Mad River Boat Trips

Serene and Spine Tingling

Gail Newbold | Photos courtesy of Mad River Boat Trips Jul 9, 2018

It’s 7:45 a.m. and the air is brisk. Small groups of river rafters shiver on the shore of the Snake River in a dense fog, some wondering how scenic their “scenic float” will be, although the fog itself has an eerie beauty.

Cheerful river guides distribute royal-blue rain ponchos with long sleeves and hoods to waiting rafters before loading them on to the rafts this August day at the Wilson Bridge Boat Ramp west of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Peace or Adventure

“This is one of the most peaceful places you’ll be in Jackson,” says Mad River Boat Trips guide Delaney Harrop, from Massachusetts. Which is exactly what the rafters on this particular trip signed up for. If they had wanted wild and crazy, they’d have signed up for one of the company’s whitewater rafting trips (

“We’re not into danger,” says a rafter from the Los Angeles area. In addition to peace, the scenic floats also provide plenty of time to get to know your fellow rafters, if that’s what you like. And no paddling is required. It’s all about relaxation and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

For those who prefer an adrenaline boost, the whitewater floats begin on the Snake River at the south end of Jackson Hole. Rafters continue through the winding Snake River Canyon through some of the wildest whitewater in the Rocky Mountains. In fact, after hearing the safety talk, some rafters have been known to back out altogether, Harrop says.

Morning or Afternoon

Can’t decide whether to raft in the morning or afternoon? Mornings are cooler with more opportunities for wildlife viewing during the two-hour, 13-mile float through braided river channels and sand bars. Afternoons, on the other hand, can be hot, and include a box lunch served on the river while you float.

We chose morning to maximize our short time in the Jackson area. It was an excellent choice, because as the fog gradually lifted and the sun appeared, it felt as though we’d been on two entirely different float trips.

According to Harrop, the most commonly seen wildlife include bald eagles, osprey, beavers, marmots, river otters, cutthroat trout and cliff swallows. A lucky few may see moose, mule deer, elk, or even grizzly or black bears.

Rain or Shine

Mad River guides ply the river whatever the weather. Floats are rarely canceled for rain unless there are thunderstorms, and then only on the scenic floats. That’s because the whitewater trips are deep in the canyon where lightning is highly unlikely to hit.

“We’ve had some very rainy days,” says Harrop, who claims to enjoy them. “People paddle extra hard in the rain. And you’re getting wet anyway.”

The Guides

“We try to size up people and personalities as best as we can, so we can match our guides to our rafters,” Harrop says. “For example, if I know people are from Massachusetts, I’ll put them in my boat since we have shared backgrounds.” Guides also review the guests’ forms in advance and if possible, match them with a guide who speaks their language.

Before being hired, Mad River guides undergo five days of intensive training during which they learn about the river, and the history, geology and wildlife of the region. They also take a swift-water rescue course. The staff of guides varies each summer, but last year two of them also worked for search and rescue, and one for the fire department.

Last year Mad River Boat Trips enjoyed its 40th anniversary as a float operator in the Jackson area.

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