Full Send: How to Experience Yellowstone White Water Rafting
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most unique places in the entire world. With its steaming geysers and other geothermal features, impressive waterfalls, incredible wildlife, and epic hiking and camping opportunities, it’s no wonder the park draws well over four million visitors each year.
Also unsurprisingly, one of the most popular Montana bucket list adventures is Yellowstone white water rafting. Being such a large park completely surrounded by spectacular scenery, rafting is one of the best things to do near Yellowstone to really soak it all in.
Fortunately, no special skills, experience, or permits are required for Yellowstone white water rafting. In fact, it’s a great activity for families with children as young as six! There are still some specifics and logistics to be aware of, however.
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Can I go Rafting in Yellowstone National Park?
First things first: can you even technically go whitewater rafting in Yellowstone National Park?
Technically, no — but you can get really, really close.
All Yellowstone white water rafting trips happen on a section of the pristine Yellowstone River (the longest undammed river in the Lower 48!) bordering the northern part of the park. The river here is ideal for both scenic floats and whitewater trips, consistently offering class II and class III rapids.
So while there’s officially no rafting in Yellowstone National Park, you’ll get to experience part of its less-visited backcountry from an unforgettable perspective.
Yellowstone white water rafting trips depart from Gardiner, just outside the park’s North Entrance and head northwest, into Paradise Valley. Depending on which specific excursion you choose (more on that later!), you’ll be on the water for anywhere from 2-4 hours.
Yellowstone White Water Rafting at a Glance
- Location: Gardiner, Montana, just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park
- Distance: 8-18 miles, depending on the exact rafting trip you choose
- Difficulty: Easy; no special skills or experience required
- Time required: 2-5 hours, with some companies offering overnight trips
- Approximate cost: Starting at approximately $60 for adults + $50 for children
Know Before You Go
White water rafting near Yellowstone is a bucket list experience. On your adventure, you’ll travel 8-18 miles on the legendary Yellowstone River through jaw-dropping scenery.
While you’ll do some paddling, your experienced local guide will do most of the work, pointing out interesting natural features and (hopefully!) wildlife along the way.
Here’s everything you need to know about white water rafting near Yellowstone.
Best Time of Year for Yellowstone White Water Rafting
Summer is the best time to go whitewater rafting in Yellowstone (and really, the only time you can go!). Most outfitters run rafting trips from around Memorial Day through September or October.
One thing to keep in mind is that the date of your trip will dictate the type of rafting you experience. The river is higher (and therefore, faster) earlier in the season, typically May and June. Later in the summer, much of the snowmelt is gone and water levels have come down, resulting in slower, gentler flows.
How Long Does Yellowstone White Water Rafting Take?
Depending on the specific trip you choose, you’ll be on the river from anywhere from 2-5 hours. Most 8-hour trips spend 2-2.5 hours on the water, while 18-mile trips require 5-6 hours.
How Difficult is White Water Rafting Near Yellowstone?
This stretch of the river has gentle Class II and Class III rapids, making it a perfect introductory white water rafting trip for every member of the family. Most river outfitters require children to be at least six years old.
Yellowstone White Water Rafting Outfitters
There are several tour options when it comes to white water rafting near Yellowstone. As a bonus, all the outfitters are longtime locals and many of them are family-owned!
We personally went rafting with Flying Pig Adventures (thanks again, y’all!), but you’ll be in good hands with any one of the outfitters on this list.
- Flying Pig Adventures – 8-mile, 18-mile, overnight, and scenic float trips. Fly fishing and horseback riding also offered. May – end of August
- Wild West Whitewater Rafting – Half-day (8 miles), full day (18 miles), and overnight trips available, plus private charters. In May and June, hardcore paddlers can book the 6-hour “Small Boat Big Water” tour for when the river is running high and fast. May – October 1
- Paradise Adventure Company – 8-mile, 18-mile, and scenic float trips. Paradise also offers horseback riding and Montana-style glamping in Gardiner. May – October 1
Tips for Rafting the Yellowstone
- Dress in layers, regardless of what the weather looks and feels like. This part of Montana is notorious for wild, rapid weather swings. We recommend wearing lightweight pants or shorts and long sleeves, or having a light jacket you can put on or take off as needed.
- The people in the front of the raft get the wettest!
- Because you’re actively paddling, it’s extremely difficult to take photos or video while on the river. If this is important to you, consider using a GoPro with a wearable mount.
- Bring cash to tip your river guide — they work HARD! 15-20% of your tour total is the appropriate.
Have you ever been white water rafting near Yellowstone? We’d love to hear about your experience, so drop a comment below or connect with us on social media! Finally, be sure to save this blog to Pinterest to help others discover it!