There’s only one thing to do when summer temperatures hit triple digits and you feel yourself wilting faster than a wildflower: slather on the sunscreen, grab a few friends and float the Boise River.
Floating the six-mile stretch of the Boise River from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park is a uniquely thrilling yet tranquil pastime. Where else can you spot wild mink, deer and bald eagles’ nests, or watch teenagers jumping from bridges, or even stop to picnic or fish on a quiet stretch of beach before floating on to the heart of the city?
No one is quite sure when the tradition started, but now each year more than 125,000 people take the two-hour trip downstream. If you’ve never tried this local rite of passage, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find everything you need to know to have a safe and enjoyable time at the river.
Preparing (and Waiting) for Float Season on the Boise River
While floating the Boise River may seem like a no-brainer, there’s a lot of planning that must happen before the river is safe for users to enjoy. Please don’t plan a float before the season officially opens. Water levels could be too high, increasing the risk of drowning, or too low, increasing the likelihood that you’ll hit the rocky riverbed and injure yourself.
In addition, each spring the Boise Fire Department sends out a dive team to remove potential hazards – like submerged branches, which can deflate vessels or even snag floaters. Once hazards are removed, and the water level is deemed safe, Ada County Parks and Waterways officially opens the river to floaters. This typically happens around mid-June or early July.
The 2023 Boise River float season is scheduled to open on Thursday, June 29th!
Low-Cost Shuttles and Rentals Make Floating the Boise River a Breeze
Barber Park is a quick 20-minute drive from downtown. However, once the season officially begins, shuttle buses regularly run between Barber Park and the take-out location in Ann Morrison Park for $3 per person, which is a much easier commute.
Why do people float this particular stretch of river? Major irrigation diversion dams sit above and below both parks, making it impossible to start your float before Barber Park or continue beyond Ann Morrison Park.
Given how easy it is to float the river, your hardest decision may be deciding what time to go. That answer depends on what you’re looking for: serenity or good people watching. The quietest times are mornings and early afternoons. The hotter it gets, the more people you’ll find on the river.
Floaters can bring their own inner tubes, kayaks, or boats to Barber Park’s put-in spot, or they can be rented or purchased at the park for $15-$60. Life vests and paddles are also available to rent. It’s also worth noting that reservations for rentals cannot be made in advance; the tubes and boats are rented on a first-come, first-served basis. For convenience, rented equipment is returned at Ann Morrison Park.
While Barber Park usually has free air stations available to inflate vessels, for the summer 2021 season, park officials have declined to turn on the air stations to discourage community spread of the coronavirus. If you plan on bringing your own tube or raft, be prepared to bring your own inflation equipment. Social distancing protocols also will be implemented in Barber Park’s rental area and on the shuttle buses.
Staying Safe on the River Is As Easy as Following a Few Simple Guidelines
Navigating the Boise River during float season can be safe for the whole family if you follow a few simple guidelines.
- Do not float the river if you do not know how to swim, or don’t feel confident in swift water.
- Don’t float alone; use the buddy system.
- Take a river-appropriate vessel (hint: that novelty swan floaty might not survive the trip)
- State law requires you to have life jackets for you and everyone in your party.
- Pack a dry bag to keep your cell phone and other essentials safe.
- Don’t take glass on the river.
- Stay hydrated with your favorite non-alcoholic beverage (drinking alcohol on the river is illegal; you can be cited).
- Wear appropriate clothing and shoes – the water is usually in the 50s, temperature wise, even on hot days.
- If you feel cold, simply pull over and get out of the water.
- If you fall into the river, raise your knees toward your chest, point your feet downstream and gently paddle to the closest riverbank.
- Please leave the river cleaner than you found it.
Restrooms designed with floaters in mind
The first few miles of your float will feature scenic views of sage-speckled foothills before giving way to the Warm Springs Golf Course. Right after the golf course, a takeout next to a burnt-orange bridge (often filled with cannon-balling teenagers) marks your first opportunity to stop and use the restroom, located a few hundred feet from the riverbank.
Two other permanent restrooms are readily accessible during the float: one in Julia Davis Park and the other in Ann Morrison.
How to Make the Most of Your Boise River Experience
Simply lying back and enjoying the cool, scenic beauty of this six-mile stretch is fulfilling enough for many people. However, if you’re adventurous – or if this isn’t your first trip downriver – there are many ways to expand your two-hour journey into a full afternoon.
For instance, many visitors rush through Barber Park without pausing to enjoy it. The park is perfect for larger gatherings, like family reunions. It has picnic tables and a covered patio, scenic wildlife trails, a playground, and numerous barbecue stations. Why not take the whole family and linger in the park before beginning your trip downstream?
The popular Boise Greenbelt also hugs the river’s banks, making it easy to put in and take out on your own terms – or even meet up with non-floating friends for a riverside picnic or to fish for rainbow trout.
You’ll pass under many bridges during your journey downtown. If you’re feeling brave, pull over and try a leap of faith off a bridge (being mindful to jump at least 50 feet from other floaters). Jumping off bridges isn’t illegal unless posted – and those signs usually denote where the water is too shallow for a safe jump. When in doubt, look for teenagers. They typically congregate around the best jump spots.
And remember: while this six-mile stretch of the Boise River is undoubtedly popular, the river runs for 102 miles before emptying into the Snake River. Whether fishing, floating, surfing, kayaking, or sitting quietly and contemplating the rushing water is what fulfills you, find a piece of the river and make it yours.
Originally published in Jun 2020, updated Jun 2021.
Lisa is a top Idaho Realtor and creator of WeKnowBoise.com. From Southeast Boise to the North End, up to Eagle and west to Meridian, or right in the middle of the Boise Bench and downtown - We Know Boise. Whether buying or selling a home, we provide full-service real estate solutions dedicated to helping our clients achieve their goals.
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