Weather or not…here we come
February in the Sawtooth National Forest looks promising for us as we set our oars in motions and prepare for the upcoming whitewater season. There are no dams on the Middle Fork, so water levels are entirely dependent on how much snow is in the mountains and how it melts.
So far, Mother Nature has been fairly generous this winter. Snow pack for the Salmon River Basin is about 90% of normal. But a lot can happen between now and our first trip on June 2. Besides the snow pack, high temperatures and rainfall can play a key role. Generally speaking, the water level is high from early to late June and this makes for bigger whitewater thrills. As the water drops through the season, we see less whitewater and the river becomes more challenging requiring technical maneuvering through boulders and narrow canyons. No matter the water level, guests experience world-class rapids throughout the trip.
The difficulty of the over 100 whitewater rapids on the Middle Fork varies greatly depending on the water level. Here is a general idea of what to expect:
High Water – Generally anything over 5.5 feet is considered high water. Seven feet is our cut off and it’s rare to see it this high after the first week of June. The Middle Fork moves swiftly with fewer pools between rapids and colder water temperatures. There are numerous class III-IV rapids throughout the trip. Typically we recommend our guests wear wetsuits through our June 20th trip.
Medium Water – During late June through early August, we generally see the water level begin to mellow as the snow pack starts to diminish. The rapids are less powerful and become more technical as more rocks and boulders are exposed. Water levels during this time are around 3-4.5 feet and the temperature of the water increases, eliminating the need for a wetsuit.
Low Water – The water on the Middle Fork generally levels out a little over 2 feet sometime in August. This is an ideal time to fish for cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden and our guides know right where to find them. Rapids remain fun and technical. Water temperatures usually peak at 70 degrees around this time.
Frequently Asked Questions about water levels:
Should I bring special gear for high water?
In addition to a wetsuit, rain gear and splash gear are good to have for high water trips. If you don’t want to invest in these purchases, they can be rented in Stanley.
What is your age limit in high water?
Generally we recommend children age 8 or higher to float the Middle Fork. If it’s high water, then we recommend a minimum age of 12 -14.
I’ve never been whitewater rafting before. Should I avoid the high water trips?
No! You don’t have to be an experienced rafter to float in the higher flows. Our experienced guides always make safety a priority and will take great care of you! You can expect to be on the river a little less during high water with more time to hike, relax and play on the shores and on the trails.