The water sloshed against our barge of tubes, lashed together with ratchet straps and the tubes’ built-in connectors, halfway along the stretch of the Snake River from South Park to Astoria.
As the tubes crashed into one another and pulled apart, one of riders quickly realized she should have worn a life jacket after her tube’s side ripped open a gaping hole. There was an exchange of a life jacket for the cooler, and she climbed aboard one of the other tubes.
Maybe we should have brought that spare raft for the cooler. Either way, the quickly resolved mishap was only a part of the fun afternoon floating down the low-stress section of the Snake. We made friends with strangers in their own tube barges and chatted with fishermen about their catches as we casually floated down the barely warm river.
We discovered a small cliff just above Hoback Junction, which made for a refreshing quick 10-foot plunge into the river. By the end of the trip we dragged our popped raft out with us at the Astoria takeout and waited to hitchhike back to South Park. We were all a bit more sunburned, and our cooler was empty, but we had huge smiles on our faces from the trip, a must-do this summer when the sun’s out.
For an equally thrilling, and slightly dangerous, trip look no farther than Flat Creek, which winds through town. Put in at the Dairy Queen and float through manmade waterfalls, low-hanging bridges and inconspicuous downed trees and boulders, then take out at Russ Garaman Park or near Smith’s. It’s a fun day, but just know that you may not make it out with fully inflated tubes or without a few scrapes and bruises. Beware private property along the way, and be courteous.
The Kelly Cliffs give adrenaline seekers an outlet and a way to beat the summer heat. People plunge about 30 feet into the Gros Ventre River, then climb back up the rock to do it again. Drive toward Slide Lake — great for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding — on Gros Ventre Road and you’ll be able to see the cliffs on the right side of the road just before the Bridger-Teton National Forest boundary kiosk.
If you’re looking to do a little rock jumping, relax on a sandy beach or rake in likes on Instagram, Phelps Lake is your go-to. The “jumping rock” is a 20- to 30-foot granite outcropping that deposits you right into the water. The dramatic Death Canyon makes a picture-perfect background behind the lake. If you’re looking for a more relaxing day, there’s a sandy beach along the shores, but you still have to hike a little to reach Phelps.
You can get to the rock from the Death Canyon Trailhead or from the Rockefeller Preserve Trailhead, both accessed from Moose-Wilson Road.
From the Death Canyon Trailhead hike about 1 mile to the Phelps Lake Overlook and then about another mile down to the Valley Trail. Head east on the Valley Trail, past a few campsites, for about 15 minutes.
From the preserve the hike is flatter, and takes you around the lake. Hike 1.5 miles to the southern shore of the lake, then cross a bridge and continue up the trail for another 20 minutes.
Whichever approach you take, remember you’re still in Grand Teton National Park and the area is prime bear habitat, so don’t forget the bear spray.
String Lake, located just north of Jenny Lake, has undoubtedly the warmest water in the park and the most crowds. The clear shallow water is perfect whether you want to take out kayaks or canoes or even just blowup tubes. There’s a small rock in the middle of the lake that offers a pleasant way to cool off quickly.
Parking space at String Lake is limited, so be sure to get there early and don’t just make up your own parking spots. It’s also a place black bears frequent, so don’t leave food or coolers unattended along the shore.
On the shore of colder Jackson Lake sits the Colter Bay swim beach with amazing views of Mount Moran.
There are many alpine lakes in the Tetons, great for taking a dip after a long hike. The waters are pretty chilly — most are created from glacier runoff or snowmelt — but are refreshing after a hike in the mountains. Check out Amphitheater, Surprise or Delta, but beware: It will be brisk.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Granite Hot Springs, a manmade pool filled with the warm mineral water. Located about 45 minutes south of town, the springs are perfect for a gloomy day and the $6 cost is affordable. It’s a great alternative to hot springs in national parks, which are off limits.
If you’re looking for more of a thrill, take out a motorboat. They are permitted on Jenny, with a 10 horsepower maximum requirement, and Jackson lakes. In Teton park sailboats, waterskiing, wake boarding and windsurfing are allowed only on Jackson Lake. Personal watercraft, like Jet Skis, are prohibited on all waters in national parks.
If you do want to zoom around, head south to Alpine and make use of the Palisades Reservoir, where you can boat, ski, surf and swim.
Nonmotorized vessels are permitted on Jackson, Jenny, Phelps, Emma Matilda, Two Ocean, Taggart, Bradley, Bearpaw, Leigh and String lakes.
To help prevent the spread of invasive species, make sure to have your boat, motorized or nonmotorized, inspected before launching it. If you are in a national park you must register it with the National Park Service and purchase an Aquatic Invasive Species decal from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Wherever you choose to cool off this summer, just remember to use your brain. Wear life jackets on the river, clean up after yourself, drink responsibly — have a designated driver — and don’t forget to use sunscreen.