Water has steadily carved valleys and canyons into the mountains surrounding Jackson Hole, resulting in a myriad of local waterways that support a range of watersports. Rivers and lakes, teeming with life, serve as destinations for activities that range from mellow meanderings to adrenaline-fueled thrills. Those craving a more relaxing experience may incorporate fly fishing or scenic floats into their summer itinerary, while adrenaline junkies can pursue cliff jumping or river surfing to check-off their bucket list.


The Snake River winds its way south from Jackson Lake through Grand Teton National Park and passes through the communities of Wilson and Jackson. As it continues its journey, the narrow Snake River Canyon funnels water into a premier stretch of whitewater, where Class II and III rapids prompt nervous squeals of delight on any given summer day. A handful of local rafting outfitters conduct daily runs down the 8-mile whitewater stretch of the wild Snake, with some offering longer tours that combine a scenic stretch with a whitewater section. With names such as Double Draw, Three Oar Deal, Big Kahuna, and California Curler, the rapids peppered throughout the voyage ensure rafters remain at-the-ready.


Adrenaline-seekers looking for a whitewater challenge can find it with a short commute south to Lunch Counter Rapid, located off US Hwy 89 in the Snake River Canyon. Lunch Counter — which has tipped a raft or two in its day — is a popular spot for river surfers. Skilled riders boldly nose their surfboards (or kayaks) into the froth, testing their skills and balance against the roaring current. The water reaches its peak during the months of May and June, due to snowmelt, and there’s a sweet spot for surfing — between 9,000 and 12,000 CFS (cubic feet per second). Besides the innate challenge of battling Lunch Counter’s converging currents, surfers also need to give right of-way to boaters coming through. It’s a test of skills that sometimes results in a wipeout and a hard swim to an eddy. Onlookers can view the action from a pullout along the highway.


Those looking for flat water fun can head to Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park or Palisades Reservoir in Alpine. Here, you’ll likely see surf and ski boats with water skiers, wakeboarders, and wakesurfers in tow. The western shores of Jackson Lake give way to the prestigious Teton Range, resulting in views that are both an enhancement and a distraction to watersports enthusiasts. Similarly, Palisades Reservoir, in the Caribou Targhee National Forest, boasts views of the Salt River Range to its east. There’s nothing like the feeling of riding the face of an engine-powered wave this far from the ocean. Jackson Hole Adventure Rentals in Alpine rents personal watercraft, pontoon boats, and surf boats.


No less exhilarating than the region’s surfing opportunities, the Phelps Lake jumping rock offers a refreshing swim after a 20-foot drop into the waters below. Situated at the southern end of Grand Teton National Park, the lake itself is a panoramic swimming spot, with the lofty cliffs of Death Canyon serving as its backdrop. The jumping rock rises out of the crystalline waters on the eastern side of the lake where there’s likely to be an audience. To get to the rock, cliff jumpers must hike the mellow Phelps Lake Loop. Parking for the trailhead is located at Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve along the Moose-Wilson Road, south of Grand Teton National Park’s Moose Junction entrance.

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This blog is an excerpt from the 2024 Jackson Hole Explorer Magazine. To dive deeper into the wonders of Jackson Hole and uncover more hidden gems, get your copy of the Explorer. It’s filled with insider tips, detailed guides, and stories to enhance your visit and make your experience unforgettable.