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Home Water

How to paddle through town

Published online: May 01, 2022 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors, Lifestyle, Outdoors
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Idaho hosts hundreds of river miles and most of those miles are big water by Western standards. Consider big water to be any volume of water that moves in unexpected ways in certain situations, certain sections or certain times of year, like spring runoff. Even calm-on-the-surface water is big water because it’s deep and it’s cold. Both can cause trouble even when volume doesn’t. Catch the drift? Big water, regardless of its rating or appearance, is big water when it quickly becomes bigger than you can handle.

“There’s so much power in the water you can’t control,” says Will Root, Northwest River Supplies (NRS) product coordinator. “It’s going to take you where it wants to go and it doesn’t care how many rocks your head is hitting.”

Use your head rather than hitting it by starting close to home. About 20 miles of the Snake River flows through Bonneville County. Most of those miles are accessible by paddle with enter and exit points at four Idaho Falls Power hydropower dams. 

From first-timers to paddlers experienced enough to help first-timers, here’s how to safely float our home water from north to south through Idaho Falls. Paddle these stretches after spring runoff (July) and before winter freeze (November).

Upper Stretch

Northern end of Bonneville County above Upper Dam starting three miles from Jefferson County border.

Level: Beginner

Length: 2 miles

Enter: River right at West River

          Boat Ramp

Exit: River left above Upper Dam 


• Midriver islands

• Midriver Upper Dam below exit 


• River right weathered two-story home nicknamed, “Two Tall”

Freeman Float

North of Idaho Falls city center running along Freeman Park between Upper Dam and City Dam.

Level: Advanced

Length: 3.5 miles

Enter: River left rock channel below Upper Dam 

Exit: River right John’s Hole boat ramp


• Midriver diversion with one-foot drop two miles below entry

• Midriver rocks/logs below diversion–river left portage

• Midriver railroad bridge concrete pillars below diversion


• River left Freeman Park with beach three miles below entry

• River right osprey nest below beach

Town Haul

Idaho Falls city center upper stretch between City Dam and Lower Dam.

Level: Advanced

Length: 1 mile-—accessible only in low water conditions 

Enter: River right rock ledge under viewing deck below City Dam waterfalls 

Exit: River right Rock Gardens at Taylor’s Crossing


• Midriver waterfall turbulence at and below entry 

• River left diversion channel below railroad bridge


• River left famous Idaho Falls waterfalls at and below entry 

• River right Rock Gardens at Taylor’s Crossing  

The Landing

Idaho Falls city center lower stretch between City Dam and Lower Dam.

Level: Intermediate

Length: 1 mile

Enter: River right Rock Gardens at Taylor’s Crossing

Exit: River left South Tourist Park


• Midriver Pancheri Bridge concrete pillars below entry


• River right Snake River Landing Pier half mile below entry

Lower Stretch

South of Idaho Falls city center between Lower Dam and Gem State Dam.

Level: Intermediate

Length: 1.5 mile

Enter: River right Heritage Park

Exit: River left Upper Gem Lake Marina at 49th South


• Midriver Sunnyside bridge concrete pillas below entry


• River right Ryder Park fishing ponds below Sunnyside bridge

Gem Run

Southern stretch of Bonneville County above Gem State Dam ending near Bingham County border.

Level: Beginner

Length: 2 miles

Enter: River left Upper Gem Lake Marina at 49th South

Exit: River right Lower Gem Lake Marina above Gem State Dam


• Midriver Highway 26 bridge low clearance for motor boats but clearance okay for paddlers


• Lava rock banks on both sides of channel above exit 

Free guide for you

East Idaho Outdoors editor Kris Millgate spent a summer studying every mile of the Snake River through Bonneville County to produce this story. She also created a detailed river guide for paddlers that’s free to the public and available at Idaho Falls Power, 140 S. Capital Ave.

Millgate’s favorite float to paddle on the Snake near Idaho Falls is the Upper Stretch. Watch her video to see the historic home she calls, “Two Tall.” 

Must-haves for paddling


Purchase a personal flotation device designed for the watersport you’re taking on. Rafting and paddling life jackets are more durable and rugged because they are designed for the beating whitewater offers. Jackets that inflate when you hit the water are designed for mellow fishing on flatwater, not whitewater rafting. 

User Tip: Add a helmet for whitewater to protect your head from potential rock impacts.

Here’s a lifejacket to consider: 

Kokatat WKNDR | $139

Good for weekend paddlers. Front rides low for out-of-the-way paddle performance. Back is thin for lean-back comfort. 


One-piece paddle is stronger and floats if dropped. Two-piece paddle is easier to stow, but takes on water at the seam if dropped.

User Tip: Do not attach your paddle to your boat in whitewater. Snag hazard.

Here’s a paddle to consider:

NRS PTK Kayak Paddle | $84.95

Good for beginners and pairing with inflatables. Cupped fiberglass blade with airplane grade aluminum shaft.  


Inflatable kayaks are more portable but self-bailing, which means water flows in and out of the vessel so your backside gets wet. Hard-side kayaks are space hogs, but you stay dry unless you flip or fall out. 

User Tip: Paddle a boat on calm, flat water several times before you try current or rapids.

Here’s a boat to consider:

Alpacka Raft Scout | $695

Ultralight packraft weighing less than 4 pounds. Nylon floor plus grab loop and seat. 


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