Payette, S. Fork - 3. Swirly Canyon

Payette, S. Fork, Idaho, US


3. Swirly Canyon (Danskin Station to Alder Creek Bridge)

Usual Difficulty II-III (for normal flows)
Length 8 Miles
Avg. Gradient 20 fpm

Rafting Swirly Canyon

Rafting Swirly Canyon
Photo of Paul Janda by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/27/14 @ a good level

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Payette; South Fork below Deadwood Confluence
virtual-49596 330 - 6000 cfs II-III 00h25m 329.5 cfs (too low)

River Description

This is a beautiful section of the South Fork Payette in a scenic gorge that usually has less traffic than the "Main". The section is named for its strong eddies and wave dynamics but the whitewater is no more than class II-III.

This section can be run during most of the spring/summer/fall. Levels can be on the high side during spring run-off (May/June) and lower as September drags on. After the Deadwood shuts off (in 2015 it was August 31), flows can be in the 345 range, which results in some scrapey sections, but the run still has some fun rapids, and very clear water.

About a mile below the Danskin put-in the river makes a sharp right-hand turn into the canyon. Great class II and III whitewater in a scenic gorge continues for about two miles.

As you exit the canyon the remains of the Grimes Dam provides a nice play wave known as UPW (Ultimate Play Wave).

After 5.6 miles, the whitewater tapers off and you will reach the Hot Springs which serves as an alternate take-out or a put-in if you are looking for a good SUP run. It's another 2.5 miles down to the Alder Creek Road. You can also continue on down through the next 4 miles of the Garden Valley, a good flatwater run.

Logistics: From Boise drive north on State Highway 55 about 32 miles to Banks and then turn right up the Banks-Lowman Road (Highway 17) which heads upstream along the South Fork Payette. This road parallels the river along the right bank but out of site from the river and serves as the shuttle route. 

The take-out is at Highway 17 mile 11.7 (just west of the airstrip) where the Alder Creek Road heads 0.2 south from the highway to the Alder Creek Bridge across the river. The access is the downstream river left side of the bridge.

An intermediate access point is available at Hot Springs at Highway 17 mile 13.9. You can take-out here and everyone can enjoy a nice soak while shuttle drivers get the cars from the put-in. It's a hike up the hill from the river which works better for kayaks than rafts.

Grimes Dam site is not an access but it is a historical site at the pull out at Highway 17 mile 17.1. This old hydropower dam failed in 1943 and there is an interpretive site along the highway.

The put-in is at Danskin Station at Highway 17 mile 19.5. Access is available through a steep set of stairs down to the river and a raft slide. The parking area is a feet site at $3.00/day or $20.00 season pass for the Payette system. Season passes can be purchased at the USDA Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management Interagency Visitor Center in Boise, Boise National Forest District Offices (Emmett, Lowman, and Garden Valley), Alpenglow Sports (Bogus Basin Rd.), Ponderosa Sports (between Horseshoe Bend and Gardina), Banks Cafe and Store; Garden Valley Store, Boise Army Navy Store, Cascade Outfitters, Cascade Raft Company (about 1.5 miles south of Beehive Bend), Idaho River Sports, and REI. Day passes can be purchased at the river access sites.

Other Runs in the Area:

- The Payette South Fork (Canyon and Staircase runs)
- Payette North Fork (Cabarton class III and Smiths Ferry-Banks class V sections)
- Payette Upper Main and Lower Main.
- Payette Middle Fork runs - Here and Here.
- Also the Gutter for 'park-n-play'.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-07-03 04:57:23


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-90.6Swirly CanyonIIIPhoto
-89.9UPW (Ultimate Play Wave)N/APlayspot Photo
-86.8Hot SpringN/AAccess

Rapid Descriptions

Swirly Canyon (Class III, Mile -90.6)

Start of Swirly Canyon

Start of Swirly Canyon
Photo of Aaron Horowitz by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 07/02/16 @ 0 cfs

Where the river takes a hard bend to the right and then back left, Swirly Canyon begins. This tight gorge is about half a mile in length. This section has lots of boils and strong eddy lines that can easily flip those without a strong brace.

UPW (Ultimate Play Wave) (Class N/A, Mile -89.9)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 07/02/16 @ 0 cfs

The UPW forms at certain flows at the Grimes Pass Dam site.

Hot Spring (Class N/A, Mile -86.8)

The hot spring comes up quick and is easily missed. You can stop for a quick soak. Kayakers can use this as a take-out but it would be a long haul up the trail for rafts.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 28 2013 (2029 days ago)
ncrawfo2 (155356)
Ran Swirly's 4/27/13 and there was a sign on the put in ramp warning of a tree across the river.
There was indeed a tree fully across the river in one of the narrowest sections of the Canyon but
it was mostly submerged at 800cfs from the gauge at the SF Payette/Deadwood confluence. It looks
challenging to cut out as its submerged but we were able to eddy out above it and float our 14' oar
rig though no problem so there may be no need to cut it out either...

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