By Marit Gookin
Boating is a perennially popular summer activity, and with last winter’s heavy snows, river levels are remaining higher later into the summer this year than they typically do. It’s prime river running season in Wyoming, and folks are eager to get out on the water! Here is a list of ten fun river sections located within a day’s drive, recommended by Fremont County boaters; check out the map below.
1 – The Snake River’s Alpine Canyon, between Jackson Hole and the town of Alpine, is one of Wyoming’s iconic whitewater runs. Rapids such as Big Kahuna and Lunch Counter are considered classics; Alpine Canyon combines big waves and big moves in a way that is true to everything boaters love about Western rivers. This is a solid Class III-IV run at most levels, but when the river is running high during spring runoff, Three Oar Deal rears its Class V head. Luckily, water levels are now low enough that the river should be just good splashy fun; several rapids on this run are known for flipping rafts, so be sure you’re prepared to swim if you head to Alpine Canyon. This is a popular guided trip destination, and the water tends to get crowded as the day goes on. Experienced boaters planning on running Alpine Canyon privately will probably have more fun if they plan to get on the water early in the morning, before the guided trips really get going; less experienced boaters or those just looking to avoid dealing with the hassle of hauling their boat across Togwotee Pass will also have a blast on a guided float.
2 – Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge isn’t just beautiful; it also offers some nice Class II boating on the Green River. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s website recommends running this section of the Green in a canoe, kayak, or drift boat, especially during low flows, as the river can be rocky. There are several different put-in points along the river, including Slate Creek Campground, Upper Dodge Bottoms Boat Ramp, Hay Farm Boat Ramp, and the Highway 28 Bridge Boat Ramp. Any of these can offer a great float trip full of opportunities to see cool wildlife and have fun on the water. Seedskadee’s website offers information about each of these put-ins and take-outs as well as how far it is between them and where to find information about the river’s current cubic feet per second flow: www.fws.gov/refuge/seedskadee/visit-us/activities/boating—non-motorized. As a Class II, this section is relatively beginner-friendly; but it is also comparatively isolated, so boaters should be prepared for being further from potential help than in locations such as the Thermopolis town run (number seven below).
3 – Torrey Creek near Dubois is an easy, inner tube-friendly Class I float – although be sure to leave your rafts and sea kayaks at home, as Torrey Creek is fairly narrow and its bends are too tight for longer boats. While it’s a bit off the beaten track compared to some of the other options on this list, its proximity to day hikes, viable bike shuttle options, and end point in the popular Trail Lake give you plenty of ways to make the drive on dirt roads seem like a small price to pay. While Torrey Creek is relatively beginner-friendly, sections of it have been known to have stronger currents than expected as well as the log jams known in the boating community as “strainers,” especially as you go farther upriver. As with any boating experience, paying attention to what’s coming up downriver can make the difference between a fun, relaxed day of playing on the water and something far more stressful.
4 – The Shoshone River near Cody has several fun sections to run, notably including primarily Class II Red Rock Canyon as well as a Class IV section below the Buffalo Bill Dam. Cody is home to multiple river guide services as well as outfitters you can rent boats from, so there’s no need to haul your boat all the way up to Park County if renting seems easier. These kinds of shops can also generally provide information about various rapids as well as current river conditions; even if you plan to do a private trip it’s potentially worth giving some of them a call.
5 – There are several sections of the Popo Agie River worth noting for boating purposes, including Sinks Canyon and the section of the river through town to the Wyopo bridge. The canyon run is a challenging Class V, only suitable for highly experienced boaters; while the town run is only a Class II, according to Lander Search and Rescue swiftwater rescue team leader Tom Sunderland “it isn’t for beginners.” In addition to being rocky and relatively narrow, the Popo Agie contains barbed wire, rebar, and even old cars. Clean up efforts have eliminated some of these hazards below the town of Lander, but Sunderland cautioned that some are still present and only knowledgeable boaters – preferably in small, maneuverable boats – should plan to run any section of the Popo Agie near Lander. However, the river does offer fantastic fishing for anglers and several popular swimming holes.
6 – Considered by some to be the crown jewel of Wyoming whitewater, Wind River Canyon is characterized by its fun, splashy rapids and breathtaking views. Iconic rapids of the run include Sharpnose in the upper section and Chief Washakie Falls in the lower section. Both Sharpnose and Chief Washakie Falls are Class IV rapids, while the majority of the other rapids in the canyon are Class III. Due to legal restrictions, Wind River Canyon cannot be run by private boaters; fortunately, guide company Wind River Whitewater, based out of Thermopolis, has frequent trips down the canyon. Float trip options for Wind River Canyon include half-day trips on the upper or lower section; a full-day trip combining both sections of the canyon, complete with a barbecue lunch; and a shorter scenic trip on a flat section. Because there is an experienced, reputable guide company available and because this section of river is neither crowded nor totally isolated, Wind River Canyon is a great option for less experienced boaters to get a chance to get out on some bigger water – but experienced river runners are sure to have a fun time, too.
