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.

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