Thursday, June 27, 2019

10 perfect paddling destinations in SW Idaho for SUPs and kayaks

SUP'ing on the Boise River near Discovery Park is a less-crowded place to paddle below Lucky Peak Dam.
Hi all,

The weather is warming up, the Boise River float season kicks off next week, and that means it's time to get your boating gear together for summer paddling adventures -- if you haven't done that already!

This week's outdoor tip is for people who are enjoying the fast-growing sport of Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP), as well as sit-on-top kayaks and other flat-water craft.

Quinn's Pond has been the go-to destination for SUPs in Boise, and often times, it's challenging to even find a place to park at Esther Simplot Park to get easy access to Quinn's Pond (the old Bob Rice Ford parking lot is a great alternative, however, with plenty of space).

So I thought I would dish up some alternative locations close to home for flat-water SUP'ing, canoeing or kayaking.

I spoke with the experts at Idaho River Sports and Alpenglow Mountainsport (both of whom have tons of SUP and kayak rentals available) for ideas, plus my guidebook, Paddling the Payette, has more than 15 fantastic flat-water and moderate, moving-water destinations for SUPs and kayaks. You also can buy waterproof Payette River maps on my web site.

Be sure to wear life jackets, helmets and safety gear on rocky moving water like the Boise River and Payette River. Stay away from the river banks when possible as well to avoid getting caught in debris, downed trees, etc. 

1. Boise River - Just because of its sheer popularity and convenience, thousands of people are drawn to float the Boise River ... sometimes 10,000 a day! The Boise River is expected to open next week after the Boise Fire Department does a safety sweep of the river on Friday. Watch the Ada County Parks & Waterways web site or Facebook page for information on the official opening day. All of the fun starts at Barber Park. SUP'ing the Boise River can be challenging because of the diversion drops and moving water, so you might not necessarily want to go there first. Plus, the water is VERY COLD! My step-daughter broke off the back fin of her SUP last year at a diversion drop, just saying. 

Beautiful evening by Discovery Park on Wednesday. These two paddlers were the only ones on the water. 
2. Discovery State Park - Located at the foot of Lucky Peak, Discovery Park is a great place to paddle in the Boise River below the dam. The shady park is a great place to hang out, so bring a picnic, and there is a great spot for off-leash dogs to run around. You can paddle towards Diversion Dam, and then paddle back in the eddies along the reservoir.

3. Arrowrock Reservoir - Quiet and uncrowded. Lots of places to launch by campgrounds or other dispersed sites along the west side of the reservoir by the Middle Fork Road. Could be windy in the afternoon, so be aware of that. 

4. Mores Creek arm of Lucky Peak Reservoir. Put in at Robie Creek Park. Quiet and relatively uncrowded.

Video courtesy Idaho Caller 

5. Payette River - Montour reach near Sweet. Moving water but no rapids. Multiple sand bars as the river level drops. Put-in at the Montour IDFG Wildlife Managemennt Area by the river bridge. Easy bike shuttle possible by planting a bike at the beginning of Black Canyon Reservoir. 3.5 miles. 

6. South Fork Payette River - Garden Valley reach. Slower-water section of the South Fork between Hot Springs Campground and Deer Creek launch site. Beautiful setting in Garden Valley. 6-mile trip.

7. Centennial Park to Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls. World-class paddling experience in the giant Snake River Canyon. I've written about the trip for Southern Idaho Tourism. Fabulous trip!(Video courtesy Southern Idaho Tourism)

The Meanders where it flows into Payette Lake. 
8. North Fork Meanders, North Beach, north of McCall.This is one of the sweetest places to SUP, kayak or canoe anywhere in Idaho. Stillwater experience, with deep pools and a winding river winding through forests and meadows. Watch for the resident moose! The float is up to 4.5 miles long, depending on your preference. Be sure to take Eastside Drive to North Beach and the Meanders during the week; Warren Wagon Road is closed for construction during weekdays.

Payette River below Kelly's Whitewater Park
9. Cascade to Cabarton, North Fork Payette River - Put in by the ID 55 south bridge as you pull into the town of Cascade. Flat moving water on the North Fork with no rapids. Long trip, 9 miles of meandering river through cattle pastures on your way to Cabarton Bridge. West Mountain looms off to the West. Be sure to bring a lunch.  