7 – Just below Wind River Canyon, the town run stretches from the put-in at Wedding of the Waters – where the river changes from the Wind to the Bighorn – into the town of Thermopolis, with take-out options at the Eighth Street bridge and at Hot Springs State Park. An easy Class I float with world-class fly fishing, locals frequently go down this section in inner tubes or drift leisurely in a drift boat or raft while fishing. Taking out at Hot Springs State Park gives boaters the always-popular option of going directly from the river to the State Bath House. For anyone looking to get out on the water with a less experienced crew, this is a solid choice; while the river does still have some hazards, including a handful of small riffles that can turn into gravel bars at lower water levels, bridges, and overhanging trees (known as “sweepers”) along the banks, the majority of these are easily avoided.
8 – The only river in eastern Wyoming to make this list, the North Platte’s numerous boating opportunities for folks of all skill levels make it worth the drive. Fly fishers may head further south to the Saratoga area, but kayakers will have a blast playing in Casper’s whitewater park. A half-mile stretch filled with man-made rapids, the whitewater park offers a fun opportunity for folks to run laps or simply get out on the water if they don’t have much time.
9 – For anyone who’s headed down I-80, Green River’s whitewater park, located in Expedition Island Park, may be a more convenient stop. Expedition Island is also where the iconic Powell Expedition launched from, so boating history enthusiasts will be particularly excited to stop here. Tom Sunderland noted that if you call ahead, the city of Green River is sometimes willing to adjust the gate controlling the water’s flow so you can play in splashier water if you want to.
10 – Rounding out our list is the town of Evanston’s two mile long whitewater park, with several put-ins in Bear River State Park as well a lower put-in at the Bear Paw Trailhead for those who only want to run a short section. While many whitewater parks are rated by experience level rather than using the standard rapid rating system, this is an exception: the whitewater park section of the Bear River in Evanston is Class II-III. This park is appropriate for kayakers, canoers, tubers and people on stand-up paddle boards, so expect to see a variety of folks and boats out on the water!
While this list is focused primarily on rivers and running rivers, it’s worth mentioning that Wyoming’s lakes and fishing are also world-class. This is by no means a definitive list – but ranging from the Class I Torrey Creek to rapids that can be Class V at high water levels, and ranging in trip length from the full-day Wind River Canyon experience to whitewater parks that take less than hour to blast through, hopefully it offers something for just about everyone. For more information on various Wyoming rivers and to find other rivers to run, boater Tom Sunderland recommends checking out www.americanwhitewater.org.
Wyoming Game and Fish also requires that all boats beyond a certain length purchase an invasive species sticker, and certain rivers in Wyoming that have been found to contain invasive aquatic species require special care to be taken cleaning your boat after you’ve been out on the water. For more information about these and other regulations and to purchase an invasive species sticker, contact Game and Fish.
All rivers have hazards
By Marit Gookin
In the NOLS River Rescue Guide, author Nate Ostis describes a river as an “ongoing avalanche.” While Ostis urges his readers to bear in mind that “risk management is a culture, not a checklist,” there are certain key considerations that are important before you get out on the water.
Make sure you have and are wearing the proper gear. One of the most important items of gear in a boater’s toolkit is a properly fitting life jacket. A life jacket that fits well should stay below chin level when a friend gives a strong tug on the shoulder straps. Wyoming state law only requires that there be a life jacket somewhere on the boat for each person, but common sense – and statistics – tell us that if you end up in the water, a life jacket you’re wearing does you more good than one that’s floating down the river or is locked away in a dry box.
Pay attention and know what hazards to look for. Common hazards such as sweepers, strainers, bridge pylons and foot entrapments are often easily avoided if you are staying aware of your surroundings, and can be deadly if you aren’t.
Come prepared: Check the weather before you leave, do your research on what the river and its rapids are like and never boat alone. Be realistic with yourself about the environment as well as your experience and skill level, and make judgment calls about which rivers are OK for you to run – and to bring less experienced people on – accordingly.
Always boat sober. Ostis’ book states that over 50% of all boating accidents involve alcohol.
Except in the case of whitewater parks, each of the river sections above is described in terms of its classification within the international scale of river difficulty. Created by the American Whitewater Association, this system grades rapid difficulty on a 1-5 scale (written with Roman numerals). Class I refers to flat water, while Class V is considered expert-level rapids which American Whitewater states require “proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills” to even consider running. Class VI exists as a sort of off-the-scale category, for particularly extreme rapids or those that have not been run frequently enough to be rated.
For more information on the international scale of river difficulty and on boater safety best practices, check out www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Wiki/safety:start.