The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River. It passes through several states, starting in Wyoming, traversing through Idaho, and ending in Washington State.
People have lived along the Snake River for thousands of years. However, the Snake River also offers a variety of recreational activities, including kayaking and canoeing.
In this article, I will talk about taking a float trip on the Snake River. You’ll learn everything you need to know about float trips, the Snake River, and how to get started.
- Where Is the Snake River?
- Why Take a Float Trip on the Snake River?
- What Is a Float Trip?
- First Things First: Getting a Permit
- Where to Float Trip on the Snake River?
- Float Trips in Grand Teton National Park
- Float Trips in Centennial Waterfront Park
- Float Trips in Hells Canyon
- Wrapping It Up
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While the river originates in Wyoming and traverses southern Idaho, it then turns north, running along Idaho’s border with Oregon before entering Eastern Washington, where it flows to the Columbia River.
Six states make up the drainage basin of the Snake River:
Runoff from these six states ends up in the Snake River.
There are many major cities alongside the Snake River, including:
- Jackson, Wyoming
- Twin Falls, Idaho
- Idaho Falls, Idaho
- Boise, Idaho
- Richland, Washington
As such, there are many places from which to start your float trip on the Snake River.
Not in any of those states? Check out the 10 best float trips in Missouri!
The Snake River is on our list of the best 15 rivers for kayaking in the US, and for good reason.
It is perfect for float trips, especially as it is easily accessible to many people living in multiple cities in several states.
In addition, the Snake River is rich in biology and wildlife, making it perfect for relaxing float trips. It does depend on which part of the river you are on.
You may come across wildlife such as:
- Numerous fish species
- Grizzly bears
- Mountain lions
- Numerous grasslands and forests
Above all, the Snake River offers an opportunity to enjoy some of the finest nature in the Northwest of the United States.
There are also beautiful man-made constructions along the bridge, such as the Perrine Bridge.
All of that diverse scenery makes the Snake River a popular spot for kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. The waters are usually relatively calm, making it a good float trip spot for beginner kayakers.
In addition, multiple companies offer float trips and kayak tours along the river. You’ll learn more about them later in the article.
Before we move on, it’s essential to discuss what a float trip is and how it differs from other styles of kayaking.
A float trip is a trip down a scenic river, where you just float in a kayak or canoe. There should not be much paddling or heavy physical activity involved, which is the significant difference between float trips and regular kayaking trips.
Float trips are suitable for people who enjoy nature but don’t want to do strenuous physical activity. You can go on a float trip yourself or with a partner, but many people go in groups.
Some people go on day float trips, while others go on multi-day trips, during which they camp on the side of the river overnight.
In either case, there are some essential things to consider before going on a float trip on the Snake River, including getting the relevant licenses.
Check out the 7 best float trips in Arkansas!
Around 67.5 miles of the Snake River,l in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, are classified as a Wild and Scenic River as per the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was created to protect rivers in the United States that have extraordinary wildlife.
You will need a permit to float on the Wild and Scenic section of the Snake River.
The process for getting a float permit varies based on the season. During the primary season, you must make a reservation in advance.
During the primary season, a quota system only allows a few boat launches a day in the designated “Wild” area (from Hells Canyon Dam to Upper Pittsburgh Landing). During the secondary season, no reservation is required in advance, and you can get a self-issued permit at any time.
From Upper Pittsburgh Landing and further downstream, until the “Scenic” area of the river ends, you’ll need to make a reservation by calling the Clarkson Forest Service. However, you only need to make a reservation for that section from Friday to Sunday and on holidays during the primary season.
At all other times, you can get a self-issued permit.
You will also need an Aquatic Invasive Species Permit.
You can find more information on permits on the US Forest Service site. There, you can also find information about camping permissions and other limitations – for example, the maximum group size is 24.
You can apply for a permit for the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area on Recreation.gov. On that page, you will learn more about the quota system and how the Four Rivers Lottery system works.
Remember, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act only applies to a certain stretch of the river in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which borders Idaho and Oregon. You don’t need this special permit in other parts of the river.
However, even if the part of the river you are floating on is not classified as Wild and Scenic, you may still need a permit, especially if it’s in a national park. For example, if you are floating in Grand Teton National Park, you will need a license.
Since the Snake River is so long (it’s over 1,000 miles long), there are many national parks and recreational areas from where you can launch a boat and take a trip down the Snake River. Following are the top three places for float trips along the Snake River.
Grand Teton National Park, located in Northwestern Wyoming, covers over 300,000 acres. It features several places to go kayaking, notably Jackson Lake, into which the Snake River flows.
Jackson Lake is on our list of the best places to kayak for beginners in the US.
Many companies offer float trips in Grand Teton National Park. Unless you are experienced and well-versed in the area, I would recommend going with a company offering an expedition or tour instead of floating the river alone.
The reason for that is that there are many interconnected routes and channels, with constantly-shifting logjams, according to the National Park Service, making it easy to get lost. Flow rates vary, and there have been many accidents.
You will need a permit to launch your boat anywhere in the park. It costs only $17 for the license, compared to $56 for motorized boats.
You will need an Aquatic Invasive Species license as well.
For more information about the permit and how to apply, visit the National Park Service website.
Grand Teton National Park is only 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park, so combining the two in one long trip is a good idea.
Grand Teton has a lot more to offer other than float trips, including several other lakes you can go kayaking on, mountains, forests, valleys, and stunning scenery.
Another place to go floating on the Snake River is Centennial Waterfront Park in Twin Falls, Idaho. Located in the Snake River Canyon, it features kayak and paddle boat rentals and tours with seasonal availability.
