Mother nature is keeping us on our toes this rafting season! With news of low snowpack in the West, some may be wondering if it's a good year to go rafting. There are number of factors at play that make that a very good question. Some states, like California, have a much lower snowpack than others. Idaho for example has an overall average of about 70% of normal snowpack. However, we had 100% normal precipitation. Warmer weather meant that much of this didn't turn into snow and thus has soaked into the ground and/or become spring run-off in rivers and streams. The importance of normal precipitation means that ground water tables are still in good shape and the snow we do have high in the mountains will more likely end up in the rivers rather than getting soaked up by dry soil like a sponge.
Some of the rivers in the West are free-flowing, and thus run-off totally depends on snowmelt and rain. Rivers such as the Salmon, Lochsa, Owyhee, Bruneau, Grande Ronde and many others fall into this category. Other rivers have dams either on their main stem, or on tributary rivers. This means that water can be let out of the reservoirs throughout the rafting season. Rivers in this group include the Snake through Hells Canyon, the Rogue in southwest Oregon, the Upper Missouri in Montana and others.
Spring weather and precipitation still can play a big role in our ultimate late spring and summer flows. If we have a wet and cold April, May and June for example, water levels may stay much higher than areas with low snowpack would currently suggest.
Families with younger children, or other whitewater rafting beginners? While we always offer a few trips on a some more "tame" rivers in the Northwest, this season is even more perfect for rafting beginners and young ones!
If you're planning a river rafting, kayaking or canoeing trip in the Northwest this summer, here are some guidelines to help you decide where to go:
Dam-controlled rivers that will have good flows all season:
Snake River in Hells Canyon - Rafting through the 8,000-foot-deep Hells Canyon (America's deepest river gorge!) on the Snake River is just the trip you need to get back in touch with nature! The river runs through a vast expanse of remote territory, still largely untouched by human influence, with dramatic elevation changes, a variety of terrain, warm weather and water, and exciting Native American rock paintings and pioneer homesteads. The big rapids, incredible hikes, and intriguing history will reconnect you with nature and leave you in awe.
Rogue River - This river is unlike any other in the United States. Our trip takes you through the most scenic section that flows through the heart of the Rogue River Wilderness. You'll raft a wild river, enjoy the comforts of sleeping in a unique, family-owned lodge each night, soak up the warm, splashy rapids, step back in time hiking to historic homesteads, and feel the rush of spotting wild deer, black bears, river otters and the variety of birds that make this canyon their home; the perfect natural playground! Few rivers offer such a magical blend of fun suitable for all ages.
Upper Missouri River - The Missouri River's pleasant current makes this trip suitable for all ages. Our Missouri River Canoe trip offers an intimate visit to the historic and scenic Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, tracing the path of Lewis & Clark's return voyage through Montana. You'll travel in 34-foot canoes to repliate those used by Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery. The river carries our canoes down a wide, meandering valley into the famous White Cliffs area, a deep, rugged gorge where eroded sanstone cliffs reach a height of nearly 1,000 feet, revealing 10 million years of geologic history. The hot and dry summer days and cool river waters welcome swimmers. You'll likely catch glimpses of Golden Eagles, beavers, antelope, elk and big horn sheep, while enjoying the incredible scenery and old world history.
Free-flowing rivers more at the mercy of Mother Nature:
Lochsa River - Few whitewater rafting trips anywhere on earth offer as much continuous, explosive whitewater as Idaho's Lochsa River. This big whitewater trip will satisfy the appetite for thrills for intermediate and expert rafters. The Lochsa is fast, technical and has a big volume of water, allowing for raft-smashing waves, big hydraulics and holes, and paddler-bashing excitement. Oh, and the surrounding scenery is pretty great too! We recommend May 15 to July 1 for the best flows this year. While we sometimes run the Lochsa until July 15-20, this year that is quite unlikely. But we should have good flows through late June.
Moyie/St. Joe Rivers - The Moyie River is an exciting, but relatively unkown, whitewater day trip in North Idaho. With Class II-III whitewater, the Moyie is a great introduction to the area's wildlife, scenic beauty and exciting river rafting. The St. Joe River in Idaho's Panhandle offers crystal clear waters surrounded by thick green forests. The Class II-III whitewater is ideally suited for beginners, but is exciting enough to thrill experienced rafters as well. The St. Joe's narrow canyon walls restrict the river to create big, exploding waves. In between rapid, as we float through the gorgeous Idaho mountain scenery, you can watch trout swimming in the emerald waters.
Both of these rivers have lower than normal water levels this season, and we anticipate having to stop trips by June 20th.
Salmon River - Welcome to the Riviera of the West! Our Salmon River Canyons trip on the legendary Salmon River of No Return is where you'll find the perfect combination of beautiful white-sand beaches, 70-degree water, awe-inspiring scenery, and whitewater rapids that leave you with a big grin from ear to ear. The Middle Fork of the Salmon is also one of legend. The pure, clear, free-flowing river drops 3,000-feet during it's 105-mile journey through Idaho's remote and spectacular River of No Return Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. Natural and untamed, it has shaped its course through a rugged and diverse landscape. The whitewater rapids are fun for all ages!
Both the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Salmon River Canyons come from the same drainage. We anticipate that, in general, flows will be 2-3 weeks "ahead of schedule," meaning our mid-to-late June trips should have great water, although not as high as some years. Flows will be good through July, but maybe (and this all depends on the spring conditions as described above) 20% lower than normal. Are the rapids still fun? You bet! In August, things will slow down quite a bit, making for superb fishing, floats, and less of the "big splashes." Lower water also means warmer water, which is even better for swimming!
We hope this helps with your summer vacation planning! Please feel free to reach out with any questions you have about our rafting trips. Our adventure consultants are here for you!