Floating and Rafting the Boise River


General disclaimer: This page is just an attempt at being useful. Using Google Analytics, I noticed that many people find my website while looking for information about floating the Boise river. Since I have floated it exactly 115 times over 11 summers (as of September 2012), I thought maybe I could give some helpful information. But be careful, I have always been good on the water, which means I may not be providing enough caution for those who are inexperienced. There is plenty of other information on the internet and even videos on YouTube.

This only covers the part of the river most commonly floated, which is from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park. I have some familiarity of a few other sections, but you should find someplace else to read about other parts. 

I have some maps and pictures on this page, closer to the bottom. The maps were made using Google Earth and have markers and descriptions. 

Here's a downloadable brochure from Epley's: http://epleys.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=OUWAMAAPn5Q%3d&tabid=101

And Epley's has a floater map: http://epleys.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=zehrVTE9KoY%3d&tabid=101

No glass allowed on the river and no alcohol. Maybe no smoking too. There are rules about wearing life vests too, but I have not noticed them being enforced (inner tubes and beach toys are exempt). I see people getting tickets, especially on busy weekends, but probably for alcohol. Go to this website for information, tips, and rules: http://parks.cityofboise.org/parks-locations/floating-the-boise-river and visit: http://barber-park.com/floating.html

Float time: It takes 1.5 - 2.0 hours to float the river unless you stop. Add more time for filling rafts, deflating rafts, and travel. I leave home, walk into Ann Morrison Park, take the shuttle bus, fill my inner tube, float, maybe stop to jump off the concrete platform at Warm Springs Municipal Golf Course, finish floating, and walk home in less than three hours.

Quick Tips for Floating the Boise River

1) stay in the middle of the channel mostly because you need to 2) stay away from trees. They hang low and scratch you, maybe tip you over. 3) Don't grab a tree branch; the water can pull your raft out from under you, plus they scratch your hands. 4) Lift your butt when going over diversion dams and rocky places, especially if in an inner tube. 5) Go over the diversion dams front first; if sideways  you can more easily tip over. 6) After you fill you raft, and especially black inner tubes, don't leave it in the sun; they heat up and sometimes pop.

What to Wear, What to Bring: Clothes That Can Get Wet and a Cup to Bail Water

There are a couple miniature waterfalls where the river goes over short "diversion dams." These are safe, but you may tip over if you go over sideways; go front first. And maybe lift your butt so it does not hit any rocks on the way over, especially in an inner tube. But water is likely to splash in so wear clothes that can get wet and maybe bring a cup to bail water out of the raft. My other page and pictures below show both a diversion dam waterfall and a calm section. Most people seem to wear regular swimwear, especially the young and good looking. But clothes and looks don't stop anyone from going. One time I floated with a date who wore a dress. Only seen that one other time. A couple times, I have seen a rather pot bellied man wearing only a thong.

Footwear

You can make the trip barefoot because there are concrete steps at the put in point and mostly sand at the take out. But shoes are good because if you need to walk on the river bottom elsewhere, it hurts to walk barefoot even though the rocks are not sharp. But a lot of people lose one or more flip flops, so maybe wear something that is more attached to your foot. Only the deep places are muddy (actually rotten leaves), the rest of the river is rocky or sandy. And if you pop your flotation device or otherwise lose it, you may have to walk a distance along the Greenbelt, which is mostly paved.

Sun Screen

The sun in Boise can be brutal. Bring sunblock. And drinking water is good. I really dislike and avoid sun screen and lotions, so I wait until after 5:00 so I can float with little or no burning. But later float times can leave you looking down river into the sunset, so I wear sunglasses sometimes, cheap ones that I can lose. Polarized sunglasses are best for sun on the water (light reflecting off the water is partially polarized, so the glasses, polarized in the opposite direction, are especially good at removing the reflected glare).

