I floated 25 of the 27 rivers described in this guide solo. Two rivers, the Encampment and Clarks Fork , were beyond my ability and are reported from personal scouting, aborted attempts, and from information gathered from other boaters. The time interval was May through August in 1989, May through July in 1990, and April through June in 1991. I used a 17 foot fiberglass canoe (We-No-Na Fisherman) and a large volume slalom kayak (Perception Quest). Approximately 1,700 miles of river are described in this guide.
Individual trips were logged while on a particular river using a micro-cassette recorder. The recordings were then transcribed to hard copy before other trips were done. Time spent on a river varied from half-day floats to multiple night campouts.
The maps I used for the initial planning and during the floats were purchased from the Bureau of Land Management (Land Status, Wyoming Quadrangles, topographic 1:100,000 series, 1974-82). Water flow data for preliminary planning and for use in the hydrographs were obtained from the USGS Water Resources Data-Wyoming. The hydrographs are averages for water years 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989.
Depending of the length or type of float, the following is some of the equipment I carried:
* river water is considered unsafe for drinking without treatment
The criteria used for river classification was modified from the International Scale for Rating River Difficulty as follows:
CLASS I - EASY Practiced beginner skills. River speed less than easy back-paddling speed. May have small waves or sections of riffles. River generally wide and open with little maneuvering required. Course easy to recognize and follow. Banks usually a gentle slope. Fences, diversion dams, and snags are possible but readily avoided.
CLASS II - MODERATE Intermediate skills. River speed equal to or slightly greater than hard back-paddling speed. Short sections of whitewater with waves up to three feet high but with a good recovery area below. River narrow at times or with tight bends. Course is generally easy to follow but may require occasional scouting. Maneuvering through small rock gardens and logjams or around fences, overhanging brush, and snags required. Easy eddies and landings rarely difficult.
CLASS III - DIFFICULT Experienced skills. River speed equal to or greater than forward paddling speed. Longer or more numerous sections of whitewater with irregular waves over three feet high that may cover the boat. Course may be difficult to follow and scouting often required. Strong eddies and landings may be difficult. Multiple maneuvers possible and recovery areas more demanding. Generally the limit for open canoes. Some lining or portages depending on skills. An upset could be hazardous to life and equipment.
CLASS IV - VERY DIFFICULT Advanced skills. River speed exceeding hard forward paddling speed. Long difficult sections of turbulent water with large irregular waves and holes capable of stopping a kayak or raft. Very strong eddies and cross currents with difficult landings. Complex and multiple maneuvers with frequent scouting required. Increased hazard to life and equipment.
CLASS V - EXTREME Team with expert skills. Turbulent and violent rapids containing narrow chutes, dangerous rocks, bad holes, and steep drops. Scouting is essential. Hazardous to life and equipment and rescues difficult.
CLASS VI - LIMIT OF NAVIGABILITY Class V carried to limit. Can not be attempted without risk to life.
It should be understood that the use of the above system is highly subjective and depends on a personal judgement call. The ratings I gave to the rivers or sections of rivers in this guide are what I believed them to be when I floated the stretch. They are in fact, a snap shot in time. They do not take into account other variables such as: change in flows, remoteness, bad weather, fatigue, and your own estimation of your skills. Because river conditions are constantly changing and because of the subjectivity involved, the user of this guide must assume final responsibility when deciding to proceed or turn back.
It is assumed that people attempting to navigate more difficult rivers have the proper skills and equipment required to safely do so. Some of the greatest hazards found on Wyoming rivers include:
With regard to access points, I have made an honest attempt to list only public access points or landings. Many of these are posted as such (eg. BLM or Wyoming Game and Fish) or are found along roads traveling through national forest lands. Many others are unmarked and are found where public roads and rivers pass through BLM or state lands. (The to trespass across state land is a touchy matter with some lease holders - be polite and respectful in this area.) However, it should be noted the possibility of error exits and this guide is not a permit to trespass. When in doubt - Ask First!
Remember that the river bottom and banks are private property when the river travels through privately owned lands. The law (see Day vs Armstrong-1963 for a good review) is unclear to me regarding the to trespass while portaging around hazardous obstacles. Camping is legal only on public lands. Camping on private property or state land requires permission of the owner or lease holder.
The rivers are arranged in alphabetical order in the table of contents and also listed on the Wyoming map on page 8. On the leading pages for a river or section of a river is a photograph (may or may not be typical for the river), hydrograph, and summary data.
The hydrographs show the average four year flow conditions (1985 and 1987-89), reported as cubic feet per second (cfs), for the months of April through September. Each graph shows the average HIGH and LOW flows for a given month. Keep in mind that while this type of hydrograph is great for being able to predict the best times for expected runoff; these types of graphs do not show the amount of variation which can occur. Where flow data was not available, the hydrograph is labeled as such and is a "best guess" of relative flow.
Difficulty ratings for the river listed first are for the typical or average stretch. Secondary ratings, where appropriate, are listed in parenthesis and indicate the difficulty of shorter runs that may be encountered. You should also read the individual text descriptions for additional information.
Float times given are my float times. They do not include time for fishing, swimming, lunch breaks, or knocking about. I paddled at a easy but constant cruising speed. In general, you might consider them as the least amount of time that could be spent on a river.
Gradients listed first are for the average stretch of river and are reported as feet per mile. Secondary gradients, where appropriate, are listed in parenthesis and indicate shorter sections of the river that may be of interest.
Distances are given as miles of river floated and are approximate.
Right/left are on river right/left while facing downstream.
Landings may vary considerably with regard to ease of launching. Some may require a long "drag over" to/from the road, or they may also have cut banks. Others have good ramps, gentle banks, and parking areas. Not all landings are listed or indicated on the maps.
Maps (BLM Land Status, 1:100,000) given with the summary data are listed in order from the upper to lower reaches. Map inserts following the summary data and preceding the text descriptions show information such as: landings, highways, county roads, towns, creeks, approximate elevations, and scale.
I tried to keep the text clean and simple: where the landings are, access routes to the landings, distance or float time between landings or landmarks, obstacles to watch out for, and some of what you might see along the way. The length of the river descriptions varies considerably. Generally, short descriptions indicate either short runs or stretches of river that are more uniform in character.
Lengthy rivers such as the North Platte, Sweetwater, or Green are broken into shorter segments on the bases of access points or degree of difficulty. A trip description often comprises a full day float. However, there are many instances where you can split long runs into shorter segments.
A FINAL NOTE: Because this is the first printing of this guide, errors will undoubtedly be found. To correct any problem areas in future print-runs, please send any comments or concerns to: The Wyoming Naturalist, P.O. Box 863, Douglas, WY 82633.
Wyoming is dear to me and I love her. Some will object to the writing of this guide and claim it will ruin Wyoming's rivers from increased usage. I appreciate this point of view and I am fearful of misuse and abuse myself. Please begin each trip with a great deal of respect! Please end each trip by noting that you have been changed by the river - and not the other way around!