Payette, N. Fork - 5. Smiths Ferry to Banks

Payette, N. Fork, Idaho, US


5. Smiths Ferry to Banks

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 16 Miles
Avg. Gradient 110 fpm
Max Gradient 200 fpm

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder
Photo of Stephen Strange by Bittu Ali taken 06/15/02 @ 1600

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-13246000 400 - 2800 cfs V -00h30m 1720 cfs (running)

River Description

This section of the North Fork of the Payette is the 16 miles above Banks and is considered big-water Class V. The entire run is parallel to Highway 55. It is usually refered to in three segments: the Top 5, Middle 5, and Lower 5. The Lower 5 is the most frequently paddled. The Lower 5 rapids are more straightforward than those upstream and the run makes a great afterwork Class-V fix or those looking for a warmup to the upper stretches. From top to bottom the river drops 1700 feet.

Classic AW Journal article on the North Fork, circa 1991.

Parts of the Bottom 5 were first paddled in 1975.

The distances in the rapid summary are approximations. If you have more detailed info, leave it in the comments section or please email the regional streamkeeper.


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

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-05-14 21:29:40


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
4.5Big Eddy CampgroundN/AAccess Photo
5.1Foot Bridge AccessN/AAccess
5.8Bad Jose5.0
6.0Know Where To Run5.0
6.4Bouncer Down the Middle5.0
7.2Pectoralis Major5.0
7.9Jacobs Ladder5.3
8.0Golf Course5.1
8.8Lower 7 Put-inN/AAccess
9.0Screaming Left Turn5.0
9.3Jaws One5.1
9.4Jaws Two5.0
10.5Hounds Tooth, Lower 5 put-in5.0Photo
12.5Otters RunIV+
15.4Banks Take-outN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Steepness (Class 5.0, Mile 0.7)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

Visible from Highway 55 mile 93.5.

Nutcracker (Class 5.3, Mile 1.4)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

Visible from Highway 55 mile 93.0.

Disneyland (Class 5.0, Mile 2.4)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

Visible from Highway 55 mile 92.0.

S-Turn (Class 5.0, Mile 4.0)

S Turn

S Turn
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

Visible from pullouts along Highway 55 between Big Eddy Campground (mile 89.9) and mile 90.4.

Big Eddy Campground (Class N/A, Mile 4.5)

Big Eddy Campground

Big Eddy Campground
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

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)

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

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 8.0)

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)

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 9.0)

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)

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.

Hounds Tooth, Lower 5 put-in (Class 5.0, Mile 10.5)

Hounds Tooth

Hounds Tooth
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

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)

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.

Juicer (Class 5.0, Mile 13.4)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

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.

Crunch (Class 5.0, Mile 14.5)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/14/18 @ 1720 cfs

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 80.6.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 1 2005 (4676 days ago)
Henry MunterDetails
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.
August 21 2003 (5418 days 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:-)).
May 27 2003 (5504 days ago)
David GarrityDetails
It looks like the USGS has dropped the NF Payette at Cascade gauge. Idaho Power provides current
data. Here's the link.

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