Paddling Southern Idaho


By: Dallin C. Moon, Published: May2008

When I tell friends who live outside the area that Southern Idaho offers a display of beautiful scenery, they give me a strange look. “Southern Idaho?” they scoff. “Isn’t Southern Idaho just covered with sagebrush?”

Of course, outsiders only know the view of Southern Idaho from the freeway. Comments like this should make us locals happy, because we know the freeway view is protecting Southern Idaho’s abundant beauty from becoming overpopulated.

When a friend says, “Isn’t Southern Idaho just covered with sagebrush?” I chuckle to myself, load up my truck, and take a short drive to some spectacular, even majestic views. One of my frequent adventures is paddling along the Snake River. While many motorboat and jet skiing locations are well-known, paddle trips can offer a more serene experience and scenic perspective.

Here are five favorite paddling trips within a short drive from anywhere in Southern Idaho. As with any outdoors adventure, remember to wear sunscreen and carry plenty of water. Generally, shade is limited along the Snake River, and the paddling trips can take several hours.

Pillar Falls

On an average day, thousands of people drive across the I.B. Perrine Bridge. Only very few travel under the bridge, nearly 500 feet below. One of the more spectacular sites of the trip to Pillar Falls is paddling directly underneath this part of Idaho’s history.

The Pillar Falls paddle trip begins at Centennial Park. To arrive, turn off Blue Lakes Blvd. onto Canyon Springs Road (just north of Costco). This road quickly descends into the canyon. On the waterfront is Centennial Park, a good place to have a picnic before or after the trip. A boat ramp and docks provide easy access to the water.

While paddling east and upriver, the first noticeable feature is the majestic Perrine Bridge on the horizon. As paddlers travel under the bridge, they will find a short strip of shade provided by the bridge itself. You might get a unique view of BASE jumpers leaping off the bridge, releasing their colorful parachutes, and descending to a safe spot on the south side of the river.

What makes this trip unique is the wilderness experience you will enjoy so close to the city. You might see geese flying overhead or prairie falcons and eagles circling in the air. I have even seen a small doe exit the trees to get a drink of water and then nervously leap back into safety. Paddlers enjoy an uninterrupted experience amidst the massive 500-foot canyon walls.

Reaching Pillar Falls takes nearly two hours. It’s 1.5 miles upstream from the Perrine Bridge, preceded by several bends in the river. Pillar Falls was named such because of the 100-foot tall Rhyolite columns which rise out of the riverbed, creating the falls. The portage of Pillar Falls has a green grove of trees and excellent spots to dock the boats and rest.

After stopping for a short break to view the falls, if a trip to Shoshone Falls is not in the schedule, then head back to Centennial Park. If planned accordingly, the sun will set just behind the Perrine Bridge. Floating along the glass-smooth water during the evening while watching the sunset behind the canyon walls is an unforgettable Southern Idaho sight. Pillar Falls is the halfway point for the Shoshone Falls trip.

Shoshone Falls

Taller than Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls is a 212 foot drop. This view can only be accessed from a canoe or kayak.

Continuing past Pillar Falls, you can navigate up the Snake River for a rare view of Shoshone Falls. The massive 212-foot waterfall is one of the most sensational sights along the Snake River. It is best viewed during the spring when water flows are high.

Indeed, reaching Shoshone Falls by canoe or kayak offers the paddler a unique perspective of this geological wonder; however, it is no easy feat and should only be attempted by advanced paddlers. Because Pillar Falls cannot be negotiated, paddlers must carry their canoes to another launch point above Pillar Falls. There are accessible paths to do this, but please take extreme caution, especially with children. The water flowing through the rocks is dangerous. Hundreds of years of water pressure has cut deep ridges under the rock and can trap anyone who falls in.

The trip to Shoshone Falls continues where paddlers can re-enter the water above Pillar Falls. Paddle up the river around several bends and watch as the 900-foot wide cascade comes into view. The massive waterfall crashes into the river below, sending thousands of gallons of water downriver and filling the air with a cool mist. It is safe, but keep out of harm’s way. From this view, the reasons for not getting too close are more apparent than ever.

The entire trip to Shoshone Falls can take four to six hours. Bring plenty of drinking water.