Jarbidge-Bruneau Kayaking

A Paddler's Desert Paradise

Overview

Swift water, boulder-garden rapids, blind corners and steep gradients are all packed into this beautiful wilderness canyon. If you are looking for an exciting class IV multi-day run on a continuous, technical, creeky-feeling river in the middle of some of Idaho’s most unique desert wilderness, the Jarbidge-Bruneau is the trip for you! This slice of desert paradise is known for its technical whitewater and stunning, unique scenery. Often compared to desert landscapes such as Zion National Park, a “mini” Grand Canyon, and even reminders of the Lord of the Rings sets, some of the best of Idaho’s diverse geography is experienced with this river trip, all while challenging yourself with difficult whitewater. WRO’s very own Seth Tonsmeire even claims this trip as one of his favorite rivers to paddle. If you have paddled other Idaho classics and are looking for a section that is new, different and rugged, look no further than the Jarbidge Bruneau.

If you are an advanced paddler and feel comfortable running continuous class III with some solid class IV whitewater, this is a great trip for you. This is not a trip for beginner kayakers! (See WRO’s hardshell skill requirements here.)

Trip Highlights
6 days, 70 miles
Fun, technical, pushy whitewater (Class III+-V)
River character: technical, boulder-drop, continuous, creeky, challenging pool-drop
Towering canyon walls
Stunning vistas
Intimate group sizes
Birds of prey
Desert wildlife
Hot springs
Remote

The Jarbidge originates on the remote border of Idaho and Nevada at the base of the Jarbidge Mountains. Spring run-off sends this creek-size river into a frenzy of fast corners and big, technical whitewater. Surrounded by steep rhyolite canyon walls and juniper forests, this small desert river tumbles about 50 ft. per mile, creating one of the best whitewater runs in Idaho. Several sections are continuous class III – IV boulder garden rapids, with two notable class V rapids that are portagable. The canyon gives you a committing “boxed in” sort of feel. Given the extremely remote location and technical whitewater, we usually have the canyon all to ourselves.

The beautiful high desert plateau comes alive in early spring with delicate desert wildflowers and a wide array of whistling songbirds, birds of prey, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, baby goslings and coyote. Aside from the awesome paddling, there are great hiking and exploring opportunities along the way. Visit a natural arch, hike up to the canyon rim for a breathtaking vista, or lie down by the water’s edge and watch the falcons and swifts fly overhead. As we pass the confluence of the West Fork of the Bruneau, we enter the narrow, red-walled gorge. Once on the Bruneau, the whitewater mellows and you can immerse yourself in the dramatic scenery of the canyon, with some fun, punchy big-water style rapids. Stunning side canyons provide perfect afternoon outings and each evening we will enjoy delicious dutch oven dinners around a campfire and relive the day’s adventures! Five Mile Rapid series, close to five miles of fairly continuous class III+-IV punchy waves, is the grand finale of the trip, and often a fan-favorite.

Why Raft Support?

 

When self-support kayaking, you often have to be a minimalist. When traveling with raft support, you are able to bring all your heart desires, and probably more! Our rafts carry all of your personal things (costumes and dry shoes anyone?), and other items that self-support boating does not allow for such as coolers for gourmet food prepared for you (no more ramen and MREs!), beer, extensive safety supplies, a full-sized firepan with a daily fire, latrine facilities, logistics taken care of, etc. Without the bulky weight of your gear in your kayak, it allows for quicker, more responsive (and fun!) paddling, and also opens up possibilities for more low-volume styles of boats for those looking to spice up the class IV. 

If running this type of river without ever seeing it makes you nervous, or you are traveling alone, having a safety kayaker/ kayak guide is a great way to travel. Traveling with one of our knowledgeable safety kayakers is a great way to gain confidence and expertise through this technical run. Lastly, this type of trip also allows for you to bring non-kayaker family and friends to also be able to enjoy a perfect river vacation for everyone involved. 

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The Stats

Departure Month May
State / Region
Adventure Level High
Price Range $2000 - $3000
Activities Hard Shell Kayaking

Reviews

Logistics

This trip is relatively simple logistically for your travel plans as it begins and ends in Boise, Idaho (BOI).

WRO Kayak Rentals

WRO has a wide range of playboats, half-slices, and river runner/ creek boats to reserve for the week in a variety of sizes. WRO does not provide paddle, skirts, helmets, PFD’s, or personal dry gear. For more information, contact Seth, [email protected] (Reservation website coming soon.)

