Difficulty V
Length 16 Miles
Flow Range 400 - 2800 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 39 minutes ago 2300 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 06/07/2019 12:34 am

River Description

This section of the North Fork of the Payette is the 16 miles above Banks and is considered big-water Class V. For the past several years it has served as the site of the North Fork Championship, regarded by many as the most challenging whitewater competition in the world.

Paddling on the North Fork begin in 1975 when local boaters Roger Hazlewood, Keith Taylor, and Tom Murphy astounded everyone by becoming the first to run the final two and a half miles of the North Fork. In 1977, Idaho’s Rob Lesser, Kentucky’s Bob Walker, Dennis Whitehouse, and Bob Letter, and the “Crunch Bunch” negotiated the entire run for the first time.

Soon after the river was recognized as a unique whitewater resource that challenged the world’s most accomplished paddlers, the hydropower threats emerged. Idaho Power Company sought to dewater the North Fork for hydropower in the late 1970s. When they ceased their efforts in 1986, Boise’s infamous billionaire and potato king J.R. Simplot launched his own effort to dewater the river followed by Gem Irrigation District. In response, Friends of the Payette and then Idaho Rivers United formed to protect the river. The Conservation Alliance issued their first grant for $40,000 to fund this effort that was ultimately successful when Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus signed the first version of the Payette River Plan in 1991; this plan protected the Payette River system from new dams and hydropower development by establishing the river as a state “protected river.” The ultimate outcome exceeded the expectations of Rob Lesser and Pete Skinner who penned an article for a 1979 issue of the American Whitewater Journal hoping we could secure two weekend releases a month as mitigation for a hydropower development that seemed all but certain to dewater the river. Today the river flows throughout the year and attracts paddlers from around the world who come to enjoy a true class V classic.

The entire North Fork run is parallel to Highway 55 and drops an impressive 1700 feet along the length of the run from Smith’s Ferry to Banks. It is usually referred to in three segments: the Top 5, Middle 5, and Lower 5. The Lower 5 is the most frequently paddled and where most people start. The Lower 5 rapids are more straightforward than those upstream and the run makes a great after work Class V fix or those looking for a warmup to the upper stretches. 

The Top 5 begins just below Smith’s Ferry where the river drops into the canyon and rapids that include Steepness, Nutcracker, Disneyland, and S Turn challenge boaters. This section ends at Big Eddy Campground, a rare break from the near-constant action of the run. 

The Middle 5 is marked by a cable foot bridge representing the start of the heart of the run with rapids that include Slide, Bad Jose, Know Where to Run, Chaos, Bouncer Down the Middle, Pectoralis Major, and Jacob’s Ladder. Jake’s is the signature rapid on the run with its own set of names for features within the rapid that include Rock Drop, Taffy Puller, and Ocean Wave. Below Jacob’s Ladder, the intensity continues with no let up as you enter the Golf Course, with more holes than an 18-hole golf course. Some put-in below here for a run down to Banks paddlers refer to as the “Lower 7.” Screaming Left Turn, Jaws One, and Jaws 2 mark the end of the Middle 5.

The Lower 5 begins at the pull-out for Hound’s Tooth. While this section includes “only” the four named rapids of Hound’s Tooth, Otter’s Run, Juicer, and Crunch, the whitewater in between is continuous and paddlers are advised to bring their “A game” particularly during high water in spring. Those who have not paddled the North Fork are advised to start with this section to get a feel for the raw power and intensity of this river. 


The standard put-in for the top of the run is Highway 55 mile 94.6.

Foot Bridge Access at Highway 55 mile 89.2 serves as a put-in for the Middle Five.

Jacob's Ladder can be viewed from the pullout at Highway 55 mile 86.4.

The put-in for the Lower Five is the pullout at Highway 55 mile 83.8.

The take-out in Banks is at Highway 55 mile 78.8 on river right.

Rapid Descriptions


Class - 5.0 Mile - 0.7

Visible from Highway 55 mile 93.5.


Class - 5.3 Mile - 1.4

Visible from Highway 55 mile 93.0.


Class - 5.0 Mile - 2.4

Visible from Highway 55 mile 92.0.


