High flows on the Snake River have drawn a great deal of attention to seeing 212-foot Shoshone Falls near Twin Falls, delighting thousands of people who have been flocking to see it for weeks now.
But expert whitewater boaters also are seizing the day to enjoy some of the nation’s biggest whitewater rapids in the Mid-Snake region near Twin Falls. High flows should be running in April and May, creating a once-in-a-generation opportunity to experience these rapids.
For expert kayakers, the fun and exhilaration starts with the Class 5 Milner Mile below Milner Dam, continues with a 25-foot drop off the left side of Caldron Linn or Star Falls, another expert-only run, and then boaters top it off with running the Class 4 Murtaugh section of the Snake, a 14-mile run with nearly non-stop action in 10, Class 4 rapids.
Video of the Milner Mile courtesy of Ted Keyes.
Micah Kneidl, a Boise expert kayaker recently went down to the Mid-Snake with friends to run all three sections. First, they ran the Miracle Mile multiple times, doing car shuttles back to the top. “It’s not as steep as the North Fork of the Payette River, but the volume is really big and the river flow is constricted in this narrow canyon. It takes about 4 minutes to run the whole thing. There are two big features in there, and people are flying through the waves and hydraulics, and chances are, you’re going to get knocked over in one or both of them. It’s a total rush.”
Rob Lesser, one of the most accomplished kayakers in Idaho who has run rivers all over the world, says the Miracle Mile has the biggest whitewater in Idaho, and “is certainly one of the biggest whitewater sections in the United States, definitely in the top 2 or 3 because of the volume of water that runs through there.”
He is expecting boaters to flock to the Mid-Snake area in the coming weeks from Utah, Jackson Hole, Ketchum-Sun Valley and California.
The year 1997 was the last time Mid-Snake flows surpassed 20,000 cubic feet per second, Lesser says. The highest he’s run the Milner Mile was at 31,500 cfs.
Idaho is known as the whitewater capital of the United States with more miles of whitewater than any other state in the lower 48. The North Fork Championships, held each June on the gnarliest section of the Class 5 North Fork of the Payette River, has put Idaho on the map by inviting the best expert kayakers in the nation to compete for prizes and bragging rights while running super-challenging slalom gates on the North Fork in Jacob’s Ladder Rapids.
Whitewater rapids are rated on a European scale, with Class 1 being easy, and Class 6 being an unrunnable waterfall. Caldron Linn is rated Class 5+ after kayakers started running it.
After running the Miracle Mile, Kneidl and his buddies launched off the left side of Caldron Linn, or Star Falls. Running the right side of Star Falls “looks like certain death,” he says. A rocky shelf on the left side is doable for expert kayakers who are versed in running waterfalls. “It’s a pretty clean waterfall overall,” Kneidl says.
Lesser recommends using extreme caution in running the falls. “It’s not a gimme.”
But both Lesser and Kneidl agree that the Murtaugh section is the most fun part about running the Mid-Snake. “The Murtaugh is super awesome. I love it,” he says. “It’s not as stressful, but the waves and holes are huge, and the surfing opportunities are endless.”
Lesser, who has run the Murtaugh 40-50 times over four decades, says his arms are usually so tired after the 14-mile section that they have no energy left. “It’s big, massive hydraulics,” he says. “It’s such an amphitheater of play potential.”
The Murtaugh section also is doable for rafters and catarafts. Idaho Guide Service offers guided trips on the Murtaugh for $125 a day. They are booking Murtaugh trips on weekends in May.
Paul Christensen, has gone with Gardner before, and he’s super stoked to get a bunch of friends together to do it again. “It’s just a blast!” he says. “I’m excited to do it again. But definitely go with someone who knows the river. Idaho Guide Service is the way to go.”
At flows of 20,000 cfs, the waves are huge and tall, he says. “You come into one of those waves, and the boat is totally straight up and down and you still have to climb over the second half of the wave! This is the kind of trip for people who want a big adrenaline rush.”
On his last trip, Christensen went on a paddle raft with a group of 6 in the raft, and no one fell out of the boat during the whole trip. They did lunch at Pair of Dice rapids, which is rated Class 5, and they portaged the rafts around that feature during the lunch break.
Christensen also enjoys seeing remnants of Chinese mining activity in the Murtaugh canyon. “Those ruins are inaccessible unless you’re boating down the river.”
You’ll also see birds of prey and enjoy a deep, incised basalt canyon.
“It’s a Grand Canyon type of experience,” Lesser says about the canyon and the powerful whitewater.
Lesser is in his 70s now, so he has been biding his time about running the Miracle Mile and the Murtaugh again. “I’m thinking about it and keeping my eye on it. I sure do love that place,” he says.
Expert boaters and Idaho Guide Service recommend that anyone boating in the Mid-Snake should wear a good-quality life jacket, a wet suit or a dry suit for protection from cold water, and a helmet. Be sure to go with people who know their way through the rapids. Be safe!
Plan Your Paddling Adventure
Southern Idaho’s high-desert landscape is made magic by water – the mighty Snake River, massive waterfalls, and gurgling freshwater springs and placid lakes. During the summer, the best way to see this area is over the bow of a canoe, from the seat of a kayak, or atop a stand-up paddleboard. We’ve rounded up the top places to explore — and cool off on the water — this summer.