Boise River floating is one of our favorite activities here in the Treasure Valley. Get tips on how, when & where to float the Boise.
One of the first things I did on my first visit to Boise was float the river through town. I'd heard of doing it a few years earlier, when my aunt and her kids took my mom during a visit. And when we came out for our own visit, we got the honor too.
You see, floating the Boise River is somewhat of a summer tradition here. As soon as the spring floods recede and temps warm up, Valley residents start hauling their rafts, tubes, kayaks and even air mattresses to the river for a fun and relaxing 2 to 4 hour float... and maybe a few thrills over some mild rapids too.
So I was pretty excited when my cousins borrowed a 6-man raft and loaded up their kayaks to show us the fun of floating on Labor Day 2003. It proved to be quite an adventure and a lot of laughs. After we moved here, we rented rafts, tubes and kayaks on a few occasions ourselves.
In fact, my husband and I enjoyed it so much, we bought our own small raft... big mistake. But that's a long story. Suffice it to say, we are NOT compatible in the same raft. Fast forward to July 2010 when I got the inspiration to buy our own cheap inflatable, sit-on-top kayaks... one for each of us... and we discovered the pure joy of floating the Boise river all over again.
No more fights... just peaceful drifting in the hot Idaho summer sun past both bucolic and urban scenes. We did it over and over through the rest of the summer and right into fall. And now we can't wait till warm weather returns so we can go float the Boise river once again!
Good news! Most summer visitors to Boise will be able to arrange a float trip, if they wish. Floating this river really doesn't take a lot of skill, as it is mostly flat, with just a few mild sections of rapids, which you can often avoid, if you really want to.
You can float this river on an inner tube, in either a molded or inflatable kayak, in a canoe or in a small or large raft. I've even seen giant "party" tubes and air mattresses used as flotation devices on the Boise River.
You can bring your own float or you can rent one from Epley's Boise River Rentals. They offer 2-person kayaks, inner tubes and both 4- and 6-person rafts, plus life jackets. Rentals are generally for 3 hours, which is plenty of time to get down the river, as long as you don't make too many stops.
You can't make reservations, so if you plan to float the Boise River on a weekend, get your day started by early afternoon, or you may have to wait for equipment to come back from the take-out point.
Rentals are only available from whenever the river is opened (usually by July 4th, but depends on water levels, for safety's sake) to Labor Day. Epley's may be open other dates; but you'd need to check the website to be sure.
The river floating region begins in a fairly rural area with views of Table Rock Mesa and the surrounding foothills, moving on to views of luxury homes and eventually into town, where you'll see residential areas, Boise State and the "line of jewels" city parks along the Greenbelt.
As I said, the river is mostly fairly gentle, though it does move along at a steady clip. You do have several "diversion dams" to go over. How high and rough these are can vary greatly, depending on what part of the summer/fall you're going over them. At the start of the season, water will definitely be higher and rougher than at the end, as water levels slowly dwindle.
But you would rarely need to worry at any rate. Just take your time and follow where other people go over, and you should be fine... though you should plan to get wet!
Besides the diversion dams, you'll see a number of short rapids stretches along the way. Most of them can be avoided by moving away from them, but I don't advise it. It's great fun and quite a rush, albeit short-lived, to go over them.
You can float the river anywhere between Barber Park and Ann Morrison Park without too many worries. Most people put in at Barber Park, but it's up to you. You definitely need to get out at one of 3 take-out spots at Ann Morrison Park, though, as there is a dangerous diversion dam shortly past it that you should never attempt to go over.
Oh yeah... you'll also see plenty of walkers, joggers and bicyclists on the Greenbelt on both sides as well. And lots of trees and other greenery! It's really just a gorgeous view and oh so peaceful and relaxing, the whole length of your float.
Here's a video from our outdoor life reporter for the local newspaper that will give you an idea what the river is like mid-summer:
Since floating is one-way and the put-in and take-out spots are miles apart, how do you work transportation? Well, you have a couple of choices:
Yep... there is a shuttle provided by Epley's too. You can load your equipment in the back and hop on... it's about a 20-minute ride and only costs a few bucks.
Our favorite thing to do is ride our bikes from home down to Ann Morrison and take the shuttle up to Barber Park, then bike home from Ann Morrison when we're done. Perfect!
One more thing... they have free high speed air pumps at Barber Park to inflate your rafts, etc., which is great, but they are only available when the rental place is open. So if you're planning to float with borrowed or your own equipment when they're not open, then be sure you bring a pump too.
Alcohol is not allowed legally within 250 feet of the river, so don't plan to float and drink, unless you're able to do it on the QT. There are float "police" who will be watching and intoxicated people have been arrested in the past.
If you want to picnic along the river, there are quite a few beaches or pull out spots where you can do so. A couple of them may even have picnic tables or benches to sit on. There are also a couple of portapotties along the way at areas marked as "rest areas".
During late summer, you may be able to find some wonderful wild blackberry bushes full of fruit. The best ones are in some of the tributaries. So be on the lookout!
The water is cold – even in high summer – because it's runoff from mountain streams. So be prepared... and have warm, dry clothes to change into at the end of the line.
The bottom of the Boise is mostly rocky, so wear rubber-soled shoes or sandals to float in. At some point, you're probably going to have to get out and walk... at least a few feet... and wearing footwear will guarantee better footing and protect tender feet from injury.
If you can't swim, wear a life jacket! The river is not wide or too deep in most of its length in the floating region, but still, wearing floatation gear just makes sense if you don't have swimming skills. Same goes for any dogs you might bring along.
Floating the Boise River is a wonderful way to experience the magic of our area. I can't recommend it highly enough. So, if you're here during the summer, grab, borrow or rent a kayak, raft or inner tube and head on down to the river!