“What’s so special about being on the water is that, these days, it is one of the last places where everyone can be completely present,” said Doug Fenn, owner of White Otter Outdoor Adventures. “It takes people by surprise in some ways, but the river quickly builds relationships that get shoved aside when we’re in cellphone range and iPhone world. That presence and building of relationships is what brings families back to the river year after year.”
Whether it’s rafting, kayaking, fly fishing, standup paddleboarding, or simply taking a dip, the Idaho rivers in the Sun Valley area offer world-class options to get out on the water.
An hour drive north of Ketchum, the clear Salmon River meanders through the valley of the stunning Sawtooth Mountains. The “day stretch” near Stanley is a fun Class II-III section of river, perfect for family rafting and inflatable kayak trips. After bouncing down the waves and rocks of “Piece of Cake” rapid and then paddling in awe through the steep canyon walls of “The Narrows,” the second half of the 10-mile section is a place to kick back, relax and enjoy the warm sun.
White Otter Outdoor Adventures has daily scheduled morning and afternoon half-day river trips on the day stretch, and a café that is worth the drive, boasting an organic and local menu and open Thursday-Sunday. With anticipated higher water this summer, White Otter will also be offering trips on the Class IV Shotgun section of the Salmon River, at least through June.
If you have river experience, White Otter provides raft and inflatable kayak rentals, as well as shuttles. This summer is the first season White Otter is launching exclusive trips in which a guide will pick you up at your door in Sun Valley and take care of everything, including a private trip on the river with a catered lunch. They are also partnering with KULAvie Custom Getaways to offer women’s-specific getaway days on the water that include yoga, rafting, amazing organic and local food, and “lots of laughing.”
The South Fork of the Payette River near Lowman is a stunningly beautiful day trip and Payette River Company (PRC), owned and operated by Ketchum locals and whitewater legends Ginger and Sean Glaccum, offers day and overnight raft and inflatable kayak trips on the Hellende and Canyon stretches of the South Fork. The crystal clear waters of the Class III Hellende wind through mini gorges and past a cascading hot springs, and the Class III-IV Canyon boasts 25 rapids and a portage around a waterfall.
“In recent years, since the 1989 Hellende fire, the wildlife has been coming back like crazy. We see river otters, wolves, badgers… you name it,” noted Ginger, co-owner of PRC. The South Fork of the Payette is truly a hidden gem and renowned as one of the top day river runs in the U.S.
Rafting and kayaking aren’t the only ways to indulge in rivers. The waters around Sun Valley have long been a mecca for fly fishermen and women, as the Big Wood River, Silver Creek, Copper Basin and more are within a 45-minute drive of Sun Valley.
“Fly fishing gives you a connection to the river, to the water, and to fish that’s simply magic,” said Riley Berman, fly fishing guide for Silver Creek Outfitters. “The high concentrations of creeks around the Wood River Valley are home to world famous hatches and world famous rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout. The fishing can be whatever you want it to be: a party, solitude, or anything in between.”
For the self-adventurer, getting out on the water is easy. For fishing, Idaho fishing licenses are available at a number of outdoor stores in the Valley. Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum rents kayaks, canoes, rafts and stand-up paddleboards for exploring on your own.
No matter how many times you enjoy the magic of Sun Valley’s waters, you’ll find yourself yearning to return to them year after year to find that feeling of absolute presence that is rather rare in the day to day, but is absolutely abundant when you’re out on the water.