Thursday, April 26, 2012

Flatwater kayaking/canoeing is a relaxing alternative to whitewater boating in Idaho

Lynda with a friend on the Payette River near Emmett
Steve and Wendy paddle Cascade to Cabarton on the Payette R. 

Hi all,

I did a clinic at Sierra Trading Post this week about flatwater boating in SW Idaho, so I thought I'd make that my tip of the week. The weather this weekend may be a little cool for that, but it's an idea you can file away for when the weather gets a little warmer AND the rivers have dropped below flood stage to a post-peak-flow summer slumber.

Before we get into the flatwater boating discussion, I'd like to remind folks that the biggest used river gear sale in Boise is happening Saturday at Idaho River Sports. It's a great event.

Flatwater boating is a nice and relaxing alternative to whitewater boating in Idaho. It's a hoot to go out with a bunch of friends and paddle in a pond, lake, reservoir or river, watch for wildlife and relax. We're fortunate to have numerous fabulous, scenic flatwater paddling destinations in SW Idaho. But first, a few thoughts about gear.

I met Lynda from Emmett the other night. They're hooked on flatwater boating. Lynda really likes her 12-foot sit-on-top flatwater kayak. It's an Ocean Peekaboo model, named as such because it's got a window in the bottom of the hull for looking at fish and other stuff in the water below.

"I just love it," Lynda says. "Every time we get a chance, we're out on the water. It's just so peaceful and relaxing -- it's so awesome to be out on the water after a stressed-out day at work."

So if you'd like to get into the sport, what kind of craft do you need?

The general options are a canoe, inflatable kayak, sit-on-top kayak or a sea kayak with an enclosed cockpit. The ideal craft depends on where you'd like to go paddling (river, lake or ocean?), the size of your family, how much you expect to use your boat, what kind of performance you're looking for, and of course, your budget.

Personally, I've been canoeing for years, having grown up in Minnesota. I've often used a canoe for flatwater outings on rivers, lake tours and extended trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quetico Provincal Park in Canada. Canoes can carry a significant amount of gear, and they're relatively easy to paddle with instruction and experience.

The downside with canoes is that you need to take a class to learn proper paddling techniques, and they are tippy ... it's very easy to flip a canoe in tricky river currents or when you get into a situation with heavy wind and big waves on a lake. 

I've used inflatable kayaks (IK's) on rivers, and they're super easy to maneuver. They won't flip unless you get into big whitewater. Another advantage is that IK's deflate, so they're easy to transport in a small vehicle or pack on a plane. IK's that do well on rivers don't track that well on a lake, however, and in a stiff headwind, it's hard to make any headway.

Sit-on-top kayaks are cool because they're easy to maneuver, and they take very little instruction, if any. They're hardshell boats, so they are smooth and move fast on the water. Stan Kolby, co-owner of Idaho River Sports, notes that 70 percent of his summer rentals at Quinn's Pond in Boise are sit-on-top kayaks. The customers like them best for cruising around the pond on a scenic tour.   

For sea kayaking, I've used the sit-on-top singles and doubles, and they're pretty bomber. If you're interested in doing lots of trips and tours in island chains and such, higher performance models with enclosed cockpits might be the trick. If you're planning on traveling a long distance, for example, a high-performance boat is going to be less-demanding.

"In a sea kayak, you're going to take about 1,000 strokes per mile," Kolby says. "Depending on the performance of the boat, it might be 900 strokes per mile or 1,200 strokes per mile."

I'm definitely no expert on flatwater paddling equipment. But I'd recommend trying out a boat before you buy it, see how your body fits the boat and make sure it's comfortable. See how it maneuvers, and think about what kind of bodies of water you expect to paddle, and see if it's the right thing for you. Plus, get a nice paddle(s) to go with it. Quality paddles are worth the investment.  

As for where to go flatwater boating, there are a number of locations that rise to the top, like whipped cream. Many of these trips are featured in my guidebook Paddling the Payette (PTP). The Payette River is noteworthy for its world-class whitewater, but the river system also has some premium flatwater trips. In fact, 14 of the 24 trips I feature in the book are flatwater tours.

Now for the flatwater top list:
·    In Boise, Quinn's Pond next to Idaho River Sports, ParkCenter Pond off of ParkCenter Blvd., or Veterans Pond in Veterans State Park off of Veterans Parkway.
·    Montour section of the Payette River. Very easy flat section of the Payette River, starting from the Montour Bridge in the Montour Wildlife Management Area. It's 3.5 miles from the bridge to Black Canyon Reservoir. A bike shuttle is easy. Featured in PTP.
·    "The Meanders," starting from North Beach on Payette Lake near McCall. This is a premium paddling location. There is no current in this old river channel that feeds Payette Lake. It's 4.5 miles from one end to the other. You'll see lots of wildlife, including possibly the resident moose, ospreys, bald eagles, possibly mink, muskrat or beaver, and more. Featured in PTP.
·    Little Payette Lake near McCall. Very sweet paddling location. No motorized craft are allowed on the lake, so it's quiet and hardly anyone goes there in my experience. Featured in PTP.
·    Upper arms of Lake Cascade. I learned about these paddling locations when I worked at Tamarack. I hadn't ever really considered them before that. But they are nice. The Lake Fork Arm, Boulder Creek Arm or North Fork Arm of the lake are the best options when the lake is full in May or June. There are a number of boat ramps in the upper arms. Featured in PTP.
·    Swan Falls Reservoir, starting from Swan Falls Dam south of Kuna in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Put in at the park next to the dam and paddle around and look at birds of prey. Watch out for the wind!
·    Cascade to Cabarton section on the North Fork of the Payette River, starting from the south bridge in the City of Cascade. This section is 9 miles long with a float time of 3-5 hours. It's totally flat with no rapids anywhere. Featured in PTP.
·    North Fork Payette River from McCall to Hartsell Bridge. This section is 9 miles long, there is at least one portage about a log jam, and it takes a full day to float. Lots of meanders. Good fishing. Featured in PTP.
·    Middle Fork Payette River Tie Creek section. This is a fun trip starting from Tie Creek Campground north of Crouch and Garden Valley. This is an 8-mile trip that takes about 2-3 hours. It's fun to observe the funky cabins that line the Middle Fork as you float through. Featured in PTP.

If you like to go flatwater boating, considering hooking up with the Idaho Canoe Club. They traveled to Silver Creek near Picabo for their last trip, and they'll be floating the Middle Fork Tie Creek run on Mother's Day, May 13. 

Informal flatwater trips also are planned through Denny Mooney at Alpenglow Mountainsport.  

Have fun! 


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