Hells Canyon Jet Boat Tour – The Snake Dancer Excursion

The Snake River winds its way from Wyoming through Idaho, Oregon, and Washington before it drains into the Colombia River at Pasco, Washington. The Snake River is the largest tributary of the mighty Colombia River. The Snake is 1,078 miles (1,735 km) and passes through some of the most beautiful areas in the northwest. The deep canyon where the river borders Idaho and Oregon, then Idaho and Washington is known as Hells Canyon.

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Our original goal was to drive the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway but all of a sudden we decided that it might be more fun to take a floating excursion. No, it wasn’t going to be any white water rafting, though that is a popular activity on the river. Out of Clarkston Washington and Lewiston Idaho, there are several companies that offer jet boat excursions.

The Jet Boat excursion was a better idea. As we left Clarkston, we could see the scenic byway we would have driven on, but it wasn’t very long when the scenic byway ended and we found ourselves in country that has few roads leading toward the river and, as a result, few homes and ranches.

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In early October, we discovered, most of the excursions are shuttered for the season. One of the last businesses we called suggested that we try Snake Dancer Excursions. It turned out that they had a charter gig with a group of about 20 people. It was their last excursion for the season. There was just enough room in their boat to add four more people and we were able to upgrade from a driving tour to a jet boat tour.

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We showed up at the appointed time, but only one person was in the facility. We were to learn later that the charter customers had requested a later departure. The company sent us an email to that effect, but we didn’t notice it until well after we arrived at the dock. It would be about an hour extra wait. We could have slept in a bit longer. Oh, well.

While we were waiting, we studied an illustrated map on the wall showing the section of the Snake River where Snake Dancer operates. Today’s cruise would go from Clarkston at the top of the map, past the Grand Ronde River, the Salmon River, and the Imnaha River to Dug Bar, a short distance past the Imnaha. Click on the map above to get a closer view of the image at my Flickr site. It would take about 5 1/2 hours according to their documentation, and a picnic lunch is included. The fried chicken and beans were just the ticket for the entire group. Let’s just say I didn’t hear any complaints about the food.

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Apparently, even the geese enjoy a game of volleyball on occasion. We saw many signs of people who boated to a beach and stayed for a few hours or a day.

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Geese weren’t the only wildlife we saw. A sharp-eyed guest on the excursion noticed a small herd of bighorn sheep gathered high up the canyon walls. The Captain had to navigate small rapids quite expertly to get us in a position where we might get a closer look. With the help of my zoom lens set to 270 mm, I was able to capture a pretty nice image of the large ram in the group.

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People on the river fished from a boat, or like this gentleman, with waders. Not being an avid fisherman, I don’t know for sure, but I expect that salmon is the fish of choice, though I am sure there are other species in the river.

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White water rafting is also popular and we saw many rafts on our journey. The rapids found between Clarkston and Dug Bar are quite mild, but these rafters came off the tributaries where the rapids are much more, shall I say, interesting.

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There are a few rapids on the river though that gave our excursion boaters a thrill and a bumpy ride. I’ve included some images and a couple of videos of running rapids on my Flickr site.

Excuse the white space, apparently, the web editor doesn’t like the video link to Flickr.

One such video is above. Click on it to play. It’s a 50-second video running through two small rapids.

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After a couple of hours, it was getting close to lunchtime. We stopped here and took a break from riding in the boat for a much-needed rest stop and our picnic lunch. The captain and first mate hauled coolers and tables up the ramp and stairs to set up the buffet-style lunch.

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This view of the Snake River from the picnic area gives you a better idea of the width of the river near the Oregon-Washington border. On the other side of the river is the western border of Idaho.

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We went past the confluence of the Salmon River in the image above. At one point, a large number of rafters had just exited the Salmon and were on their way down the Snake River, to conclude their rapids run.

We proceeded to Dug Bar and the Captain surprised us. Some of the people in the charter were talking about a memorial to honor several Chinese people killed in 1887. The captain chose to continue the excursion a short distance past Dug Bar where several of the people in the charter party hiked uphill to look at the monument.

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Riding these smaller rapids presented a bumpy ride for us, but nothing too “over-the-top” for us. We could tell the captain was an expert at navigating these rapids. No doubt he’d done it many times before.

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From there, we turned back down the river and headed back toward Clarkston. The photo above shows that the river isn’t completely full of rapids. This area of smooth water is wide and slow running. Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in the United States. At points, it’s 10 miles (16 km) wide and at its deepest point is 7,993 feet (2,436 m) deep. Even the Grand Canyon is only 6,093 feet (1,857 m) deep.

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With our extension to the Chinese Monument, our journey lasted over six hours, but if that’s not enough for you, they offer a day-long excursion option. That 11-hour tour goes all the way upriver to the Hells Canyon Dam. You can find out more about their jet boat tours here.

On my Flickr site, I’ve posted 28 photos and 4 videos captured during our excursion from Clarkston to Dug Bar and beyond and back. For those who count stars, I would give this excursion a 5-star review.

John Steiner

23 comments

    • I am looking forward to the experience of working with the team.
      The jet boat tour is well worth the cost of admission. It’s an “E-ticket ride”, as I like to call my favorite excursions!

  1. Oh, I love this post, John. Were you standing when you took that video? It was fabulous, but I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be standing! You’ve shown us areas that I’ve never seen even though I lived not too far away. The Columbia River Gorge was one of my favorite trips as a teenager. Fabulous photos all of them! I’ll be linking Cell Pic Sunday to my WQW post tomorrow. Most, if not all, of the photos were taken with my iPhone 12s.

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