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).
North end of Bonneville County above Upper Dam three miles from Jefferson County line.
Length: 2 miles
Walk in: River right at West River
Exit: River to the left above the upper dam
• Midriver Islands
• Midriver Upper Dam under exit
• River Right resisted the two-story house nicknamed “Two Tall”
North of downtown Idaho Falls which runs along Freeman Park between Upper Dam and City Dam.
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
• The river left Freeman Park with a beach three miles below the entrance
• Osprey nest right from the river below the beach
The upper stretch of downtown Idaho Falls between City Dam and Lower Dam.
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
• 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.
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
• Right River Snake River Landing Pier 800 meters below entrance
South of downtown Idaho Falls, between Lower Dam and Gem State Dam.
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
• Straight River Ryder Park Fishing Ponds Under Sunnyside Bridge
Southern stretch of Bonneville County above Gem State Dam ending near Bingham County line.
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
• 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
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.