Sunday, September 11, 2016

Floating the Boise River -- tips and tricks

Floating down the Boise River can be a fun way to spend a summer day in Idaho's capital city. It can also be a pretty chilly, and possibly scary, experience if you're not prepared.

At its heart, floating the river in an inflatable tube or boat is one of the simplest leisure activities. Pretty much all you have to do, really, is lay there as the river carries you along. But to do it right you have to plan carefully.

When my family and I floated the Boise River in late July 2016 we did some things right and some wrong. Here are some tips so you can learn from our mistakes:

What's it like? 

Climb onto your tube or boat and the river takes you away. I found the current swifter than I expected. I don't know what the actual speed was, but we were moving faster than walkers on the riverside paths. Only near the end did it slow down to a more sedate "lazy river" pace.

You only have to paddle occasionally to turn your craft or to stay with other members of your group. If you're all on separate tubes, as we were, you can occasionally get separated from each other. It can take a little extra paddling to get everyone back together.

There are several small "waterfalls" on the route, though don't get freaked by that term. They're fun falls, not Niagara Falls. At first, all you hear is a vague rumble coming from down the river. You see that you're approaching some frothing whitewater, but you can't really tell what you'll be going over. That can make you nervous! But when you get there, it's a short, swift chute, like a playground slide.

In some spots, the river splits to go around a small island. When you encounter this, it's usually best to try to pick the deeper channel, otherwise you may run aground on rocks.

The river is pretty and lined with trees the whole way. Along with walkers or runners on nearby paths, we also saw a handful of fishermen.

Where do you start? 

Start at Barber Park on the east side of Boise and ride the river six miles to Ann Morrison Park in downtown. There is $3-a-person shuttle that runs between the parks. We paid for the shuttle at Barber Park and they gave me receipt that I kept dry in my pocket inside a plastic baggie. You can't really extend the distance in either direction because of dams on the river. You could pull out earlier than Ann Morrison Park if you've planned ahead for some kind of car shuttle.

How long does it take?

It took us about two and a half hours.We only stopped for one short break. Your time will depend in part on the speed of the river, which will slow as the water volume falls during the summer.

Tube or boat?

You can float the Boise River in an inflatable tube or inflatable boat. We chose to float in tubes that we had bought at Big 5 for just $12 each. This was pretty simple and inexpensive, but it had some disadvantages. First, the water was REALLY cold, and with the tubes we had we were sitting in the water basically the whole time. Even though the air temperature was in the 90s, we got uncomfortably chilled.

We also hit our butts on some rocks, though nothing too bad. You learn to lift your butt in low-water spots. 

And sitting in a tube for a long time can get uncomfortable. I eventually flopped over onto my stomach, which was a nice change, but that position too will get uncomfortable after a while. I'm not sure whether sitting in an inflatable boat would necessarily be more comfortable since we didn't try that.

Sitting in a boat will keep you out of the chilly water and you might even be able to bring some beverages and snacks. On the other hand, if it's a hot day, sitting in a boat might not cool you off enough. You might wish you were in the water.

A nice compromise would be to use a tube with a "floor" -- a cover for the hole so you're not totally sitting in the water and your rear end is somewhat protected from the rocks.

Rent or bring your own?

You can rent many inflatables at Barber Park, including the tubes with a floor. That's pretty convenient and they will include life jackets at no extra charge. They inflate the craft for you, too.

Buying and bringing your own would probably be cheaper in the long run since you can, of course, keep your inflatable for future swimming or floating trips. .

If you bring your own tubes or boat, you'll have to inflate them yourself.  Barber Park is nicely set up for that with a whole row of free air pumps.

Get life jackets?

We didn't get life jackets, and we survived without any problems. Nor did we see anyone in trouble. Still, in retrospect, I think we should have brought them. For one thing, the river is moving pretty fast. It's possible to get tangled in logs or branches at the side of the river unexpectedly. If one person got in some kind of trouble, it would be tough for anyone else in the group to help, because they'd have to fight the river's current to get back upstream.

Take a break?

I'd recommend taking at least one break along the way to stretch out and perhaps warm in the sun. There are some small "beaches" along the shore.  We waited too long to take a break and by that time we were all pretty chilled.

What to wear?

Wear a swimsuit or something else that you don't mind getting wet. Also wear some kind shoes -- I wore old running shoes. I'd suggest the shoes be closed-toes to protect yourself from rocks.

What do you do with your stuff?

We left all our clothes in our car at Barber Park. But what do you do with your keys? I was afraid of the electronic key fob getting wet if I carried them along on the float, and also of just flat losing the keys in the river.

My solution was crude but simple. I hid the keys under the lip of car's bumper. It worked. I'm not sure you want to try the same thing, but you should think about what you'll do before you head out.

When should you go?

I'd pick the hottest possible day because the water is so cold. I would also pick a day later in the summer when the river slows down a bit.


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