Words by: Pat Harrington
Photos & Video by: Asher Koles and Sean Black
Disclaimer** As we all know, we are living in uncertain times. Please monitor and respect all park and river closures during this time and enjoy your outings responsibly once restrictions have been lifted. Happy boating.
In the spring we swap our skis and boards for boats and oars, our daydreams of long days on the river come closer to reality. We all know running rivers is a gear-intensive hobby and some multi-day excursions need weeks and months of planning. To help get the river juices flowing, I have compiled a quick guide to a couple of my favorite places to get some river time close to home (if you live in Utah, Wyoming or Idaho), along with some helpful tips that will make your weekend comfortable and fulfilling.
Ideal River Stretches
Growing up in northern Utah, my river time has been shared between the whitewater in the South, and fishing-focused stretches up north. Places like Salt Lake City, Jackson and Boise give you the perfect base camp to go for one or both of these stretches.
Advanced/Expert trip: Westwater Canyon, Utah,
Westwater is the premier quick-hit whitewater trip in Utah, offering world class rapids and stunning scenery just north of Moab. This 17 mile stretch of the Colorado River twists through the Wingate Sandstone, Zoroaster Granite and the primordial Vishnu Schist rock as it becomes a cauldron of whitewater that will test even the most seasoned oarsmen. Rapids such as “Surprise," “Skull” and “Sock-it-to-me” can range between class III-IV depending on the water levels. If you choose to do a one night camp on the river, the biggest water is saved for the second day of your journey.
You can apply for permits here.
Relaxed Trip: South Fork of The Snake River, Swan Valley, Idaho
A stones throw from Jackson or Boise and a 4.5 hour jaunt from Salt Lake City flows the South Fork of the Snake River. This emerald strip of river winds its way from the foot of the Tetons down to Idaho’s potato fields, offering a beautiful tour of the area’s landscapes. As a Blue Ribbon Trout Fishery, it boasts some of the most scenic and accessible trout water in the intermountain west, but is equally enjoyable for the non-angler. This is an un-permitted stretch and starts just below Palisades dam.
Once you have navigated the braided islands of the upper river, the canyon section will offer an unbelievable pick of campsites. A two night trip is a great option as you can poke through the canyon section of the river, taking in day hikes, fishing and enjoying a private riverside homestead of your choosing. Byington is the best takeout option as it’s the most developed. Stay aware, as it can sneak up on your river left after a couple miles of flat water.
Essential Tips and Gear Ideas
On any trip, It is easy to get caught up in the schlepping of gear and feel pressed for time once you find your camp. I always try to, keep it simple. If you are taking off on a weekend trip, less is more. Keep your gear clean and ready to go in your garage, so you can split town on Friday after work if the opportunity arises.
Think about layers when packing clothes. You will find yourself wearing the same puffy jacket or hoody each night and the same pair of chinos in camp. Find your ideal set of boat clothes and do the same for your camp threads and this will help keep the bulk to a minimum.
In camp, most of your time will be spent in the kitchen area. Focus on ways to keep things tidy and do as much food prep as you can beforehand. This will cut down on waste and will give you more time for cocktail hour and games. Items like collapsable buckets for dishes and hand washing, a propane blaster for heating water and a hanging utensil dryer will make your kitchen operate like clockwork.
Most importantly though, think fun. Bring games, musical instruments and a fire pan so you can sit around a fire and chill. Put together a river-dedicated bocce ball set for an all-terrain version of the game that you can enjoy while that dutch oven dinner is bubbling away.
Any river is a special place to forget your daily worries and reconnect to the rhythm of nature, for even one day on the river is better than no days on the river. Put down the day-timer this summer and skip town to enjoy living one river mile at a time.
Pat Harrington is a Salt Lake City native and has been around boats all his life, splitting time between the rivers of the west and sailing in the PNW. While being the son of a former whitewater guide, Pat never picked up the sticks as a profession, but rather as another arrow in his quiver of outdoor activities.