Its upper 40 miles dish out the most thrilling whitewater, with miles of rapids, rocks, and waves.
Montana Whitewater Rafting and Zipline Company (locations in Gardiner and Big Sky) runs trips down the Gallatin, from a Class I-II scenic float in the Gallatin River Canyon to full-day runs into Class IV whitewater. Half-day, full-day, and overnight trips available (montanawhitewater.com).
The Gallatin location also offers zipline tours. Trips are completely aerial—meaning they never touch the ground throughout the tour—and include river crossings, tree platforms, and adventure elements such as sky bridges and a cargo net (yellowstonezip.com).
The Gallatin River is also home to the Fly-Fishing Adventure Center, located at Karst Camp on the banks of the river. Options include the Learn to Fly-Fish Program for beginners and families and guided trips on the Gallatin, Yellowstone, and Madison Rivers (yellowstonefish.com). The outfitter also offers discounted activity packages, including raft and zipline, raft and fish, raft and horseback riding, and horseback riding and zipline.
Big Sky, Montana-based Geyser Whitewater Expeditions also runs a variety of Gallatin trips. Only 45 minutes from West Yellowstone, Montana, Geyser is easily accessible to all visitors looking for the best river trip in the region and is legendary for its fun guides and Western hospitality. Guided kayaking, horseback riding, bike rentals and a 30-foot indoor climbing wall are all available.
Geyser is the exclusive rafting partner to the new Yellowstone Aerial Adventures, a zipline and aerial park north of the park (raftmontana.com).
4. Madison River west of West Yellowstone, Montana
Most famous for its excellent fly-fishing, the Madison also offers great miles for rafting and tubing. From its origins on the west side of Yellowstone, the river flows northwest through Bear Trap Canyon and more remote terrain to finally join the Missouri River near Three Forks.
Montana Whitewater Rafting and Zipline Company offers full-day wilderness rafting through the Bear Trap Canyon (Class II-IV) and tubing trips on the lower Madison. This is a great option for families with children or anyone looking for a mellow day out on the river (madisonrivertubing.com).
5. Shoshone River between Yellowstone and Cody, Wyoming
See spectacular scenery of the Wapiti Valley on the North Fork of the Shoshone while you’re bouncing over Class II rapids. Teddy Roosevelt declared this stretch of country as the most scenic 50 miles in America. The riverbanks are full of wildlife including eagles, elk and deer. Do you have a young family? Take a float on the milder sections of the river. Outfitters can be found in Cody, Wyoming including Wyoming River Trips (wyomingrivertrips.com).