Whitewater rafting in Idaho

David Kirk, O'shann Williams, Alicia Matsuura, Scott Smith, Kendall Armstrong, and Jake Lauritsen take on the whitewater rapids of the Salmon River.
Meg Matsuura
Staff Writer

Need something else to check off that summer bucket list? Hold on to your paddles because if you're looking for thrill and excitement, you need to look no further than your own backyard. Idaho is not only known for its potatoes and the scenic outdoors, it is also home to some of the best whitewater rapids in the nation. Rafting and kayaking enthusiasts from all over come to the Gem State to experience the wild adventures it has to offer.
Whitewater rafting can be frightening, yet rewarding. It challenges the riders to work as a team to strategically maneuver themselves through the changing course of the river. But just like any other high-risk and adrenaline pumping sport, there are several safety precautions that must be addressed and followed.
Guy Mangum has rafted and kayaked whitewater rapids all over the Northwest United States. With over 15 years of experience, he shares some of his top safety tips.
"The most important rule of whitewater rafting is to always wear a life jacket," said Mangum. "Water is a powerful force. People can't risk being over their heads when it comes to dealing with Mother Nature."
Another important safety precaution is to always ride the river with someone who knows what they are doing, whether it be a professional guide or an experienced rafter.
"Water is unpredictable and can be extremely difficult to navigate," said Mangum. "Judgment is key. If you don't think you can handle a rapid, it's best to walk it."
Planning a rafting trip takes time and preparation. Some of the major whitewater rivers also have the option of hiring a professional guide to organize and lead a trip.
Here are some of the top whitewater locations in Idaho.
1. Main Salmon
Also known as the "River of No Return," the Main Salmon weaves its way through steep granite cliffs and pine trees. The river not only offers fast rapids, but it also has calm sections and pools that are perfect for swimming and relaxing. Wildlife is abundant and mountain goats can be seen scaling the rocky cliffs. The shores are lined with several campsites, ideal for a week-long rafting trip.
2. Selway
Considered to be a premier whitewater float trip, the Selway has a unique rainforest ecosystem and is known for its solitude. The floating season is short (late May - early August) and it is a rare occurrence to see other rafting groups. The water quality of the Selway is excellent and described as being "crystal clear."
3. Middle Fork
Located on the Salmon River, the Middle Fork is legendary. It has a 100 miles of whitewater and requires a permit in order to float. In 1968, the Middle Fork became one of the original eight rivers in the nation designated as "scenic" and "wild."
4. Hells Canyon
Known as the deepest gorge in North America, rafting through Hells Canyon is an experience all its own. The river is lined with stunning rock formations and the ancient remnants of past inhabitants. The water is considered to be fairly warm and yields some of the best whitewater rapids in the Northwest U.S.
More information on these prime whitewater locations can be found online.
Whitewater rafting is an adventure that every person should experience at least once in their lifetime; however, for Mangum, the experience goes beyond the thrill and excitement.
"I love sharing the whitewater experience with other people," said Mangum. "I especially love taking first-timers and seeing them overcome their fears. That's the best part."