Courtesy Stanley chamber/Visit Idaho
10. Redfish Lake - Hey, if you're in the Sawtooths, how can you go wrong? Word for the wise: watch out for winds! Spectacular setting with the Sawtooths framing your paddle adventure the whole time. 

Need instruction? Idaho River Sports offers a wide assortment of SUP classes - they also have SUP Pilates and SUP Yoga classes. See IRS web site for details.

Steve talks about his outdoor tip of the week on Friday mornings at 7:40 a.m. on 94.9 FM The River with Ken Bass and Deb Courson Smith. Please tune in!   

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Go see the North Fork Championship, plus a high country condition report

A kayaker cuts hard-left to go around the gate behind the rock near the top of Jake's. (Courtesy Canoe/Kayak) 

Hi all,

Many of the best kayakers from around the world are coming to Idaho this week to compete in the North Fork Championship on the mighty North Fork of the Payette River. KTVB-TV reported that 180 athletes from 18 countries will compete for the $5,000 top prize.

I highly recommend that you go watch the main event on Saturday! It starts at 1 p.m. on Jacob's Ladder, one of the most challenging sections of gnarly Class 5 whitewater in North America. These paddlers will be not only surviving the churning whitewater, but also running gates in the middle of Jake's, and that's when things can get interesting!

Take a look:

(Video courtesy Outside mag)

Jacob's Ladder is located about half-way from Banks to Smith's Ferry on one of those rare places in the north-bound lanes where there's a passing lane on a long uphill. That's the spot! Find a place to pull over on the shoulder, or bring a bike and find a better place to park and hang out when the race is over.

I find it totally invigorating just watching the expert kayakers trying to navigate the big and bold features on the North Fork at an incredibly fast speed. The whitewater is ferocious! It seems to eat people until they emerge on the other side of the wave or hole and keep on paddling. It's just totally impressive!

On Thursday night, June 13, they're showing a series of whitewater films at the Egyptian Theater. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. Raffle items will be given away from NRS, Immersion Research, Astral, Dagger Kayak, Werner paddles, GoPro's, and many others. I'm sure the footage will be amazing! 

Speaking of rivers, you might have noticed that river-boating season is upon us! Time to dust off the kayaks, rafts, SUPs, etc., and go paddling! 

The North Fork of the Payette River was running just under 3,000 cfs at Banks on Thursday, so the rapids on the Cabarton section of the North Fork would be really fun right now. There'd be plenty of current to SUP the North Fork from Cascade to Cabarton, and the South Fork and Main Payette are rocking as well! Now that it's getting hot, it's time to hit the rivers! The Salmon River was running 31,000 cfs at Whitebird on Thursday. That'd make for a big ride in Riggins! Here's a link to all Idaho river flows.  

Need info. on Payette River flat-water and whitewater trips? See my guide, Paddling the Payette, which has details descriptions and maps to 24 day trips on the Payette River. 
Tuesday evening in Ponderosa State Park at the top of the Huckleberry Trail.

Osprey Point in Ponderosa State Park is my happy place, overlooking Payette Lake. 
High-country condition report: I spent a few days in McCall this week, and it's absolutely gorgeous in Long Valley right now, with tall green grass flowing in the breeze, flowers popping, and the snow receding in the mountain tops. 

I checked with the Boise, Payette and Sawtooth national forests to get an idea on snow level. I'm hearing snow levels are generally in the 7,000-8,000 range, but in the north slopes and shadows, it would be much lower than that.

  • Low-elevation trails in the McCall area are all in great shape right now, and ripe for the plucking. This includes trails at Ponderosa State Park, Payette Rim Trail, Jug Mountain Ranch and Tamarack. The North Valley Trail is in perfect condition, too. 
  • Brundage Mountain is opening this weekend. There's too much snow at the summit to allow top-to-bottom mountain biking. People will be able to ride both directions on bike trails from the base area, in the meantime. There's a Father's Day Brunch on Sunday. See web site for details. 
  • Some tidbits from the Sawtooth NRA
    • Alice Lake-Toxaway Loop is snowed in. 
    • 4th of July Trailhead is snowed in. 
    • Iron Creek trail may be clear to Alpine Lake, but not Sawtooth. 
    • You can't get to Bridal Veil Falls from Stanley Lake because of a high water creek crossing. 
    • Mosquitoes are reportedly numerous. 
  •  Tidbits from the Payette National Forest - The county plowed the road to Burgdorf, Secesh Meadows and Warren, so that should be open. Lick Creek Summit is still snow-bound. Most high lakes may be snow-bound. Little-used camp sites and campgrounds on the South Fork Salmon River are recommended ... they are lower-elevation.
  • I didn't get any intel from the Boise National Forest, so you might check with a ranger district if you're heading that way. 
Steve talks about his weekly outdoor tip with Ken Bass and Deb Coursen Smith on 94.9 FM The River at approximately 7:40 a.m. on Fridays. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Sign up for the Boise Trails Challenge! Ride all of the Boise R2R trails in 30 days!

