Difficulty III-IV
Length 11 Miles
Gauge Payette; South Fork below Deadwood Confluence
Flow Range 330 - 5000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 54 minutes ago 1397 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 06/06/2019 4:55 pm

River Description

The canyon section of the South Fork Payette is an Idaho classic. It is a beautiful III-IV run, in a deep remote canyon. Best of all is its long season and clean, clear water.

The standard put-in for this run is the Deadwood River Access. If you put in here it allows for a couple miles of warm up with good class II and a couple of class III rapids that are easy read and run.
The real action begins soon enough as you enter S Turn, a big class IV read and run with lots of waves and a few holes to avoid.
Next up is Big Falls a class V to VI drop which is a portage for most. It has been run a few times, a couple times inadvertently, but at spring flows some enormous holes form in the bottom half of this intimidating drop. The rapid comes up quick and is marked by a couple of warning signs (the first on river right and then a second marking the start of the portage on river left). The lead in class II is not hard but be sure to make the eddy on river left just before the river drops off the edge into the abyss of Big Falls. Anyone who has the skills for this run should not have a problem making the move, but it can be a little intimidating as the consequences of missing the eddy would be severe.
The portage trail on river left is well worn and although it is not an easy portage for rafts, some people do it. A little scrambling on the rocks at the bottom takes you to a nice seal launch into the pool at the base of the falls. On a sunny day this is a nice spot to break for lunch and take it all in; the whole scene is pretty cool.
Once you are in the pool below Big Falls you are in the most scenic section of the inner gorge. Shortly after the exit rapid from this pool you will find yourself at the horizon line for Blackadar. This is a great rapid that you run left of center down a nice tongue, but be prepared for a couple of big hits at the bottom.
More fun whitewater continues as the gorge walls slows descend and the highway comes into view on the right. Lone Pine is the next significant drop, recognized by the lone pine on a rock on river right and the retaining wall along the highway. Take this one down the right through a fun wave train.
Little Falls is the next major rapid. Never go down the center at Little Falls. Either take the far right line or nail the nice boof on far river left which is a fun line at medium flows. One landmark that tells you Little Falls is coming is the steel netting to catch rockfall along the road, which has shiny big washers that can be seen from the river. Check it out on the drive up. 
Surprise is the final big drop which is a fun wave train that ends in a big hole at the bottom. You can start out on the tongue but be sure to exit to one side or the other to avoid the hole at the bottom.
Keep your eyes open for a small bedrock island that marks the kayaker take-out or continue on down through easier whitewater to the formal access at Danskin Station.
Jet boats have been able to run all the way up the South Fork to below Big Falls, above 5000 cfs. 
The Banks-Lowman Road parallels the river but is hundreds of feet above the river in most places. 
The primary put-in for this run is at Deadwood River Access at road mile 29.9. Kayakers sometimes use the alternate put-in access at Pine Flat Campground at road mile 27.9 which cuts off the first two miles of warm up class III.
If doing a road scout you can see Big Falls from the overlook at road mile 25.0 and Little Falls at road mile 22.7.
The Kayaker Access which is an alternate take-out used by kayakers is at road mile 21.9. It is an unmarked roadside pull-out with a decent trail down to the river. You can recognize it by the small bedrock island on the river right side of the channel that is just upstream of the access trail.
The primary take-out is at Danskin Station River Access at road mile 19.5. This is a formal access site with a set of steep stairs from the river to the parking lot. For the rafters, there is a wooden ramp at Danskin but it is steep and involves carrying the boat up the bank about 100 vertical feet, another reason to load rafts lightly for this trip.

Rapid Descriptions

S Turn

Class - IV Mile - 4

Big Falls

Class - VI Mile - 5

Portage, river left.

Blackadar Rapid

Class - IV Mile - 5.2

Lone Pine

Class - IV Mile - 6.4

Little Falls

Class - IV Mile - 6.9


Class - IV Mile - 7.5

Kayaker Take-Out

Class - N/A Mile - 8

Danskin Station

Class - N/A Mile - 10.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

A loong ramp serves as the raft takeout. 
This is also the normal putin for Swirly.


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11 years ago

Ran the river on 07/05/09. Great run. Surprise was a hit had a couple of swimmers. Lines is definately way right to way left! Everything else was fun and punchable.

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12 years ago

What a great run! Saw it at 2300 for the first time, big, fun, lovely, a real gem. Surprised a run this popular doesn't have more beta up here! --Brian Vogt

Gage Descriptions

Flows are the sum of USGS South Fork Payette near Lowman plus Deadwood River.

After the Deadwood river is shut off, the Canyon flows can be in the 345 cfs range, which is generally too low for rafts, but still some creeky fun for kayaks. 
For example, in 2015 the Deadwood stepped down from 1000 to 900 on August 25, then to 700 on August 28, then down to 50 on August 31. That puts the Canyon flow around 345. 

Directions Description

The Banks Lowman road follows the river but is often high above. 

Date Flow Result Factor  
2019-07-12 Medium Fatality Other Read More
1997-06-04 High Fatality Other Read More
1996-06-24 n/a Near Miss/Rescue One Boat Trip Read More
1995-07-15 Medium Fatality Cold Water Read More
1978-05-13 Medium Fatality Cold Water 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.

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Can You Taste Victory?

American Whitewater

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

Nate Isaak


Bill Hunt


Paul Martzen


Todd Hoffman


Thomas O'Keefe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190388 12/14/04 Nate Isaak n/a
1212739 06/06/19 Bill Hunt updated image position
1198085 08/17/10 Paul Martzen Added virtual gauge & changed coordinates
1199954 04/28/11 Todd Hoffman Added description, updated name removed dead links.
1199960 04/29/11 Todd Hoffman Added gage description.
1202305 06/12/13 Bill Hunt
1201438 07/01/12 Thomas O'Keefe photo added
1202304 06/12/13 Bill Hunt
1202306 07/07/14 Thomas O'Keefe description revised
1203546 07/07/14 Thomas O'Keefe minor photo edit
1205254 09/02/15 Bill Hunt
1205256 09/02/15 Bill Hunt Added Danskin Station