One advantage of going on a float trip at Centennial Waterfront Park is that you will see one of the iconic attractions of the Snake River, the beautiful Perrine Bridge. You can even float under the bridge.
Regardless of where you go, you’ll need to take enough food. Check out these 30 float trip food ideas.
Finally, there is Hells Canyon in Idaho, which I already talked about. You can go on a beautiful float trip, but I recommend going during the secondary season when getting the required permit is easier.
One of the advantages of choosing Hells Canyon is the scenery – after all, it’s the part of the river classified as a Wild and Scenic River.
There are companies offering float tours around there, and there are also camping spots.
That said, let’s go into further depth into these three areas. One by one, I will give you recommendations for places to stay and companies offering float tours in the above three areas:
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Centennial Waterfront Park, Idaho
- Hells Canyon, Idaho
There are several ways to get to Grand Teton National Park.
You can always fly in – did you know there is an airport inside the park? Jackson Hole Airport is the only commercial airport in a national park in the whole country.
There are flights from several cities, including:
- New York
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- And more
There are a few airlines that service the airport, so you can also go to those airlines and book with them directly:
- Sun Country
Note that flight availability and routes differ between the summer and winter. I suggest checking out the Jackson Hole Airport website and looking at the summer and winter schedules.
It’s also possible to drive to Grand Teton National Park. Salt Lake City is only around five to six hours away; if you’re in Denver, you must drive for approximately 8-10 hours to reach the park.
One of the reasons I recommend choosing Grand Teton National Park for float trips on the Snake River is that there are many companies you can arrange a tour with. Here are some of the best ones:
Grand Teton Lodge Company, or GTLC, offers a scenic guided tour down the Snake River, departing from the Jackson Lake Lodge.
Trips take three to five hours, and your guide will tell you all about the history of the river and the flora and fauna you see. You can bring your kids, as long as they are at least six years old.
This company specializes in providing float trips in Grand Teton National Park. All journeys start below the Snake River overlook at Deadman’s Bar, but the guides can meet you in Moose or Jackson town.
The tours come with a guide and last for two hours, during which you’ll be shown scenery and wildlife. You can even arrange for a private tour for up to 12 people.
The trip covers 10 miles and can include children from five years and up.
This company claims to offer access to more sections of the river than any other outfitter. It provides full-day tours on eight river sections, including Grand Teton National Park.
While a lot pricier than the above two options, the tour is also longer. Both full-day and half-day options are available.
There are seven campgrounds throughout the park, with over 1,000 campsites. You’ll need to reserve a campsite in advance and not overstay the time limit of 7-14 days.
See more information on how to reserve a spot and other rules here.
Other lodging options include mountain, lake lodges, and cabins. View available places to stay here.
You can get to Centennial Waterfront Park from Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s located right at the city’s edge, on the river.
Twin Falls, Idaho, has many inns, hotels, and motels. Check out Booking.com or use Airbnb; you can get a taxi to the falls, hire a car, or take an Uber.
Note that overnight camping is not permitted. For more information about the park, see here.
Idaho Guide Service offers scenic tours on the river. You can use an inflatable kayak, touring kayak, SUP, or canoe, and tours can include food, drinks, and a guide.
One tour goes from Centennial Waterfront Park to Shoshone Falls. Shoshone Falls, on the Snake River, is one of the largest waterfalls in the country – its height surpasses that of Niagara Falls!
Guided tours are affordable but can only run if at least six people sign up. You can also rent a watercraft for a private trip.
AWOL Adventure Sports, or PaddleTheSnake.com, offers a scenic boat tour on the Snake River. The tour passes under the beautiful Perrine Bridge and goes to Pillar Falls.
As it lasts just 70-90 minutes, this tour is perfect if you live in or are visiting Twin Falls, Idaho, and you have limited time. It is also very affordable, costing just $35-45.
Availability varies based on season, so check out this page for more information. You can also rent watercraft from AWOL Adventure Sports and go alone.
Kayaking and fishing tours may also be available, depending on the season.
Hell’s Canyon offers a fantastic adventure but is a bit out of the way. The south entrance of the canyon is accessible from both Idaho and Oregon.
From Cambridge, Idaho, you can take Highway 71 to get there. From Baker, Oregon, you can take Highway 86.
Either way, the drive shouldn’t take more than two hours unless there is a lot of traffic.
Idaho River Guides offers a three-day tour in Hells Canyon. You’ll get the opportunity to do some hiking and fishing as well.
It includes professional guides and a river kitchen for gourmet meals. Sleeping pads are included as well, as is transportation from Riggins, Idaho.
Hells Canyon Raft offers trips for adults and children on the Snake River. Trips range from three to six days, so browse the available trips on the website and choose the one best for you.
Trip length ranges from 34 to 81 miles.
Hells Canyon is more suitable for multi-day trips, so many people camp on the river banks. Pittsburgh Camping offers campsite and RV camping areas; you can also camp at Kirkwood Ranch.
The Pittsburgh Campground also offers a boat launch area, making it suitable for people who want to go on a float trip without a guide. There are only a few other authorized boat launches in Hells Canyon.
See more information about camping on the US Forest Service website.
A float trip on the Snake River requires quite a bit of planning. I recommend starting at Grand Teton National Park, as it has the most authorized companies offering float tours and is also accessible.
Centennial Waterfront Park is accessible as well, but Grand Teton National Park offers more beauty. Hells Canyon is incredible too, but it’s better if you’re more of a rough camper and can go on multi-day float trips that include hiking.
If you enjoyed this guide, please share it with a friend! You may also enjoy our complete guide to going on a float trip on the Illinois River in Oklahoma.