Before the trip:

Travel to Boise, Idaho (BOI) no later than 5:30 pm one day prior to your trip’s launch date, with lodging arranged for this first night. We recommend staying at the Best Western (Vista) Inn for logistic simplicity. The hotel has a free airport shuttle or parking available to leave your car if you plan on driving to Boise.

Plan on meeting for orientation at 6 pm the night before the launch at the Best Western Inn (Vista at the Airport) (1-800-727-5006). Here you will meet your trip leader, other guests that will be on your trip, and we will hand out dry bags, discuss the trip details and answer any last minute questions. 

The next morning we will depart the Best Western Inn and drive as a group to the river put-in at Jarbidge Forks (Jarbidge-Bruneau combo), about a 3 hour trip, or to Murphy Hotsprings (Bruneau-only). If doing the Bruneau-only adventure, your adventure will start on your drive in. Though Boise to Bruneau, ID is only about an hour trip, the road down from Hot Springs Road to the put-in is an extreme 4×4 drive, and though only a short mileage to get to the river, we take it very cautiously. This drive getting down will most likely take an additional 1-2 hours. This road becomes unnavigable if it rains, so poor weather may cause trip plans to have to change. 

After the Trip:

We provide transportation to Boise from the Bruneau River take out. It is about a 1 hour drive and we usually arrive by late afternoon.

Sample Itinerary

Day before the trip: Arrive in Boise, Idaho no later than 5:30 pm with lodging arranged for this first night. Plan on meeting for orientation at 6 pm the night before the launch at the Best Western Vista Inn. Here you will meet your trip leader, other guests that will be on your trip, and we will hand out dry bags if needed, discuss the trip details and answer any last minute questions. 

Day 1: We’ll get an early start for our drive to the river. We typically try to leave around 8 am. After a 2-3 hour drive, we will arrive at the river put-in, where you will meet the rest of the guides with the boats. We will have lunch, gear up, fit lifejackets for those not kayaking, and have a river safety talk before getting on the river. When we push off, we’ll immediately be in the midst of swift rapids. This is an exciting day!

Day 2: More good rapids and some excellent hiking available. The larger rapids are generally narrow chutes between large boulders.

Day 3: In the morning we reach Jarbidge Falls, which rafts may have to line or portage depending on water levels. We’ll reach the confluence with the Bruneau around lunchtime and soak in the natural hot springs. Those boating only the Bruneau will join the trip here.

Day 4-5: We are on the Bruneau now, floating through some of the prettiest canyons in the west. There will be some good class III rapids and lots of opportunities for hiking.

Day 6: Run Five-Mile Rapid in the morning, 3.5 miles of great class III-IV whitewater. We’ll eat lunch along the river and have a mellow float to our takeout around mid-afternoon. Drive back to Boise.

Bruneau Only: Arrive in Boise the day before the trip and drive to the river the next morning. Soak in the hot springs, eat lunch, and then put on the river. Days 2-4 are the same as days 4-6 of the Jarbidge-Bruneau trip.

FAQs

Kayaking/ Miscellaneous

Will I have to paddle the whole time?

We generally ask that if people sign up for a trip as a kayaker that they plan to paddle the entire trip. This is mainly because we base our number of rafts, guides, and gear distribution off of planning on having people in their kayaks. That being said, we can absolutely make accommodations for individuals in certain situations, (Not wanting to run a particular rapid, medical situations, etc.)
All and all, this is your trip and we are here to ensure you have the best trip possible.

Will safety kayakers/ kayak guides be on the trip?

WRO provides safety kayakers on trips at paddlers' request or if there are more than four kayakers on a trip. We especially try to make sure this is true during high water/ spring trips. Our kayak guides have experience on each of our rivers, as well as with instruction and rescue. We currently cannot provide one-on-one instruction with the types of trips we run, and try to focus on providing river beta and safety.

If I'm on a mixed raft support/ kayak trip, will I be able to scout rapids/ play/ separate from the group?

Generally, yes, to an extent. We try to stay together as a group to keep our repair and major first aid kits accessible to both rafters and kayakers at all times. A certain amount of playing is okay, and we definitely encourage you to do so, but we try to keep our group about a quarter mile distance within each other. If there is a particular rapid you want to scout, try to have an idea the morning of, and let the trip leader know, we will all scout as a group.

I am a whitewater canoeist, are there options for me?

