Yellowstone Whitewater

Yellowstone Whitewater

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Schroeder, Dave
The pristine rivers and creeks flowing from Yellowstone National Park and the massive Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness are renowned for their magnificent waterfalls and world-class fly-fishing opportunities. People flock from around the globe to admire the sparkling waters, thundering cascades, and unique thermal features laced throughout this region. Yet all too often, visitors allow their experience with these incredible waterways to end at a furtive glance from a scenic vista or while thumbing through a creaky postcard rack at a souvenir shop.

The Greater Yellowstone Area, for all its wildlife, fly-fishing, and thermal dynamic fame, is also home to some outstanding whitewater kayak, canoe, and rafting runs. Roaring steep creeks tumbling from the snowcapped high country; sculpted gorges carved from solid granite by churning, turbid waters; and frothy, playful rivers gurgling and rolling through breathtaking valleys… there’s something to satisfy all those looking to immerse themselves, if only for a moment, in a most intoxicating and humbling flow.

The Yellowstone
The longest undammed river in the Lower 48 and certainly the most famous in the region, the Yellowstone is a river of many moods. A small, winding creek born deep in the backcountry of the Park, the Yellowstone announces itself as a river when it exits the impressive Yellowstone Lake and begins to work its way toward the awe-inspiring Upper and Lower Falls. By the time it courses its way through the legendary Grand and Black Canyons it is a mighty river indeed. Gardiner, Montana, just outside the Park, is the first, and best, ‘legal’ place that whitewater enthusiasts can dip their paddles in the Yellowstone River. The Gardiner Run is a high-quality stretch of class III-IV whitewater suitable for intermediate kayakers or advanced canoeists, and is a great rafting run as well.

Yankee Jim Canyon, a short but sweet canyon lurking further downstream, is well-known for its constricted riverbed and boisterous hydraulics. At high flows, the canyon is a solid class IV and can easily flip unsuspecting rafts and catarafts in its enormous holes. Below Yankee Jim, the river widens and mellows considerably, offering but a few class II rapids as it snakes its way through the aptly named Paradise Valley. The Yellowstone can be floated from Gardiner to Big Timber in less than a week, though the numerous access points found throughout this section make for an endless list of worthwhile itineraries. Jason Matthews’ River Source Outfitters offers a complete rafting package, shuttle services, and gear rentals for those seeking a more intimate experience with this classic North American river. Other guide and rental services are also available in the area; see below for details.

Yellowstone Rental Roundup
You could go with one of the big guys who operate on multiple rivers, like Yellowstone Raft Co (800-858-7781) or Montana Whitewater (406-763-4465), but we always like to go local. Whichever company and method you choose, you’ll end up heading down the Yellowstone with a fun and professional guide, probably get wet, and surely have a story to tell. Tip the guide, don’t forget your swimsuit and sunscreen, and as in everything, enjoy the ride!

Rubber Ducky Rentals 406-222-3746
The aptly named Rubber Ducky Rentals offers a smorgasbord of opportunities for getting on the water: they’ll sell, rent, instruct, give you lots of local information, and even do repairs. Besides all that, they offer a pick-up and drop-off service, much appreciated by kayakers who know that the RVs barreling down Highway 89 towards Yellowstone Park don’t have time to pick up a wet boater.

River Source Outfitters 406-222-5268
A favorite with many locals, River Source focuses more on those wanting an individual experience when getting down the river. Their kayaking expeditions get top billing, although they do offer scenic floats, canoeing, and whitewater rafting trips. They’ll even custom-plan your own trip, but even with all the attention they’re still not the most expensive service providers out there.

Flying Pig Adventure Company 406-848-7510
The Flying Pig is nestled in downtown Gardiner, but what makes this one stand out is a unique offering: the scenic wine float. Soak in the sun, drink in the vino, and let someone else do all the work. This is the way to be a little lazy and still feel like you’re doing something active. The Pig also offers other special tours, like their Paddle & Saddle deal, which lets you cool off on the river after horse riding all morning.

Big Sky Whitewater 406-848-2112
This small operation is also in Gardiner and is the best for those on a budget, with full-day trips coming in at $60 a person, compared to the usual going rate, which can run up to $80. They also do rentals of cabins, mountain bikes, and offer a shuttling service for those preferring not to dirty or wet up their own transportation.

-Tanner Strickland
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