Forrest McCarthy, South Buffalo Fork
photo by Andy Tyson
The Buffalo Fork drains the high plateau country of the southern end of the Absaroka Range within the Teton Wilderness. This high country provides enough lingering snowmelt to allow boating late into the summer. The Buffalo Fork, including both the North and South Forks, offers some of the best and most accessible wilderness packrafting in Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
On July 21, 2012 Andy Tyson and I completed a hike-float-hike-float that included sections of both the North and South Forks. Starting in Turpin Meadows we walked 5 miles along the North Fork Trail to Soda Fork Meadows. From the confluence with the Soda Fork we paddled 5 rocky yet worthy miles to the confluence with the South Fork. After deflating our packrafts we hiked 3.5 miles to the bottom of the Class 5 gorge below Lower Pendergraft Meadows. We opted to portage several Class 5 drops. The lower gorge of the North Fork provided several miles of fun technical Class 4 whitewater. After returning to the confluence we enjoyed a splashy 5 miles (Class 3) back to the Turpin Meadows Trailhead. The gauge for the Buffalo Fork River reported just over 500cfs.
The Buffalo Fork River is a significant tributary of the Snake River Headwaters. In 2009, with the passage of the Craig Thomas Snake Headwaters Legacy Act, the Buffalo Fork River’s outstanding remarkable values were forever honored and protected by being congressionally designated a Wild and Scenic River.