Payette River Nirvana
By Noah Carr
Thinking of A Boise Relocation. People move to Boise for a lot of reasons. Homes for sale in Boise are affordable, low crime, the weather... these are all good reasons. But if you are looking for a great reason to move to Boise and buy Boise real estate, the best one I know of is whitewater rafting. One crown jewell for river runners in Idaho is the Payette river system! Idaho is the Whitewater State. Potato's are just a ploy to keep as many rafters away as possible! This is because it boasts more miles of floatable rivers than any other state in the continental United States of America. The entire state is crisscrossed by terrific whitewater rivers such as the Salmon, Snake, and Selway. The Boise area is no exception to this saturation of great spots to raf!.
Less than an hour from town by car, the river runner finds the Payette river system just begging to be explored. Ranging the entire rapid class scale (1-6), there is truly a section for any boater, regardless of how experienced they may be. A class 1 rapid is essentially flat water and thus all sections mentioned have varying degrees of class 1 rapids on them. Any first timers who are looking to get their feet wet are in luck. The Main Payette below Beehive Bend offers a perfect class 2 section. There are no named rapids on the section, and the section is perfect for learning how to move the boat efficiently and beginning to read the water. However, Climax Wave offers a great play spot for kayakers who are up for the task of surfing it.
For those who aren’t complete newbies but are still looking for a spot to gain experience before tackling greater challenges. The Cabarton Section and the upper Main are probably two of the best spots in the state. The Cabarton is on the North Fork of the Payette. Put in off of Cabarton road and take out at Smith’s Ferry. The Cabarton is a beautiful wilderness class 2-3 day trip which starts out strong with class 3 Trestle and ends in dramatic fashion as the river cascades over class 3 Howard's Plunge. The Upper Main Payette is also a very fun day trip, as it is the closest class 3 run to Boise it is very popular. Put in at Banks, and take-out at Beehive Bend. This is also class 2-3 with the main standouts being class 3 Go Left and class 3 Mixmaster. However, as this is a relatively large river, rapids can start to get a bit pushy as the water flows increase in the spring so be careful with timing.
For those more experienced boaters who are looking for a bit of a thrill, the South Fork of the Payette is probably the best river to be on. Specifically the Staircase section and the Canyon Section. The Staircase section is a very fun, and very quick day trip as it is only about 5 miles from the put in just past Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, to the take out at Banks. Many people attempt to extend the longevity of the fun by running the section multiple times in one day or simply continuing on to the Upper Main and rafting the 8 miles down to Beehive Bend. Regardless, the actual section itself is terrific. Just below the put in is class 3 Bronco Billy. This rapid provides the perfect warm-up before running class 4 Staircase rapid. Excluding Big Falls, this is arguably the most difficult rapid on the South Fork and should be scouted every time. The final rapid on the river, Slalom class 4, is right above the take-out and provides for quite a bit of excitement, particularly at high water.
The Canyon section is considered one of the most thrilling sections of the Payette river. However, it is an all day ordeal so be prepared to leave home early and get back late. This is largely due to the portage of class 6 Big Falls half way down the run. This is a mandatory portage so don’t miss the eddy. The falls are well marked by signs so keep your eyes open for those. Apart from the portage, the whitewater is superb. Put in at Deadwood campground and be on your toes as there are three class 3 rapids above Big Falls. While this is fun, the real whitewater begins after the portage. First is class 4 Blackadar, a big wave train up against a cliff face which is usually run just left of center. Next is class 4 Lone Pine, this rapid isn’t much at low flows but as the water rises a couple of massive V-waves begin to form. Run this right. Just after that is class 4 Little Falls, this is often considered to be just as hard as Staircase rapid and should always be scouted. A ledge in the river forms a river wide hole which has been known to flip many boats. Runs vary depending on the flow but it is always run either left or right. Stay out of the middle at all costs. Finally is class 4 Surprise rapid, this is a long and involved rapid. You should enter center and work left. Cascade outfitters runs guided trips on the Upper Main, the Carton, the Staircase section, and the Canyon Section.
If you’re an experienced kayaker or an expert boater, than perhaps you would like to try your luck with the world famous North Fork of the Payette. It is practically constant class 5 whitewater between Smiths Ferry and Banks. Perhaps the largest three rapids are class 5 Jacobs Ladder, class 5 Nutcracker, class 5 Jaws and class 5 Jaws. All are ferocious rapids with towering wave and monster holes and are truly humbling spectacles. The whole run is 15 miles long, but is usually run in pieces at the boaters discretion. The last 5 miles, known as the lower 5, may be used as a stepping stone for, though two of the rapids are considered class 5, Juicer and Crunch, they are significantly easier than many of the other rapids on the run. Please note, any section of this river is extremely dangerous and should be approached with caution.