Outdoors

Southern Idaho rivers are ripe for late-summer floats despite all the talk of drought conditions

It may be a low-water year, but rafting with outfitters on Southern Idaho’s day-trip rivers from Riggins to Boise and Stanley will continue through Labor Day as long as people want to cool off in hot weather.

Even the Upper Salmon River near Stanley will be running through August. “We’ve been having customers ask if there is enough water in the river,” said David Denning, who owns The River Company, which guides trips in the Stanley area. There’s enough water and families are loving it, he said.

The story is the same for the Salmon River near Riggins, and the Main and Cabarton runs of the Payette River.

“It’s a really fun flow,” said Kenneth Long, manager of Cascade Raft and Kayak, which outfits trips on the Payette River system. He expects the rafting season to last well into September.

In addition to splashy rapids, the lower river flow in the Salmon River near Riggins is offering a surprise.

“As the water gets lower, we’re seeing the beaches grow and we’re actually seeing new beaches popping out,” said Amy Sinclair, one of the owners of Exodus Wilderness Adventures in Riggins. And, there’s nothing like spending quality time on a beach during a rafting lunch break.

Sinclair expects good rafting for the foreseeable future. “And the fishing is dang good,” she said because of the lower, clearer river flows.

Here’s an outlook for the rest of the rafting season in Southern Idaho for families who want to go with outfitters:

MAIN PAYETTE

Even though natural flows have bottomed out, water from Cascade and Deadwood reservoirs continues to keep the 7-mile stretch of river between Banks and Gardena at perfect rafting levels.

Flows around 3,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) offer nice splashy Class III waves and a little bit of rock dodging. The river is expected to have ample flows through September.

The cost for a half-day trip ranges from $45 to $50 for adults and $30 to $35 for youths (12 and younger).

NORTH FORK PAYETTE (CABARTON)

This 10-mile section of river on the North Fork of the Payette River between Long Valley and Smiths Ferry offers Class II and Class III whitewater away from the highway. It’s a forested section of river with opportunities to see bald eagles, ospreys and other wildlife. It has a secluded feel to it for being a river only 90 minutes from Boise. It’s a good next step for paddlers after doing the Main Payette.

Flows have been running around 2,000 cfs and usually drop to 1,000 cfs later in the month. That’s still plenty of water for blasting through waves, dodging rocks and getting splashed in holes.

The run starts off mellow for a couple of miles, and then paddlers are greeted by Trestle Rapids. From there on out the run gets more lively with plenty of action in Class III rapids, including a big surprise at the end at Howard’s Plunge. That’s a set of rapids, not a swimming hole.

It’s an all-day trip from Boise and outfitters usually serve lunch.

Full-day trips with lunch typically run about $85 for adults and $60 for youths.

SALMON RIVER (RIGGINS)

The 11-mile section from Riggins to a boat ramp at Lucile has rapids that get better at low water, Sinclair said.

Rapids such as Time Zone (near the Time Zone Bridge on U.S. 95), Chair Creek and Fiddle Creek have plenty of water to keep the waves looking huge from a seat in a raft.

The Salmon offers a more big-water experience with lots of excitement for all levels of paddlers. It’s a good run for families who want to go with an outfitter. There are plenty of raft companies lining the highway through Riggins, just look for the signs.

This stretch runs along U.S. 95, and you’ll see a lot of rafts and inflatable kayaks on the water along the way. However, some of the rapids are hidden from the highway, which adds to the surprise.

A half-day trip with lunch ranges from $70 to $80. Some outfitters do a full-day trip from Spring Bar to Lucile, which is about 20 miles.

UPPER SALMON (STANLEY)

The 10-mile outfitted trip from just below Sunbeam Dam to Torreys Hole, northeast of Stanley, is a good introduction to whitewater and is popular with families. Class III rapids such as Piece of Cake and those through the Narrows offer lots of action.

Still, there’s plenty of time to enjoy mellow sections and watch the mountain scenery go by.

Although river flows are lower this time of the year, outfitters like David Denning run smaller rafts to keep things exciting and put paddlers up close and personal to the rapids.

It’s a quick three- to four-hour whitewater run that can be booked with or without lunch. Trips without lunch range from $75 for adults to $60 for youths (4-12). With lunch, prices range from $91 for adults to $76 for youths.

Outfitters stop running sections of the Upper Salmon around Sept. 2 because of chinook salmon spawning.

SNAKE RIVER (Hagerman)

Few people know about the 7-mile whitewater stretch of the Snake River near Hagerman, but the river offers lots of action and scenery that those traveling along U.S. 30 between Bliss and Hagerman never see.

The river is hidden from the highway on the rimrock cliff above.

Flows in this section of the Snake, below Lower Salmon Falls Dam, are never too low — some float it year-round because of the mild weather in the Hagerman Valley.

A majority of people who go on the river with Olin Gardner of Idaho Guide Service are beginners. Gardner has seen stand-up paddleboarders on this stretch.

It has several Class III rapids, such as Prom Date, Pillar, Captain Crunch and Slide.

In addition to the action, floaters are surprised by the scenery, which includes canyonlands and a chance to see antelope, and even an opportunity to see a home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the canyon.

Idaho Guide Service offers float trips for the Hagerman stretch. Cost is $60 for adults and $49 for youths, 17 and younger. The price includes lunch. The float takes about four hours.

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