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Blackfoot River
A pretty day in eastern Idaho
A pretty day in eastern Idaho

The Blackfoot River offers good whitewater boating, fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities. A beautiful backcountry drive meanders along the rim of the gorge and offers views into the canyon and river below as well as the sage plateau of rolling hills with their sparse stands of aspen and conifer. Steep canyon cliffs, aspen and cottonwood trees support nesting golden eagles, prairie falcons and many others.

The river is named for the Blackfoot Indians even though they never lived in the area. It was first mapped by the Lewis and Clark expedition, how they did that is beyond me because Lewis and Clark never got to this part of Idaho.  I assume the learned of the geography from their Shoshone hosts near Salmon. The river is a tributary of the Snake River and joins it at the town of Blackfoot. It originates at the confluence of Diamond Creek and Lanes Creek; it flows 135 miles to its mouth at the Snake River.

Blackfoot Reservoir divides the River in two portions characteristically and physically.  Below the reservoir it flows into a deep canyon not always accessible. Above the reservoir the river trends through stair-step meadows and slower reaches punctuated by what locals rightly label as “narrows.”    Each section has its own particular beauty and character.

Along the Blackfoot River, there are five campgrounds managed by the BLM. From north to south: Trail Creek Bridge, Morgan's Bridge, Graves Creek, Cutthroat Trout and Sagehen Flats are developed and semi-developed campgrounds along the Blackfoot River. Opportunities abound for fishing, camping and non-motorized boating. Waterfowl hunting is permitted outside of the campgrounds in accordance with Idaho laws.

Blackfoot River Panorama
Blackfoot River Panorama
Blackfoot River Whitewater
Blackfoot River Whitewater

Fishing the Blackfoot River: The section of the Blackfoot River from Government Dam to Trail Creek Bridge is a distance of 23 river miles. This section of river is floatable in a canoe, kayak, small raft or small drift boat. Put-ins and take-outs are undeveloped. Yellowstone cutthroat are the native inhabitants here and make up the bulk of salmonid population. Rainbow trout were introduced into the reservoir decades ago, and escapees are in the river below. I have never fished the Blackfoot River despite the amazing reports I have heard about how good it is.

Floating is not recommended below Trail Creek Bridge for those who aren’t experienced river runners due to Class IV and above rapids. Wolverine Canyon has serious class 4 and 5 whitewater in a steep canyon.  There are several sections of continuous class 4 to 4+ rapids with a few big class 5 rapids mixed in. The run starts off very slowly from Trail Creek Road Bridge.  The first 4 miles have mostly the same character as the easy sections upstream.  At mile 3, a series of large ledge drops give paddlers a small taste of what is to come in the heart of the canyon.  At mile 4 the serious whitewater starts with a bang and mostly does not let up till mile 8.   The steepest mile drops 120 feet, but one 1/2-mile section drops 75 feet and the steepest 1/2-mile near the end, drops 104 feet. There is one mandatory portage. You put it at Trail Creek Road Bridge. There also appears to be access at 1 mile downstream and at 1.7 miles downstream. Take out is a steep hike out at Cedar Creek, otherwise boaters must continue on down through slow water to road access at mile 12 or mile 13.

Blackfoot Reservoir
Blackfoot Reservoir

The Bureau of Land Management began acquiring land around the river for the Blackfoot River Special Recreation Management Area, in order to maintain the high-quality recreational opportunities and protect its natural resources. Today it encompasses more than 14,000 acres, and, with the help of The Conservation Fund, it continues to expand and give the public access to Idaho’s stunning landscapes. There are other partnerships for conservation as well and the future for this waterway looks bright.

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