Rivers

With more than 3,100 whitewater river miles, no other state can claim as many diverse recreational rivers as Idaho. Licensed outfitters offer guided trips ranging from scenic family excursions to advanced whitewater adventures. Guests of all ages can choose to ride in rafts, dories, kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, sweep boats and jet boats on a dozen different rivers.

Contacts:

The Salmon "River of No Return"

LOCATION: Corn Creek (2,920 ft) to Vinegar Creek (1,960 ft)-79 miles
RAFTING SEASON: April-Sept.
RAPIDS: Class III-IV
TRIP LENGTH: 5-7 days
PERMIT: Yes

The Main Salmon was dubbed the "River of No Return" by early explorers. Today, it's considered a choice pool-and-drop river for adventurers of all ages, with serious Class III-IV rapids such as Salmon Falls, Split Rock and Whiplash.

A full Main Salmon run begins near Salmon, floats through the second deepest canyon in North America and ends 79 miles later near Riggins. Shorter trips are available with departures arranged by jet boat and back country airplane. Twelve-mile day trips are also available on the Main Salmon near Stanley, Idaho.

Hot springs and historic sites abound on the Main Salmon. Turn-of-the century prospector Jim Moore built numerous hand-hewn structures at a site near the Campbell's Ferry Pack Bridge. The Buckskin Bill Museum, the preserved home of the famous river hermit, welcomes river visitors at Five Mile Bar.

Half-day to six-day Main Salmon trips are available from May to Sept. Combine the Main with the Middle Fork or Lower Salmon for longer expeditions.

Contact the North Fork Ranger District, P.O. Box 780, North Fork, ID 83466, Tel: (208) 865-2383.

Middle Fork of the Salmon

LOCATION: Boundary Creek (5,640 ft) to Cache Bar (3,000 ft)-96 miles
RAFTING SEASON: April-Sept.
RAPIDS: Class III-IV
TRIP LENGTH: 4-8 days
PERMIT: Yes

Ranked as one of the top 10 whitewater rivers in the world, the Middle Fork of the Salmon is Idaho's most famous "Wild and Scenic" river. Known for its challenging Class III-IV rapids--100 in less than 100 miles--the Middle Fork is un-dammed and unspoiled as it passes through central Idaho's "Frank Church River-of-No Return" Wilderness, the largest federally-protected wilderness in the lower 48.

The Middle Fork begins at 5,640-feet as a tight alpine stream. The first 21 miles run through a narrow river bed with pine forest on either side. When the upper section becomes too rocky to run in low water, (late July in a normal year, early July in a dry year), outfitters fly guests into Indian Creek where the river widens. There, whitewater continues through the remaining 75 miles, peaking on the last days through Impassible Canyon and its Redside, Weber and Rubber rapids.

River runners enjoy soaking in natural hot springs and hiking to natural attractions such as mysterious Veil Falls. Several ranches and hunting lodges line the banks. Guides like to tell stories of Indian pictographs, old-time gold miners, the Sheepeater war, and the 1979 Mortar Creek fire. Catch-and-release fishing for cutthroat trout begins after spring runoff.

Most commercial trips last 6 days and 5 nights. No motor boats are allowed on this river. Contact the Middle Fork Ranger District, P.O. Box 750, Challis, ID 83226, Tel: (208) 879-5204.

The Lower Salmon Gorge

LOCATION: Hammer Creek (1,410 ft) to Heller Bar (850 ft)-73 miles
RAFTING SEASON: April-Sept.
RAPIDS: Class III-IV
TRIP LENGTH: 3-5 days
PERMIT: Yes

Although "Wild and Scenic" designation is pending for the Lower Main Salmon, it's still undiscovered.

It drops out of the forest near Riggins into narrow basalt gorges that squeeze the river runner for miles. Then, the landscape opens up to grassy palisades until the Salmon joins the Snake at Hells Canyon on the Idaho/Oregon border.

The Lower Main Salmon is a good place to get away from it all. Aside from old ruins, there is little evidence of man. Indians and early Chinese miners liked the seclusion of the lower Main. Indian tepee rings and Chinese stone houses with garden spots and pig pens are common sights. Unusually detailed pictographs can be seen on short hikes from the river.

Most of the typical 73-mile, pool-and-drop trip is a scenic float interspersed with exciting rapids like Snow Hole, China Bar and Slide. The beaches are big, sandy and clean. The water is warm. Jet boat and drift boat trips, combining chukar hunting with steelhead fishing, begin in late Sept.

Contact: Bureau of Land Management, Route 3, P.O. Box 181, Cottonwood, ID, 83522, Tel: (208) 962-3245.

Hells Canyon

LOCATION: Hells Canyon Dam (1,475 ft) to Pittsburgh Landing (1,120 ft) 30 miles
RAFTING SEASONS: April-Oct.
RAPIDS: Class III-IV
TRIP LENGTH: 1-3 days
PERMT: Yes

Everything about the Snake River in Hells Canyon is big; big river, big waves, big views, big cliffs. The canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, several thousand feet deeper than the Grand Canyon. Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains tower on one side; Oregon's Wallowas on the other. Rapids such as Granite and Wild Sheep get class III-IV ratings largely because of their size.

