Idaho welcomes hundreds of river miles and most of those miles are big water by western standards. Think of high water as any volume of water that moves unexpectedly in certain situations, sections, or times of the year, such as spring runoff. Even calm water at the surface is great water because it is deep and cold. Both can cause problems even when the volume does not. Catch the drift? Great water, regardless of its rating or appearance, is great water when it quickly becomes larger than you can bear.

“There’s so much energy in the water that you can’t control,” says Will Root, product coordinator for Northwest River Supplies (NRS). “He’s going to take you where he wants to go and he doesn’t care how many rocks your head hits.”

Use your head instead of hitting it by starting close to home. About 20 miles of the Snake River runs through Bonneville County. Most of these miles are paddleable with entry and exit points at four Idaho Falls Power hydroelectric dams.

From beginners to paddlers experienced enough to help newbies, here’s how to safely float our home’s water from north to south through the falls in Idaho. Paddle these sections after spring runoff (July) and before winter freeze-up (November).

Upper stretch

North end of Bonneville County above Upper Dam three miles from Jefferson County line.

Level: Beginner

Length: 2 miles

Walk in: River right at West River

boat ramp

Exit: River to the left above the upper dam


• Midriver Islands

Midriver Upper Dam under exit

Strong points:

River Right resisted the two-story house nicknamed “Two Tall”

Freeman Float

North of downtown Idaho Falls which runs along Freeman Park between Upper Dam and City Dam.

Level: Advanced

Length: 3.5 miles

Walk in: Left rock channel of the river below upper dam

Exit: Straight River John’s Hole boat launch


Midriver diversion with one foot drop two miles below entrance

Rocks/logs mid-river below diversion – portage left of river

Midriver railway bridge diversion below concrete piers

Strong points:

The river left Freeman Park with a beach three miles below the entrance

Osprey nest right from the river below the beach

City transportation

The upper stretch of downtown Idaho Falls between City Dam and Lower Dam.

Level: Advanced

Length: 1 mile–accessible only on low water condition

Walk in: Right rock ledge of the river below observation deck under the City Dam waterfalls

Exit: Straight River Rock Gardens at Taylor Crossing


Turbulence of the Midriver waterfall at the entrance and below

Left diversion channel of the river under the railway bridge

Strong points:

The river left the famous Idaho Falls waterfalls at the entrance and below

Straight River Rock Gardens at Taylor’s Crossing


The lower stretch of downtown Idaho Falls between City Dam and Lower Dam.

Level: Intermediate

Length: 1 thousand

Walk in: Straight River Rock Gardens at Taylor Crossing

Exit: River on the left South Tourist Park


Concrete pillars of the Midriver Pancheri bridge under the entrance

Strong points:

Right River Snake River Landing Pier 800 meters below entrance

Lower stretch

South of downtown Idaho Falls, between Lower Dam and Gem State Dam.

Level: Intermediate

Length: 1.5 thousand

Walk in: River on the right Heritage Park

Exit: River to left Upper Gem Lake Marina at 49th South


Concrete pillars of the Sunnyside Midriver Bridge under the entrance

Strong points:

Straight River Ryder Park Fishing Ponds Under Sunnyside Bridge

Gem Race

Southern stretch of Bonneville County above Gem State Dam ending near Bingham County line.

Level: Beginner

Length: 2 miles

Walk in: River to left Upper Gem Lake Marina at 49th South

Exit: Right River Lower Gem Lake Marina above Gem State Dam


Middriver Highway 26 deck low clearance for powerboats but decent clearance for paddlers

Strong points:

Lava rock banks on both sides of the channel above the outlet

Free guide for you

East Idaho Outdoors editor Kris Millgate spent a summer studying every mile of the Snake River through Bonneville County to produce this story. She also created a detailed river guide for paddlers that is free to the public and available at Idaho Falls Power, 140 S. Capital Ave.

Millgate’s favorite board for paddling the Snake near Idaho Falls is the Upper Stretch. Watch her video to see the historic home she calls “Two Tall.”

The essentials for paddling

Safety jacket

Buy a personal flotation device designed for the water sport you participate in. Rafting and paddling life jackets are more durable and sturdy as they are designed for white water tenders. Jackets that inflate when you hit the water are designed for flatwater freshwater fishing, not whitewater rafting.

Using advice : Add a whitewater helmet to protect your head from potential rock impacts.

Here is a life jacket to consider:

Kokatat WKNDR | $139

Good for weekend paddlers. The front is low for outstanding paddling performance. The back is thin for optimal comfort.


The one-piece paddle is stronger and floats when dropped. The two-piece paddle is easier to store, but absorbs water at the seam in the event of a fall.

Using advice : Do not attach your paddle to your boat in white water. Risk of snagging.

Here is a paddle to consider:

NRS PTK Kayak Paddle | $84.95

Good for beginners and pairing with inflatables. Domed fiberglass blade with aircraft grade aluminum shaft.


Inflatable kayaks are more portable but self-draining which means water flows in and out of the boat so your back gets wet. Hard-sided kayaks are space hogs, but you stay dry unless you flip over or fall.

Using advice : Paddle several times on calm, flat water before attempting the current or rapids.

Here is a boat to consider:

Alpacka Raft Scout | $695

Ultralight packraft weighing less than 4 pounds. Nylon floor plus grab loop and seat.