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Deep mountain snow gets outfitters excited about Idaho whitewater season

Pipeline Rapids, Lochsa River 2016 photo by Dani Smith Three Rivers Rafting

Lochsa Falls on the Lochsa River (courtesy Three Rivers Rafting)

BOISE — (March 14, 2017) – Mother Nature blessed Idaho with deep snow in the mountains this winter, ranging from 98 percent to 180 percent of normal statewide, setting up an outstanding year for fishing and whitewater boating on Idaho’s world-class rivers.

“We’re pretty excited! Things are shaping up to have one of the best seasons in a long time,” said Erik Weiseth with Orange Torpedo river trips, which offers multi-day trips on the Salmon and Owyhee rivers in Idaho. “This is going to be a season for the record books.”

In a year with robust snow, all of Idaho’s key river basins, including the Salmon, Snake, Lochsa, Owyhee, Bruneau, Payette, Henrys Fork, St. Joe and Moyie will have a full season. Idaho is known as the “whitewater” state with hundreds of miles of fun rapids and scenic canyons.

Jon Barker, owner of Barker River Expeditions, is booking Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau trips through April and May right now. The desert canyons are spectacular, but they don’t always have enough snow for a long season. Right now, the Owyhee has 117 percent of normal snowpack and the Bruneau has 120 percent.

“I think it’s looking really great,” Barker says.

Owyhee River

Owyhee River (courtesy Barker River Expeditions)

Barker takes customers on the river, and he also offers multi-day guided canyoneering trips in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Idaho Public Television recently tagged along for program titled “Canyonlands Calling.” IPTV called the canyons “some of the wildest and most beautiful country in the West.”

This year, Barker is offering a 17-day, 206-mile trip down the full length of the Owyhee River, from top of the East Fork Owyhee River to the Middle Owyhee and the Lower Owyhee. “I’ve always wanted to offer that trip, and this year is the perfect time to do it,” he says.

Hells Canyon Adventures runs jet boat and float boat trips in Hells Canyon. They take families, reunions, business groups and tour bus groups down the mighty Snake River through big and fun rapids like Wild Sheep and Granite Creek. “I’m pretty pleased, the water looks really good and our bookings are strong,” says Mark Yates, jet boat captain.

Popular day trip rivers like the Lochsa in North Idaho, the Salmon in Stanley and Riggins, and the Payette will offer whitewater trips as the snowmelt comes off in the spring, and the deep snow will make for a very long season.

Snowpack in the Clearwater River Basin, for example, is about 112 percent of normal, just slightly above average. “We like average, average is what we want,” says Marty Smith, owner of Three Rivers rafting company in Lowell. “We should have good flows into June this year. We’re hoping we’ll also have a longer season on the Selway for trips into July.”

Middle Fork 2

Fishing the Middle Fork Salmon River … (courtesy Idaho River Adventures)

The Payette River looks to have a long season, and it’s already running strong with initial snowmelt happening now. “We’ve had an awesome amount of snow,” says J.B. Lawler, owner of Idaho Whitewater Unlimited. “We should have some really fun, big whitewater, and a long summer season.”

On the fishing side of things, the guides at Three Rivers Ranch in Eastern Idaho are expecting a great year. “A good water year means it’s going to be good for bug hatches,” says B.J. Gerhart, a fishing guide for Three Rivers. Insect hatches are important for fly fishing, and the Henrys Fork, South Fork Snake River, Teton River and other streams in the area are super popular for fly fishing.

Henrys Fork

Big rainbow caught on the Henrys Fork … Wow! (Courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

The flows coming out of Island Park Reservoir are ideal for rainbow trout spawning right now, Gerhart says. Anglers can book fishing trips and stay at Three Rivers Ranch for a week to sample all of the different rivers in the area for fishing.

Spring flows on the Snake River are starting to happen in the Middle Snake region this week, as the Bureau of Reclamation releases flows from Upper Snake reservoirs for flood control. That has brought 212-foot Shoshone Falls to life, with flows ranging from 7,000-10,000 cfs, and that also means there are flows in the Murtaugh section of the Snake for whitewater rafting.

Idaho Guide Service offers trips on the Murtaugh section, the Hagerman reach of the Snake, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and on the Salmon River.

“We were just out on the Murtaugh last weekend – it was awesome,” says Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service. “Now we need some warm weather so people want to go rafting.”

