North Platte River - Treasure Island to Old Frazier Place
This day trip spanned 26.4 miles and 7 net paddling hours on the Upper North Platte River in Carbon County, Wyoming. I was fortunate to have a retired river guide as my paddling companion, making the trip both safer & more enjoyable.
Our trip combined two paddling experiences - an 11.5 mile, heavily-used stretch above Saratoga, Wyoming, and a 14.9 mile, less-frequented one below. Fly fishermen in drift boats, party-loving rafters/tubers, kayakers, and the occasional canoeist(s) flock to the River for its trophy trout and lush scenery amid Wyoming's arid expanse. Tourists enroute to and from the Tetons & Yellowstone join the floaters relaxing in the hot spring water of the FREE Hobo Pool after a hard day at play.
The River from Treasure Island Launch to the Hobo Pool launch in Saratoga is a stony, fast-moving, heavily-used stretch of Class I+ water with many gravel bars & the occasional strainer. As many as a dozen cars were parked during the peak launching hours during mid-Saturday morning, with perhaps a total of fifty visiting over the entire day.
Treasure Island Launch is a popular put-in as it allows a float down to Saratoga with all of its boat rentals, lodging, restaurants, secure shuttle parking, and the Hobo Pool hot spring. As I arrived a few hours ahead of my partner, I crossed over to & explored Treasure Island via the two footbridges providing access.
Since we had to spot a shuttle vehicle at the Frazier Launch far to the south and then return, we had a fairly late start at 10:30 AM, putting us behind the "rush", and in fact we only met one other boat, about three miles downstream. The entire float to Saratoga was fast-moving Class 1+ with numerous gravel bars & occasional strainers on the outside bends. The current was equal to, or slightly faster than, our best back-ferry speed, but as we were in our 60's, younger paddler should be able to maneuver more easily. The low banks & afternoon thunderstorms keep the banks green & the cottonwoods crowd close to the water, hiding nearby civilization & protecting paddlers from the wind.
My standard-keel 17' Grumman left at the house would have hung up on the rocks we ground on, but our 16'-9" flat-bottomed royalex canoe slid over them easily. Seeing the rocks was no problem as the water visibility was 18", albeit a translucent brown color that came from neither clay or tannin. My guide said the color would clear in August but was unsure of the cause. The bars were made up of cobble with no visible moss, but the submerged stones were quite slick.
The River began to slow and become less stony below the highway bridge in Saratoga. Where before we avoided the outside curves to dodge strainers, we now hugged them tight to stay in the fastest water. Updrafts into the thunderstorms behind us created intermittent headwinds that made paddling arduous, further increasing the need to find the fastest current in the channel. Also, the trees started thinning out, increasing our wind exposure so much we considered calling it a day and buying a shuttle back from the anglers at the Foote or Pick Bridge Launches!
We continued to paddle, however, & between the Foote & Pick Bridge Launches were rewarded with the sight of "The Seeps"-a towering cut bank on river left where groundwater percolated down through the upper gravel layers before dripping & flowing from the top of an exposed shale at lower elevation. The banks and bed of the River continued to become finer-grained as we continued south, with dry prairie and hayfield slowly replacing the cottonwood trees.
The downstream Launch locations had been chosen by Game & Fish for their tree cover, so the scenery was still interesting for its variety. Even so, there was obviously less use of the River below Saratoga as miles of gravel roads had to be used to access the launch/campgrounds at Foote, Pick Bridge, White, Dexter, and Frazier.
The end of our trip at the wonderfully level, grass-covered,& tree-shaded Frazier Launch came after 26.4 miles & 8-1/2 hours total time on the river. There was only one unoccupied shuttle car and a few half-hearted mosquitoes to greet us. We had averaged a net 4 MPH while on the River, and 3 MPH overall.
I had expected to enjoy the upper part of the trip the most, but now acknowledged that the lower part had more variety & was much less used. The River was reported @ 1,700 CFS during on July 11, the day of our trip, down considerably from the 5,700 CFS back in June, and far, far below the peak of 16,000 CFS in the spring of 2014, the all-time record. This explained the large numbers of sand bars available on which to get out and take breaks.
We had not had time to fish, & while the fly-fishermen in the lone drift boat we had passed above Saratoga has said the fishing was good, we didn't ask for details, even though the River is famous for its trophy rainbow and brown trout.
I wasn't sure what lay downstream between our take-out at Frazier Launch and Interstate 80 (other than fewer trees), but as we had parked our shuttle car at Frazier earlier in the day, I observed a solo-paddled canoe loaded with camping gear heading downstream on an obvious multiday trip. (A similar solo float to Ft Steele including a two-day canoe & return shuttle to Saratoga would cost about $150)
There are other sections of the Upper North Platte waiting to be paddled, and Richard Guzzy, retired guide & paddling companion on this trip, knows them all. He needs someone to paddle with, so call him at 307 742-8778.
SARATOGA LAKE CAMPGROUND(Town of Saratoga): Tents:$7, RV:$10, Electric for both: $15 Drinking water & restrooms
DEER HAVEN CAMPGROUND: No tents
Various motels and the Wolf Hotel, Saratoga
No fees for day use or camping at the Launches
TREASURE ISLAND LAUNCH: Drive approximately 8 miles south on Highway 130/230 to the route divide, continue south on Hwy 230 another 1-1/2 miles. Turn left onto a gravel road & drive downhill 1 mile to the Treasure Island Launch.
HOBO POOL LAUNCH: Drive south on Highway 130/230 through Saratoga, turn left (east) onto Walnut Avenue, then drive southeast & park at the swimming pool. Walk to the FREE HOBO pool behind the swimming pool, or check out the Launch ramp south of the parking lot.
FRAZIER LAUNCH: From Saratoga drive north on Highway 130/230 7-1/2 miles & turn left (west) onto the graveled Pick Bridge Road. Go west 4-1/2 miles to the new Pick Bridge. Cross over the bridge & drive west 3-1/2 miles to Frazier Launch, passing White & Dexter Launches in the process.
Free from Wyoming Game & Fish Department: "Upper North Platte River Float Map" (2010), its printed on plastic & available at the USFS office & various outdoor merchants in Saratoga. (A 3,22 KB download of this map is available from the Wyoming Game & Fish website)