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Sweetwater River in Wyoming

A self-supported trip created by rhoffmeyer

Trip Overview

This section of the Sweetwater River meanders through short grass prairie & meadows, without trees save for a few stunted willows. Even so, the lush grass of the paddling season & the nearby granite hills make this a scenic float indeed. The adjacent Independence Rock State Historical Site is a nationally-recognized attraction.

This area is rich in history with Independence Rock inscribed with graffiti dating back to the 1840's - the handiwork of mountain men & emigrants traveling the Oregon and Mormon Trails. There are also short verticals and scrambling for those who may want to do some climbing, although there are longer, more technical, routes elsewhere in the surrounding Sweetwater Rocks.

The rest stop at Independence Rock, located one-quarter mile north of the Put-In, has solar-heated restrooms, sheltered picnic tables, drinking water & vending machines with ample paved parking for cars/RV's, & even 18 wheelers. An entire afternoon could be spent exploring Independence Rock & its well-appointed road-side rest area alone.

The 238 mile-long Sweetwater almost washes up on the "Rock" as it flows unobstructed from the Wind River Range to Pathfinder Reservoir. Average maximum flow ranges from 200-900 CFS in May/June and declines later in the summer to, or below, the minimum 100-200 CFS required for a trouble-free float. Mornings are always cool along the Sweetwater due to the near 6,000 foot elevation, but the river gradient averages a gentle 4.6 feet per mile.

With no rapids, drops, or wind chop, even a few inches of freeboard will get you by if the correspondingly deeper draft doesn't make the frequency of shallow water "pullovers" unbearable. Since the bed is mostly sand and the river warm when it's low, pullovers are not the hassle they might otherwise be. In fact, the shallow, warm water is ideal for young people playing with SUP and sit-on-top paddlecraft during the summer. For adults going a longer distance & carrying more gear, though, larger canoes and kayaks will likely work better.

The put-in at the Highway 220 Bridge is on state land, but you'll have to go under or over the right-of-way fence. One person can stay with the boat while the other parks the vehicle & walks the quarter-mile back from the rest stop. Solo paddlers can either hide their boat under the bridge while moving their vehicle, or use a portage cart. A return from the Independence Rock Launch downstream involves a half-mile mile push along the graveled foot path back to the rest area parking lot.

For those going all the way to the Buzzard Road Bridge, however, returning by portage cart will require a three-mile push northwest along the Buzzard Road to Highway 220, followed by another three miles southwest along the Highway. Paddling east past the Buzzard Road Bridge extends this trip out into the Sweetwater Arm of Pathfinder Reservoir, with eight miles of flatwater to the Bishops Point Campground & an additional five miles beyond that to the Pathfinder Marina. The southwest wind can rise quickly and make for some rough conditions, so it's best to hug the south & west shores of the Lake, with Bishops Point the safer take-out under those conditions. The return shuttle from either lake destination, though, is about twenty-four miles on paved roads. No overnight camping is allowed at the Independence Rock State Historical Site or on the Pathfinder National Wildlife Refuge.

No game fish are resident in the River itself as the mid-summer water temperature reaches the 90's, but walleye likely hang out in the submerged Sweetwater river channel out in the Reservoir during May and June. As in similar Wyoming reservoirs, they will enter shallow water during the morning & evening to feed. More reliable is fly-fishing for the enormous carp (up to 30 lbs). A nine-foot number eight fly rod with weight-forward line and a sinking streamer fly is a typical rig used to present to these easily-spooked fish. Those more interested in fishing rather than floating the River should consider putting in at the Buzzard Road Bridge and paddle the short distance to the Reservoir & either return the same way, or, wind permitting, continue across the flatwater to either Bishops Point or the Marina.

While it's possible to drive a mile past the Buzzard Road Bridge and double-back northward to the Reservoir on a spur road, access to the water may be difficult due to the mud flats exposed from declining reservoir level later in the season. In all cases, the most secure parking is at Independence Rock, especially overnight.


BLM Primitive Camping in SE of Section 12, T29N-R85W. Not level, probably need a hammock.

Bishops Point Campground @ Pathfinder Reservoir.

Diabase Campground, Pathfinder Reservoir.



Three (3) brown/rainbow/ cutthroat trout in combination, with only one (1) over 16 inches,Six (6) Walleye, Two (2) Sauger
Sixteen (16) Brook Trout (if any)


A $5.00 annual Wyoming Invasive Species sticker for paddle craft,

Non-Resident fishing license: Annual: $92.00; Daily $14


FROM RAWLINS, WY: North 64 miles on Hwy 220, turn right into the Independence Rock Rest Area.

FROM CASPER, WY: South 56 miles on Hwy 220, turn left into the Independence Rock Rest Area.

LAUNCHES (Heading Downstream):

Highway 220 Bridge, Independence Rock, Buzzard Road Bridge, Bishops Point, Pathfinder Marina.


Wyoming Department of Transportation (Rest Area Information),

Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Casper (307) 473-3400,

Independence Rock State Historical Site (307) 577-5150, Pathfinder Marina (307) 259-1792


BLM Surface Management Maps, 1:100,000 Scale: "Rattlesnake Hills","Bairoil"

USGS Topographic Maps, 7.5 min series, "Independence Rock", "Fort Ridge", "Sanford Ranch".

Trip Details

  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing, Stand Up Paddling, Kayak Fishing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location