Despite “Deliverance,” the 1972 Academy-award nominated film based on the novel of the same name by James Dickey, carved out a permanent dark corner in the American psyche with its unsettling combination of backwoods menace and masterly banjo playing, Whitewater rafting has become a hugely popular sport, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who has felt the addiction that the whitewater rapids hold that there are more people discovering the thrill of whitewater rafting every year. Dickey’s metaphorical river of concealed evil that no one seems ever to have forgotten: all these years later, you can’t go rafting down a wild river without someone in the group humming a few bars of “Dueling Banjos.” And the cultural resonance shows no sign of fading: T-shirts imprinted with the slogan “Paddle faster, I hear banjo music are a popular souvenir around here. Deliverance has become part of the fun!
All around the perimeter of Yellowstone there is whitewater action. The Gallatin, Yellowstone, Snake, Wind, Still Water, and the Shoshone Rivers all have commercial whitewater trips available. Many more of Yellowstone’s waters provide whitewater action for the private rafter, canoer, or kayaker. There are many whitewater outfitters in the towns of Jackson, West Yellowstone, Red Lodge, Gardiner, Big Sky Riverton, and Cody if you choose to leave the rowing to the experts (a wise decision).
Many of us have reached an age where we think we are too old for such frivolity fraught with perceived dangers. I must remind you that it is adventure that keeps us feeling young. Most river outfitters provide wetsuits mitigating the cold-water argument.
For those of you that are do it yourselfers do your homework, know how to read water and cinch tight all live preservers on your passengers, the regions class three whitewater is reasonably safe for the cautious if you are going too tackle class four or five water, wear helmets and know what you are doing.
Many of the regions whitewater enthusiasts combine their whitewater adventure with a fishing adventure as well. The rivers of the Greater Yellowstone Region has superb trout fishing, and the whitewater sections are one of the better sections because many boat fishermen are scarred to float them and the access from the banks is poor for those without a boat.
White water rafting can be a dangerous sport, especially if basic safety precautions are not observed. Both commercial and private trips have seen their share of injuries and fatalities, though private travel has typically been associated with greater risk. Legislated safety measures exist for rafting operators. These range from certification of outfitters, rafts, and raft leaders, to more stringent regulations about equipment and procedures.
Whitewater rafting has become safer over the years. Expertise in the sport has increased, and equipment has become more specialized and increased in quality, hence, the difficulty rating of most river runs has changed.
Yellowstone region rivers can provide big whitewater thrills but it can also provide danger for the unprepared or reckless.
Risks in white water rafting stem from both environmental dangers and from improper behavior. Certain features on rivers are inherently unsafe and have remained consistently so despite the passage of time. These would include "keeper holes (hydraulics)," "strainers" (e.g. fallen trees), dams (especially low-head dams, which tend to produce river-wide keeper hydraulics), undercut rocks, and waterfalls. Rafting with experienced guides is the safest way to avoid such features. Even in safe areas, however, moving water can always present risks, such as when swimmers attempt to stand up on a rocky riverbed in strong current, risking foot entrapment. Irresponsible behavior related to rafting while intoxicated has also contributed to many accidents. The flat-water sections of our rivers have killed many more people than the whitewater sections because people often don’t take proper precautions of flat-water sections as they underestimate their dangers.
The risk level of a rafting trip with experienced guides using proper precautions is very low at normal river flows but increase during peak runoff. Thousands of people safely enjoy raft trips every year in the Yellowstone Region.
Rafting contributes to the economy of many regions which in turn may contribute to the protection of rivers from hydroelectric power generation, diversion for irrigation, and other development. Additionally, white water rafting trips can promote environmentalism. By experiencing firsthand the beauty of a river, individuals who would otherwise be indifferent to environmental issues may gain a strong desire to protect and preserve that area because of their positive outdoor experience.
Another thing to consider is no summer trip to the Yellowstone Region is complete without either a Whitewater trip or a scenic float through this glorious crown of the Rocky Mountains.