Barber Pool – A Completely Different River Experience

by Tom “Chel” Chelstrom

Dipped my paddle

In the cool clear water

Canoe slices through

Like a sleek river otter


Paddle ‘round the bend

What will you see

Splashy little riffle

Or a sweet eddy

People define ideal river trips in different ways. The Boise River “town stretch” from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park is Idaho’s most popular day trip, evidenced by over 100,000 floaters every year. It’s a great day on the river, with gear rentals, shuttles, a river channel maintained for recreation and emergency help nearby.

Just upstream from the town stretch, the Barber Pool provides a completely different river experience for those willing to exchange some energy and portaging skills for a more personal view of the river. Portions of the Barber Pool are visible from Diversion Dam, the highway 21 bridge, the greenbelt and the Oregon Trail Reserve. I think the best way to experience the Barber Pool is on the water; to do that you have to portage- carry your gear to the river and around obstructions. The reward is a wildlife-rich escape from the busy urban river downstream.

The Barber Dam was built in 1906. The dam created the Barber Pool, a pond for logs headed to the mill.  Today, it is administered by the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands, and serves as a conservation and research area. There are three challenging portages in the three miles from Diversion Dam to Barber Park.

Parking is available at Lucky Peak State Park- Discovery Picnic area and at Diversion Dam. The small reservoir between Discovery Park and Diversion Dam is a great place to practice paddling forwards, backwards and sideways; ferry across the current and get in and out of eddies.

There is no marked or maintained portage around Diversion Dam. Take out at the buoys and hike up a steep, slippery rock bank on river right (the right bank of the river as you are facing downstream). Walk down the greenbelt and look for a faint path to the river near the old cable car. Watch out for the abundant poison ivy in this area. This is a bushwhack for the determined. The reward is close to a mile of seldom paddled river.

A simpler way to enter the Barber Pool is to park in the large, undeveloped parking area on river right, just downstream of the Idaho Highway 21 bridge. You’ll see a few obvious but unimproved, steep and slippery paths leading down to the river.  After you cross the greenbelt and hike down to the floodplain, take a moment to marvel at the scouring and regrowth from this year’s flooding! Hike another few minutes under the bridge and you will be at a nice beach and put-in.

Floating Barber Pool

The next couple of river miles are perfect for easy floating, fishing and wildlife watching. Look for a sign reading “keep right, portage ahead” posted on the head of an island, about a mile and a half downstream of Idaho 21 bridge. The Barber Dam portage is another half mile downstream of the sign.

Barber Dam has the most obvious, developed portage on the Boise River. Look for a large wooden staircase on river right. Follow the signs; it’s a few hundred yards around the dam and chain-link fence to the put in.

Downstream from Barber Dam, a short paddle through a rarely seen stretch of the Boise River leads to the Nampa- Meridian Irrigation District’s Ridenbaugh Canal diversion. Portage on river right. Take out at Eckert Road/ Barber Park, or paddle on another 60+- miles to the Snake River confluence. You can learn more about boating the Boise River by consulting the Boise River Water Trail Guide and Interactive Google Tour. Please note that this year’s high water caused major river channel changes, so please boat responsibly.

The Barber Pool is an urban adventure!