Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers


Stretch: Murphy near Nevada line to Bruneau Idaho
Difficulty: Class IV with one portage
Distance: almost 70 miles, 3 to 5 days
Flows: rafts and kayaks 800 - 2400 cfs, IK minimum 600
Gauge: measured near take-out at Hot Springs (USGS site)
Gradient: continuous, 45 fpm on the Jarbidge, 27 fpm on the Bruneau
Put-in: confluence east and west forks of the Jarbidge, 4980'
Take-out: above diversion dams near Bruneau Idaho, 2580'
Shuttle: 75 miles (2 hours) one-way
Maps: BLM Jarbidge Bruneau, AAA Idaho
Season: April into July, from snowmelt
Agency: BLM, USAF, private
Notes: © 1998 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

With fantastic basalt canyons often rising vertically out of the river, excellent class III-IV whitewater at the beginning and end, compensatory scenery in the middle, and wilderness hiking and camping at its best, the Jarbidge-Bruneau offers one of the finest whitewater trips anywhere. It is well worth the overnight drive across Nevada into southern Idaho.

Most kayakers and rafters stay off this river below 800 or 1000 cfs, so if you visit in late June or early July, when the 50-year average flow drops below 800, you will have the river virtually to yourself. Pack light (there is a portage) but prepare for emergencies, because help is a long way off, and the canyon walls are impenetrable in most places.

Jarbidge is a Shoshone Indian word for monster: they must have been referring to class V+ Jarbidge Falls. Bruneau is French for brown water, probably indicating the river color after rainstorms. Fortunately clarity remains good during snowmelt season, but it is nonetheless advisable to attach a prefilter to your water purifier (lots of cattle grazing upstream). BLM regulations now mandate use of a port-a-potty. These Idaho Snowpack reports can be helpful in predicting duration of boatable flows.