There are two ways to ride the river and see the canyon. Jet boats offer sightseeing cruises both from Lewiston at the northern end and from Hells Canyon dam at the southern end. Rafts and dories float through the central 34-mile "Wild and Scenic" section of the river. Visitors often combine the two by float boating down the river and jet boating back to the starting point.

Hells Canyon trips include fascinating stops at historic sites. The Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Northern Paiute Indians left rust-colored pictographs on walls and rocks throughout the canyon. The Kirkwood Ranch has been restored in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area to help visitors learn about early ranching and homesteading in the canyon.

Hells Canyon is a green oasis full of wildlife and wildflowers in April and May. Hiking is spectacular along trails located on both sides of the river. Hot summer weather in June, July and Aug. invite daytime water play and beach campsites under the stars. Long Indian summers attract steelhead/sturgeon fishermen and chukar hunters in the fall.

Contact: Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, P.O. Box 699, Clarkston, WA 99403, Tel: (509)-758-0616.

The Lochsa

LOCATION: White Pine (2,6401 ft) to Split Creek (1,720 ft)-26 miles
RAFTING SEASON: April-July
RAPIDS: Class III-IV+
TRIP LENGTH: 1-2 days
PERMIT: No

Lochsa means "rough water" in Nez Perce. From its headwaters in the Bitterroot Mountains to its confluence with the Selway and Clearwater rivers, the Lochsa pounds through more than 40 class III-IV major rapids.

The river parallels the scenic Lolo Highway 12 northeast of Lowell, Idaho, along the route that nineteenth century explorers Lewis and Clark followed. The highway, however, is hardly visible from the river which is bordered by a cedar forest. Most outfitters use paddle boats on the Lochsa to make it a fun participatory trip. River runner's camp in nearby meadows or stay in area lodges.

The season is short, from mid-May to late June.

Contact: Clearwater National Forest, 12370 U.S. Highway 12, Orofino, ID, 83544, Tel: (208) 476-4541.

The Selway

LOCATION: Paradise Guard Station (3,050 ft) to Meadow Creek (1,720 ft) 46 miles
RAFTING SEASON: May-June
RAPIDS: Class III-V
TRIP LENGTH: 3-5 days
PERMIT: Yes

The Selway is Idaho's most private Wild and Scenic River. Only one launch is allowed each day in order to protect the pristine beauty of the river as it passes through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. The banks of the river are overgrown with cedar, fir, huckleberries and ferns, and the water always runs clear.

The rapids are nearly all large, through all 60 river running miles. At high flows, rapids such as Ladle and Double Drop can reach epic Class IV-V proportions.

Whitewater, wilderness and solitude are the Selway's chief attractions.

Limited access makes the Selway a challenge to experience. Independent permits are hard to draw and commercial trips must be booked 8-12 months in advance. Catch-and-release fishing trips for native westslope cutthroat trout on quiet water are also available.

Contact: West Fork Ranger Station, Bitterroot National Forest, Darby, MT, 59829; Tel: (406) 821-3269.

The Owyhee River

LOCATIONS: Owyhee River-Three Forks (3,950 ft) to Rome (2,360 ft) 53 miles; Upper Owyhee-Crutchers Crossing (4,250 ft)-Three Forks (3,950 ft) 36 miles; East Fork-Garat Crossing (4,760 ft) to Crutchers Crossing (4,250 ft) 40 miles; South Fork-El Paso Crossing (4,660 ft) to Crutchers Crossing (4,250 ft) 34 miles; Deep Creek-Mud Flat Crossing (5,200 ft) to Rickard Crossing (4,430 ft) 35 miles
RAFTING SEASON: April-May
RAPIDS: Class III-V
TRIP LENGTH: 2-3 days
PERMIT: No

The Owyhee may be Idaho's most secluded river. Hidden among thousands of square miles of canyons and sagebrush desert where Idaho, Nevada and Oregon meet, the river was named for a group of Hawaiians who disappeared up the river in 1810. (Owyhee was a phonetic spelling of Hawaii.)

Five different stretches of the Owyhee are known for their whitewater. The Upper Owyhee passes through a deep canyon with grand scenery. The Middle Owyhee is a favorite with serious boaters - a steep, turbulent run that includes Widowmaker, the most famous rapid. The East Fork is a demanding trip but worth it for the deep gorge, bighorn lambing grounds, falcons and mountain lions. The South Fork has sweeping views of the high country and long class II-III rapids. The Rome to Lake Owyhee run is a popular intermediate run, with a couple of drops rated up to Class IV.

Owyhee river trips are made for the spring and early summer months, generally April-June.

Contact: Bureau of Land Management, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, ID 83709. Tel: (208) 373-4000.