Americans love to visit Idaho for outdoorsy activities

Playing in the Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho (Courtesy Idaho Statesman)

By Steve Stuebner

American travel and tourism trends show that Idaho is growing in popularity as a primo destination for outdoorsy visitors, and contrary to national trends, people are staying longer on overnight trips to enjoy quality outdoor-adventure activities.

Visitors are twice as likely to come to Idaho to engage in outdoor activities, compared to national norms, where folks may travel to go shopping or visit friends and relatives.

And when people come to Idaho, they like to go hiking, whitewater rafting, camping, fishing, swimming, hunting, birding, and relax on the beach or in a comfy cabin, according to a recent study by Longwoods International.

The Lochsa River provides oodles of fun. (Courtesy Bear Paw Outfitters)

This makes sense for a state that’s known as the “whitewater capital” of the United States with popular kayaking and rafting destinations such as the Salmon River, Hells Canyon, Payette and Lochsa, and nationally known fishing destinations such as Silver Creek, the Henrys Fork and South Fork of the Snake River. Plus, nearly two-thirds of Idaho is comprised of national forest and public lands where people can go skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountain climbing, rock climbing and more.

Idaho outfitters provide guided trips to all of these activities for people who don’t have the equipment, know-how or experience to do it on their own. See ioga.org and raftidaho.org for a menu of outfitters to contact about outdoorsy trips.

Hanging out around the campfire is one of the bonuses of going on a multi-day outdoor adventure …

Diane Norton, Manager of the Idaho Tourism Division for the Idaho Department of Commerce, said she’s not surprised by the findings of the Longwoods study. “We’re above the national norm on all of the outdoor activities,” Norton said. “It’s what we’re known for.”

An America Outdoors report on national outfitted travel trends shows that the top activities in outdoor travel in 2013 were lodging and cabin rentals, Standup Paddle (SUP) boarding, and canoe and kayak rentals. Guided trips of shorter duration were more popular on a national basis, than longer trips, said David Brown, executive director of America Outdoors.

Stand up paddle boarding, SUP for short, is one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities nationwide. In Idaho, you can SUP on lakes and rivers. (Courtesy Gregg Mizuta)

“Lower risk trips close to metro areas are growing dramatically,” Brown says.

But in Idaho, the length of stay is increasing. “Our trips of 4-7 days are going up, which shows that people are buying a pre-packaged trip,” Norton says. “And our day trips are increasing, too.”

Plus, Idaho’s many river outfitters provide SUP experiences as part of day trips and multi-day trips.

On a national level, approximately 70 percent of outfitters saw their profit margins increase in 2014, a good sign indicating that the grip of the recession is ending when it comes to leisure and adventure travel, officials said.

Elk hunting trips are seeing a resurgence in growth in Idaho.

John May, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, said he’s hearing the same thing from Idaho outfitters. “The general trend is that Idaho is doing better than the national average,” May said. “We had a good whitewater season, fishing trips were up, our hunting trips were up with bookings increasing for next year, and our lodging trips were up.”

Idaho trips are increasing because the state didn’t suffer the effects of the recession as badly as some other states, tourism officials said. People coming to Idaho tend to come from adjoining states like Washington, Utah, California and Oregon. Visitors also came from Texas, Florida, Arizona, New York and Montana, the study showed.

Just from casual conversation with the owners of lodging businesses, people enjoy coming to stay in a lodge or a private cabin while they can go horseback riding, hiking and biking, May said. They like to do a mix of leisure activities and come back to a comfy bed in a heated quarters.

“They want to experience the West, but not necessarily in a hard-core way,” he says.

“Glamping” on the Salmon River. Looks pretty comfy! (Courtesy glampinghub.com)

Glamping” is another activity that outfitted guests enjoy, where the women are pampered with yoga and massage activities, gourmet food is served on fine china with cloth tablecloths and fine wine, and sleeping quarters are very comfortable with nice sheets and blankets on raised beds or cots in Safari-quality wall tents.

“This kind of activity is now on the urban dweller’s bucket list,” May said. “They now realize that they can go “rough it” outdoors and enjoy a surprising list of amenities.”

Another reason people come to Idaho, Norton says, is that “we’re a bargain” compared to many other destinations in terms of lodging and trip costs. Plus, many people know that they can enjoy outdoor activities in Idaho without feeling pinched by thousands of other tourists doing the same thing.

We call that the “Private Idaho” experience. Come visit and find out what that’s all about!

For more information, go to ioga.org, raftidaho.org or visitidaho.org.