The Snake River: Jackson Hole's Liquid Gold
Craving a cool-down on a hot summer's day? Enter the Snake River, which winds beneath the shadow of the Tetons and plays host to more than 300,000 visitors a year. Like Jackson Hole's nearly inexhaustible supply of trails, the Snake River's opportunities for aquatic play cover a broad spectrum—from "mellow" to "high adventure." The river brings something to the table for folks of all ability levels.
Path of the Snake River
After traveling from its headwaters in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Snake—which is designated a wild and scenic river by Congress—meanders southward out of Jackson Lake through the heart of Grand Teton National Park. Many of the elk, mule deer and bison that call the area home water on the river and it's a daily occurrence to witness bald eagles gracefully fishing for their breakfast from the treetops. Just south of the park, the Snake winds through a stretch of ranch lands before funneling into the narrow Snake River Canyon. When it reaches the Palouse hills of Washington State, the Snake joins the Columbia River as its largest tributary and flows toward the Pacific Ocean.
Scenic Floating: The Next Level of Laid Back
Locals claim that a lazy trip down the Snake is as good as it gets in Jackson—or anywhere else for that matter. Whether your vessel of choice is an old-school inner-tube, a wooden drift boat, or heavy-duty raft, you'll find that there's no better way to soak in the mountains' grandeur and glimpse local wildlife than a leisurely float down the river. It takes "chilling" to a new level.
Outfitters in Jackson Hole offer guide services in canoes and kayaks, as well as larger, multi-person rafts and "duckies," the kayak's inflatable twin. For those who enjoy charting the course of their own adventures, these boats can also be rented. Note that permits are necessary for floating within Grand Teton National Park, so it may be easiest to join a guided trip.
Jackson's rustic Western feel doesn't stop on the river. Wooden dories, or drift boats, are a classic mode of conveyance on the Snake for fishermen and floaters alike. Like inflatable rafts, drift boats are steered by a pair of oars, but the similarities stop there. Because drift boats are small, generally holding no more than five passengers, they're able to navigate shallow channels and tricky eddies that larger rafts would be unable to explore.
Though modern drift boats are generally fashioned from fiberglass, local outfitter AJ DeRosa puts an artisan twist on his river adventures. All of the drift boats that his company Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures uses are hand-made by the very guides that pilot them downriver.
Wrangle the Snake River!
The river morphs into a totally different beast when it enters the Snake River Canyon. For eight miles, steep walls funnel the river into a torrent of whitewater dotted with Class II and III rapids. With names like Lunch Counter, Rope and the Big Kahuna, the foamy rapids and roaring spray of the Snake River Canyon make this area a favorite spot for kayakers looking for a challenge.
Unlike the larger sea kayaks that can be found skimming the mirrored waters of Jenny or Phelps lakes, river kayaks are small, scrappier versions of their lake-faring cousins. Whitewater kayakers wear specially designed helmets and neoprene skirts to keep water from swamping their boats.
Because waters in the Snake River Canyon are powerful and rarely rise above 60 degrees in temperature, novice boaters should plan on hiring a guide service for the safety of their river trip. Expert river-runners, on the other hand, can stop by one of Jackson Hole's outfitters to get the info on nearby whitewater hotspots. Rendezvous River Sports keeps their website updated with cfs (cubic feet per second) reports on local rivers.
Surf the River
Of course, the standard line-up of kayaks, rafts and canoes isn't the only way to navigate the waterways of Jackson Hole. Stand-Up Paddling (or "SUPping," as it is known to enthusiasts) has taken the outdoor community by storm. Stand-up paddleboarders can be spotted throughout the valley, whether gliding across one of Grand Teton National Park's pristine lakes or catching currents down the Snake.
For the uninitiated, the stand-up paddling set-up consists of standing aboard an extra-wide, extra-long surfboard outfitted with an over-sized fin for stability as well as using a canoe-style paddle that can range from four to seven feet. The SUPping motion is much easier than it seems, and with a little bit of instruction, newcomers will be scooting across the water in no time. Equipment, lessons, and guide services are available from numerous local outfitters.
Fishing the Snake River
Tell fishermen the world over that you've been to Jackson Hole and a jealous grin will cross their faces. With access to countless holes, streams and the famous Snake River, of course, Jackson Hole is a classic anglers paradise.
The fine-spotted cutthroat trout is the Snake River's claim to fishing fame. The "cutty," as it's known, is unique for a variety of reasons, though two stick out in the minds of fishermen: it is unique to the Snake River watershed and is particularly receptive to the carefully tied flies that fly fishermen use to cast.
Though locals are reluctant to share the details of their favorite fishing hole, guide services and public access points abound for the out-of-town angler. Catch-and-release fishing is permitted year-round on the Snake River and each season brings unique challenges and rewards for the dedicated sportsman.
Whether you're fishing from a chartered drift boat, high-stepping through creeks in your waders, or just catching rays and casting lines from the bank, good times are guaranteed, but the fish are not! You'll need to obtain a fishing license before undertaking any fishing on your own.
Related Article: Fly Fishing Jackson Hole: Everything You Need to Know
With world-class opportunities for kayaking, rafting, stand-up paddling and fishing, there are already plenty of reasons that the Snake River stands out as one of America's richest natural playgrounds. When you add the Tetons' epic skyline, rays of Western sunlight and the presence of some of the country's most spectacular wildlife, the recipes for adventure are limitless-and refreshing.