The Payette

LOCATIONS: Main Payette-Banks (2,790 ft) to Beehive Bend (2,700 ft) 7 miles; North Fork-Smiths Ferry (4,490 ft) to Banks (2,790) 16 miles; Cabarton Run-Cabarton Bridge (4,700 ft) to Smiths Ferry (4,510) 9 miles; South Fork-Deer Creek Turnout (2,950 ft) to Banks (2,790 ft) 5 miles
RAFTING SEASON:April-Sept.
RAPIDS: Class III-VI (Depending on the stretch)
TRIP LENGTH: 1-3 days
PERMIT: No

The Payette River is an hour's drive from Boise but it still manages to leave civilization far behind. Visitors float a clean mountain river with forested banks and hawks or osprey flying over head, and different groups enjoy different stretches of the river.

The South Fork of the Payette is an advanced whitewater run for one, two or three days of excitement. Three-day trips start high in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, above the town of Lowman. After the Deadwood River adds its flow, the river begins to drop about 40 feet per mile with continuous steep rapids. This canyon stretch is punctuated at its deepest point by a 40-foot waterfall. River runners portage around this spectacular sight then continue on through a narrow gorge filled with natural hot springs.

The 11-mile Cabarton Run of the North Fork of the Payette is an intermediate day trip with a good mix of quiet scenic stretches and straightforward Class I-III rapids. For most of the run, the river is away from the highway, and osprey can be seen fishing for food.

The Main Payette River is perfect for families or beginning river rafters looking for a few hours of fun outdoor time. The water is mostly quiet with a few easy Class II-III rapids.

The North Fork of the Payette is considered one of the finest advanced kayak runs in the world, featuring 20 named Class IV-V rapids in 16 miles. Irrigation flows keep warm water flowing on this stretch into the middle of the summer. State Highway 55 runs the length of this stretch, from below Smiths Ferry to Banks.

Contact: Boise National Forest, 1750 Front St., Boise, ID, 83702, Tel: (208) 364-4100.

The Bruneau and Jarbidge

LOCATIONS: Bruneau-Indian Hot Springs (3,790 ft) to Indian Bathtub (2,580 ft)-56 miles
Jarbidge-Murphy Hot Springs (4,900 ft) to Indian Hot Springs (3,700 ft) 25 miles
RAFTING SEASON:April-June
RAPIDS: Class III-VI (Depending on the stretch)
TRIP LENGTH: 4-5 days
PERMIT: No

The Bruneau/Jarbidge Rivers are two of the most remote and fleeting canyonland rivers in the West. They can be run only for a few months each spring from April to June. If winter's weather has been dry, the season may last only a few weeks. But the rivers, often run together, are worth the effort. The 50-mile-long Bruneau is a small river that squeezes through a narrow and deep canyon. In places it is only two boat lengths wide, with water filling it from wall to wall. The rapids include Five-Mile which drops 100 feet per mile for nearly five miles. The 25 mile-long Jarbidge is steep and beautiful. The rapids are choked with boulders. Expect to bounce off a few rocks.

There are no ranches, no old homesteads, no airstrips, no signs of civilization on these rivers. There is no hiking out. River runners camp in cedar and juniper grottoes. Trips are four to five days.

Contact: Bureau of Land Management, 3380 Americana Terrace, Boise, ID, 83706, Tel: (208) 384-3300.

The Moyie, St. Joe and Clearwater

LOCATIONS: Moyie-Copper Creek ( 2,580 ft) to Moyie Dam (2,030 ft)-18 miles
St. Joe-Heller Creek (4,690 ft) to Spruce Tree (3,700 ft)-16 miles
RAFTING SEASON: April-June
RAPIDS: Class III-VI (Depending on the stretch)
TRIP LENGTH: 4-5 days
PERMIT: No

Day trips are popular on these three northern Idaho rivers. The Moyie delivers a lot of excitement in just one day. The whitewater is consistent and fast-flowing, dropping 30 feet a mile through a cedar forest. That means non-stop intermediate whitewater through a short May and June season.

The St. Joe is a pretty river, with emerald water and moss-covered, cedar-lined banks. The rapids are just right for beginners who want to learn paddle rafting on day trips in June and July.

The Clearwater River is a quiet, scenic river with no rapids. It is a good choice for families wanting a fun swimming and splashing trip in the summer.

Contacts:

The Snake

South of Boise, the Snake River has cut a canyon where more eagles, hawks and falcons nest each spring in greater concentrations than at any other place in North America. The Snake River Birds of Prey Area is protected here. Birdwatching and sightseeing trips are offered on motorized pontoon boats each spring into the summer. These are scenic trips only. There are no rapids on this stretch.

The Snake offers more rafting in south-central Idaho. Families and beginning rafters enjoy bouncing through small rapids on day trips through the green Hagerman Valley. The Murtaugh stretch of the Snake churns up big excitement with Class III-IV rapids.

The South Fork of the Snake stretches some 60 miles from Palisades Dam to its confluence with the Henry's Fork. Major recreation uses include power and float boating, fishing, camping, sightseeing, day use and biking. Commercial outfitters and guides provide fishing and scenic boat trips.