First Time Rafting the Snake River in Jackson, Wyoming

Fourth of July in Jackson, Wyoming, finally getting to raft the Snake River for the first time, could it get much better than that? Well I’ll spoil the rest of the story for you, minus getting our campsite stolen by another couple, no, it doesn’t get much better than floating down a glacial fed river through the Teton Valley in the peak of summer. And with three days off work, we were able to get on two different sections of the river, each having incredible experiences tied to them. The plan was to float the mellow sections of river from Wilson to South Park and then South Park to Astoria. Both are considered flatwater, but we found plenty of fun Class I fast water on those stretches.

After a hectic week, and quite literally in the final hours before driving up north, I was able to finish building the raft frame for the trailer so that we could transport the raft around town and to the river once it was inflated. Not to mention packing the trailer’s wheel bearings minutes before we departed. Any-who, we made it up to Jackson, late on Friday night, and weren’t able to secure a campsite, so we ended up camping along the dirt road near one of our go-to spots. But luckily, in the morning, after driving up and down the road, we secured an incredible spot overlooking a tributary to the Snake River. If only we knew at the time that our “pristine” campsite, would end up getting stolen from us. But who cares about camping, we were in Jackson to go rafting.

Slightly more prepared than our previous (first) trip out on the Moab Daily, we dialed our raft, named BB, significantly better. We installed new Oar Locks and Oar Rights to help orient and constrain the oars better than last time. After rigging up everything on the raft at the put-in in Wilson, right off Teton Pass Highway, we pushed off into the icy, blue water of the Snake River with my wife Courtney, dog Gregor, and myself in tow. Right away, after narrowly avoiding getting beached onto an island, we were amazed at the surrounding landscape. The iconic Teton Range was up river from us, while a sprawling green hillside ran on our left and right. The river itself, different shades of blue and grey, slipped its way down the valley, working its way around every bend in the river. As always, we don’t stay on the river long before stopping at a beach to enjoy the solitude and take it all in. Plus, Gregor loves to jump out and run around on the beaches.

The first day on the river was going to be about 13 miles, and at the pace of the river, we expected to be done in about 3-4 hours, depending on how often we’d stop. Of course, having only gone a few miles, the consensus was that we did not want this day to end. The sun was shining, the beers were going down easily, and the boat was cruising down the river with ease. To add to the excitement, even though it’s rated as a scenic float, we found fun Class I rapid sections that got water to splash over the bow as we picked up speed. It’s always fun to see the dog bounch around at the front of the boat as he perches himself up ontop of the boat as best he can. When we weren’t floating down the river, we’d stop to go fly fishing from the islands in the middle of the river. Unfortunately, we did not have any luck, but its still always a good time moving that fly around across the water.

As the river started to bend towards the east, Courtney took over and paddled through some more technical sections. We not only were racing another family in a pontoon raft, but also, the ever darkening skies that was no doubt about to drop a surprise storm on us. Luckily, Court was able to get us down the rest of the river to the South Park take-out, ending an epic day on an incredibly beautiful stretch of river. It was then my job to take the bike we’d brought on the raft with us, to ride back to the put-in 13 miles north. After completing the shuttle, we headed back to camp where we found another couple occupying our spot, sitting in our chairs, eating dinner off our table that we had left. In my, short, but experienced time out West, I have never encountered such a breach in backcountry camping code. Nevertheless, they pretended they thought the site had been abandon, and decided to not move for the rest of the weekend. Luckily, we were going to be on the river for most of the weekend anyway.

The following day, we went for a run along the snake, before loading the raft into the put-in at the South Park beach heading down river towards Astoria. On this section, the excitement started right away, but it had nothing to do with rapids or the river. I slipped getting into the boat, which resulted in the starboard Oar Lock slamming into the back of my hamstrings, ripping right through my board shorts, and left me hanging off the side of the raft by my bathing suit. Other than my pride being hurt, and what would turn out to be a gnarly bruise, everything was okay. So we headed down the river, enjoying the sights and sounds, while imbibing on some of the local beer we’d picked up from the store in town. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our favorite river drinks to get in Jackson, the frozen alcoholic slushies, which are best served from the Hoback Market. 

Nevertheless, we cruised down this section of water, talking about life, our goals, and how to do this whole rafting thing as much as possible. We flew down the river, coasting through the fun rapid sections, almost too fast. I say too fast, because neither of us realized this section of river was going to be shorter than the previous day, by about 4 miles. While Courtney was rowing us down river, she questioned, “Isn’t the big Red Bridge our takeout?” And she was right. Our weekend on the river was coming to an end, but I don’t think we could have spent it better any other way. Before we even loaded the raft up onto the trailer, we were already planning our next river trip. But the next time, we want to come back to hit the 3rd section of the Snake which rips down some big white water sections, right along the highway from Alpine, WY to East Table Campground. And after scoping out this section as we were leaving town, it looks terrifying, but also so very exciting!

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