Idaho whitewater isn’t just for thrill seekers – it’s for everyone.
I have a tradition with my two older cousins who live in Seattle: when one of our kids turns 5, I organize a whitewater rafting trip on the Carbarton stretch of the Payette river.
There are many gentle float trips on the Payette River everyone can enjoy.
You’ve probably heard of the world-class, heart-pounding whitewater in Idaho. But there are just as many stretches that are more relaxed and provide a great introduction to the ways of the river for young and old alike.
So far, we’ve gone four times. And each time, we’ve enlisted the expert Cascade Raft guides to provide an experience we’ll never forget.
Bring a pair of good goggles for your child. This prevents water from getting in their eyes and keeps them comfortable and focused on the fun.
We camp the night before along the west shore of Cascade Lake, setting the scene for our mountain adventure. In the morning we meet our Cascade Raft guides and board the bus to drive to our put-in point just outside the charming adventure town of Cascade, Idaho — about an hour-and-a-half north of Boise.
All we have to do is show up with our swimming suits and sunscreen. Cascade handles everything else: the rafts, the paddles, life preservers, and plenty of safety instruction. They even pack along all the fixings for a delicious sandwich buffet lunch. The salsa-and-cream-cheese cracker dip is especially addicting after a morning on the river.
The Carbarton offers a very satisfying taste of the backcountry. On one of our trips, we saw a moose at the side of the river. Most every time eagles and deer abound.
It’s rated as a class II and class III trip, but there are only a few class III rapids – just enough to get bouncing along for a bit and cool you off with some splashes. Most of the trip is spent gliding past pine trees, with the occasional white sand beach dotting the shoreline.
A fun Payette River rapid to navigate.
Your guide can make those rapids especially exciting, or especially mellow. Cascade Raft’s guides can literally customize the trip to the mood and personality of your five-year-old. How many family vacation experiences provide that?
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As you near the take-out point in Smith’s Ferry after a day on the river, the water turns slack and it’s a perfect place to hop in the warm, shallow water and float alongside the raft. It’s like being in a lazy river at a resort, but it’s an actual river.
Southwest Idaho’s river landscapes have to be experienced to be truly appreciated.
In four years, my son will be five, and it will be his turn. The plan is for the previous four kids, along with their parents, to come back for a river reunion of sorts and experience the magic again with Cascade Raft guiding the way. We can’t wait.
Joe Jaszewski is a 15-year resident of Boise and frequent explorer of all Southwest Idaho has to offer.