Payette, S. Fork, Idaho, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV (varies with level)|
|Payette; South Fork near Banks|
|virtual-6518||410 - 10500 cfs||IV||00h45m||559 cfs (running)|
Character: There are several rapids along this stretch with Bronco Billy (Class III+, with a road pullout that is used for a nearby hot springs), Staircase (Class IV) and Slalom (Class IV-) being the standouts. Rapids are described in more detail below. The Banks Lowman Road is next to the river through this canyon making it easy to scout the entire run.
Another possible hazard to be aware of is jetskis and jet boats. Jet boating is increasingly popular at higher flows. Jet boat operators report that they can navigate the entire Staircase run above 5000 cfs, and at higher flows they can even get up past Little Falls on the Canyon run. Jetskis have also been up as far as Little Falls.
Logistics: From Boise drive north on State Highway 55 about 32 miles to Banks which is at the confluence of the North and South Fork Payette (Highway 55 mile 78.8).
Put in: From Banks, head east upstream along the South Fork Payette on the Banks-Lowman Road (Highway 17) that parallels the river and provides an opportunity for a road scout. Access points include Deer Creek Ramp, most commonly used access point, at mile 4.5 or Upper Deer Creek Ramp at mile 4.8. Immediately upstream of this point the run is flatwater through Garden Valley but additional access points can be found.
No permit needed, but user fees are required at the put in and take out facilities. A season pass can be obtained at the Banks store and Cafe for $20.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Deer Creek Ramp||III|
|0.9||Tight and Right||III|
|1.1||South Fork Surf Wave||II|
At most flows the Deer Creek ramp is a super fun seal launch. Just don't put your hands down while sliding, you'll get terrible splinters.
Bronco Billy is a long class III wave train that is run down the middle.
I am a bit confused on the names of the next two rapids, a warning sign posted by the Forest Service called the rapid with the huge log in it Dogleg.
A large midstream boulder towards river left separates the river into river left slot and a wide open line down the right. Go right. In recent years a huge log has blocked the left channel of the rapid. In June 2017, that log is gone, and an even larger log is there, with another log piled on top for good measure. Rocks on the downstream side of the left channel make rolling under the log inadvisable. This rapid is visible from the road from downstream, and should be evident with a heads-up boat scout.
More of a III- than a III, but still fun. You can start right of center and boat scout this one.
Staircase is a challenging rapid with a very long swim if things go wrong. There are multiple different lines that can be scouted from a large pull-out at mile 2.3 along the Banks-Lowman Road. A good line can generally be found down the middle while navigating around the holes along the way. From the top of the rapid to the run out is about 1/3 of a mile.
While bank scouting Staircase, take note of the large entrance rock left of center, which is called Whale rock, and the rocks below it, left of center. Many rafts have wrapped on a rock left of center, and there is a sieve rock further left as well.
There is also a sieve below the right entrance rock, on the right line.
This easy class II means Slalom is coming up next.
Slalom is a long rapid with a couple holes to avoid. Start right but immediately begin working left as the biggest hole in the drop known as “See More” is near the start of the rapid on river right. Once you have passed the first big hole work back right to avoid a hole on the left. One final hole is near the bottom right. This rapid is more of a class IV- than a class IV, but it is a challenging rapid with unpleasant consequences if you end up in one of the holes.