The Snake River is one of the most popular and visible natural wonders of the Hells Canyon area. It has a long geological history of shaping the canyon into what it is today. Humans have been taking advantage of the river’s wildlife for thousands of years, and now you can, too! From fishing to jet boating, the Snake River offers a bounty of adventure possibilities. Even if you’re not the aquatic type, you can take a hike around the canyon and enjoy the view. The river runs for over a thousand miles, bisecting Hells Canyon on its way to the Columbia River.
Read on for everything you need to know about the Snake River. Impress your friends and family members with your newfound knowledge as you travel through Hells Canyon.
It’s a Long One!
The Snake River is the 9th longest river in the United States. Its waters run from the southeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park through 6 states. If you want to enjoy the Snake River once your Hells Canyon adventure is done, you can visit it in many other locations. Besides Idaho—which holds the majority of the river—you can also hit the Snake River in Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, or Washington. The river is about 1,078 miles long and covers more than 108,000 square miles in total. That’s a lot of water!
It’s an Important Resource
Besides the bounty of fish within it, the Snake River has a great deal to offer the environment—namely, its water. The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River. It has been a crucial source of irrigation water for farms in the area. Those famous Idaho potatoes grow with the help of the Snake River’s generous waters.
Let’s talk about the fish, though. Upstream of the dams on the lower Snake River, you’ll find the biggest freshwater salmon habitat in the whole Lower 48. That habitat used to hold many more fish than it does today, in part due to the recreation industry and the fishing enthusiasts who took their catches home. Wild salmon and steelhead were once much more bountiful in the Snake River. Many varieties of steelhead and wild salmon are now threatened with extinction. If those population numbers are replenished once again, Idaho could generate tens of millions of dollars for the economy.
Fishing keeps the state’s economy afloat, but overfishing can affect the local environment for decades into the future. Keep the Snake River’s ecosystem bountiful and diverse by limiting the amount of fish you take home—or you can catch and release them all. Always use responsible fishing practices when you visit the Snake River.
It Shaped the Canyon
You probably know by now that Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge on the continent. The canyon is 8,000 feet deep in places. How did it beat the Grand Canyon for that record?
The story starts millions of years ago. Tectonic plates shifted along the western coast of what is now North America and butted up against one another, creating fold-thrust mountain ranges in the area. Near what is now Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, a volcanic hot spot encouraged basalt lava flows through the whole area. Occasional flooding during the Ice Age created some of the stark peaks and valleys we see today as well as waterfalls. All this extra water flow affected the Snake River area.
Where does the river come in, though?
Starting at around 6 million years ago, this bustling river began flowing between the Blue Mountains and the Salmon River Mountains. Millions of years’ worth of water movement began to erode those mountains. Over the centuries, the Snake River carved that canyon deeper and deeper into the adventurous area we recognize today.
It’s Remarkably Biodiverse
Despite the common overfishing and endangerment of some species of wild salmon and steelhead, the Snake River and the surrounding areas boast a myriad of different animals. Cast your line, and you may catch one of those salmon or steelhead. However, you’re equally likely to catch rainbow trout, largemouth or smallmouth bass, crappie, or catfish. We’re especially proud of the sturgeon population in the Snake River, so if you catch one, make sure to release it quickly.
Look around outside the water, too. Nearly 300 species of birds call the Snake River area their home. Go on a hike and see if you can spot all kinds of deer, moose, and elk. Do not approach or feed the wildlife; just enjoy it in the moment and respectfully leave the animals alone.
The Snake River watershed is also a common habitat for lynxes, wolverines, mountain lions, and even grizzly bears. Keep a safe distance from any animals you see, whether they look cuddly or not.
It Encourages Industry
The Hells Canyon area and the Snake River in particular are home to many vibrant businesses and industries that use the environment to their advantage. The Snake River is an important source of fish, which plays a hand in the local economy. Seafood restaurants need delicious menu items, while lone fishing enthusiasts like to eat dinners they caught themselves. And when everybody on the water utilizes eco-conscious and responsible fishing practices, future generations can enjoy the bounty, too.
What other industry has flourished on the Snake River, you ask? That’s easy: recreation! River Adventures guides visitors on enriching Snake River boat tours; our tour guides have insider information from living and working in the area. Don’t forget to take advantage of our guided fishing trips, and be sure to ask about the best hiking trails around the canyon. See the Snake River from all angles when you visit!
As you drive through the mountains or fly overhead, impress your traveling companions with these insider facts about the beautiful Snake River. Look forward to your boat tour, fishing trip, or adventurous hike by learning about the environment. This is everything you need to know about the Snake River, so schedule your own trip with us today at River Adventures.