Idaho River Descriptions
I've done most of my paddling in Idaho, USA. Here is a list of some of the rivers I've been paddling, and a description of some of them. If you are planning on paddling in this area, you should definitely pick up a copy of Grant Amaral's guide book to Idaho white-water.
- Desert Rivers
- Owyhee East Fork
- Owyhee Main
- The White Salmon (WA)
- South Fork Clearwater
- Boise South Fork
- Boise North Fork
The focal point of the Payette River is Banks, a small town where The South Fork (class IV) and The North Fork (class V) joins each other and becomes The Main (class III). It takes about 45 minutes to reach Banks from Boise which makes it possible to do a run in the evening after a hard days work. Where else do you have that choice of river grades easily accessible after a days work?
Most of the river is right next to the road and it is fairly easy to hitch-hike, so it is not necessary to bring two cars to run a shuttle. This is by far the river I have paddled most in my humble career.
Payette Main (a)
This river contains a couple of good class III rapids and many smaller ones. You can get on the river from Boise in the evening so I've floated this run a lot in the beginning of my paddling career. Often I went up and joined one of the many groups of people that are frequently setting off from Banks - which is how I have met a lot of my current paddling comrades.
The float starts with a mile or so of smaller fun rapids and at the right flows a number of fun holes show up along the way. At around 6000 cfs and higher, lots of people used to gather at the Surf Wave - the place to meet. However, The Wave turned into a rapid by the mud-slides in January 97. Until the take-out at Chief Parrish, perhaps 4 miles from the put-in, there are several good rapids and holes. Mike's Hole munches most first-time river runners. The mud-slides created a new great surf wave just below Mike's Hole: it is good for spinning, back-surfing and is more fun than the old wave. There is also a great little play hole just above Mike's Hole - good at low water, around 1500 cfs. The stretch from Chief Parrish to the normal take-out at Beehive Bend features 3 miles of flat water but two class III rapids, Mixmaster and AMF.
Payette South Fork, Staircase (b)
Staircase is the step up from The Main. Also doable in an evening, it contains less flat water and some rapids that are more serious. Bronco Billy comes first, fairly long with fun waves and a couple of pretty intimidating holes at the bottom requiring some maneuvering. Immediately afterward the river does some sharp turns in Dog Leg which has some potential interesting lines when you get fed up with going the standard way on the right. This is where the play-boaters put in, because a few hundred yard downstream comes The Play Wave. This is the one spot I have undoubtedly spend most time at on any river. On river right, surfers queue up to get on the wave which is smaller than the Main Wave but still excellent. One river left there is this excellent play hole that gives endos, pirouettes, cart-wheels, etc. Cools paddlers in small boats hang out here. I have done some absolutely brilliant pirouettes from this spot.
After the mandatory hour or two has been spent at this spot, the float continues through smaller rapids for a mile or so. The first time you run this, the only thing on your mind in this section is the infamous rapid ahead: Staircase, class IV. When you have run Staircase you are allowed to refer to yourself as an intermediate kayaker. The Main becomes an irrelevant novice-run that you prefer not to be seen on again. First time you will probably run it on the right and as you get braver, and hopefully better, you cannot resist pulling more left where the holes are bigger and the lines more interesting. At flows below 3000 cfs, Whale Rock appears in the middle and opens interesting lines around it and eddies worth going for. Staircase is most difficult in the beginning but it's looooong and swimming will not be particularly enjoyable should you tip over. At low flows it gets really shallow too, so rolling can be tricky without testing the helmet on a few rocks.
After Staircase, the river goes mellow for about a mile until Slalom which used to be a long, straightforward but fun rapid. After the mud-slides it's a long, not-so-straightforward and very fun rapid. The take-out at Banks is always a good spot for meeting paddlers, exchanging epic river stories, bumming a beer off a rafter, and hitching a ride back up to the put-in.
Payette South Fork, Canyon (c)
This run is yet another step up from Staircase because of its handful of solid class IV rapids. It features Big Falls, a class VI four-drop waterfall that has been run a very low flows but always portaged by mortals. It's an awesome sight, though, and you cannot help trying to spot a line through it as you consume a couple of Powerbars on the rock by the end of the falls. This is also a great place to impress little girlies from commercial rafts as you set off with an 8ft seal launch. Before Big Falls there are lots of rapids but they fade in comparison to the action ahead. There are some excellent hot-springs in the top section that are worth a stop. The last section of the run makes this an absolute classic river. Blackadar, Lone Pine, Little Falls and Surprise. They are all big and fun. The move at Little Falls is easy but spectacular: you paddle hard at the very left side of the drop and ski jump off a rock into "safety" about five foot below. The other three rapids are pretty intense, with monster holes that should be avoided with pretty determined paddling. In particular, the hole at bottom right in Surprise is nasty. I know, 'cause I once took a swim straight through it when I fell out of a raft on a commercial trip.
Payette North Fork (d)
North Fork joins the South Fork at Banks. Regularly, kayakers come out of this section with a big grin on their face. The North Fork is 15 miles of constant class V water. It's normally split into three sections with the middle being the most serious. The section flowing into Banks, The Lower Five, are run by more people and it is not quite class V, but close. I went down this section for the first time in '97 which was quite a thrill.