Rafts and Inner Tubes, But Maybe Not Air Mattresses

The water is cold, especially in July, so most people prefer using rafts rather than inner tubes. The rental rafts are quite sturdy, professional quality. The cheaper ones from, for instance Walmart, work fine but are more susceptible to popping while filling them and to holes from tree branches. PLEASE NOTE: the cheaper rafts can not hold as many people as they claim to hold. I would only put TWO full size adults in my FOUR man raft! Some four man rafts can hold three people. Don't show up with an unknown raft and end up putting too many people in it.

Floating in inner tubes are considerably warmer than swimming since only part of the body is submerged, but most people in inner tubes are shivering cold long before the end. So using an inner tube isn't as bad as you might think when you start out, but many need to stop along the way to warm up. Bigger inner tubes hold the floater higher out of the water, so they are a little warmer. I'm weird, so even though I have big inner tubes, and a large plastic tube, and a raft, I use my small inner tube from a 13 inch car wheel. People often buy plastic paddles for their rafts and break them. I find 'em in the trash at the take out point. I use the short broken paddles with my inner tube and give them to other people using tubes. Using your arms to paddle works but 1) is colder because your hands are in the water and 2) causes chaffing where your arms rub against the inner tube.

Several stores and drugstores sell large plastic tubes. They seem to work fine but I see some popped ones on the bank; people probably got into some tree branches that popped them. Rubber (butyl?) car tire inner tubes are tougher than plastic but not foolproof. Some people use air mattresses, but they seem to have trouble staying on them while floating.

Kids on the River - With and Without Parents

Hmmm. I won't be giving advice on your child rearing. But I usually see teenagers floating without parents on the river. They are less attentive as far as avoiding trees and such, but seem to survive just fine. But I saw a rather young pre-teen who was taking an even younger brother and sister with him. That seemed a little beyond his level of responsibility. I stayed close to them for their safety, plus reducing some fear in the younger ones. Following the law and having children under 14 WEARING a vest may be good. I have read: "Do not take infants or small children on the river." I mostly agree. Definitely don't try to both paddle and watch/hold an infant. If a younger child falls out of the boat, obstacles and moving current could easily separate the child from the rescuing parent. There are occasional drownings, but obstacles are have been removed much better in recent years compared to the past. There are other places along the river where kids can wade and swim and jump off the bank without the dangers of navigating past trees. And public pools have life guards.

Dogs Rafting the Boise River

I have seen a number of dogs floating with their owners on the river. They generally seemed happy to be along, seeing the people, seeing new sights, and sniffing the air. The shuttle does not allow non-service dogs on the bus. I am unclear about service dogs.

There are dogs and people along the shore having fun and barking. If your dog disobediently leaves the boat to join them, it could be difficult to get them back into your raft before floating out of their reach while swimming. Swimming dogs don't stop paddling when there get to you, so they scratch you up. So I would not advise taking them on an innertube. There are life jackets for dogs and a few dogs on the river wear them, but I haven't noticed them for rent. Make sure your raft could handle any sharp claws you pet has. There are waves and bouncing so the dog is likely to "dig in" a bit with its feet.

Rental Equipment From Epleys

For renting information here is the website of the current rental company: http://epleys.com/boiselocation.aspx They rent out large rafts, less large rafts, inner tubes, and life vests. ID and credit cards are needed for deposits. You can return the rentals to Ann Morrison Park rather than back upriver at Barber Park. And they sell innertubes. So do other places like tire stores and even drugstores.

Shuttle Bus and Parking

The shuttle bus costs $3 and goes from Ann Morrison Park (about midway in on the north side) to Barber Park, which is about six miles upriver. See the above website for shuttle and air station times! The shuttle, a white school bus, has a few seats taken out, so there is extra space in the back, but probably NOT enough for already inflated rafts or tubes. It just has more space for big folded rafts that you can not fit in a regular bus seat.

Parking in Ann Morrison Park is free, if you can find a space, but parking at Barber Park is not free. So it's cheapest, and arguably easiest to park at the end of the trip and have someone or the shuttle take you to the beginning. Or park at Barber Park and have the shuttle take just one person back to retrieve the car. BUT... Barber Park closes at sundown, so get your car before that. I don't need to drive to float the river, so maybe find a more experienced source for that information.

