Planning the Perfect River Adventure
Summer heat is here, and many Treasure Valley residents look for some respite by heading to the mountains or hitting the water. Fortunately, the Boise River runs through much of the Treasure Valley, and there are other rivers nearby that give you a place to cool off, splash through a rapid, catch a trout or watch golden eagles soaring in the blue summer sky.
Here are a few options for your river adventure.
Boise River and its Tributaries
Many people’s first summer visit to Boise includes a trip down the Boise River on a raft or inner tube or take a stroll or bike ride alongside the river on the Greenbelt.
A casual float from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park is a summer tradition and a great family activity. The newest addition to the river, the Boise River Park off Whitewater Boulevard, has moved surfing inland from the coast where kayakers and board surfers carve across the never-ending glassy waves.
While many think of the Boise River as the stretch downstream from Lucky Peak Reservoir, it actually extends nearly all the way to the Sawtooth Mountains, and the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork provide dozens of miles of sparkling, clear, cool water that attracts anglers and campers or people who just want to relax in cool water.
Much like the Boise River, the Payette River extends from the mountains to the Snake River, and it has many tributaries. But within a short drive of the valley is arguably Idaho’s most popular stretch of river in Idaho. The stretch between Banks and Horseshoe Bend has a festive atmosphere as a whitewater playground that’s a fun, splashy Class III (intermediate) float with a nice mix of rapids and placid flowing water. A colorful armada of rafters and kayakers navigate the rapids, and in the calmer stretches, rafters often abandon ship and float along in the cool, emerald waters.
If you have no whitewater experience or equipment, don’t worry. There are several outfitters who offer reasonably priced trips under the watchful eye of experienced river guides. This trip is suitable for the whole family, and kids love the excitement of the rapids and the chance to take a safe swim in a moving river.
If you’re a little more adventurous, there’s another stretch of livelier whitewater on the South Fork of the Payette River near Garden Valley that includes Class IV whitewater. Outfitters also provide float trips on that stretch.
Here’s a little secret. If you seek solitude on a river, it might be hard to find as people flock to the backcountry during summer, but you can easily find it on the Snake River.
Idaho’s largest river is widely overlooked by recreationists, especially during summer because its low elevation means hot weather. The river flows through fields, farmland and beneath rocky bluffs, and it’s common to float for miles without seeing another soul. What’s more, most of the river downstream from Swan Falls Dam is friendly for nearly any riverworthy craft. You can float in a canoe, kayak or raft and not get yourself into trouble if you have basic river skills because rapids are sporadic and mild (Class II).
To see launch points and take outs, go to SnakeRiverWaterTrail.org for maps and directions. Even if you don’t have a boat, this is an area worth exploring. Two points of interest worth seeing are Swan Falls Dam and Celebration Park south of Kuna and Nampa. Celebration Park is Idaho’s only archaeological park, and you can see traces of Native American settlement dating back centuries. There’s also the historic Guffey Railroad Bridge that was built in 1897.
Don’t miss the viewpoint at Dedication Point on your way to Swan Falls Dam. It’s one of the most scenic along the Snake River. Swan Falls Dam has historic buildings as well as a modern boat launch and a grassy picnic area with a shelter and bathrooms with running water. From there, you can drive downstream about 3 miles and continue hiking on a nonmotorized trail where the road ends.
Both are adjacent to the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area, which is a protected area for raptors that nest in the basalt bluffs and soar on the thermals above the river.