Big snowstorms increase Idaho snowpack to ideal levels for summer river trips

I went backcountry skiing near Idaho City last Saturday, and it was grand. Our biggest concern? Avalanche danger because more than 5 feet of new snow had fallen in the Idaho mountains since mid-January. It just came in with a bang!  

“What a difference a week makes,” said Ron Abramovich, Idaho snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

We dug a pit 6 feet deep and checked on snow safety. Fortunately, the snowpack had stabilized and we were able to ski some glorious powder all day long. Yippie!

Since that time, Idaho has enjoyed a great winter with a steady dose of snow storms and great powder days. As of late March, mountain snowpacks are now reading 90-110 percent of average, re-positioning Idaho’s world-renowned rivers into an “ideal” scenario with plenty of water for a fun-filled spring and summer season, according to snow survey officials and outfitters.

The Salmon River, a popular national destination for family river trips, now has 97 percent of normal snowpack, and the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the second-most popular wilderness river trip in the United States next to the Grand Canyon, made a similar leap to 95 percent.

“We’re excited about it, and our customers are excited about it,” said Greg McFadden of Canyons, a Middle Fork and main Salmon outfitter that specializes in whitewater kayak instruction as part of weeklong river trips. “The kayak surfing should be great.”

Plenty of moisture will ward off wildfires and the rivers will peak earlier, making for a longer summer season, warmer water temperatures, bigger riverside beaches in August, and a longer fishing season, says Alison Steen, owner of Yellow Jacket River Guides. “It’s looking pretty darn ideal!”

Outfitters on the Lochsa and Selway rivers also like the way the winter snowpacks are shaping up. The Clearwater River Basin has increased from 67 percent of normal in early January to 108 percent now.   

“It’s looking to be a safe, enjoyable level,” said Marty Smith, owner of Three Rivers Rafting, which runs trips on the Salmon, Selway and Lochsa rivers. “If we get too much snow up here, it turns people off.”

Idaho’s rivers that are fed by reservoirs, such as on the Snake River, will have plenty of flows this summer regardless because reservoirs are nearly full throughout the Snake River Basin, Abramovich said. That means Hells Canyon of the Snake is likely to have robust river flows throughout the summer season.

Big flows on the Snake open the door to huge fun in Granite Creek Rapids in Hells Canyon. At flows above 20,000 cubic feet per second, boaters can run right up the middle of Granite into what is fondly known as the “green room,” a giant house-sized wave at the entrance. You have to paddle super hard to make it over the crest of the wave, and then hang on for a rip-roaring ride through a series of huge standing waves. It’s guaranteed to please.

For white-knuckle whitewater enthusiasts, consider running a trip on the Class 4+ Murtaugh whitewater reach near Twin Falls. The Murtaugh should run for more than a month this year, plus the water should be pumping big-time over 212-foot Shoshone Falls.

Plus, fishing, floating and camping should be great on two fly fishing jewels in Eastern Idaho — the Henrys Fork and South Fork Snake River.      

So if you’re thinking about booking a river trip this summer, check out the trips available at www.ioga.org. I’ve been guiding trips for more than 25 years as a private boater — and for several years with outfiitters — and I can tell you that Idaho is chockfull of great river guides and high-quality outfitters who’ve been leading trips for 30+ years. You can’t go wrong! 

Written by guest blogger Steve Stuebner