Weekends are busy, weekdays less so. The shuttle runs once an hour, at the top of the hour, on weekdays. There are about three shuttles per hour during weekends. I have read that 100,000 people float in a year, but I doubt it. I would guess that at most 2000 on weekend days and 500 on week days. But don't trust that guess.

Opening and Closing for General Floating

Usually the rentals and the air stations, which are needed to fill your non-rented inner tubes and rafts, begin in early July, but I have seen them open a week before or two weeks after July fourth. The start date generally seems tied to when they reduce the water flow to a safe quantity. Flow is quite high and dangerous in the Spring. The rentals and air stations close after Labor Day. However, they are also closed the five week days before Labor Day. School starts that week, so there is little demand then. Supposedly, it also needs to be warm enough, but I have never noticed it closed for that reason. I use this website to determine how high the water is: http://www.usbr.gov/pn-bin/graphwy.pl?bigi_q This graph is for farther down river, at the Glenwood bridge. There is a closer gauge just below Lucky Peak dam, but some of that water gets diverted into New York Canal.

Jumping into the River and Wading

See the maps below for several places where I see people jump into the river, either as their main activity or as a stop while floating. Other places are marked as common wading locations. Recently, jumping from the bank and bridges has been made legal, just not within 50 feet of people floating by. The water below some of the bridges is dangerously too shallow for jumping. Check it out first by wading where you want to jump.

Wildlife I Have Seen

I see mink (yes, the fur coat kind) along shore about half of the times I float. Some people seem to think they are weasels. They are a little bigger than squirrels, with dark fluffy fur. When wet, they look scrawny. They eat other things too, but the mink dive in the water and catch small fish. I seem better than average at noticing wildlife, so many people never even see them. Here is a link that has some general pictures and information about mink: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Mink

I have seen several white tail deer along the river. One time there was an elk. It may have been the famous Ernie the Elk who has since died. Most elk prefer to stay farther from town.

I have seen beaver about five times. They are secretive and I have only seen them at dusk. One time, I believe I saw an otter; only the head was visible, so I won't claim positive identification.

Osprey have been common in the last few years, especially closer to the Barber Park end, away from the city. Sometimes hummingbirds just hover above the water. And there are plenty of other birds drawn to the water or the trees along it.

Maps of the Heavily Floated Sections of the Boise River

If you have Google Earth on your computer and want the markers that I created so you can zoom or whatever, here are those Google Earth markers: RiverMarks.kmz

Click to enlarge.
Full Float of the Boise River
This shows the entire float from Barber Park, which is on Eckart Road near Boise Avenue, to Ann Morrison Park, between 9th Street and Americana. The float is from the lower right to the upper left. The markers on this map show the 3 diversion dams, some large rapids, and some tree hazards that are difficult to avoid.

See the smaller sections for descriptions of the markers.

 Click to enlarge.
This is the first section starting at Barber Park, going past the first Park Center bridge. 
  • Bathroom 1 at the brown 'B' marker is at Barber Park, in the raft rental building.
  • Wade 1 at the blue 'W' marker is a place where many people wade in the water.
  • Wade 2 is on the backside of a small island where many floaters stop, picnic, and wade.
  • Diversion Dam 1 at the red 'R' for rapids marker is the first and biggest miniature waterfall. The drop is a little smaller on the right side. I take the left side.
  • The purple line shows an alternate path around an island; but it is too shallow later in the summer. Try it in early July just for fun.


