Idaho River Rafting

May 18, 2015

Experience Boatloads of Fun on Idaho Rivers!

By Rebecca Agiewich

Photo at right: Boaters ride high in the waves on a commercial rafting trip on the Snake River through Hells Canyon. Photo courtesy of Hells Canyon Visitor Center


Does your idea of fun involve floating down a pristine river? Maybe “relaxation” to you means the adrenalin rush of a Class IV rapid, followed by the peaceful stillness of a sun-soaked pool?

If so, then it’s time to pack your waterproof bags for Idaho. Within its scenic borders, Idaho has more navigable whitewater than any state in the lower 48, offering a boatload of whitewater fun for people of all ages and abilities.

With more than a dozen rivers to play on, how do you choose? Start by deciding how long you want your trip to be. The website Raft Idaho allows you to enter your desired trip length and then shows you which guided trips are available, where they are located, and how difficult they are using the International Scale of River Difficulty System: Class I-II is easiest, Class III is challenging and Class IV-V+ is most difficult.

We’ve described a few favorites here to get you started. See our resources section for more ideas.

The Payette River

Just south of the confluence of the north and south forks of the Payette River, the family-owned Cascade Raft and Kayak perches on the main branch about 45 minutes outside of Boise.

“The variety of the Payette makes it unique,” says Kenneth Long, co-owner of Cascade Raft and Kayak. “It has everything from meandering flat water to Class V whitewater, with 15 miles of continuous whitewater and everything in between.”

Their most popular one-day trip is The Splash, a family-friendly three-hour adventure with a mix of Class II and Class III rapids. More adventurous is The Plunge, which Long calls a “premier stretch of whitewater.” This full- day trip takes you 13 miles down the south fork of the Payette.

The Snake River and Hells Canyon

The Snake River follows a sinuous, 1,000-mile course through six western states, and passes through Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America.

A rafting group sets up camp along the banks of the Middle Fork Salmon at sunset. Photo by Paul Frantellizzi, courtesy of Idaho Tourism.

At the south entrance, Hells Canyon Adventures offers jet boat trips ranging from two hours to overnight through the deepest part of the canyon. From here, you can experience the thrill of Class IV rapids, or you can also choose a mellower trip that avoids the big rapids, but still lets you soak in the dizzying grandeur of the canyon walls.


America’s Rafting Company offers family-friendly rafting trips on the Snake River in Hells Canyon ranging from two to six days. On these multi-day trips, not only do you get the unique experience of camping along the river, but you have more leisure time to hike, kayak, swim, and fish.

The Salmon River

Boasting 100 river miles and known as the “River of No Return,” the Salmon River is one of the longest undammed rivers in the lower 48. It’s also a popular and family-friendly destination for whitewater rafting—despite its ominous nickname.

Becky Arrien, who co-owns America’s Rafting Company with her husband Parker Arrien, says that of the three rivers they raft on, the Salmon is the most entertaining for kids. Their three- to- six day trips take you past steep mountains and through basalt canyons with plenty of opportunity for swimming, relaxing and fishing. A plethora of Class III and Class II rapids with the occasional Class IV­ make for an alternately thrilling and relaxing ride.

Rebecca Agiewich is a frequent contributor to OutdoorsNW magazine and the author of Breakup Babe: A Novel. Hells Canyon blew her mind and she’s dying to return.