Snake River, Idaho

One of the key rivers of the larger United States’ Pacific West is the Snake. The 1,078 miles long river is among the longest tributaries of the greater Columbia River. The latter is the largest among rivers that drain into the Pacific Ocean. The Snake River originates from the western parts of Wyoming, finds its way through the Snake River valley, the craggy Hells Canyon and the undulating Palouse Hills before it reaches its mouth in the three cities of Washington. The area in which it drains covers six states. On average it releases 54,000 cubic feet of water every second which is equivalent to 1,500m3/s.

The Snake River Valley flatland is a result of the existence of a volcanic area which currently lies beneath the Yellowstone National Park, which forms the Snake River’s headwaters. The ridges, canyons and other topographical features were formed due to gargantuan flooding resulting from retreating glaciers on the lower and middle sections of the river. It is believed that two such events had the greatest impact on the Snake River and its environs.

History of the Snake River

Ancient Native American inhabited the banks of the Snake River over 11,000 years in the past. The Pacific Ocean ensured that there were a lot of salmon in the Snake. Salmon became a staple for the people who lived at the foot of the Shoshone Falls along the river. The two most powerful tribes were the Shoshone and Nez Perce as was established by Clark and Lewis when they traversed the Rockies and saw the one of the valleys of a tributary of the Snake. Some of the tribes would later adopt horses after interacting with Europeans and this transformed the lives of such communities for centuries before outsiders came to settle among them. The resources found on the Snake River were later exploited to a greater extent by fur trappers and explorers. The Shoshone’s symbol for fish was misconstrued to mean fish and this became the origin of the name ‘Snake River’.

The Snake River area was transformed by the establishment of the Oregon Trail along this waterway in the mid 19th Century. The 19th Century and the early 20th Century witnessed railroads and steamboats transporting minerals and agricultural produce following the course of the river. The strong currents flowing on a steep hill were also used in the 1890s for production of hydroelectric power, to improve navigation and also to dam water for irrigation. Fifteen main water reservoirs were established although a number of these were recommended for elimination to ensure that salmons would be abundant on the river again.

There are only 12 rivers in the United States that are longer than the Snake. Moreover, only 10 rivers in North America have larger watersheds than the Snake. It traverses six states namely Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Idaho (which has the lion’s share) and an area measuring 108,000 square miles. This watershed is to be found between Columbia Plateau in the northwest area and Rocky mountains on the eastern side. The Snake is the largest offshoot of the Columbia River and comprises 41% of the latter’s river basin. On average, the Snake River discharges 31% of the entire Columbia River flow at the opening. The Snake, when considered at the top of the confluence, is longer that its mother river –the Columbia. The Snake is 1,078 miles long while the Columbia has a length of 928 miles. Moreover, the drainage system of the Snake is 4% larger than that of the Columbia River on the upper parts.

Clark & Lewis’ Expedition

Between 1804 and 1806, Clark and Lewis led an expedition across the Rocky Mountains, sailed down the Snake River, Columbia River and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Lewis is credited with having seen the Snake River’s drainage basin as the first American. He is said to have gone before the rest of the party and traversed the mountains on August 12, 1805. From here he saw the Salmon River basin that forms part of the Snake River from the Lemhi River which is in present Salmon, Idaho. The expedition would later move northwards and go down the Lemhi River but could not use this waterway to descend to the Snake because of dangerous rapids. Lewis was honored by having the Snake River named Lewis Fork, Lewis River and even Lewis’s River. The party changed tact, move to the north and came to Lochsa River. From here, the explorers followed Clearwater River, joined the lower parts of the Snake and eventually the Columbia. The expedition members called the Shoshone natives ‘Snake Indians’ thus leading to the name “Snake River”. The previous moniker, “Lewis Fork” faded out of usage.

Fishing on the Snake River

For the best smallmouth bass fishing and rainbow trout the Snake River at Hells Canyon has a god reputation. Moreover, you can get steelheads towards the end of September as these fishes come back from the Pacific Ocean to finish their cycles at the Snake River and its offshoots.  The big game on the Snake River however is sturgeon, which can reach up to 10 feet long!  Come on a Snake River fishing trip with us!