Click to enlarge.
 This is the second section of the float from the first Park Center bridge to the midpoint along Warm Springs Golf Course. Up through this section, the trees are easy to avoid and aside from the diversion dams, the floating is easy and peaceful.
  • Diversion Dam 2 at the red 'R' marker is rocky. The best section is near the middle, but approach right of middle because the current pulls left at the last moment.
  • Diversion Dam 3 at the red 'R' marker is much like Diversion  Dam 1 but has some rocks left of center. See the picture of it down below. There are often kayakers practicing here.
  • Wade 3, the blue 'W' marker, is a good beach to stop and warm up. It is about the midpoint.
  • Bathroom 2, the brown 'B' marker, is a port-a-potty up the slope and to the right of the beach.
  • The purple path is another alternate path around an island that also lets you avoid Diversion Dam 2. It is a peaceful backwater that goes by several large, beautiful homes.

Click to enlarge.

 The third section gets more complicated and interesting. It goes from the midpoint beach at Wade 3 to the Broadway bridge.
  • Large Rapids 1 at the red 'R' marker are on the far left side of the channel. They are large standing waves that are exciting but splash water into the raft.
  • Many floaters stop at the beach at Wade 4 (Blue 'W' marker) to jump at "Jump 1." I do.
  • Jump 1 at green 'J' marker is a large round concrete platform. The water is about 9 ft deep.
  • Jump 2 at the green 'J' marker is the large orange pedestrian bridge at Bay Brook Ct.
  • Wade 5 is a common place for people to wade and play with their dogs.
  • Jump 3 is a rope swing used by both floaters and non-floaters. They do flips into the water.
  • Bathroom 3, barely visible at the far right, upper middle, is part of the golf course.
  • Trees 1 at the orange 'T' marker is a place where the river current pushes floaters to the far right into some bushes and sunken trees along shore. Careful.
  • Wade 6 at the blue 'W' marker is where people from Municipal Park wade in the river.
  • There is a Bathroom 4 shown in Municipal Park but no good place to stop floating for it.
  • Trees 2 at the orange 'T' marker is along Municipal Park. The wavy current pulls the floater to the far right under some low hanging trees. Careful.
  • Large Rapids 2 are large standing waves along the left side. Exciting but likely to splash water into your raft.
  • Large Rapids 3 are under the second Park Center bridge. Not bad; maybe stay a little right.
  • Wade 7 is a shallow area by an island that is accessible from the Greenbelt.
  • Wade 8 at the blue 'W' marker was built for wading and also accessible from the Greenbelt.
  • Trees 3 at the orange 'T' marker is another place where the strong current pulls floaters to the left bank and under some low hanging trees.

 Click to enlarge.
The last section from the Broadway bridge to the take out at the pedestrian bridge in Ann Morrison Park
  • Trees 4 is a place where the current pulls the floater to the right into some trees. Careful.
  • Yellow Lines are the paths I take around some islands. Other take other paths.
  • Wade 9 is a place that students from BSU and fisherman wade.
  • Wade 10 at the blue 'W' marker is a beach where students and families wade and play.
  • Trees 5 are some low hanging trees and a submerged limb that could easily catch a boat and overturn it. Tubers float low, but others get scratched up here. Be very careful.
  • Bathroom 5 at the brown 'B' marker is in Julia Davis Park. There are a couple places where you could get out of the river and into the park.
  • Trees 6 is a place where the current pulls right into some bushes on the bank.
  • Wade 11, near the 8th Street pedestrian bridge is a place where folks wade in the river.
  • Jump 4 at green 'J' marker, by Wade 11, is where teens climb a tree to jump into the river.
  • Wade 12 is by the Old Timers shelter in Ann Morrison. There are several OK places.
  • Wade 13 is just past the pedestrian bridge and raft take out beach. There is a concrete ramp and steps down to the river. It's wheelchair accessible but a little steep.
  • Bathrooms 6, 7, and 8 are not far from the raft take out site.


Pictures of Floating and Rafting the Boise River

Here are some miscellaneous picture from along the float route. They have some explanations with them. Click to enlarge them. Notice that most of the route is fairly calm. I enjoy the peacefulness. But on your first float, don't relax too much. Keep watch for where the current is taking you. After you get to know the river, then enjoy the peace.