About two miles downstream from the town of Murphy there is a small BLM campground with pit toilet just before a bridge over the river Jarbidge. Put in below the confluence of east and west forks. The water is green except after heavy rains.
The narrow river is swift and continuous, but no rapids require scouting until Sevy Falls at mile 16.5. Fallen trees, overhanging juniper branches, and log jams are the principal hazards, requiring a class IV frame of mind. A rudimentary trail follows the right bank for several miles, providing an exit route in case of trouble.
Columbet Creek enters on the left, although you might not notice it until you have rounded the bend of its terminal moraine. The gradient eases somewhat, but rapids are not perceptibly different.
Dorsey Creek enters thru a canyon on the left. Just downstream is a steep class III drop. Soon the tan basalt canyon walls steepen, offering fantastic views of spires, cliffs, and hoodoos (topheavy spires). It is hard to measure your progress because few definitive landmarks exist in this section, and campsites are rare.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
The Jarbidge canyon is lined with junipers Paddling right to left over Sevy Falls
Sevy Falls, class IV, scout right
A log jam (1998) forces most of the current right, where it drops steeply into a lateral channel upstream of a big undercut rock, flows across to the left bank, and turns downstream heading into smaller rocks. At low flows, rafts have difficulty exiting. Before running, check all channels to ensure they are log-free.
Hazard! In spring 2009, a new rapid formed about half a mile downstream of Sevy Falls. It was quite difficult that season, and still changing. Photos © 2009 Doug Soule, at 600 cfs.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
A big landslide from the right cliff Portage on the left
Cougar Creek enters on the left. Excellent large campsite beyond the mouth of the creek. Arch Canyon, with caves and natural bridge, is a 3 mile hike up the creek.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Evening sun on the mountain below Cougar Creek
Poison Creek enters on the right. Fair campsite below the creek. The poison ivy zone begins here, perhaps because the canyon walls recede, allowing more sunlight to enter.
Wally's World, class IV, scout right, possible left portage
Large boulders block your view of the river, emanating from slides on both banks. The crux move is several drops down from the top, involving a sharp falls and slalom around a large boulder to avoid a tree-plugged chute (1998-2003). It would be wise to set rescue here, because swift water continues below.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
Ferrying rightward below the big ledge hole Avoiding the tip of that wedged tree
Class III rapids, some containing large boulders, continue for another 5 miles.
Hazard! Jarbidge Falls, class V+, portage left
Watch for a large rock slide on the right bank and a house size boulder in midstream. Do not boat beyond the boulder! Eddy out on the right and send one boat at a time into the small eddy on the left, where a good portage trail begins. The upper and lower sections of Jarbidge Falls are runnable, but a drop about a third of the way down is clogged with logs (1998). You needn't portage the entire distance, because the runout is class IV, and partially sneakable to the left of an island, except at ultra low flows.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
Oarboat getting ready to ferry left after recognizing the top of Jarbidge Falls Pulling the boats into a small eddy above the class V drops of Jarbidge Falls
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
Note luxuriant poison ivy, and small blue figure standing above class IV put-in Inflatable kayak running the class IV lower section of Jarbidge Falls
The gradient eases, the canyon opens up, and good small campsites start to appear.
Almost imperceptibly, the west fork Bruneau enters from the left, ending your trip on the Jarbidge, which should be called the east fork Bruneau. At recommended flow levels the west fork Bruneau is rather clear, but it carries more silt than the Jarbidge, so from this point the water becomes increasingly brown as it picks up sediment deposited when the west fork contributes more water. Juniper trees give way to willows and then cedars.
A large gravel bar on the left with steam rising from waterfalls streaming from the hillside marks Indian Hot Springs. The gravel bar provides a huge campsite but lacks shade trees. On the other side of a hot creek there is a white plastic spa tub with too-hot water, and an old rock cabin, the former stagecoach station, further up the hill. Just around the corner there is a rickety bridge and a 4WD road leading up to the canyon rim towards your shuttle road. The 4WD road on your side eventually leads to Rowland Nevada.
The canyon walls close in and scenery improves markedly. High on the right bank you can see an odd-looking building. Although it seems impossible, the Bruneau canyons are even more beautiful than the Jarbidge canyons, perhaps owing to reddish basalt. For the next 36 miles, vertical walled canyons, often coming straight down into the water, alternate with more open areas. However there are some long stretches without any good campsites.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Near the top of Bruneau Canyon
Cave Rapid, class III+
The right channel drops straight down into a badly undercut cliff with a large rock and logjam making the exit more difficult. The avoidance maneuver is not difficult if you paddle hard. At higher flows a chute against the left wall provides a sneak route (1998).
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
Boater preparing to sneak Cave Rapid Brave kayaker avoiding undercut and log jam
Finally, a small but excellent campsite on the left bank.
Cave Draw, a vertical walled side canyon, enters on the left. What seems like a good small campsite is larger than it looks, with many tent sites uphill.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
Juniper-cedar transition below Cave Draw Both cliffs often rise straight out of the river
Sheep Creek enters from the left, apparently carrying as much water as certain forks of the Bruneau, further destroying your confidence in Idaho geographers. One half mile up Sheep Creek, a steep trail climbs to the canyon rim. Large but virtually treeless camp on the right bank across from the creek.
Clover Creek, AKA the east fork Bruneau, enters on the right. Fair campsite and interesting hiking up the canyon. Kayakers have run this creek on occasion, taking out at Roberson Trail to avoid running Five Mile Rapids at high water.
Austin Trail on the left supposedly climbs steeply to the canyon rim, although it is difficult to spot.
Excellent campsite with sandy beach on the right, just below the entrance into a steep-walled canyon.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Nearly full moon at sunset above dome tent
A corner of the US Air Force bombing range overlaps the Bruneau, so deafening overflights are possible here.
Miller Water, a keyhole canyon opening narrowly onto river left, makes a good side hike.
Side canyon on the left, mostly dry, where the Roberson Trail supposedly climbs to the west out of the canyon.
Boulder-strewn side canyon on the right, mostly dry, where the Roberson Trail climbs several miles to a dirt road intersecting your shuttle route. Last chance to avoid whitewater, because the gradient increases to 70 fpm for the next few miles. Kayaker Kathleen Anderson, a lawyer for Esprit Corporation, died in May 1998 after taking a swim in this section.
Five Mile Rapids, class IV
Immediately after a left bend, the gradient picks up and rocks (holes at higher water) fill the riverbed. Five Mile is composed of many class III-IV rapids with calm sections of varying length in between. The Boneyard is a steep rock slalom. The Gates has a boulder fence with narrow passages near the bottom. The Holes contains two large hydraulics after a big drop. The Right Turn is a long rock slalom at a right bend. The S Turn offers a route all the way to the left and back again. The Left Turn is a long and steep boulder slalom with a left turn near the end; it verges on class IV even at low flows.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID
Boneyard at the beginning of Five Mile Perhaps this is the end of Five Mile
Although you are still technically in Five Mile Rapids, it no longer seems like it. Class II and III rapids alternate with moving water for the remainder of the trip, and there does not seem to be any definitive end to the 5 miles. Cedar trees give way to cottonwood and hackberry trees.
Wild Burro, a long class III-IV rapid, starts innocuously as the river splits around a low island. The route used to be on the left, but now (2003) starts on the right and is quite rocky, so you might want to scout on the right. Nice campsite on the right bank just below this rapid, the last good camp before cattle country.
Jarbidge into Bruneau River ID Scouting and running the right entrance
A canyon enters on the left. Over the next half mile, several hot springs trickle from rock cliffs into the river. Partway down there is a grotto with bathtub, marked by an eroded embankment where you can park your boats on a tiny island.
A take-out on BLM land where a dirt road approaches the river.
A more convenient right bank take-out on private land, with gravel beach and grassy boat ramp. Shuttle drivers prefer this take-out.
Hazard! First of two diversion dams. In his guidebook Utah Whitewater, John Nichols says the first is often run, the second is not. Both look like drowning machines to me.

Before departure, call Jumbo's Auto Service in Bruneau Idaho, 208-845-2150, to arrange for a shuttle driver. The fee in 2005 was reportedly $130 per vehicle.

To reach take-out, drive north from Elko Nevada on highway 225, which changes to highway 51 at the Idaho border. Eventually highway 51 crosses the Bruneau river below take-out, but above a reservoir, and reaches Jumbo's Auto Repair (and Sinclair gas station) near the town of Bruneau. The dirt road to put-in is just across the highway. Several miles up this road, past the ranches of Hot Springs, another dirt road descends to the grassy take-out described above.

To reach put-in, continue south on the original dirt road as it crosses the USAF bombing range, intersects with several roads to the east rim of the canyon, crosses Clover Creek, and finally reaches a paved road from highway 93. Turn right at the T and descend to the river, past the town of Murphy to the BLM campground at a bridge across the east fork.


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