FUN FACT: Great kayak self-support trip of 3 days (3-5 days if combined with the Jarbidge) through a remote wilderness canyon. Recently designated part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
SEASON: April / May
HAZARDS: Possible log jams. Poison ivy and rattle snakes. Vertically-walled gorge with limited exits and access. Remote wilderness. Difficult shuttle. Rapidly fluctuating water levels. Long continuous rapids at high flows. Unrunnable low-head diversion dam just below take-out.
Take Out: Head Southeast from the town of Bruneau for 8 miles on Hot Springs Road. Where the road veers left and climbs, watch for a gravel road that continues straight along the river (note that the name also changes here on the map from Hot Springs Road to Clover Three Creek Road). Follow it 1/2 mile to the take out (private land). There is a dangerous low head dam immedeately below the take out that is difficult to see from river level.
Put in: The traditional put in for the Bruneau is at Indian Hot Springs, just below the confluence of the Jarbidge and West Fork Bruneau Rivers. Driving there requires a capable 4x4 vehicle with good, mud-terrain tires and an experienced off-road driver. Two spares tires and high lift jack are highly recommended for travelling the Bruneau backcountry. The drive should not be attempted during wet or snowy weather, which is frequent during boating season. To get there, turn off approximataley 30 miles out the Clover Three Creek road (measured from the take out). Watch for a sign on the right after crossing Clover Creek and making a large switchback turn. The first six miles of the road are good, but don't be fooled, it quickly deteriorates into ten miles of treachery thereafter. As a general rule, stay left at the unmarked forks, and mark your turns to avoid getting lost on the way out. There are no landmarks in the flat Sagebrush plain. In the last 1.2 miles, the road drops 1,000 vertical feet to the canyon floor. There are several steep sections with exposed bedrock ledges that require high clearance. Near the bottom is a slippery clay bank that requires sidehilling, and is nearly impassible when wet. Do not underestimate the difficulty of this road. Shuttles can some times be arranged in the town of Bruneau. Due to the diffficult access, many paddlers start on the nearby Jarbidge River .
Plan on at least three days to float the Bruneau, with two additional days if the Jarbidge is added. If on a tight timeline the Jarbidge can be done in one day and the Bruneau in two. Bring cold weather camping gear as temps frequently drop below freezing during boating season. Drinking water should be purified. Approved firepans and human waste containment systems are required. Check BLM regulations before your trip. A great map can be purchased from the BLM, which covers both the Bruneau and Jarbidge.
DESCRIPTION: The Bruneau has about twice the volume of the Jarbidge. Cave Rapid (III-IV) will be reached soon. The water in the right channel pushes into a big cave creating an undercut at certain levels. Several short class III drops alternate with long flat sections for the next 25 miles. Although the whitewater is not quite as exciting as on the Jarbidge, the canyon landscape is breathtaking. At mile 29 (58 miles from Jarbidge put-in) Roberson Trail fords the river. Shortly after, the hardest section of the Bruneau begins. At low levels 5-Mile-Rapid is a long section of boulder gardens separated by short pools (IV-). At medium and higher levels holes may form and the rapid should be much more continuous (IV). After 5-Mile the canyon opens up. One more drop requires attention, Wild Burro IV, past mile 36 (mile 65). Another hot springs is located a couple of miles above the take-out on the left side. Don't paddle over the diversion dam below the take-out.
Description contributed by Claudia Schwab
June 6 2020. Log blocking Right channel at Kendells Cave, the 1st drop on Bruneau, left of big rock is clear.
We ran it on 5/15/20 to 5/16/20. We ran two 16 ft oar rigs, one 16 ft cataraft, several kayaks, two sabertooths, one 14 ft paddle raft and one 13 ft oar rig. The river level started at 850 when we put in and ended at 750 when we took out. Spent a lot of time in five mile getting the big boats unstuck, several pins etc. They are just too big at this water levels for all but really experienced boaters who already know the lines. All the boats less than 14 ft had minimal issues with rocks. Yes there was a lot of rock dodging but still a great experience for the smaller boats. Anything less than 900 leave the big oar rigs at home. At this water level five mile is pool drop rapids in succession. When it gets over 1500 those pool drop rapids disappear and they form a continuous wave train. I know they called wild burro a class IV and it is but you cant scout it easy and you don't need to. You will bounce off the wall at low water levels in a larger boat(bigger than 15ft) and at high water the standing wave wont let you hit the rock since the water pillows up. The real action is below the scary wall. Once you deal with the wall the action is below with several rocks to miss but you have plenty of time in smaller boats at this level. Above 1500 all those rocks go away and its a sheer joy to slide off the pillow and into a long wave train. This is by far the easiest read and run IV on the river but its super fun.
We were fortunate to score a Bruneau run in July - we put in at Indian Hot Springs on 7/2/19. The flow at the USGS Hot Spring gauge was ~730 cfs and that was plenty sufficient for our self-support group of 2 kayaks and 1 pack raft. Because we squoze this run into a 7-day trip that also included the South Salmon, we only had 2 days to paddle Bruneau. I wish we could have spent more time in this incredibly beautiful canyon! At this flow, most of the whitewater felt like III-III+ with a couple rapids that ramped up to IV-. Road report: the road to the PI is still in pretty terrible shape. We were expecting some less-than-ideal roads and for it to become very slow going once we got to the rim of the canyon, but the rough road conditions started a good 10 miles before we got to the rim. We considered parking at the canyon rim and carrying our boats to the river, but the decision was made to drive all of the way to the river. You really need high-clearance 4x4 for this portion of the road. There was a small wildfire on the other side of the river and we encountered a BLM vehicle driving out of the canyon along this already sketchy section of road. Thankfully, we only had to back up about 15 yards to reach one of the rare places where it’s wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. If you decide to drive all of the way down the road and there’s any chance you may encounter and oncoming vehicle, it’d be a good idea to send somebody down on foot to negotiate with the other drivers. After we unloaded our gear and ate a late lunch, the decision was made to drive the truck back up to the canyon rim so we wouldn’t have to deal with the steep portions in the dark during the post-paddle shuttle. After the driver and his scout hiked back down to the river, we put-in after 5pm and probably made it 15 miles before camping. After the run, I waited with our gear at the take-out while the others retrieved the vehicle at the canyon rim. The round trip took them 4hr 20min! They say the road to the Jarbridge PI is well-maintained. If you have more time than we did and the Jarbridge has sufficient flow, definitely consider that option so you can avoid those gnarly roads.
Totally good to go in rafts as of 5/12/16! Ran at about 2000 cfs and it was great. Jarbidge was good too with two portages at Barker Falls and Jarbidge Falls.
A no go for a raft at any flow. Bring wire cutters and teach Farmer Bob a lesson! :)
8 years ago
by Brian Vogt
River Guide and maps to Owyhee, Bruneau, and Jarbidge
Rafters should look for at least 1,000 CFS on the Bruneau gage, but kayaks can run as low as 500. The BLM Guide book does not recommend running the Bruneau at flows over 2,500 CFS. Flows can fluctuate very rapidly with changing weather conditions. Timing of run off is highly variable from year to year. Catching the Bruneau can be difficult.
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Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Clover Creek/EF Bruneau camp
Bruneau canyon above Sheep Creek
Five Mile from overlook
Bruneau Canyon 2
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