Ultimate Rafting Guide: Snake River, Jackson Wyoming

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Looking for a place that is easily accessible, overwhelmingly beautiful and your entire family can get in some fantastic river time? Jackson hole is an exciting trip and has some great options for scenic or whitewater trips.  Look no farther than the Snake River just outside of Jackson Hole, WY.

Jackson hole is hands down one of my favorite places on earth.  It’s the gateway to 2 national parks (Grand Teton and Yellowstone), is gorgeous beyond compare and has awesome access to just about any outdoor sport you can think of. Jackson has awesome whitewater rapids as well as some amazing scenic float trips. Check out our favorite easy hikes in Grand Teton as well as our top 20 adventure activities around Jackson WY.

Throughout college, I lived and worked here in the summer as a river guide.  Long days, hard work, and so much fun – I think I loved every minute of it. Since then, we’ve made it a tradition to come up here as a family at least once every summer and run the river together. It has become one of our most anticipated traditions for the entire family.

Each year when we head up to Jackson, we invite a lot of people.  Recently, our group had nearly 30 people ranging from age 1 to 83 and everyone had a wonderful time  The Snake River is unique in that there is easy access to a good variety of different rafting runs, with quick car shuttles, which will allow you to pack in multiple rafting trips in Jackson hole each day. It has everything from some rapids to scenic float trips, and a few trips with a great mix of scenic and whitewater.  Here are some of our favorite places to raft in Jackson Wyoming:

Best Time Of Year for Rafting Jackson Hole

If you’re heading rafting in Jackson Hole, the best time to float the Snake River is in July. In July, the water is at a good moderate level and all of the different rafting trips in Jackson Wyoming have plenty of water. If you want really big rapids, the last couple weeks of June are excellent for scenic or whitewater trips in Jackson hole. All of the rafting trips mentioned below will be runnable until early September, but after that, expect much lower water, so only float trips are advisable.

Best Rafting Companies in Jackson Wyoming

Unless you have prior rafting experience and guide training, it’s best to go with a commercial rafting company on the Snake River. As I mentioned previously, I spent my summers through college working as a rafting guide in Jackson hole and have a lot of experience with interacting with all of the rafting companies in Jackson.

First of all, you must know that all of the rafting companies will be floating the EXACT SAME TRIPS. Commercial rafting float trips in Jackson hole are run in Grand Teton National Park (Deadmans to Moose), float trips from Wilson to Southpark, and all Jackson hole whitewater trips run from West Table to Sheep Gulch.

If you are looking for the best price on whitewater rafting the Snake River , I recommend Teton Whitewater. Their guides are also known for being the most family friendly and the best river guides for kids. I personally know most of their guiding staff and can attest to this. If I were hiring a river guide on the Snake River Canyon, I would pick Teton Whitewater.
The other companies that I would highly recommend are Jackson Hole Whitewater, and Mad River (though their guides cater to a more adult crowd).

Snake River Rafting Float Trips

Rafting the Snake River Canyon offers visitors some of the most beautiful stretches of flat water that I’ve ever seen. It offeres great whitewater rafting trips as well as some beautiful scenic float trips.  This area is home to one of the largest populations of bald eagles in the lower 48 states, and also a huge population of osprey as well.  I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say that there have been times that I’ve seen over 20 eagles in a 3 hour stretch – it’s simply amazing.  Add in the awesome scenery and you have a trip so perfect that even the biggest adrenaline junkie won’t mind slowing down for a while on these trips.  Here are some of our favorite sections:

Deadmans Bar to Moose Rafting Float Trip, Grand Teton National Park

Best for: All Ages
Type of Water: Flat Water/Float Trip
Trip Length: 10 miles, approximately 2.5-3 hours depending on water flow

Highlights: Rafting views of the Tetons, wildlife spotting
Location: Grand Teton National Park Rafting

This stretch of rafting on the Snake River covers 10 miles on the river and is right in the heart of Grand Teton National Park.  If you’re looking for some Ansel Adams views, this is the trip for you.  Wildlife spottings are very common along this stretch as well.  Keep an eye out for moose and deer (especially in the early morning), eagles, osprey, pelicans, blue heron, and even river otter.

Although the river is flat here, this can be a dangerous section for rafting or kayaking if you do not know what you are doing.  Make sure to read the water well to avoid all strainers and log jams as both of those can be very dangerous (although completely avoidable if you have experience on the river and know how to read currents).  Since you are in the National Park, you will need a permit to float on your own here which is currently $10 for a 7-day pass that can be purchased at the visitors center in Moose.   This Snake River rafting trip will average about 2.5-3 hours.