Class - 5.0 Mile - 4
Visible from pullouts along Highway 55 between Big Eddy Campground (mile 89.9) and mile 90.4. This rapid is the traditional site of qualifying races for the North Fork Championship held each June.

Big Eddy Campground

Class - N/A Mile - 4.5

Access at the bottom of S-Turn Rapid located at Highway 55 mile 89.9. This is a good place to camp for running laps on S-Turn Rapid.

Foot Bridge Access

Class - N/A Mile - 5.1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Foot Bridge Access at Highway 55 mile 89.2 and a put-in for the Middle Five.


Class - 5.0 Mile - 5.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Bad Jose

Class - 5.0 Mile - 5.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Know Where To Run

Class - 5.0 Mile - 6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing


Class - 5.0 Mile - 6.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Bouncer Down the Middle

Class - 5.0 Mile - 6.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Pectoralis Major

Class - 5.0 Mile - 7.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Jacobs Ladder

Class - 5.3 Mile - 7.9

The signature rapid on the North Fork Payette at the site of the North Fork Championship. The rapid is visible from the pullout at Highway 55 mile 86.4.

Golf Course

Class - 5.1 Mile - 8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

With 18 holes and more, the Golf Course begins just downstream of Jacob's Ladder and across from Swinging Bridge Campground at Highway 55 mile 86.3.

Lower 7 Put-in

Class - N/A Mile - 8.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This is the access below Jacob's Ladder and the Golf Course that allows you to paddle the Lower 7 that adds Screaming Left and Jaws to the Lower 5. The access is from the large pull-out at Highway 55 mile 85.3.

Screaming Left Turn

Class - 5.0 Mile - 9
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Where the river takes a hard bend to the left away from the road at Highway 55 mile 85.0.

Jaws One

Class - 5.1 Mile - 9.3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The sequence of rapids that make up Jaws is difficult to scout and not right along the road but near Highway 55 mile 84.5.

Jaws Two

Class - 5.0 Mile - 9.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Hounds Tooth, Lower 5 put-in

Class - 5.0 Mile - 10.5

Hounds Tooth begins with a couple of big holes and then a move around the tooth followed by a long run out of fun and continuous class IV+ whitewater. This is also the put-in and start of the run known as the Lower Five. The access to this rapid and the Lower Five put-in is at Highway 55 mile 83.8.

Otters Run

Class - IV+ Mile - 12.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

After passing under Highway 55 the river bends to the left and enters Otters run which is a series of waves and holes. The preferred line is generally down the left side. You can take-out above or below this rapid. At Highway 55 mile 81.8 an access on river right above the rapid is also used as a dispersed camping site. At Highway 55 mile 81.1 near the railroad bridge you can drive down to an access below the rapid.


Class - 5.0 Mile - 13.4

Juicer has some big waves and holes and is generally run down the right but beware of the hole at the top right. The rapid is visible from Highway 55 mile 80.6.


Class - 5.0 Mile - 14.5
The last big rapid with some big holes and waves followed by class IV runout that continues down to the bridge in Banks. The preferred line is generally down the right. The rapid is visible from Highway 55 mile 79.6.

Banks Take-out

Class - N/A Mile - 15.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing


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Bennett Snyder
1 month ago

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Henry Munter
14 years ago

At normal summer flows, I feel Juicer is not a IV+, but rather a reasonable V. It is harder an more dangerous than Crunch--as stated by the last commenter, many people underestimate Juicer. I've seen paddlers pin, swim, and or get hurt in Juicer, in various orders. Don't let the rating here fool you if you're a first timer on the NF. If you want to rate Juicer IV+ go for it, but call Disneyland, S-turn, Crunch and others the same.
If you're a first timer up top, be careful. It's a definite step up from the bottom.
Otherwise the NF is pretty much the best action within a thousand miles Mid-July through the end of August. Come from far away and enjoy, but use a good spray skirt and don't flip over.

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16 years ago

A little Lower 5 info. New
Forum: BoaterTalk

Date: Aug 21 2003, 19:04 GMT
From: middleschooler

The Lower 5 is running 1500 right now. This is actually, a pretty good introductory level.....a little high perhaps if you're more comfortable dealing with rocks than push. Nonetheless, not bad and it'll give you a good feel for "The NF".