Nick Smith riding near the Boise Ridge - He's ridden all the R2R Trails in a month 3 years in a row ...

Nick Smith and a friend out riding the trails. 
Hi all,

Have you heard about the Boise Trails Challenge? 

I heard about it off-hand in a few casual conversations, and then I saw it on Facebook the other day. The idea is to ride 158 miles, covering 83 trails and 193 trail segments, including nearly all of the Ridge to Rivers trails, in one month. It's a friendly race against the clock. Hook up your Strava device to the Boise Trails Challenge, pay a modest registration fee, and join the fun, all brought to you by

This year the event is being held from June 21-July 21, so you have a little time to get plugged in! Three-hundred mountain bikers are signed up already! I think the event is open to runners and hikers, too.

Boise realtor Nick Smith, 40, has done it three years in a row, two of them before it became a real event. "My brother and I thought it'd be cool to ride all of the trails as fast as possible in a month," Smith says.

Last year, he did all of the trails in 18 days over 16 rides, covering 281 miles and more than 50,000 vertical feet. Wow! Who needs to go to Moab when you can absolutely work your body riding the rich variety of trails and landscapes right here at home! Smith hit all the trails while balancing his work life and raising three kids.

Apparently, some absolute hard-core competitive racers knocked out the course in several days. Can you imagine?

"I love mountain biking -- it's my favorite thing to do," he says. "I think we're spoiled with the quality of trails that we have in Boise."

What kind of rides have you been doing, lately? Riding Sidewinder-Fat Tire every time you ride? Corrals Loop? Watchman? Let's face it, a lot of people are stuck in a rut, and they're not necessary trying anything new ...

"How many of Boise’s amazing trails have you tried? The Boise Trails Challenge is an annual month-long challenge to complete as many of Boise’s trails as you can during a single month. You’ll discover new favorite trails, break out of your routine, test your endurance, and compete for prizes!"

I see this as a great way to celebrate our trails ... people can sign up, even if they don't think they can do every ride as an incentive to just see what you're capable of!

Smith thinks that strong intermediate riders could do it. He's got a buddy who has mountain biked for for only two years, and he completed the Boise Trails Challenge in 30 days.

The cool thing about participating in the challenge is that the Strava app will sync with the interactive trail map on the web site, and it'll track your progress, and keep you informed as to what trails you have left to cover. After each trail is ridden, the trail segment will fill with a different color than the interactive map to show you're done that one.

I asked Smith about his strategy. He recommends sitting down with a hard copy of the Ridge to Rivers map, and plan out your rides to try to be efficient and avoid duplication. "I sat down and planned when and where I was going to ride," he says.

He tried to vary his rides between super-challenging long hard climbs and easier trails with less climbing. This was Day #1 for him: a 45-mile ride, starting in Camelsback, up Hulls to the motorcycle parking area, down Trail #1 to Bob's, then up Highlands Trail to Corrals, then up Hard Guy to Sheep Camp to Dry Creek, then up Sweet Connie to Eastside, part of Around the Mountain Trail and down the ridge road back to Boise ... I might have missed a few things in there, but man, that's one heck of a day's ride!

"It's a fun way to explore Boise," Smith says. "I just want to improve on my time from last year. I'm competing pretty much against myself."

Prizes: All participants will receive wool Boise Trails socks ($18 retail value), and finishers and winners will get even more stuff, and there are random prizes and drawings, too.

I highly recommend the Boise Trails Challenge! I personally would like to try it, and even if you don't want to try to do all the trails in a month, set your own goal and try to cover all 158 miles at your own pace. Just to knock out all the trails in one summer season would be impressive as well!

Sometimes it takes a big goal to improve your fitness, get stronger, maybe lose some weight, and earn it the hard way by taking on the mountain! The mountains don't care, I notice, how fast you go or how you're feeling that day. They are the great equalizer!
- SS