The Snake River is 1,078 miles long and is one of the most scenic rivers in the country. On its journey through Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Washington, it discharges over 54,000 cubic feet of water per second. As one of the most extensive water sources in the U.S., it is also the largest tributary of the Columbia River. If the Snake River covers four states and is the source of so much water, you have to wonder how wide is the Snake River at its widest point.
The Widest Point of the Snake River
The Snake River is 3 miles wide at its widest point. As it gets to the oxbow bend, this is the point where the river reaches its widest point. Here is also where the Oxbow Dam was built in 1961 and named after this oxbow-shaped 3-mile wide bend. Besides these features, the Snake River flows through the Snake River plain, covering Idaho and Oregon. Because of the river’s nature, its plain stretches over an area ranging from 30 to 75 miles.
The Course of the Snake River
The headwaters of the Snake River are in Wyoming near the Continental Divide in Yellowstone National Park. From this origin, the river flows into Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Then, it travels past Jackson, Wyoming, before entering the Snake River Canyon.
After the river exits the canyon, it enters the Palisades Reservoir in Idaho. Once there, it flows into the Swan Valley and an inland delta where it meets its confluence at Henrys Fork.
Next, it travels through the Snake River plain across Idaho. Next, the Snake River travels through Idaho Falls and alters drastically at the American Falls. This point is where the Portneuf River joins the Snake River.
The Raft River also joins the Snake River before entering Lake Walcott, where the Minidoka Dam captures its output. Finally, the Snake River exits the Minidoka Dam and enters the Milner Dam before passing the city of Twin Falls. After Twin Falls, it enters the Snake River Canyon and gushes over Shoshone Falls.
Once the river exits Snake River Canyons, the Bruneau River and the Malad River join it on its journey. As it continues past Boise and the Idaho-Oregon borders, many other rivers enter this waterway. These rivers are the Boise River, Owyhee River, Malheur River, Payette River, Weiser River, and Powder River.
Subsequently, the Snake River rushes through Hells Canyon, where three dams impound its content. The Snake in Hells Canyon is described as the National Wild and Scenic River. Finally, the Salmon River meets the Snake River in Hells Canyon and the Grande Ronde River.
Next, it exits Hells Canyon and courses past cities like Lewiston in Idaho and Clarkston in Washington. After this, the Clearwater River joins the Snake River before flowing through southeast Washington’s Palouse region. Eventually, the Snake River enters the Columbia River before streaming through the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, and Ice Harbor Locks and Dams.
The Origin of the Snake River’s Name
Although Snake River’s shape between Yellowstone National Park and the Columbia River is similar to that of a snake, this isn’t the reason for the name. Instead, the river’s name originates from the Shoshone, a Native American tribe that lived along its shores in Idaho.
Because the Shoshone people arranged sticks in the image of a snake to mark their territory and greeted and identified themselves using an S-shaped sign to resemble a swimming salmon, the river took its name from these cultural behaviors.
European colonizers saw this hand greeting and misinterpreted it as a snake, leading to the naming of “Snake River.” However, this river has also had other names, including:
- Great Snake River
- Lewis Fork
- Lewis River
- Mad River
- Saptin River
- Shoshone River
Dams Along the Snake River
People use the water from the Snake River for irrigation and hydroelectric power. This practice is more valuable because of the construction of multiple dams along the Snake River. Some of these dams that have been built and modified for hydroelectric power are:
- Ice Harbor
- Lower Monumental
- Little Goose
- Lower Granite
- Hells Canyon Dam
- Oxbow Dam
- Brownlee Dam
- Swan Falls Dam
- C. J. Strike Dam
- Bliss Dam
- Lower Salmon Falls Dam
- Upper Salmon Falls Dam A
- Upper Salmon Falls Dam B
- Milner Dam
- Minidoka Dam
- American Falls Dam
- Palisades Dam
- Jackson Lake Dam
- Gem State Dam
Builders have introduced modifications to Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and the Lower Granite dams to allow fish to travel through the river. In addition, they have also made changes at the Swan Falls, Hells Canyon, Oxbow, and Brownlee Dams to prevent fish from migrating upriver.
While some dams provide power, others like the C. J. Strike, Gem State, Milner, Minidoka, American Falls, Palisades, and Jackson Lake Dams provide irrigation to surrounding areas. These dams are built, maintained, and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, local government, and private owners.
The river also has two waterfalls near the city of Twin Falls, which offer hydropower. These waterfalls are called Shoshone Falls and Twin Falls and are known as the Shoshone Falls Project.
The Wide Snake River Wildlife
Below the Shoshone Falls, you will find 35 native fish species. Four are native to the Snake River: the relict sand roller, the shorthead sculpin, the margined sculpin, and the Oregon chub. You will also find seven species of Pacific salmon and trout in the river.
Outside the river, you will undoubtedly find a range of mammals in the surrounding forests and plains. Examples are the elk, red fox, coyote, the North American River otter, American beavers, and mountain goats. The Snake River region is also where 300 bird species like the osprey, eagle, and peregrine falcon make their homes.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How wide is the Snake River at its widest point?
The Snake River is 3 miles wide at its widest point.
How long is the Snake River?
The Snake River is 1,078 miles long and is one of the most scenic rivers in the country. On its journey through Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Washington, it discharges over 54,000 cubic feet of water per second.
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