Experts: High snowpack levels could make for excellent whitewater rafting, jetboat season

Posted at 8:48 AM, Apr 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-03 08:09:55-04

BOISE — Idaho outfitters are excited about mountain snowpack levels across Idaho -- because the abundant snow provides a strong indication of a promising whitewater rafting and jet boating season on rivers this spring and summer.

Experts say Idaho snowpack levels are above-average in the river basins, that count the most for whitewater rafting and jet boating statewide.

“Snowpack levels are particularly strong in the Owyhee (130 percent of normal) and Bruneau river basins (121 percent of normal), where desert river trips are wholly dependent on natural runoff,” said Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association spokesman Steve Stuebner.

“It just looks tremendous,” added Jon Barker, owner of Barker River Expeditions. “We’re really excited about this year.”

Barker offers Owyhee River Trips and Jarbidge-Bruneau river trips in the Southwest Idaho desert, and also leads 4- to 6-day canyoneering trips in the Owyhee Plateau. Because of deep snow in the Owyhee and Bruneau basins, outfitters can offer more trips in that region this year over a longer period of time.

“Consistent, bountiful water supplies in Idaho, combined with a strong economy, is leading to more outfitter bookings overall, outfitters say. People who want to go rafting and jet boating in Idaho should take action now to book trips before the remaining vacant seats are sold,” Stuebner said,

“Because of the strong economy, many outfitters have booked most -- if not all -- of their trips this year, and they’re starting to book trips for the 2020 season,” said Jerry Hughes of Hughes River Expeditions. Hughes runs trips on the national wild and scenic Selway River and Middle Fork Salmon River.

“Looking at the snowpack right now, it looks like we might have an ideal water year –- not too much water, and not too little,” said Hughes, who has been a professional guide for 45-plus years.

The river season “is looking great,” added Ron Abramovich, Water Supply Specialist for NRCS Snow Survey in Idaho. “All of the snow is going to provide a great runoff season. That’s good news for all of the outfitters and rafters in Idaho.”

Snowpack in the Payette River Basin (125 percent of normal) and the Lochsa River Basin (93 percent of normal) means there will be plenty of whitewater rafting on two of Idaho’s most popular day trip rivers. Hard-cores are just beginning to float both rivers as the snow begins to melt.

“We anticipate fantastic flows on the Moyie, St. Joe and Lochsa,” said Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene.

A mix of high-elevation snow, combined with low-elevation melt is saturating the ground and will result in higher water as the sun melts the high-elevation snows later on, Grubb says. “We expect that summer flows will stay higher for a longer period as the bountiful snowpack replenishes spring water that will feed streams well into the season.”

The Payette River has natural runoff; plus, it feeds off of two reservoirs that provide season-long flows, making for a long summer season on the Main Payette, South Fork Payette and North Fork Payette.

Abundant water and reservoir storage in the Upper Snake River region also means floaters will have a rare opportunity to book trips on the Murtaugh whitewater section of the Snake River near Twin Falls in April and May. Several other, more mellow whitewater trips also will have a strong season, said Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service in Hagerman.

“We’re hoping for a good season, but it depends on how much water we get flowing through the Middle Snake,” Gardner said. “Sometimes, it can be too high, but we have safety guidelines for when we will take customers on the Murtaugh and the Hagerman section of the Snake. It’s still great to have the opportunity to offer spring trips on the Middle Snake.”

The Main Salmon River of No Return section and Middle Fork of the Salmon River both appear poised for a great season, stated Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips in Salmon. “The Salmon Basin has slightly above-average snowpack -- 111 percent of normal – but the next two months of spring weather will determine exactly how the season plays out,” he said.

“Things have certainly changed since the month of February,” he added, noting that some parts of the Salmon River Basin had more than double the amount of precipitation that month. “The runoff will depend on whether we have a warm and dry spring, or a cool and wet spring. We have reason to be optimistic.”

Right now, it continues to be on the cool and wet side at least for the next week.

(photo courtesy: Steve Stuebner)