If you are a confident whitewater canoeist with comparable experience, (see skill requirements) we encourage all types of whitewater enthusiasts out there. There are different types of rivers and trip times of the year that may fit your paddling experience and style better than others (high water, big hydraulics versus more creaky and technical), so please check in with the office or read on our kayak trip pages on what those might be. WRO does not currently offer whitewater canoes or accessories in our rental fleet, so you will be responsible for transporting your gear.

I am a part of a kayak school/ company and would like to book a trip for a group of my clients with a WRO permit. How does this work?

As you would charter the whole trip, this needs to be planned well in advance to ensure that there is a full trip date open for your group. The only exception to this might be if another chartered trip canceled. Call the office for details on charter fees, guide expectations, available dates, etc.

What does portaging/ lining a boat mean? Why does it have to happen? What does the process entail?

Portaging and lining boats occurs when rapids are deemed to be too high of risk and consequence to safely and assuredly run with people in the boat. Certain rapids can be “lined,” in which all guides and guests get out of the raft, walk around the rapid with the gear, and the boats, oar frames, oars, and coolers are lowered down the rapid with ropes in a controlled manner. Other rapids need to be completely “portaged,” in which everything (including boats, coolers, etc.) need to be carried around the rapid. Both of these processes are made much quicker and easier with as much help as possible, so we encourage guest participation with carrying gear if they are willing and able. This is by no means a requirement. Time for the line/ portage depends on the number of people, number of boats, and the character of the rapid, but can take between 30 minutes to an hour per boat. Kayakers can easily walk their boats around these rapids.

How old does my child have to be to participate?

The Jarbidge Bruneau is fast, often cold, and can be high consequence. We would not recommend children under the age of 14 for these trips, but have made exceptions based on river experience. Contact us to ask about your child age and river dates.

What if there is a family emergency back home? How will they locate us?

We always carry a satellite communication device for emergency situations and stay in contact with WRO staff in Salmon, who are aware of our location and campsites during the trip. If our office staff is notified of an emergency they will let our crew know, but it is definitely not immediate as we are typically traveling in remote wilderness areas.

What happens if someone gets sick or injured?

All of our trip leaders are certified Wilderness First Responders, along with the majority of our other highly capable guides, several of whom are Wilderness EMTs. All guides are trained in Swiftwater Rescue. Evacuation plans are in place for each trip in case of an emergency, and a satellite communication device is carried at all times.

What is an appropriate gratuity for your guides?

Guides are usually tipped 10-20% of the cost of the trip, more for exceptional service. The guides equally split the total tip amount from each guest. They are most appreciative of receiving this directly from the guest, which will usually be given to the trip leader at the end of the trip to distribute to the rest of the guides, so we recommend planning ahead to have cash or checks on hand. Please do not make tip checks out to Wilderness River Outfitters. They will need to be made out to the guide or to cash. Most of the guides also use Venmo.

Is there an option for a trip for only my group?

We do offer chartered trips. You often will need to plan these types of trips well in advance, as you will be booking out the entire trip for your group and need the launch date to be empty. Chartered trips must pay for the entire slot to reserve the trip, which minimum number of guests vary depending on the river you are interested in. Ask the office for additional details on chartering a trip with us.

Camp Life and Meals

Will we be at a new camp every day?

Yes, we do normally change campsites every day. This allows us to cover new scenery, rapids, and side adventures each day at a fun, comfortable pace.

Will there be a campfire every night?

Yes, we almost always have a campfire every evening and morning.

What clothes should I bring for camp?

Spring trips in Idaho can be very cold and unpredictable. It is recommended to have plenty of fresh, warm, dry clothes to change into at camp. Ensure that you have fresh thermal-layers, fleece or wool, synthetic down, warm hats and gloves, and wool socks. Some sort of sturdy/ insulated pants are also nice. Winter camp booties or close toed shoes are recommended for around camp.

How big are the tents? Do we have to share a tent with someone else?

Most of our tents are high-quality three-person tents, but we only put two people in each tent. If there is an odd number in your group we will not make you share a tent with a stranger. We offer brands like Mountain Hardware, North Face, and Sierra Designs.

Will my tent be set up for me?

In the interest of a more genuine wilderness experience, we encourage people to pick their own sleeping sites and set up their tents (or sleep under the stars, weather permitting!). If you need assistance, we’re happy to help and always show you how the gear works.

What kind of food will we be eating?

