Sweetwater River: Sweetwater Gap to the Three Forks Bridge


GRADIENT - 35 ft/mile

LENGTH - 45 miles

FLOAT TIME - 16 hours

BLM QUAD MAPS - Pinedale, Farson, South Pass

PUT IN - Sweetwater Gap Campground northeast of Farson

PUT IN - Google Map

TAKE OUT - Three Forks Bridge south of South Pass City

Sweetwater River

USGS Gage Station CFS near Alcova.

Sweetwater River


The Sweetwater River is a small river that drains the southern end of the Wind River Mountains near South Pass, and then flows along the northern edge of the Great Basin to the Platte River near Independence Rock. It is characterized throughout most of its route by its meandering loops and willow-lined banks.

Access for the upper section of the Sweetwater is reached by turning off W-28 at mile #33, about a half-mile west of the W-28 Bridge. Here you take the Lander Cutoff Road north for one and a half-miles to a small two-track road going northeast one mile to the river. This point serves as a take-out for the upper most section or as a put-in for the stretch down to the Three Forks/Atlantic City Bridge. To get to the upper most put-in, continue north on the Lander Cutoff Road to a junction in 13 miles. Here you turn northeast on the Sweetwater Gap Road to another junction in six miles. The Gap Road continues north for two more miles to the river at the old guard station. Turn east for two miles to the Sweetwater Campground. (While the road north goes to the upper river, the float down to the campground is too choked with downed timber to make it worth while.)

Below the campground the river flows through a small forested canyon and is a terrific area. It rates a Class II (possible Class III in high water) due to rock gardens and the possibility of downed timber. You may have some problems along this stretch in a long canoe, but it's great for kayakers.

About two hours downstream you leave the forested area behind and begin traveling through a small open canyon. During the next three or four hours, there are some fast water stretches with intermittent runs through small rock gardens (Class III). The river then begins to slow a bit and the meandering bends become more pronounced. About one hour further is the take-out above W-28.

This next part of the upper section is a Class I as the river continues to meander through a small valley and is more suitable for canoeing. About one hour downstream is the bridge near the rest stop on W-28. Below here there are a few fences and several small beaver dams to contend with. You also have to drag around two small diversion dams about two hours from the highway. At an old railroad bridge you can see Pacific Butte to the southwest, Oregon Buttes to the south, and Continental Peak to the southeast.

About three hours further, you pass through a small gorge (Class II). The only difficulty here is an iron fence across a narrow restriction. It takes about one hour to float through the canyon and at the mouth is another small diversion dam. After three more hours of twisting and turning is the Three Forks/Atlantic City Bridge. The take-out is just downstream where the river loops into a section of BLM land. (See the next section for directions to this access point.)

Photo Caption (image not shown): Although the lower Sweetwater is known for its slow meanders, it also has several portages such as this one in the Devil's Gate.