North America, Reviews, Trip Reports

Rafting the rapids with Dave Hansen Whitewater in Jackson Hole, WY!

September 13, 2011 • By

Boyhood visits with his parents to Jackson Hole made an indelible impression upon young Bud Chatham. So much so, that he made a resolution to continue his family’s tradition as a young adult. Life and circumstances took him to other places, but his heart was firmly ingrained in a little town in Wyoming.

He never forgot the rolling mountains dotted with Cottonwood trees that clustered along the riverbanks; nor could he get the exotic wildlife and expansive parcels of land out of his system. Once he decided to permanently settle there, he started out working odd jobs on his uncle’s campgrounds, Snake River Park KOA. After putting his in his time toting that barge and lifting that bale, he along with his wife, Kelly, purchased the campgrounds. Continuing his quest for world domination, they purchased the legendary Dave Hansen Whitewater eight years ago.

What’s the legendary Dave Hansen Whitewater, you ask? Well, he’s a guy…obviously. But what makes him uniquely special is that he was the first to get permission to raft down the Snake River. He started his company in 1967 and became one of the first owner’s of a commercial whitewater rafting company in Jackson. He is responsible for naming two of the humongous rapids on Snake River, the big kahuna and lunch counter probably because he was the first to live to tell about it. Dave worked side by side with Bud for one year as they transitioned ownership of the business.

We were scheduled to arrive at their headquarters at 265 W. Broadway which was a mere two blocks from the town square. We walked into the office which was a combination retail outlet, sundry shop and reception area. There was a group ahead of us, but we were soon assisted by a young man who took our info and then pointed toward something that I never thought I would see in person never mind attempt to wear. A. Wet. Suit. After the universe fell off its collective chair with laughter, I tried to beg off and say that’s OK, we’ll skip it. But he cautioned me that the waters would be very cold so get to stepping! We settled on the wet boots, wet-suit jackets and our dignity.

As we exited the changing room, a tall, wiry guy was standing at the desk and he turned toward us as soon as we came out. With outstretched hands, he introduced himself as Bud Chatham. Aha! Just the guy we were looking for. He drove us to the campground where the rest of the rafting party would meet us.

It was fortuitous that he took us there because I had never really been on a campground and didn’t quite know what to expect. I mean I had seen RV and Camper overnight parking lots, but this was a little different. It wasn’t that large, you saw the requisite vans and campers, but I didn’t expect to see the cutest (a technical term for structurally sound) cabins ever. I asked Bud if I could take a look inside one and though time was tight, he happily obliged.

There were three types of cabins: Kamping Lodges, Kamping Studios and Kamping Kabins. Each one sleeps four but they rent for 195.00, 165.00 and 91.00 per night, respectively. I was impressed with the fact that each one had it’s own garden in front and picnic table and grill in the back.

Pics of the Kamping Lodges:

Pics of the Kamping Studios:

Pics of the Kamping Kabins:

Pics of Communal areas:

If I have the good fortune of visiting Jackson Hole again, I will reserve one of the lodges during my stay. As soon as you walk in you will see wall to wall natural wood, from the wooden wall slats to the natural wooden cabinets and doors to the hardwood floors. To my immediate right, as you walk into the lodge, is a leather sofa. Past the sofa is a room on the right with a Queen sized bed. Directly across is a dining table with four chairs with a flat screen TV hanging on the wall above it.

The background encompassing the entire back wall of the room was a kitchen with a fridge, microwave, sink, electric stove and to the far right an AC unit. The room to the front left was a second bedroom with bunk beds and at the left rear was the bathroom with a full sized tub. The smaller Kabins are parallel to the Snake river and you have the freedom to walk to the shore. Some Kabins are en-suite, but there is a communal bath and shower area on the campus. A general store is on site for those needing specific provisions.

I think when God was handing out kindness, Bud must have snuck in line twice. He is one of the most giving, interesting, knowledgeable, polite men that I’ve met on vacation or otherwise. He’s running a thriving and successful business and I can’t think of anyone more deserving than he.

It was soon time to board the bus to the drop off point where we would meet our rafting guide, Ginny. I felt immediately at ease upon meeting her. She was fun, confident and knowledgeable. After helping us into our life jackets, she gave us safety instructions on what signals she would give us at the appropriate time. Soon we were on the water and heading toward the rapids.

Naturally, I didn’t know what to expect, we drifted for awhile to become acclimated, but as we got closer to the rapids we were instructed to paddle through it. Some waves were stronger than others but be prepared to get soaked to the gills! I can’t recall the last time I’d had so much fun! Ginny had instructed us on how we should position our feet underneath the folds of the raft so that we’d be less likely to fall overboard.

Back at the office, Bud had suggested that we take the smaller 8 person raft. I was hesitant at first because I thought a larger raft would be better, you know the “safety in numbers” thing. Now that I was actually in the raft, I got it. It was a much better ride in comparison to my neighbors in the larger raft, we had more bounce and weren’t as weighted down.

Our group was laughing and getting drenched happily 90% of the time as we rode wave after wave. Initially there were scary moments, but Ginny was calm so that kept me calm. We felt every wonderful and glorious wave are we floated down the river.

At certain points, Ginny gave us the opportunity to get out and swim. Along the way, she would point out certain areas where there were rock slides and she mentioned how the water table had risen this year as a result of their receiving over 735 inches of snow but that didn’t deter devoted rafters. We were fortunate enough to see a bald eagle and its nest and a couple of osprey. The entire area was like a picture postcard….beautiful!

Rafting pics – Thanks to our new friends Dan and Melissa Carr for sharing their photos:

All in all, it was a great and exhilarating experience and different from what I usually do on vacation. We are making plans to do a little rafting back home on the Chattahoochee. What a difference a day makes! It really was fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The entire journey lasted almost two hours. When we got back we got a chance to thank Ginny for such a wonderful time and even took a few pics together. One thing you may want to keep in mind if you can’t see without your glasses.

Purchase from DHW or bring with you something called a ‘croaker’. It’s an eyeglass cord that will hold your glasses so that you won’t drop them in the river. Each end fits over the arms of your glasses and will hold them taut to the back of your head. If you plan to take pics, be sure to bring a plastic case to keep your digital camera in to prevent it from getting wet. Also, it helps if you bring a swimsuit and/or wear shorts if you opt out of wearing the (complete) wet-suit.

The bus driver (who happens to be very knowledgeable and entertaining) took us back to the campgrounds for lunch which was included in the price. We had a chance to get to know our fellow raft mates better and ruminate about how great the day was. I challenge anyone who for whatever reason tend to play it safe by sticking with the usual mundane activities on holiday to try this. Dare to try something different and check out Dave Hansen Whitewater!!

We were so fortunate to be Bud’s guest during our wonderful rafting adventure, but my report is still my honest assessment of Dave Hansen Whitewater.

Find them at:

265 W. Broadway –  Jackson Hole, Wyoming 83001

Phone: 307-733-6295; Toll Free: 800-732-6295


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