Wonderful, gourmet backcountry cooking! We are consistently told by guests that we out-do their expectations when it comes to our food’s quality that we can accomplish in the wilderness. Breakfasts and suppers consist of culinary delights like wild Salmon and steak, many of which are cooked over open campfires and dutch ovens. Lunches are a combination of tasty salads, sandwiches, fruits, and assorted snacks. Healthy and nutritious options are always available, and meals always include fruits and vegetables (locally sourced and organic whenever possible). For additional information, check out our "Sample Menu" page.

Can WRO accommodate dietary restrictions/ allergies?

WRO will happily do our best to accommodate any dietary restrictions at no additional cost. We have experience working with vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut allergies, etc. Please notify us of any dietary restrictions or allergies as early as possible so that we can adjust the menu accordingly. In certain cases, individuals may want to supplement meals and snacks with some items of their own.

Does WRO provide drinks/ snacks?

WRO provides ample snacks as well as plenty of drinking water, fruit juices, and coffee, tea, and cream in the morning. We do not provide soda or alcohol, with the exception of a fiesta night that we provide drinks. You are also welcome to bring your own alcohol (packed in unbreakable containers whenever possible, please). As there are portages on this trip, we recommend thinking about options such as hard alcohol packed in non-glass containers and bagged wine, though beer is okay if that is your preference.

How does personal hygiene work during the trip?

We need to keep soap out of the rivers (and the hot springs), so if you want to use soap and bathe on the trip, you need to do so above the high water mark. The guides can help carry and heat up some water if needed. Face and body wipes also work well for helping stay clean.

How does the bathroom system work during the trip?

In order to keep these places beautiful for years to come, all rivers are “pack it in, pack it out.” We bring fabulous portable toilets and handwashing stations that we place in a private location away from camp with the best bathroom view you will ever have.

On the River

How long will we be floating on the river each day?

Each trip is tailored to the desires of the guests, but generally we will be on the water a total of 5 or so hours each day (give or take a couple of hours), broken by a lunch stop and any other side adventures. We usually start floating when the sun hits the water each day and arrive in camp late afternoon. Each day will be different, with varying options for hiking, exploring, and great lunch stops. One exception for this specific trip is our Jarbidge Falls portage, which takes several hours. Your lead guide will give you an overview of the day each morning.

What will temperatures and weather be like? Will it be cold? Will it rain?

Spring temperatures in the Jarbidge-Bruneau can fluctuate dramatically in a 24-hour period, from freezing at night to 50s and 60’s and sunny the next afternoon. Storms can also roll in unexpectedly, and it’s best to be prepared for anything. Rain (and sometimes even snow) is possible in this area this time of the year. The water temperatures on the Jarbidge-Bruneau are cold, as they are early spring snowmelt rivers. Expect to dress warmly on the river. Be sure to check out the weather section of the packing list for specific seasonal information and average temperatures for your trip, as well as doing your own research a week prior to your trip, checking anticipated weather at Jarbidge, NV (our put-in) as well as in Bruneau, ID (close to our takeout).

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

Can I bring my own sleeping pad/bag/tent/other gear?

You are welcome to bring your own sleeping gear if you wish, but if you do, please bring your own complete sleep kit and let us know ahead of time. Our sleep kits consist of a "Therm-a-rest" pad, a 0 degree sleeping bag, a packable pillow, and a ground cloth. We can provide an empty dry bag to store your sleep kit in.

How big are the waterproof bags and how much stuff can they hold?

Everyone is issued a waterproof “day bag” to carry items you will need access to during the day while on the river. This day bag is 9 inches in diameter and 20 inches tall. Everyone is also issued a large waterproof bag for your personal gear and clothing. This bag should be plenty large enough for everything listed on our suggested packing list. We recommend limiting your personal gear to 35 pounds. You will be able to use your own dry bag if you would like, just let our office know.

Logistics

Can I bring my own sleeping pad/bag/tent/other gear?

You are welcome to bring your own sleeping gear if you wish, but if you do, please bring your own complete sleep kit and let us know ahead of time. Our sleep kits consist of a "Therm-a-rest" pad, a 0 degree sleeping bag, a packable pillow, and a ground cloth. We can provide an empty dry bag to store your sleep kit in.

How big are the waterproof bags and how much stuff can they hold?

Everyone is issued a waterproof “day bag” to carry items you will need access to during the day while on the river. This day bag is 9 inches in diameter and 20 inches tall. Everyone is also issued a large waterproof bag for your personal gear and clothing. This bag should be plenty large enough for everything listed on our suggested packing list. We recommend limiting your personal gear to 35 pounds. You will be able to use your own dry bag if you would like, just let our office know.

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