“Now when I say go, I need you all to paddle 5 big pushes and be prepared to get really, really, really wet” our whitewater rafting guide screamed over the rushing waves that were pounding against the nearby rocks.

I gripped my paddle a little tighter and dug my feet underneath the seat in front of me. If there was one thing I knew, it’s that I didn’t want to be the rafter who went overboard.

Complete with a full wet suit and a GoPro attached to my head, I was ready for an adventure, I’d just rather stay above water for this one.

This is the second time I’ve gone whitewater rafting in Idaho, a summertime must, and each time it’s been very different. Each time I’ve rafted down the Salmon River, where lush green trees line the Salmon riverbanks and sightings of deer are not uncommon, I’ve had a great time. The actual ride, though, is where each experiences differs and continues to make it an incredible trip year after year. Depending on the white levels (which change based on snow melt) the ride can be smooth or bumpy and change from a class 3 to 4 within a couple of feet. 

We embarked on our trip from Stanley, Idaho, about an hour away from our resort in Sun Valley. A beautiful drive through the Sawtooth Mountains and past our favorite day trip lake spot, Redfish Lake, had us at White Clouds Rafting around noon for a half-day rafting trip.

Our guides were friendly kids on college break, who all opted for an incredible summer job on the river rather in the weeds of some chain restaurant. Having been there two years, our guide was adventurous and knew the river inside and out. Even they noted the conditions on the river are always changing and no two rafting trips are ever the same. 

“That’s the fun of this job- while I know the river really well, the bends and curves and rocks, when the water levels change, the river can quickly become a whole different type of experience. It’s awesome.”- Smiled our 19-year-old guide, wiping water off his face and hat. 

We took off with two boats, our three-person plus guide in one boat and a family of 5 in the other. The youngest member of the other boat was only 6 but it seemed like maybe she had talked the whole family into the rafting trip. When we arrived at a little turn alcove in the river, we docked our boats on the side and the guides pulled out some fruit snacks (actual fruit, not the packaged variety) and asked if any of us wanted to jump off a 10 foot rock into the water. Apparently it was over 70 feet deep in that one area, a testament to the changing rocky river bottom.

The jump was maybe 10 feet, but it wasn’t the height I was worried about. The water was cold, I’m talking snow-melt cold and while it was sunny and I was wearing a full body wet suit, I don’t think I could handle the freezing water that day.

The 6 year-old had no question in her mind- she was doing it… and so was her dad.

A little less excited about jumping into the water, the dad reluctantly began climbing up the side of the rock. He looked back at her one last time before making the leap and screamed, ‘you better do this’. He jumped, she screamed and then quickly ran over and followed her father. When they both popped up, you could feel how cold it was based on their facial expressions. Through the smiles and excitement their teeth were chattering and eyes wide.

Afterwards we headed back down the river, about 30 more minutes paddling and drifting before reaching our out point.

“I hope you all had a fun time on the river today, I know I did.” Our guide shouted as he pulled our raft onto the back of the bus. Another rafting trip finished and now to wait until next summer when I can do it again.

Sponsored by Sun Valley Tourism.