Click to enlarge.
Air stations at Barber Park.
At Barber Park, there are air stations to fill rafts. Those are the ones on the ground. The hoses on the side of the building are for filling tire inner tubes, which have valves. If you are missing a valve but have a cap for the valve stem, you could get by filling an inner tube with the raft air hoses. If you have an inner tube with a valve, maybe bring a valve removing tool to quickly deflate the inner tube afterwards (but don't forget to put it back in before the next trip).

The air is turned on at 10:00 and off at 7:30, so don't try a late float. Actually, by late July, 7:30 is too late to leave; it is dark before you reach the end.

Hot sun can make over inflated rafts and tubes pop. After filling, get them into the shade or the water.


Click to enlarge.
Put in spot at Barber Park.
This is the put in spot at Barber Park. The steps make it easy to get in without getting very wet.


Click to enlarge.
The first Diversion Dam.
This is the first diversion dam. This is late in the summer when the water is at its lowest. Earlier in July, the drop is a little bigger. 

Diversion dams raise the water level so that water can be diverted into irrigation canals. This dam is made of concrete. The river bed behind it goes to the top of the dam.

Click to enlarge.
Entrance to the first alternate path around an island.
 Click to enlarge.
Exit from first alternate path around an island.
This is the entrance and exit to the first alternate path around an island. The route is marked as a purple line on the picture above of the first section of the float. I usually take this route except during late August. Then, the water flow is low and I drag along the bottom in the entrance area. After you are comfortable floating the river, give this route a try.

Click to enlarge.
Entrance to second alternate island path.
This is the entrance to the second alternate path around an island. The houses visible on the right help you find it. This one is also difficult to enter during low water flows in August. And each year seems to get a little shallower. But it is a calm, peaceful area. I like it. The exit to this path is shown in the middle left of the next picture.

This alternate path also lets you avoid the second diversion dam shown in the next picture. 

Click to enlarge.
Second diversion dam.
The second diversion dam seems to have been made out of rock rather than concrete. And it seems to be a broken down.

Notice that the best place is near the middle, but approach a little to the right of that. The current will pull you to the left just before this dam.

And lift you butt when going over this. The rock can bruise folks using inner tubes or those sitting cushionless in the bottom of a raft.

Click to enlarge.
Third diversion dam.
This is the third diversion dam.Please notice that there are some rocky places that should be avoided. Even though the the drop is bigger, it would be best to stay a little to the right.

Kayakers often practice here. The standing boaters are fairly new but seem to be gaining in popularity. It's called "Stand Up Paddling."

You can see that this diversion dam diverts water into a canal on the right, the far side of the picture.

Click to enlarge.
Jump place 1 and wade place 4 near the orange Bay Brook Court bridge.
 This shows the "Jump 1" place and "Wade 4" place labeled above on the third section of the float. The picture was taken from the orange Bay Brook Court bridge, from which people also jump. Notice that there is a beach where floaters can stop here. I often do. The water is fairly deep here, but the rocks make it a little difficult to climb out.

Part of the Warm Springs Golf Course is visible in the background.

Click to enlarge.
Jump 3 which is a rope swing.
 This is the place labeled "Jump 3" on the maps above. There is a rope swing here. It is difficult to pull the rope to the bank, but people manage. If you look closely, there is a stack of rock on which people stand to start their jump. They get high enough to do flips. Never tried it but looks fun.

Click to enlarge.
Take out point in Ann Morrison Park.
 This is the take out point at Ann Morrison Park. Epley's has a truck and trailer here to take rented equipment back to Barber Park. And the shuttle bus leaves from here. There is a place to wade on the other side of the bridge.

The beach is fairly sandy, so you could also get out here barefoot. There are some bathrooms not too far away. Look at the above maps to see where.

I checked and decided to NOT jump off this bridge. The bridge is high and the water is only 4 - 5 feet deep.

There is a very tall, dangerous diversion dam just beyond this place. Don't try to go over that one. If you want to continue floating, portage around that dam.


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