Updated: May 21, 2015
Grand Teton Float Trips - Rafting the Snake River in Grand Teton ParkMillions of folks visit Yellowstone Park in Wyoming every year, with summer being by far the busiest season. Close by to the park is Grand Teton Park and the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. If you're heading this way, we suggest you add a rafting float tip to your list of things to do. Having been through this area 4 or 5 times in the past, somehow rafting had always escaped us. But in the summer of 2009, we made a point of spending a whole day in Jackson Hole, and then half a day rafting in Grand Teton National Park on our way up to Yellowstone. The headwaters of the Snake River actually originate in southern Yellowstone, where it then joins the Lewis River as it angles south and heads into Jackson Lake in Grand Teton Park. After leaving the lake, the Snake River runs through Grand Teton Park for about 20 miles until just after Moose Junction. The best views of the Teton Mountains are found on the upper part of the Snake, so you'll want to find a rafting company that drives you north from Moose Junction and then floats you back down to Moose Junction (Moose Junction, a well-known spot in Grand Teton Park, is the main meeting place for almost all the rafting trips in the area). In this guide, we will discuss the leading raft float trip companies around Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, talk about the different float trips available along with prices, and describe (with photos and video!) our Snake River rafting adventure so you know what to expect.
Jackson Hole Rafting Trips - ReviewSo we did our research first at finding the best river rafting tours out of the Jackson Hole area that would take us the few miles to nearby Grand Teton Park and the Snake River. There are some white water options along the Snake River as well, but with a family and small kids, we opted for a more mellow float trip (white water means a lot of tense staring at the river, while a float means plenty of time to enjoy the mountain and wildlife scenery). There are probably half a dozen or more rafting operations that conduct tours around Grand Teton, but I would rank the top 3 as Barker Ewing, Solitude, and Grand Teton Lodge Company. We'd heard good reviews of all of these rafting outfits from a variety of travel sites and guide books. So it came down to checking into the details, looking at prices and schedules, etc. All three companies promise trips strictly inside Grand Teton Park - this is what you want, this is where the best views of the mountains are. Prices are nearly identical for all 3 companies as well -- about $55 for adults, $35 for kids for 10 mile float trips that take about 3 hours. They also offer several trips per day, ranging from early morning to late afternoon, with options for lunch or dinner stopovers (about $10-$15 extra) if you want to spend more time along the river. BarkerEwing.com will pick you up at Moose Junction (plenty of parking space, you'll see signs for raft parking to the right as soon as you cross the bridge over the river), take you in a van up to Dead Man's Bar (pulling the raft behind), and then you'll float the 10 miles back to Moose Junction. They've been giving float tours on the Snake since 1963, and have an excellent safety record. SolitudeFloatTrips.com follow pretty much the same route as Barker Ewing with 10 mile floats - pick-up and drop-off at Moose Junction. Solitude also has an excellent record and receives high marks from their customers and reviewers. Finally, consider the Grand Teton Lodge Company (GTLC.com) - with 3-4 hours trips ambling down the same stretch of the Snake. Whichever you choose, you'll want to get reservations for your rafting float trip in advance -- trips often sell out, especially during popular summer months.
What to expect on your Snake River Rafting TripWe did the morning float trip with Barker Ewing, meeting at the Moose Junction parking lot around 9AM. They picked us up right on time with the van (we called to confirm they were really coming, as they showed up kind of at the last minute, but on time), and then drove us about 10 minutes north to the drop-off point. There is a last chance for a bathroom pitstop here, then it was time to put on lifevests (everyone must where them at all times) and head down to the riverbank to board our raft. These are good-size rafts, with an area in the middle for the guide and his 2 large oars, and seating areas on either side. We had 9 people in our raft, not including our river guide. They recommend you bring a variety of clothing since it can be cold in the morning and evenings (over 6000 feet) and hot in the midday sun -- consider comfortable pants, shirt, sweatshirt, and tennis shoes or outdoor sandals. The kids on our raft got cold and eagerly curled under the blankets our guide provided (they also have rain ponchos if things get wet). Also, sunscreen and hats/visors and sunglasses are a good idea.
Now we are out on the river. The Snake River here moves very swiftly and is quite wide (see photos above and left). The float trip, though, is safe for all age ranges, from kids to seniors. There are a few place where you will get some small waves and turbulence, but no real white water or rapids, just a swiftly flowing large volume of COLD water! The real things to look out for are log snags and hazards, which is why these are guided tours led by a professional who knows the river inside and out. Our guide was very knowledgable about the river, wildlife, and terrain. He wasn't as talkative as some guides I've met on tours, but he answered all questions and kept supplying us with more information every few minutes. When it comes to wildlife viewing, it can be kind of hit or miss. We saw a few bald eagles (one even pulled a wriggling trout from the river just 30 yards in front of us!), a variety of water fowl, and that was about it. You may see deer or elk at other times, bears are not too likely. We didn't see any other raft during our float, so we pretty much had the river to ourselves. And what a view! You start just abreast of the Teton Range (no pun intended), so you have a direct view of the mountains, though they sometimes dip behind tall river banks and trees. As you head south, the viewing angle slowly changes as you move past the Tetons. Two or three hours of sitting on the bottom or edge of a raft is plenty for most people - consider bringing a snack or two and a drink. But before you know it, the ride is over, you pull over just above the parking lot area, and then walk about 2 minutes back down to your car. With Barker Ewing, tips are included in the price so there is no pressure from the guide for money -- a nice touch. Overall the ride was a combination of exciting, boring (even the Tetons can get old after staring at them for hours, especially with kids), and beautiful, but well worth every penny and every minute spent. Being out on the water really added something special to our trip and experience in Grand Tetons Park - highly recommended if you have a half day to spare while visiting (if not, add the time!).
A final tip, stop for lunch at Dornan's (just back across the bridge as you leave Moose Junction, turn left) - eat out on the deck and enjoy the magnificant views of the Tetons.
Here's a brief video to give you an idea what the raft, river, and terrain look like.