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Difficulty III+
Length 7.2 Miles
Flow Range 800 - 12000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 1400 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 07/07/2016 4:04 am

River Description

The Payette's Upper Main is classic Idaho whitewater. Less than an hour from Boise, Banks is "River Central" for the Payette system and lies at the confluence of the Payette's North Fork and South Fork. Banks serves as the take-out for North Fork (class V) and South Fork (class IV) runs and the put-in for the class III section know locally as "The Main". There are several class III rapids and plenty of class II rapids (described in detail below). Big bouncy drops will keep experienced paddlers entertained and it's a great training run for intermediate paddlers honing their skills. Advanced paddlers can begin their run on the South Fork Staircase run or the Lower Five on the North Fork Payette and join the group in Banks. Commercial traffic can get heavy on this run during late spring or early summer weekends. This section is recommended for paddlers with at least the basic river-running skills--The Main is the "real-thang"!

WHEN TO RUN: The Upper Main is runnable most of the year - best Spring through Fall. Be warned that this may become a larger volume river in the spring (June/July) and can reach 15,000cfs. But most of the summer it starts at about 5,000cfs and works it's way down to about 2,000cfs by September. October flows dip to around 800 to 1200. The river is still runnable at this level, but it IS low and a very different river.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Boise take state hwy 55 north about 32 miles to Banks (Highway 55 mile 78.8) and turn left across the North Fork. This is a fee parking area - $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 Restrooms and changing rooms available. An alternate put-in is at Milepost 77 - this puts you just downstream from GLOYF, a bony class III+. Another alternate is to put-in at Chief Parrish and run MixMaster and AMF - and pull-out at Beehive Bend or continue down the Lower Main.

SHUTTLE: Leave a shuttle at Beehive Bend (25 miles north of Boise - about 7 miles north of Horseshoe Bend at Highway 55 mile 71.5) or at Chief Parrish (Highway 55 mile 74.2) if you want out prior to MixMaster and AMF. These are also fee parking areas.

OPTIONAL PUT-IN/TAKE-OUTS: If you want to miss GoLeft you can put in at MilePost-77. There is a large pullout you can park in. If you would like to miss Mixmaster and AMF, you can pull pull out at Chief Parrish Campground. With these changes you really only have one class III, Mikes Hole, and lots of great II and II+ action.

-The Payette South Fork (Canyon, Swirly Canyon and Staircase runs)

-Payette North Fork (Cabarton's class III and Smiths Ferry-Banks class V sections)
-Payette Middle Fork runs - Here and Here.
-Payette Lower Main - Includes the Climax Wave.
-Also the Gutter for 'park-n-play'.

Rapid Descriptions

Whitewater 101

Class - II Mile - 0.4

A clean class II wave train down the left and some smaller holes to the right.

Whitewater 102

Class - II Mile - 0.6

Read and run rapid with a good eddy at the bottom left to check in and assess how the group is feeling. These first two rapids are great to get a feel for newer paddlers--if you are having problems at this point, best to get out here because it only gets bigger.

Banks Beach (aka Bikini Beach)

Class - N/A Mile - 1

Alternate access or lunch stop a mile down from the main put-in in Banks but before the real whitewater begins. It's at Highway 55 mile 77.9) This is also a pleasant place for non-paddlers to hang out.

Go Left or You're Fired

Class - III+ Mile - 1.3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This is the first major rapid on this section. As the name implies, you want to stay on the left tongue and avoid the big hole center. Hardshell kayaks can try multiple lines, such as going right, on a more rocky class 4-ish line.

Lunch Counter

Class - II+ Mile - 2.5

Here the river is pinched into the middle setting up a nice V with a wave-train. It's an easy run left of center to avoid the hole on the right. As the names implies, this is a good lunch spot.

Bennnett's Rock

Class - III Mile - 3

The rock is at the center of the river and at medium to low flows creates a meaty hole. As flows increase the hole washes out and a nice wave train forms. Depending on flows you can boof the rock or enjoy the great surfing wave. The conservative line is available down river right.

Mike's Hole

Class - III Mile - 3.9
Mike’s Hole can be run via the sneak line on the far left or a center to left move avoiding the hole. The hole is on river right.

Mike's Toe

Class - II Mile - 4

Class II down the V left of center.

Chief's Headdress

Class - II Mile - 4.2

Easy read-and-run

Chief Parrish

Class - II+ Mile - 4.4

This is a fun class II wave train that is a read-and-run down the middle. An alternate access point at the bottom of this rapid with parking, restrooms, and picnic tables can also be utilized as a lunch stop. Just after Chief Parrish is a class II wavetrain that has a boily section at the end.

Chief Parrish Access

Class - N/A Mile - 4.5

Alternative access that can be used as a take-out above Mixmaster and AMF.


Class - III Mile - 5.3

After a 1/2 mile straightaway the river takes a left hand bend leading in to MixMaster.  This rapid can flip rafts at higher flows with its lateral waves. An eddy just above the drop on river left provides a good boat scout—but keep in mind that you are committed to the drop if you take this option. If you want to scout with the option to portage, go river right. You can sneak by starting middle and going hard right or just blast through the fun hole.

AMF Playspot

Class - II+ Mile - 5.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

A fun hole at medium flows.

Adios My Friend (AMF)

Class - III Mile - 5.9

This is the last big class III rapid. About halfway into the rapid a rock shelf running from river-left to center should be avoided as it forms a big wave/hole. Just blast down the middle or find the right hand sneak but come back to center to enjoy the great wave train that finishes the rapid.


Gage Descriptions

Low: 800 - 2,000 cfs
Med: 2,000 - 4,000 cfs
High: 4,000 cfs and up

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2017-08-11 n/a Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
1997-08-08 Medium Fatality One Boat Trip Read More



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Idaho Proposes Registration Fee for Non-Motorized Boats

John Gangemi

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Idaho is proposing a $13 registration fee for non-motorized boats greater than 7 feet in length. Under this registration fee proposal all kayaks and rafts on Idaho waters would be required to have a registration sticker fixed to the bow of each boat greater than 7 feet in length. Stickers would not be transferable between boats. Out of state boaters would be required to comply as well.

article main photo

Can You Taste Victory?

American Whitewater

FERC revokes Preliminary Permit for
hydropower project on Boundary Creek in
Northern Idaho.

Gary Wilson


Thomas O'Keefe


Todd Hoffman


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1194149 04/27/09 Gary Wilson n/a
1206454 05/22/16 Thomas O'Keefe rapid photos added
1206452 05/22/16 Thomas O'Keefe rapids mapped
1199667 03/20/11 Todd Hoffman Corrected reach description
1206453 05/22/16 Thomas O'Keefe minor edits
1206695 07/07/16 Thomas O'Keefe photo edits