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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Idaho rafting outfitters buoyed by rivers outlook

Paddlers on a guided whitewater trip head down a remote stretch of the Owyhee River in Idaho. (Courtesy / Courtesy of Barker River Adventures)
Paddlers on a guided whitewater trip head down a remote stretch of the Owyhee River in Idaho. (Courtesy / Courtesy of Barker River Adventures)

Mother Nature blessed Idaho with deep snow in the mountains this winter, ranging from 98 percent to 180 percent of normal statewide, setting up an outstanding year for fishing and whitewater boating on the state’s world-class rivers.

The first trips of the season on canyon rivers such as the Owhyee are already gearing up for April.

Some outfitters are thinking big with trips they wouldn’t have dared to offer in recent years.

“Things are shaping up to have one of the best seasons in a long time,” said Erik Weiseth with Orange Torpedo river trips, which offers multi-day trips on the Salmon and Owyhee rivers in Idaho. “This is going to be a season for the record books.”

In a year with robust snow, all of Idaho’s key river basins, including the Salmon, Snake, Lochsa, Owyhee, Bruneau, Payette, Henrys Fork, St. Joe and Moyie will have a full season, says Steve Stuebner, speaking for the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.

Jon Barker, owner of Barker River Expeditions, is booking Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau trips through April and May. The desert canyons are spectacular, but they don’t always have enough snow for a long season.

However, last week the Owyhee had 117 percent of normal snowpack and the Bruneau had 120 percent, Stuebner said.

“I think it’s looking really great,” Barker says, noting that his guides also take customers on multi-day guided canyoneering trips.

This year, Barker is offering a 17-day, 206-mile trip down the full length of the Owyhee River, from top of the East Fork Owyhee River to the Middle Owyhee and the Lower Owyhee. “I’ve always wanted to offer that trip, and this year is the perfect time to do it,” he said.

Hells Canyon Adventures runs jet boat loaded with families, reunions, business groups and tour bus groups down the Snake River through big and fun rapids like Wild Sheep and Granite Creek. “I’m pretty pleased, the water looks really good and our bookings are strong,” says Mark Yates, jet boat captain.

Popular day-trip rivers like the Lochsa in North Idaho, the Salmon near Stanley and Riggins, and the Payette near McCall will offer whitewater trips as the snowmelt comes off in the spring. “The deep snowpack should provide a long season,” barring an unexpected snowpack melt-off, Stuebner said.

Snowpack in the Clearwater River Basin, for example, was roughly 112 percent of normal last week.

“We like average. Average is what we want,” says Marty Smith, owner of Three Rivers rafting company in Lowell near the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway rivers. “We should have good flows into June this year. We’re hoping we’ll also have a longer season on the Selway for trips into July.”

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