For nearly 30 years, Shelley and Olin Gardener have dedicated their lives to sharing what they call “the Idaho experience.” In 1984 they purchased Idaho Guide Service, and have since built the company into one of southern Idaho’s most prominent whitewater rafting and outdoor adventure outfits. Their range of operation is vast with whitewater rafting and rock climbing during the summer, cross-country skiing during winter and an array of other outdoor activities including fishing, chukar hunting and bird-watching expeditions.

Photo © Jason Lugo

River guides launch rafts for another journey down the Snake River.

Whether guiding travelers through class 5 rapids on the notorious Murtaugh section of the Snake River or leading back-country ski treks, the Gardeners focus on showing people that Idaho is a unique place full of history and natural splendor.

“We want to share the beauty of Idaho with other people and also provide them with education about Idaho’s river systems,” stated Shelley.

“And we do it in a way that is family friendly – all ages can enjoy Idaho with us,” Olin added.

A great way to begin adventurong with Idaho Guide Service is joining them on one of their whitewater excursions along the Hagerman section of the Snake River – a scenic 7.5 mile run containing plenty of class 3 rapids. This stretch of the river is perfect for people who may lack the necessary skills to comfortably navigate larger rapids, but still want to experience the beauty and thrills of Idaho’s rivers. Recently, the company utilized the run to host the Magic Valley Student Leadership Program’s end-of-the-year celebration. To kick off festivities the Gardeners prepared a savory Dutch-oven BBQ feast which is a luxury typical of Idaho Guide Service outings. Then with full bellies and high spirits, the group headed down to the put-in dock and help from two of Idaho Guide Service’s river guides, Casey Jones and Nick Howzer, they boarded the waiting rafts and pushed out into the murky green water of the Snake.

Photo © Jason LugoInitially, the Hagerman section of the river is deceptively calm allowing travelers to relax and admire the best of what high-desert scenery has to offer. Guides enjoys utilizing those moments of tranquility to educate people about the river’s past.

“If you get out on this old, old river – in the middle of this gorgeous desert – you can really connect with history,” Jones observed.

While floating lazily along a gentle current guests are informed that the rocky bluffs were made of basalt formed thousands of years ago when the area was volcanically active. Countless species of flora now cling to those ancient lava flows, painting the landscape into a soothing collage of greens, browns and tans. Songbirds dart from the foliage in droves, skimming the river’s surface in a flash before swooping back to their perches. Prehistoric-looking Great Blue Herons slowly swagger along the river shore, patiently waiting for their next meal to swim within striking distance. In fact, approximately 300 species of birds can be seen within the Snake River Basin, so a whitewater rafting trip along the Snake River can prove a bird-watchers dream come true. Rafting the Hagerman run not only allows people to gain insight on Idaho’s past, it also provides up-close encounters with some of the most beautiful wilderness in the state.

Photo © Jason LugoHowever, the Snake River offers more than just beautiful scenery. As the members of the Student Leadership Program approached the first major rapid (a class 3 pool-and-drop) their guides snapped them out of landscape-induced reverie with commands of “forward paddle!” They didn’t have to be told twice. As the current picked up speed the once-calm Snake began to bare its fangs. They dug their paddles deep into the frothy waves as the rafts leapt into the spray. Some screamed, others yelped with joy as the crafts vaulted over the precipice of the largest wave, plummeting into the roaring hole below as water erupted over the bows. When the rafts finally leveled out after safely exiting the rapids, students exchanged glowing smiles as their laughter reverberated across the river.

Five similar rapids – along with a multitude of smaller ones – must be navigated before reaching the Hagerman’s take-out point, so teamwork is a prerequisite for every successful boat-crew. Inevitably, such cooperation in the face of obstacles induces a wonderful sense of camaraderie between boat-mates.

“Most people don’t realize they can do this type of thing, so working together in unity to overcome the rapids really brings people together and gives them a sense of accomplishment,” noted Shelley.

Photo © Jason LugoCarmen Perez, a member of the Magic Valley Student Leadership Program, underscored this point, “This isn’t something I’d normally do. In doing things like the rapids, I feel like I’ve overcome obstacles and it has allowed me to come out of my comfort zone.”

Above all, whitewater rafting is a fun, safe way to get out and enjoy nature.

As Nick Howzer says, “In Idaho you can literally drive for five minutes and experience a beautiful wilderness . . . you can escape the craziness of civilization and just let loose.”

So what are you waiting for, Southern Idaho? Take Nick’s advice. Join him and the rest of Idaho Guide Service out on the river and paddle hard!