Idaho- The Whitewater State!
Sign Up To Win Free AIRE Kayak!
With about a million miles of whitewater, Idaho has something for everyone. Here I will highlight a few of our family favorites!
Many think that rafting is just a thrill seekers sport packed with danger and fraught with death around every corner. And while it is true for the most difficult runs and at the highest flows, one only needs to check in at the put in for the main Payette at Banks to see it is a family sport! The gear has improved so much over the years with self bailing rafts and catarafts that cut through the waves like a knife through hot butter. In many cases they run themselves. Two different times I have lost an oar entering a particularly tough rapid on the Salmon river. With just one oar I was pretty sure I would die, or at least look like a fool. Upon landing in the pool at the bottom of the rapid I exclaimed “ I did it, I made it with one oar”. I was promptly informed by the owner of one of the large raft manufacturers in an unsurprised monotone “They kind of run themselves”. On most runs he is right, give the boat a little nudge in the right direction, and the rest will take care of itself. Not sure where to get started? Read on or even give me a call, I will be happy to give you a nudge in the right direction. Need help getting started?
Pay To Play!
If you have never been before, a great way to get started is with an outfitter. For a trip near Boise, I would recommend Idaho Whitewater Unlimited for a trip on the main Payette. They also run the staircase and canyon sections if you are looking for something a little more exhilarating. A true gem of the west is the Bruneau, this river is only run on years when the water flow is strong. This year is one of those , with the snowpack is well over 100% of normal it could be a ride. The scenery is tops. The outfitter of choice here would be Far and Away! They run the Bruneau and the Middle Fork Of The Salmon. They specialize in luxury glamping trips with no expense spared. The crown jewel for extended trip’s in Idaho is the Selway river which combines solitude and scenery with a dash of great fishing! Three Rivers would be my choice for an outfitter on this secluded and challenging run. It is special for many things, but with just one launch a day the solitude really makes it unique!
Rather Get Your Hands Wet?
Nothing is quite as rewarding as learning and mastering a new skill. Idaho is stuffed full of many class 2 runs, perfect for learning how to manage the oars or call out commands to your paddle boat crew. It takes a lot of work to get yourself into trouble on one of these low level white water runs. All are scenic and have great beach’s, campsites and swimming holes. Rafting trips can be 2 hour half day affairs or two week long epic adventures. Many of the extended trips require winning the rafting lottery for a coveted permit to launch you and your crew! Here is a highlight list of some of our favorite runs starting with easy and getting harder.
Bear Valley Creek- Class 1 run great for scenery and relaxing. Paddleboard, tube , canoe are all great choices. Bring skeeter spray and a fly rod. There are big cutthroats in here, but they only live here and there. Be on the lookout for elk, wolves and sand hill cranes! Take out is at Fir Creek Campground trailhead. Putin is dependent on time. The bridge on road down to Boundary works good at most flows.
Upper South Fork Boise- Class 2 near Featherville. Here you will find a freestone river with scenery and easy rafting to see if it is for you without putting up with all the crowds or danger.
Swirly Canyon Payette- This run is a great class 2+ trainer to see if you are a natural at moving the boat and hitting eddies. If you can run this without incident, you are ready to try something harder. It has a secluded, away from the road feel. It has been my go to over the years if we are going on a Middle Fork Of The Salmon trip and I need to get a family member up to speed. Put in at Danskin, take out below confluence of Middle Fork and South Fork Payette.
Main Payette- A great class 3 splash and giggle whitewater run. So close to town it is a favorite after work run for Boise rafting enthusiast’s. The first rapid is Go Left, if you can manage to do that and miss Mike’s hole further down and you can swim the rest! Putin at Banks, take out at Beehive Bend. 2 to 3 hours is an average time to run this. The fishing is not half bad either, we took a spinner a few years ago and the kids caught 6 or 8 fish. Work your way up to add in the class 4 Staircase section! Once you have mastered this you are on your way!
South Fork Payette Canyon Section- This Class 3-4+ (1 portage at Big Falls) run had a blow out a Blackadar’s and it remains to be seen what the future holds here. After the blow outs on the South Fork of the Boise 2 years ago, many are wondering if we will see some more blow outs and new rapids here. This run at lower flows can be a pussy cat, or above say 2400cfs it can be more like a tiger. Proceed with caution here and know your limits. I suggest googling Mark Cramer Big Falls to see what I mean by “like a knife through hot butter”. Lone Pine, Little Falls and Surprise can all kick your butt.