The view above Deadmans Bar, Snake River Wyoming

Wilson to South Park, Snake River Rafting

Best for: All Ages
Type of Water: Flat Water/Float Trip
Trip Length: 13 miles, approximately 3.5 hours depending on water flow

Highlights: Rafting views of bald eagles
Location: Between Wilson and Jackson hole WY

This Snake River rafting trip is perfect for those staying in Jackson hole or the eager fisherman in your group.  Starting near the base of Teton pass at Wilson bridge, this 13 mile float continues until South Park bridge, a few miles south of Jackson.  

Another epicly beautiful trip, simply look north for stunning views of the Teton’s from the Snake River.  Wildlife is also common here, though there is not as much diversity as in Grand Teton National Park. Keep your eye out for bald eagles in this section as they are abundant. It’s easy to spot Bald eagles by their white heads that stand out against the treeline, where they often perch about 3/4 of the way up a tree. Also, their large nests are often found in the tops of trees that are dead or heave sparse branches, so keep an eye out for those.

This is likely the most technical section for whitewater rafting the Snake River near Jackson hole Wyoming.  As the river meanders along the valley floor, there are a seemingly unending number of side channels that are often full of strainers, log jams, or even some that split so many times that you’ll have a difficult time getting a boat all the way through them.  Be smart and stick to the main channel. While it may not look like a difficult section to raft, having an experienced local or guide along with you can be invaluable. Plan on about 3.5 hours for floating this depending on flows.

This is a great place for kayaking with kids who are competent paddlers, but not quite ready for big rapids.

4 generations on this float trip: Baby Jimmy, Grandpa, Great Grandpa, and Andrew (or at least his leg)

Rafting Astoria or Pritchard to Elbow or East Table

Best for: All Ages
Type of Water: Flat Water, but faster paced than those previously mentioned
Trip Length: 8-10 miles depending on route, approximately 2hours depending on water flow

Highlights: Hot Springs, close to whitewater rafting the Snake River
Location: South of Hoback Junction, about 20 minutes from Jackson Wyoming

This is the perfect option if you’re pairing your rafting float trip with some Snake River whitewater rafting trips, since it’s in the canyon right next to the faster section.  Although you will be lacking the stunning mountain views that the other runs offer, this is great because it’s not really technical and rafting the Snake River on this section gives you easy access to both a float trip and whitewater trips.

This is our go-to section for whitewater rafting trips in Jackson hole whenever we are floating here in the summer.  It gives us a good chance to break up the day and take the kids on a calm run or two and then follow that up with something more adventurous down the canyon for the older crowd.  It’s about 8-10 miles depending on where you start and end and takes about 2 hours.  All of the boat launches in this area are easily identifiable with large parking lots and lots of signage.

If you’re looking for a fun adventure, start at the Astoria Bridge put in. While a brand new commercial hot spring pool has been built on the south side of the river, there are also some natural hot springs that you can access from along the north bank. Park at the parking lot, and head about 1/4 mile upriver (walk through the parking lot/dirt road as long as possible). When the dirt road turns back onto the highway, there is a lightly worn trail there that leads down to the river. Follow that down and you’ll find several little rock pools that you can soak in to enjoy the hot springs on the Snake River.

Snake River Whitewater Rafting, Jackson Wyoming

The classic whitewater rapids rafting trip in Jackson Hole is from West Table to Sheep Gulch. It’s an awesome mix of a scenic and whitewater trip.  All of the commercial companies do the exact same section of river for whitewater rafting. It’s 8 miles long and takes about 2 hours.  It’s a fantastic Jackson Hole whitewater rafting trip if you’re looking for adventure with it’s class II and III rapids.  The first half of the river trip is primarily class II water with a III or two thrown in as well (class 2 is small to medium sized waves that will get you wet and class 3 are much larger waves with a bigger chance of knocking you out).  

At about mile 4, you are going to have about 1/2 mile of flat water followed by the biggest rapids on the river, which are the reason why so many people choose to wear wetsuits rafting!

The first major whitewater rapid on the Snake River is the Big Kahuna which is the highest at low water (washed out at high water) and is essentially 2 huge waves that you have to punch through.  It’s easy to miss if you’re timid, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s one of the best rapids you’ll find on this stretch of river.  Make sure to set up early for this one, hitting it from left to right, as the current on the right side can often make you miss a lot of this one.  

