Idaho's Best 1-Day Whitewater Adventures
Idaho is known as the white water state because there are more miles of runnable whitewater than any other state in the U.S. Flowing from dozens of mountain ranges there are over 3500 whitewater miles in Idaho. California comes in second place with a mere 1800 miles. Not only does Idaho have some of the most fabulous 4 to 6-day wilderness rafting trips in the world, such as the Snake in Hells Canyon, lower Salmon River Canyons, Bruneau, and Middle Fork of the Salmon, but it also has a host of fantastic single-day rafting trips. If you want to paddle on some of the best whitewater on the planet and day trips are your preferred choice, here are the top Idaho one-day rafting trips from north to south.
Flowing from the Purcell Mountains of Canada, the Moyie crosses the border just northeast of Bonners Ferry. It flows for about 20 miles in Idaho before hurling over Moyie Falls and running into the Kootenai River. As there are no dams on the river upstream in Canada and it comes from a fairly small watershed, the season is short. Trips typically start in late April or early May and go until mid to late June, depending on the year and how much snow fell in the mountains. It’s an exciting Class III trip that turns into Class IV at high water. The highlight of this 15-mile trip is paddling by the old Eileen Dam. Built in 1923 to power local mines, the rock that the dam was anchored to gave way a year or so after it was built. The old concrete arch is still in place in the river which now flows into a new channel where Skin Creek enters the Moyie. Most of the trip is in a roadless canyon lined with cedar, pine, and fir. ROW Adventures pioneered commercial rafting on the Moyie River in 1982 and offers trips for a few weeks each spring.
Included in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the St. Joe flows west from the Bitterroot Mountains on the Montana/Idaho divide. Its crystalline emerald-hued water is magically beautiful. Legendary for blue-ribbon cutthroat trout fishing, St. Joe is also an exciting whitewater trip during the higher flows of May and June. There’s plenty of Class II-III+ whitewater including the S-turned Tumbledown Falls and many others. Flowing through the St. Joe National Forest, the river does have a road along it, but the rapids are frequent enough that it’s not very noticeable. Towering cedar trees are scattered on the mountains above the moss-covered canyon walls. Another Idaho gem, the St. Joe is a gorgeous trip not to be missed. ROW Adventures has offered rafting trips on the St. Joe since 1986.
In all the United States, there are three superb Class IV whitewater rivers that every whitewater enthusiast should experience. These are West Virginia’s Gauley, California’s Tuolumne, and Idaho’s Lochsa. Each of these rivers has trips ranging from a day to three days and are the thrilling rapids make professional guides drool. With flows that will range from a low of 1,200 CFS to a high of over 18,000 CFS, the Lochsa not only has a lot of water but is steep, with an average drop of 30’ per mile. This gradient combined with big volume makes for big raft-bashing waves and huge holes. The cold and clear water flows from the mountains of the Clearwater National Forest and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness area. Rapids such as Ten-Pin Alley, Bloody Mary, Grim Reaper, Castle Rock, Termination, and Lochsa Falls keep paddlers alert and drenched! Another undammed beauty trip on the Lochsa runs from early May to mid-July, depending on the winter snowpack.
Another big-volume river, the Salmon will run as high as 50,000-80,000 CFS in the spring, flows much larger than any that exist these days in Colorado through the Grand Canyon. That’s because, unlike the Colorado, the Salmon flows free. In fact, it’s the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. After crossing Idaho from east to west in a roadless wilderness, and as it approaches the small town of Riggins, the Salmon enters a 30-mile stretch that has road access and super fun rapids. It’s normally a Class III run, but at high water, some of the rapids like Ruby, become Class IV. Most companies wait until the high water peak is past and the weather starts to warm, which means starting trips in mid-June. In July and August, this is a great trip for families as the water warms up into the mid to high 60’s and there are big white sand beaches to play on. Various outfitters including ROW offer trips from one to three days.
Just over an hour from Boise, the Payette is very popular with folks from the Treasure Valley. There are trips on a couple of different sections, but in the spring when the water is flowing well, the South Fork of the Payette is the trip to take. The water is clear and the scenery is classic Idaho with steep canyon walls studded with massive ponderosa pines. If you’re exploring southern Idaho, this is a great day trip to take!