Bruneau River- Class 3 whitewater, class 6 scenery. At higher flows 5 mile rapid is class 4, but the reason to do this trip is the solitude and scenery. Rhyolitic walls rise straight up from the river for miles. There are awesome side hikes. Keep your eyes open for the famous Bruneau Jasper. The old mine near the put in is closed now. I found a nice little chunk in the river on the gravel bar years ago and it sits on my mantel today as a reminder of the wild rivers in Idaho! This one is a class 6 drive in to the put in as well. The last 16 miles of road rumbles over softball and a few basketball sized rocks and the road down into the canyon is an Owyhee county beauty, 4 wheel drive highly recommended
Middle Fork Salmon River- Class 3-4 depending on flow. Enter at recreation.gov to get a permit. The deadline is January 31. Alternatively Call Far and Away to book the trip of a lifetime. This is a bucket list trip even if you are not a rafter. Great camps, hot springs, scenery, history, fishing, cliff jumping, star gazing and great food! Oh yeah, a bunch of rapids!
South Fork Boise Canyon Section- Class 4-5 depending on flow. Once a splash and giggle fishing trip, the addition of two new rapids that are class 4 at some flows and class 5 at others has transformed this into a formidable whitewater run. There has been lots of trouble at Buffalo rapid including some unfortunate drownings. It is a long portage made a little better last year when the trail was improved. The first year the problem was a giant log at the bottom, which has been cut off and moved a little by the current. Last year it changed and a giant log got wedged in just the wrong spot. Sideways right in the middle where you do not want to be. It was submerged and hard to see, to those who did not realize or have the expertise it just looked like a giant wave. On top of that it was running higher last year, 1850 cfs, which made it harder to stay left. Hopefully no new obstacles will appear this year. Without those 2 logs at 1650 cfs it is pretty easy to stay left and can be run with about 6 oar strokes. For those with a strong back for the portage, or those who have the ability to run Buffalo, a sensational day or overnight trip complete with awesome rainbow fishing and deserted camps await! One last word of caution, the third wave in the other new rapid can flip a raft too. If you are at all intimidated by Staircase, or the lower 5 on the North Fork Of The Payette plan on portaging, a mistake here can be deadly.
Lochsa River- Class 4 all the way. This one is a wonderful day trip or two. The upper runs is challenging and requires the ability to hit your lines, long complicated rapids require maneuvering and the ability to miss or punch huge holes like the one on river left at entrance of Castle creek. Then you still have to get left to miss the giant rock at the bottom. Ten Pin is a rock too. Or more accurately a hundred rocks. It is in the flatter, middle section and does not get run as much as upper and lower. The lower is a bunch of wave train rapids highlighted by the boat flipper, mouth puncher, Lochsa Falls! It does not look as fearsome as it is. Even the best cat boaters know a center run at certain flows is a certain flip. Maybe the thing to do is flip it over before you go in and viola, you come out right side up! Memorial day is a big ole party with hundreds of people lining the banks to see the carnage at the falls.
Selway River- Class 4. Extremely hard to get a permit in peak season unless the water gets really high. When it is high, above 5 or 6 feet depending on your boat and skill level, Ladle will test your metal. I like the center run at high flows, it is a huge wave but once you make that wave you are done. Word to the wise, when setting up for the center run at high flows the river nudges you right. Give it a couple extra pulls left before squaring up allows you to hit the wave with more momentum to punch through. Then get right the swirly’ s around the corner dictate where you run the next one and they are like whirlpools.
The ladder goes on. East Fork of The South Fork class 5, South Fork Of The Clearwater class 5, North Fork Of The Payette class 5 and many more! Rafting is a life sport that can be done from 5 years old to the grave. I encourage you to give it a try. With the right gear, knowledge and a little common sense it is a great family activity with something for everyone. You live in the Whitewater State! Get out there and see it! If you have questions, need advice on anything from camps to gear to shuttles I will be happy to help when I can!