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. “Whitewater” 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 by Jackson Hole Whitewater for whitewater fun and adventure on the Snake River. It offers daily 8-mile rafting trips 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
Whitewater trips with Mad River Boat Trips are divided into three categories of rafts: classic adventure, small and super small. The smaller the boat, the bigger the adventure. Each trip covers eight river miles near Alpine, Wyo. The classic adventure is best for those that want a taste of whitewater rafting without any white knuckling. The raft holds 10-12 people and has several non-paddling positions if you’re not sure you’re up to wielding a paddle. www.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 by Jackson Hole Whitewater offers a 7-mile scenic float trip outside of Grand Teton National Park. Your guide will provide you with information on the the geology and ecology of Snake River and the wildlife living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. A discount is applied to all fares purchased online. www.barker-ewing.com
Barker-Ewing Scenic Float Trips pioneered commercial trips down this scenic section of the Snake River in 1963. Float 10 miles with a knowledgeable guide to experience the natural beauty and wildlife on your trip. Rafters often spot moose, beaver and eagles. And, if you’re really lucky, you might spot a wolf or a bear. barkerewing.com
Grand Teton Lodge Company, based in the national park, offers float trips on the Snake River. Choose a morning, afternoon, lunch or dinner float for epic scenery and wildlife. gtlc.com
Solitude Float Trips are 100 percent in Grand Teton National Park, which means you’ll see a totally different side of the park than the majority of people who visit. As you float through the park, your Solitude guide will share fun facts about the wildlife, the geology and the people who have left their marks in the area. You’ll start at Deadman’s Bar below the famous Snake River Overlook where photographer Ansel Adams took his iconic shot. Trips are two hours long and six trips leaves per day. grand-teton-scenic-floats.com
Mad River Boat Trips’ 13-mile serene float is also on the Snake River with iconic Teton views on a calm stretch of water. All 10 seats on the boat are non-paddling positions, so you can sit back and relax as your guide navigates you through world-class scenery. www.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 EcoTour 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. yellowstoneraftzipline.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.
Pssst. Want to receive a printed insider’s guide to Yellowstone, where to stay and what to do? Order our free stunning Yellowstone Trip Planner filled with an inspiring itinerary, gorgeous photographs and everything you need to plan your dream vacation.