"IV+ or V"?

That depends with whom you talk to. Most of the locals I know who paddle it regularly say 4+ (and I'm talking about the current level of 1500). On the other hand, it seems most out of area boaters, or the uninitiated, more often than not refer to it as class 5. Regardless of what class people call it, you have to remember that the NF is a fairly unique river with a different feel. It is not pool drop and the eddies for the most part are along the banks, not in the center. Also, the recovery pools are more or less non-existent below the named rapids and the water deflecting off the sharp blasted rocks on both banks create sort of a chaotic feel. In other words, the waves don't roll but are rather erratic giving you the feeling of getting slapped from all directions. The river is also choke full of holes. Most will just splash you.... if you hit them straight on. Others will gladly play with you if you're not on the stick.

The beauty of the NF is that it's all roadside and you can easliy get out any time you're not comfy. Generally, newer paddlers working up the ladder do what is referred to as "The Warm-up", a ~2 mile piece between the first drop (Houndstooth) & the top of Otters. It is a fun run in itself and comparitively speaking, easy.

"Big water"?

CFS wise, obviously not but it does have a bit of big water feel to it.

"Runable next weekend"?

Yes. And the NF typically runs until the first part of Oct though it will be running a tad low then.....approx 800-900.

"Not-so-obvious hazards"?

Yes. There is a pin rock in Juicer roughly 115 yards from the top near the right bank. There is a funky V shaped hole sorta thing about 10 yards above that tends to kick people into the rock. It is not obvious from bank scouting how this feature will kick you and unless you know where to look for the rock, it isn't real obvious either. I believe 1300 to 1500 is probably the worst level for it too. So, if you don't go with some one that knows the run, I'd suggest staying away from the right which also happens to be the most obvious line. Actually, the right was always the standard line but I believe the rock either shifted or the shorter boats that are now being used up there are more susceptible to being pushed that way. Prior to around 96, I hadn't heard of anyone pinning there. Anyhow, take that rock seriously. It has pinned multiple paddlers 4 of which I have witnessed. There is an undercut finger of sorts which happens to fit perfectly in the kayakers lap preventing escape.

Which weekend were you thinking? I doubt I'll leave the house this coming weekend but likely next weekend. If you'd be interested, I'd be more than happy to paddle with you on the Staircase run and if I thought you were up for the Lower 5, take you down that (hope that doesn't offend...I just don't know your level of paddling:-)).


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David Garrity
17 years ago

It looks like the USGS has dropped the NF Payette at Cascade gauge. Idaho Power provides current data. Here's the link.


Gage Descriptions

Low: 700 - 1100
Optimal: 1100 - 1900
High: 1900 - 2800

Local experts run it much higher. Doug Ammons, Greg Moore and Tony Brennan did it once around 7000 cfs.

Was run at over 8,000 cfs in Spring of 2010.

Safety Note
Above 2,800 cfs the water is typically much colder, rapids longer, and eddies are smaller.

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  
2017-08-28 Medium Fatality Other Read More
2013-06-05 n/a Fatality Other Read More
2011-08-14 Medium Fatality Other Read More
2011-06-27 High Fatality High Water Read More
2009-01-25 n/a Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
2007-08-12 Medium Fatality Failed Rescue Read More
2002-08-24 n/a Fatality Other Read More
2000-07-15 Medium Injury Other Read More
1999-08-15 Medium Fatality Other Read More
1998-07-12 Medium Fatality Other Read More
1992-07-03 Low Fatality Other Read More
1988-09-04 Medium Fatality Other Read More



article main photo

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.

Thomas O'Keefe


Todd Hoffman


Bill Hunt


Nate Isaak


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1212744 06/07/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1212746 06/07/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1212745 06/07/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1212747 06/07/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1209572 05/14/18 Thomas O'Keefe minor access edits
1199643 03/20/11 Todd Hoffman
1205269 09/17/15 Bill Hunt
1206696 07/07/16 Thomas O'Keefe logistics notes added
1212734 06/06/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212735 06/06/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1190386 06/15/05 Nate Isaak n/a
1198943 12/04/10 Thomas O'Keefe abstract edit