Did you know that Hells Canyon in western Idaho is 7,993 feet deep, making it the deepest river gorge in all of North America?
If it’s hard to imagine just how deep that is, it might be useful to know that the Grand Canyon is “only” 6,000 feet deep.
Not only can you go white water rafting in Hells Canyon, but you’ll want to check out all of the best rafting spots in the Gem State.
Let’s take a look at the best places to white water raft in all of Idaho.
Ruby Rapid: Salmon River, Riggens Section
The Salmon River is also referred to as “The River of No Return.” This is because back before the invention of motorized boats, boats could make it down the river but couldn’t get back up through the many rapids and the fast water.
You’ll want to hit Ruby Rapid at the right time of the year. Most of the season, this spot is mellow. However, this normally Class II ride becomes a Class IV behemoth when the high water hits.
At the time of the spring runoff, the entire current of the Salmon River gets pushed against a sheer cliff face made of granite. It makes for an adventurous ride, and if you don’t make it through “the pencil sharpener” just right you’ll end up flipped over in “the pancake wave.”
Granite: Snake River, Hells Canyon
This is where it all started. The rumors of the deepest gorge in North America brought white water enthusiasts from all over to the great state of Idaho.
To be clear, there were original big drops that are now underneath a reservoir that was made as a result of the Hells Canyon Dam. That being said, you can still ride Granite Rapid.
If you’re lucky, you’ll hit Hells Canyon at the right time when the “green room” appears. The green room is a feature created by the phenomenon of the Snake River pushing over an enormous boulder. This creates an ocean-sized wave where when you reach the bottom of the trough you’ll be surrounded by green water on all sides.
The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, rising in western Wyoming and emptying into the Pacific in Washington. Hells Canyon was carved by the Snake River, which started running through a plateau created by volcanic activity six million years ago.
Black Creek: Main Salmon River
This is one of the newest rapids in Idaho, as it was formed by a creek blowout in 2011. Situated right at the heart of the show-stopping Black Canyon, you’ll experience giant waves if you go white water rafting at high water.
The rapid becomes more technical when the water drops. Rafters then face a choice between the slender left line and a white water rafter center run where you’ll find three massive, back-to-back hydraulics.
Ladle: Selway River
The Selway River is gorgeous, home to exceptional fishing spots, tons of wilderness, and amazing cedar-lined views. On top of this, it boasts technical rapids, of which the Ladle is one.
If you love white water rafting around boulders, this is the place for you. You’ll have to make tight moves through the boulder garden, as the ride starts wide but narrows as you get towards the bottom.
Slide: Lower Salmon River
Slide Rapid is another one that is very unassuming at low water. When high water hits, though, it becomes a Class V+ rapid. That means that most commercial white water raft companies avoid this section of the river entirely.
If you’re looking for truly legendary white water raft conditions, hit this spot at just the right medium flow.
This rapid is created by constriction like many rapids are. The difference between Slide and other rapids, though, is that this one has all of the 415 miles of the Salmon River’s flow behind it.
Flight Simulator: Salmon River, East Fork of the South Fork
This spot has sustained Class IV-V whitewater. Stretching around six bends in the river, Flight Simulator is a complex gauntlet.
Sitting on top of the East Fork of the South Fork run, it’s possible to skip this intense section and still have a great day on the river.
Hells Half Mile: Salmon River, Middle Fork
If you head to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, you’ll have plenty of white water rafting to do. Running through the heart of the Frank Church Wilderness, this area is famous for having one hundred rapids within one hundred miles. Out of all of these rapids, Hells Half Miles is considered to be one of the best.
When you ride Hells Half Mile during high water, you’ll find a long and continuous S-bend that finishes in a narrow canyon. In the narrow canyon, you’ll have to keep an eye out for hidden boat-eating holes.
When you ride this section during low water, you’ll find that the area has transformed into a boulder garden. At this point, it becomes incredibly technical, which can either be exhilarating or exasperating.
On top of the quality of the ride, Hells Half Mile is absolutely gorgeous. Since it’s the first major rapid on the Salmon River’s Middle Fork, it gives you a taste of what’s to come further down the river.
Terminator: Lochsa River
This easy to access rapid is located along the beautiful and scenic Highway 12. Boaters arrive from all over the West when the Loscha is running during the spring’s peak flows.
The most famous spot along Loscha is Loscha falls, which is a few miles upstream. Still, you won’t want to miss this crowd favorite. Here you’ll find giant waves at the entrance with an adventurous pancake slapper right afterward.
Sunbeam: Upper Salmon River
A dam was constructed in 1910 across the Salmon River. The intent of this was to create water pressure for mines that sat along the Yankee Fork tributary. However, the dam was blasted once the Idaho Fish and Game and sportsmen found a significant drop in the number of Sockeye Salmon.
Sunbeam Rapid is what remains after the blast. This is a unique rapid that is considered by some guides to be one of the most iconic and technical rapids you’ll find on the Salmon River. Not for the faint of heart, this rapid has to run tight and to the upper right. Otherwise, you’ll fail, and have to swim through frothing waves.
Blackadar: Payette River, South Fork
The Payette River is a paradise for lovers of white water. This is because there are three high adventure white water sections that are all within 20 minutes of one another. If you’re looking for Boise rafting trips, this is one you’ll want to check out.
Blackader isn’t the biggest rapid you’ll find on the South Fork of the Payette River, it makes up for it by being absolutely beautiful and incredibly fun.
If you want to get deep into the wilderness while only taking a day’s trip, this is the closest you’ll get. There is a sensation of being incredibly remote without having to take a multi-day trip.
This rapid is named after Walt Blackadder, who was a wilderness advocate and whitewater pioneer from Idaho. While the Class IV drop of this rapid is relatively forgiving, rafters will find some surprises at the end.
There Are So Many Great White Water Raft Trips in Idaho, You’ll Never Want to Leave!
Idaho is frequently listed in the top states to go white water rafting, and it’s no wonder. Whether you’re just learning how to white water raft or a seasoned pro, Idaho is a great place to have a wild and scenic rafting trip.
Idaho has more than 100,000 miles of river and has an incredibly low population density. This means that your runs will feel quiet and you’ll be able to find solitude in nature.
The Salmon River runs through the Lower 48’s largest wilderness area. There you might be able to spot martens, bears, bighorn sheep, and so much more.
If Idaho only had the Salmon River, it would still be a legendary spot for white water rafting! In fact, you’ll find so much more rafting there that it’ll be hard to ever leave. If you somehow get tired of white water rafting, you can fill up your time with fly-fishing, hiking, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, or swimming.
Did you find this article about the best places to white water raft in Idaho interesting? If so, be sure to check out the rest of our travel blog articles for more fascinating and informative articles!