Whether you want to ride the rapids or enjoy a leisurely float, the rivers near Yellowstone National Park 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 flat water, 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, the area surrounding Jackson, Wyo.
“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 structures.”
WHITEWATER TRIPS ON THE SNAKE RIVER
The Snake River offers both whitewater and mellow scenic float trips on the Snake River. Whitewater trips means more rapids and more adrenaline as you navigate through the Snake's rushing waters. There are a number of companies that offer whitewater rafting trips on the Snake River.
Hop on a boat with Barker-Ewing Whitewater for whitewater fun and adventure on the Snake River. It offers daily 8-mile rafting trips down Snake River from mid-May through mid-September (call for exact dates as they change according to weather). The trips take approximately 3.5 -4 hours round trip from Jackson, Wyo. www.barker-ewing.com
Lewis & Clark Expeditions in Jackson, Wyo., 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. www.lewisandclarkriverrafting.com
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
When you head down the Snake River with Mad River Boat Trips, you’re traveling with more than 100 years of river guide experience. Their guides are knowledgeable in local lore, Wyoming’s rugged and beautiful waters and rafting safety. For those wanting a wild ride, the company has whitewater trips in four different boat sizes - the smaller the boat, the bigger the thrills! mad-river.com
SCENIC FLOAT TRIPS ON THE SNAKE RIVER
If you're 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. Bring a camera or binoculars because it’s possible to see a variety of wildlife, such as bald eagles, moose, elk and otters.
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.
Barker-Ewing offers a 10-mile scenic float trip completely within Grand Teton National Park. Your 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. www.barker-ewing.com
Grand Teton Lodge Company, based in the national park, offers trips on the Snake River. Choose a morning, afternoon, lunch, or supper float for epic scenery and wildlife. gtlc.com
Mad River Boat Trips offers scenic floats on the calm upper stretch of the Snake River. The floats are guide-powered so you can relax and enjoy the scenery all around you. This 13-Mile stretch of braided river is home to an array of wildlife and is especially rich in bird life. Join Mad River in the morning or midday on a float with Grand Teton views and spectacular mountain scenery. mad-river.com
2. Yellowstone River near Gardiner, Montana
The mighty Yellowstone River 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, a 2,000-foot-deep canyon on the north side of Blacktail Deer Plateau.
From the park, it flows east through Montana and North Dakota, eventually joining the Missouri River. It offers a ton of fun in terms of rafting trips along the way.
At Yellowstone National Park's North Entrance sits the town of Gardiner, Mont., where you can literally load into rafting boats from town into the Yellowstone River. The river is a great one for families. Plus, the river flows along one of the borders of the park, making it a unique way to see a different side of the landscape.
"You can't raft on the rivers in the park, so it's the closest you'll get to rafting in the park," says Thomas Davis, co-owner of Wild West Whitewater Rafting. "It's a great stretch of river whether you are looking for splashes or something more. It's not overwhelming, so it's pretty much good for all age levels."
Flying Pig Adventure Company, based in Gardiner, Mont., runs several trips here. All of Flying Pig's raft trips launch from behind the Flying Pig Camp Store right in Gardiner, Mont. Choose from an 8-mile trip (Class I, II, and III rapids), an exhilarating, more technical 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 camp store, park tours and more. flyingpigrafting.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
Paradise Adventure Company launches from two locations, Gardiner and Pray, Mont., to run 6, 8 and 18-mile trips on the Yellowstone River. www.paradiserafting.com
Also in Gardiner, Mont., Wild West Rafting runs float trips through the Yellowstone’s majestic Paradise Valley, which is a gorgeous landscape just south of Livingston that stretches just north of Yellowstone. Framed by the Absaroka range and the Gallatin range, it's 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
3. Gallatin River near Big Sky, Montana
From its source in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin River courses north for 100 miles to join the Madison and Jefferson rivers in the quaint, small town of Three Forks, Mont. Its upper 40 miles dish out the most thrilling whitewater, with miles of rapids, rocks and waves.
The Gallatin River is also home to the Fly-Fishing Adventure Center, located at Karst Camp, a private riverfront property, 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
Montana Whitewater Rafting and Zipline Company (locations in Gardiner and Big Sky) runs trips down the Gallatin River, 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 are available. The Gallatin and Gardiner locations also offers zipline tours. montanawhitewater.com
4. Madison River West of West Yellowstone, Montana
Most famous for its excellent fly-fishing, the Madison River also offers great miles for rafting and tubing. From its origins on the west side of Yellowstone National Park, the river flows northwest through Bear Trap Canyon and more remote terrain to finally join the Missouri River near Three Forks, Mont.
If you don't opt for a tubing float down the Madison River near Bozeman, Mont., you're going to be really envious of all the tubers you see having an amazing time floating down the Madison River as you drive Hwy. 287 from Big Sky toward Ennis and Virginia City. It's really worth setting aside a day to float the Madison River under Montana's big sky.
Montana Whitewater Rafting and Zipline Company offers a shuttle and rental tubes, including coolers, for trips on the Madison River. This is a great option for families with children or anyone looking for a mellow day out on the river. The company also offers a much more intense rafting trip: full-day wilderness rafting through the Bear Trap Canyon (Class II-IV). montanawhitewater.com
5. Shoshone River between Yellowstone and Cody, Wyoming
Teddy Roosevelt declared this stretch of country from Yellowstone National Park's East Entrance to Cody, Wyo., as the most scenic 50 miles in America. But don't take his word for it. Go see it yourself as you drive out of Yellowstone's East Entrance toward Cody.
While rafting through this gorgeous area, you'll see the spectacular scenery of the Wapiti Valley on the North Fork of the Shoshone while bouncing over Class II rapids. Two-hour to half-day trips are available. Don't forget to look beyond the river for wildlife. The riverbanks are full of wildlife including eagles, elk and deer.
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