Lunch Counter Snake River

Immediately after Big Kahuna is Lunch Counter.  Here the river is channeled in between two rock ledges making it a churning crazy rapid at high water.  At flows over 16,000cfs, raft flipping becomes very common as this rapid is completely unavoidable.  Luckily, there is a large calm section below it to pick up all of your swimmers and regroup before continuing down the canyon (be careful of the strong eddy lines).  This is a short rapid of about 6 waves but you’ve got to hit those waves right on or you’ll get knocked out of the boat.  I suggest hitting the first 2 waves on the left and then quickly turning right to hit the rest of the wave-train.

Be sure to have someone in your group stay out and take pictures at Lunch Counter or Kahuna (there is a marked pull-out just off the road).  You’ll want those pictures!

After these 2 rapids, you’ll have a few more fun runs including Ropes, Champagne Falls (not really a falls though), and Cottonwood (which is really really long and can get awesomely big at high water).  As you will quickly notice when you get here, this is a very popular section to run.  Although it is a class III, remember that it can be dangerous and you need to have some good experience before you attempt this on your own.  This stretch of river is a very exciting trip!

Most of the rapids are pretty straight forward, though the eddy lines in here are intense.  I’ve seen eddy lines flip boats in flat water here and others that have kept people down for 30 seconds.  If you don’t have the experience, but want to do it, there are several commercial companies that will take you down for a great price (Teton Whitewater has the best prices I’m aware of).  Permits are not required for groups of 15 or less (free permits for groups of 16+ can be obtained here).

What Age Kids Can Go Rafting In Jackson Wyoming?

Now for the question I’m sure you all have – what can I take my kids on?  This is something that’s important to consider since not all Snake River whitewater rafting trips are suitable for all ages.

On float trips, we take everyone.  All of our kids have floated the Snake as infants (usually asleep in one of our arms). We have also taken our grandparents rafting on float trips in Jackson Hole well into their 80’s.

For whitewater trips, kids age depends on skills, kids comfort level, and the company you are going with. If you are rafting with a commercial company in Jackson hole, most companies will take kids as young as age 6 on whitewater rafting trips.

We don’t push rafting on our kids at all – if they want to go AWESOME and if not, we’re fine with them sitting out and waiting until they really want to go (since we don’t want to scare them off from it at a young age).  Assuming you know your stuff, 6 is probably a good age for flows 12,000cfs or under and 8 or 10 when the flows are really high 15,000-30,000cfs.  That being said, our oldest who has a lot of experience rafting with us and is really comfortable ran this section at 10,000cfs when he was 5 and loved it, while his younger brother is still nervous to do it at age 7.  

Ultimately remember that this is supposed to be fun and you’re trying to get your kids to love this for the rest of their lives.  Don’t put them in a situation that you or they are not comfortable with or it will likely backfire.

How much does whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole Cost?

Whitewater rafting in Jackson Wyoming costs start at about $80 for a whitewater rafting trip and scenic rafting trips start at $70. Teton Whitewater is the cheapest company offering rafting in Jackson hole and their guides are outstanding, and I fully trust them with my kids.

What should I wear rafting on the Snake River?

If you are going on a scenic rafting float trip on the Snake, you might get a little wet, but nothing major. For a float trip, I recommend quick dry pants, good fitting water sandals, and a quick dry t-shirt or light jacket depending on the weather (early morning trips are very chilly).

Check out our review of the best water sandals for kids and the best kids water shoes.

If you are going whitewater rafting, most companies provide splash gear free of charge. This is a lightly waterproof jacket and/or pants set that will help keep you drier. On hot days, a swimming suit will be enough to wear. On days that are a little cooler, wear some good base layers under that (merino wool are the absolute best). On really cold days rafting, a wetsuit is a great idea to wear.

Camping Near The Snake River

There is a lot of camping near the Snake River in Wyoming that can make your trip completely awesome and unique.  For the most convenient places (which are totally worth it), check out one of the many forest service campgrounds near Jackson Hole. All of the campground on the river, are first come-first served, with the exception of group campground reservations.  

For a good whitewater, and flat trip combo, camp right in the Snake River Canyon.  There are several campgrounds (that all fill fast especially on holidays and weekends), that give easy and quick access without much driving.  It’s also really convenient if there are smaller kids who won’t be going on the whitewater since it’s easy to just leave someone back at camp with them.  Our personal favorite is the East Table campground since you can walk right down to the river.  Check out all your options here.  

Playing at East Table Campground

If you want to get more off the beaten path, here’s some info on dispersed camping in the area.

Best camping near Jackson Hole Wyoming:

If you’re just doing a float trip closer to the National Parks, there are fewer campgrounds and they’re more off the beaten path, but still beautiful and great to camp at.  Check them out here or here.

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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