When the kids have to deliver the standard what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation school report in September, there’s an enormous coolness factor in saying, “I white-water rafted on the Snake River.” It works even if all your family did was take a mild float trip along the Snake up in Grand Teton National Park. But now add this phrase: “I white-water rafted on the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon.” Now they own that homeroom.
Hell’s Canyon is the deepest gorge in North America, a full mile and a half deep, and it’s gorgeous to boot. It curls along the border between Idaho and Oregon, as the river builds up a head of steam to pour into the Columbia River in Washington State. (One look at a map and the kids will agree they couldn’t call this loopy river anything but the Snake.) The standard 3-day rafting trip through this steep-walled forested canyon covers about 36 miles, but it’s not rapids all the way, not by any means—there are plenty of placid sections where rafters can relax and enjoy stunning views of the Seven Devils Mountains (another dynamite name) and the Summit Ridge. Technically, in fact, it can
be classified as an easy run. What makes this white water so awesome is not the wildness of the waters, but how long the rapids go on, shooting through this relatively straight stretch of the river. And while they might be scary to those paddling a kayak (which may be an option for the daredevils in your party), if you’re seated in a large inflatable raft it’ll be a manageable thrill. Of course you’ll get splashed and soaked, but that’s part of the whole whitewater experience.
When you’re not rafting, there’s plenty more to do along this stretch of the Snake River. Short hikes lead you away from the river to view Native American pictographs on canyon walls, or to find the abandoned cabins of early-1900s settlers. There are chances to try trout fishing, and also to swim in the surprisingly warm waters. Wildlife viewings may include bighorn sheep, elk, and eagles.
Outfitters (see below) will handle all the details—supplying equipment, guiding the rafts, directing activities, setting up a very comfortable camp each night, and shuttling you to the starting point and from the ending point.