Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Five unsung off-the-beaten path paddling destinations for kayaks, SUPs + camping tips

The mountains are calling! Find your own Private Idaho at Upper Payette Lake.
Hi all,

It's mid-summer in Boise, and the mid-90ish temperatures definitely inspire us to head for cooler locations and our rivers and lakes in particular.

Last weekend, I floated the Cabarton stretch of the Payette River on Saturday, and it was busy as usual, but the Main Payette was absolutely slammed around Banks and the North Fork Payette also  was super busy with a lot of visiting Class 5 boaters testing their skills on the world-class river.

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'm recommending five more off-the-beaten-path paddling and Stand-Up Paddle Board (SUP) locations fairly close to home. Several of these recommendations come from my book, Paddling the Payette, a guide to 24 day trips on the Payette River system.

I also would take a moment to plug the Boise Goathead Fest happening Friday, Aug. 2 and Saturday, Aug. 3 at Cecil Andrus Park across from the Idaho Statehouse. This is an important event for bike-related nonprofits, so please try to participate in the parade (pre-register for $5 donation), drink beer, and buy food and merchandise to pump up the sales.

The Upper South Fork Payette River has a beautiful turquoise color.
Now for the unsung, off-the-beaten path paddling recommendations:

1. Upper South Fork Payette River - The upper South Fork just doesn't get very much public use. There's a nice Class 2 section between Eight Mile Creek (just upstream of Sourdough Lodge) and Helende Campground. It's running about 500 cfs right now, perfect low-flow level with some cushion. There's several Class 3 rapids below Helende and Kirkham Hot Springs, and then the river mellows again to Lowman. The Upper South Fork from Bonneville Hot Springs downstream has a number of gnarly and bony rapids at low flow (not recommended). There's a ton of self-support car-camping areas along Idaho 21 along the South Fork, and there's a hot springs in Grand Jean. Lots to do.

Middle Fork Boise River (courtesy John Keys)
2. Middle Fork Boise River - Drive up the Middle Fork road past Arrowrock to Troutdale Campground or any other spot of your choosing, and float the lower section of the Middle Fork Boise River. This is a mostly Class 2 flatwater run with rocks to dodge and small rapids. Good for kayaks, IKs, and skilled SUPs. Bring your camping gear and enjoy the setting along the Middle Fork Boise River. 

Deadwood Reservoir
3. Deadwood Reservoir - It's a long drive, but it's a scenic destination with good fishing, boating and camping in a remote location. Take Banks to Lowman Road to turnoff for Deadwood Reservoir near Little Falls. Go north to the reservoir. At least one developed campground, Cozy Cove, can be reserved through the Boise National Forest. There are lots of options for camping in the area. Deadwood Reservoir is a mile-high elevation-wise, so you can expect cool weather similar to McCall and the West Central Mountains.

North Fork Payette, south of Sheep Bridge
4. Sheep Bridge to Hartsell Bridge/Smylie Lane on the North Fork of the Payette River - The 9-mile float starts at Sheep Bridge, across Mission Street from the Forest Service Smokejumper Base. Leave a vehicle at the takeout at Smylie Bridge. It's a full day on the water, typically six hours, floating through millions of S-curves and meanders on a slow-moving river. Bring a lunch, your favorite beverages and enjoy it. Best for kayaks, canoes, IKs, and skilled SUPs. There's are a couple of log jams on the second half of the float that you'll need to portage. It can be decent fishing in there, too.

5. Upper Payette Lake - This one doesn't get much use either. It's got fishing and paddling in a beautiful setting surrounded by the Payette National Forest and granite mountains. The location is north of North Beach and Payette Lake, about 15 miles from Shore Lodge. Remember to take East Side Drive if you go during the middle of the week. Warren Wagon Road is closed during the day for construction. Upper Payette is 2 miles long and a half-mile wide, and it's got camp sites and picnic areas. Nice spot.

There you have it! Enjoy these unsung destinations and stay cool!
- SS 

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