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Kayaking In Idaho – Our Favorite “Own Private Idaho” Kayak and Canoe Spots

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking in Idaho can let you experience some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. There are millions of acres of wilderness with glistening rivers allowing you to travel through remote areas on epic whitewater adventures.

As well as stunning mountain backdrops, there are millions of acres of forests packed with wildlife. We’ve made a list of some of our favorite spots to kayak in the Gem State.

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7 Best Places To Kayak In Idaho

1: Blue Heart Springs

If you’re looking for crystal clear blue water, Blue Heart Springs could be the place. This is a scenic area of natural springs on the Snake River that can only be accessed by boat.

You can access the river at Banbury Hot Springs, just north of Buhl. But you need to have a reservation to launch your own kayak because of the limited parking space in the resort. Kayak rentals are available at the resort. 

From Banbury you can paddle north on the river, passing Box Canyon on your right. Box Canyon Springs flow into the river and you can see them up close. Just past the canyon, a forested area is to the north while the river winds west. Head through the forested area to reach Blue Heart Springs.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Banbury Hot Springs, 1128 Banbury Road, Buhl, ID 83316. Take the 4800 North from Route 30.

2: Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge, at almost 8,000 feet, with the Wild and Scenic Snake River flowing through it as it runs along the Idaho/Oregon border. This can be an exciting place to paddle, through the wilderness of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, with some of the biggest whitewater in the Pacific Northwest.

Guide to buying whitewater kayaks

There are various tours through the canyon on inflatable kayaks and rafts. Many of the tours usually last for three or four days, so you can get a genuine experience of paddling the wild river and camping alongside it.

There are several places you can launch, including at Pittsburg Landing and Hells Canyon Creek Visitor Center.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class II to IV (moderate to difficult)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Pittsburg Landing/Campground, NF-493, Lucile, ID 83542.

3: Payette River (Boise National Forest)

Rafitng on a Payette riverPin
Courtesy: Gregory Taylor on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Payette River can be an excellent place to kayak if you’re looking for moderate whitewater with stunning scenery. The river flows through Boise National Forest, with lots of chances to spot wildlife.

There are lots of places to launch your kayak and you can also access both the North and South Forks of the Payette River. The North and South Forks have more difficult rapids, with Class IV and V, so may not be for everyone.

The Main Payette River can be accessed from Banks, at the confluence of the North and South Forks. A seven-mile paddle downstream will take you to the boat ramp at Beehive Bend.

There are various raft outfitters along the river, with kayak rentals available on the South Fork near Garden Valley.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class II to III (easy to moderate)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Banks Grade Way, Banks, ID 83602.

4: Middle Fork of the Salmon River

down the Middle Fork of the Salmon RiverPin
Courtesy: Zachary Collier on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is a designated Wild and Scenic River that flows through some of the most remote areas of the United States. The surrounding area of the Frank Church Wilderness is the most roadless area in the contiguous 48 states, with some remarkable landscapes.

This is a whitewater river so it’s recommended that you have some whitewater experience. You’re also required to have a float permit prior to paddling. The river’s isolation means this is a multi-day river trip, with around 100 miles between the launch site and the take-out.

Inflatable whitewater kayaks guide

The put-in is at Boundary Creek Campground. You can camp there overnight before setting off on your week-long adventure. There are other put-in locations but these require hiring a plane. The take-out is at Cache Bar Boat Ramp and Campground, a few miles west of North Fork.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class II to Class IV (easy to difficult)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Boundary Creek Campground, Boundary Road, Cascade, ID 83611. Take Route 21 northwest from Boise and turn left onto the 579 (a dirt road). Follow the road to the NF-568 (dirt road) – the launch is at the end of the road.

5: Bear Lake

Bear Lake sits on the state border with Utah and covers around 109 square miles close to the Cache Mountains. The sparkling turquoise water means it’s often referred to as the Caribbean of the Rockies.

With calm, flatwater, it can be a great place for all skill levels. However, there are motorized vessels that also use the lake. There are several places where you can launch your boat, including at Bear Lake State Park, on the eastern shores of the lake. The park has restrooms, a boat ramp and campsites.

The lake is surrounded by white sand beaches and mountain scenery, making it a great place to paddle with plenty of places to stop. Kayak rentals are available at North Beach.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

North Beach Road, St. Charles, ID 83272.

6: Lower Salmon River

Boatin on the Lower Salmon RiverPin
Courtesy: Lower Salmon River Boating on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Lower Salmon River, similar to the Middle Fork, flows through some of the most isolated areas in the country, with very few roads. Much of the river is only accessible by boat. This section of the river flows for around 112 miles through large canyons and remote wilderness, with lots of whitewater.

There are many access points for launching your kayak, depending on how many days you want to spend paddling.

It can be around a five-day trip from the launch point at Hammer Creek Campground to the take-out on the Snake River at Heller Bar. Self-issue permits are required to paddle this section and you can get one at Hammer Creek.

There are several outfitters operating on the river, with kayak tours available in Riggins.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class II to IV (moderate to difficult)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Hammer Creek Campground, Hammer Creek Road, White Bird, ID 83554.

7: Dworshak Reservoir

Dworshak Reservoir is set within beautiful scenery with forest covered mountains in almost every direction. The reservoir is 54 miles long, reaching into the Bitterroot Mountains, near where Lewis and Clark camped along their famous journey to the Pacific.

This scenic spot can be an ideal place for beginners, with calm water and lots of quiet coves to explore. There are several campgrounds for extended trips and beaches for easy resting.

A good place to launch is at the Big Eddy Marina in Dworshak State Park. You can also rent kayaks at the marina, and there is plenty of parking, as well as restrooms and picnic areas.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Big Eddy Marina, Ahsahka, ID 83520.

What Are The Idaho Kayak Laws?

US Coast GuardPin

These are just some of the laws you should follow while paddling in Idaho. However, it’s recommended that you research the laws yourself, as our guide is just for reference.

  • PFDs are required for each person on every kayak.
  • Children under 15 must wear a PFD at all times while on any vessel under 19 feet long.
  • Registration is not required for kayaks or canoes unless they have a motor.
  • Invasive Species Sticker is required to be fixed to the bow of your kayak at the top or left (port) sidee.
  • Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is illegal. You can be charged if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher (0.02% for under 21s).
  • white light is required for paddling at night.
  • whistle or other sounding device is required for kayaking.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around ID

Final Say

Idaho is filled with spectacular scenery and beautiful places to paddle. Whether you’re after an exhilarating whitewater trip or a relaxing paddle on a sparkling blue-water lake, you’ll probably find it in Idaho.

Remember to check in advance if you need a permit to paddle in your chosen location. And keep your eyes open for wildlife.

Share this to help other paddlers find new trips.

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