Jarbidge-Bruneau

Idaho's Hidden Gem

Overview

Idaho has secrets. The Jarbidge-Bruneau river is one of the best kept. 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. This river requires small boats for tight, technical maneuvering, which allows for intimate group sizes, while also often getting the canyon all to ourselves. Rock spires, brilliant colors and some big fun on the water draw those looking for both a pristine wilderness setting and high adventure.

Trip Highlights

  • 4-6 Days, 40-70 miles
  • Wild whitewater
  • Towering canyon walls
  • Stunning vistas
  • Intimate group sizes
  • Hot springs
  • Birds of prey
  • Desert wildlife
  • 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 canyon walls and juniper forests, it tumbles about 50 ft. per mile, creating one of the best whitewater runs in Idaho. Several sections are continuous class III – IV rapids with at least one portage. The rafting season here is strictly in May as we need the higher water to navigate the rafts. Given the extremely remote location and technical whitewater, we usually have the canyon all to ourselves. This is a bucket-list river trip for the whitewater enthusiast! We use 12′ oar boats with one guide and one guest to navigate the challenging whitewater. You won’t find a guide to guest ratio like this anywhere else, and the trip is limited to 6 guests.

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. 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. 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 is the grand finale of the trip, and often a fan-favorite.

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The Stats

Departure Month May
State / Region Oregon & Southwest Idaho
Adventure Level High
Price Range $2000 - $3000
Activities Hiking, Hot Springs, Whitewater Rafting, Wildlife

Reviews

Logistics

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

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 milage 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 be amended.

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. Some people arrange flights for late that evening, or spend the night in Boise.

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, 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, 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 we 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 rafting 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

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. This is especially true if you are wearing a wetsuit and splash gear. 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 (local whenever possible). For more 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. 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. We are beer and sparkling water lovers ourselves, and if that is your preference, in general a few cans a day are okay, but lighter options are definitely preferable for these types of trips.

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 do the bathroom systems 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 I do with items I need accessible during the day or on the boat?

In addition to the large waterproof bag issued for packing clothing and camp items, everyone is also issued a smaller “day bag” to carry items you will need access to while on the river (sunscreen, camera, extra layers, handwarmers etc.). Put anything you might need during the day in this day bag, as the larger bag will usually be inaccessible until we reach camp for the evening.

How will I keep my phone/camera/other valuable items safe from the elements?

We discourage bringing any unnecessary valuables on your trip. Phones can be placed in a Ziploc bag or water proof case and put in your day bag if you would like to have it accessible for taking pictures during the day. If you are bringing a large, expensive camera, we recommend you bring a hard waterproof case in which to store it and accessories.

What kind of boat will I be riding in?

On Jarbidge-Bruneau trips, these are extremely fast, technical, continuous, and sometimes high-consequence rapids. All of our guides that work on these rivers are very experienced, and for these trips we will only have small, 12 foot rafts with oar frames and 1-2 riders per boat, or the option to hardshell kayak for experienced whitewater runners.

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 snow melt 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).

Is it possible to rent a drysuit (spring trips)?

We provide wetsuits for spring trips, but we also have drysuits available to rent for added comfort, which are highly recommended for these types of trips. Let us know if you’re interested in a drysuit and we can ensure we have the right size and add it to your invoice.

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

What kind of footwear should I bring? What shoes will I wear in the boat?

For most trips you will need two pairs of shoes, one to wear in the boats and one to wear hiking and around camp. For spring trips, we recommend neoprene socks to wear on the river with your river shoes. Old running sneakers can also work well as river shoes. For most trips, sneakers or a lightweight hiking boot will be fine for side hikes. Another nice, lightweight footwear option for spring trips are water-resistant synthetic down camp booties.

What clothing should I wear in the boat?

For spring trips, we provide wetsuits or drysuits, underneath which you can wear long underwear or swimwear. You can wear synthetic long underwear, synthetic pants with rain pants over them, and a fleece or other warm layer with your raincoat on top. Even if renting a drysuit, you will need lots of layers underneath, as they keep you dry but not insulated. You will want to make sure you have plenty of extra warm, dry layers to add throughout the day, including hats and gloves (neoprene work gloves are nice for on the boat).

Why do you recommend synthetics instead of cotton?

While on the river you will get wet going through rapids (what fun would it be if you didn’t?!), or occasionally can get damp from being active and sweating. Synthetic materials are lightweight and dry much quicker than cotton. They also keep you warmer when wet. Comfort is essential to having fun!

What size and type of sleeping pad does WRO provide?

We provide deluxe, self-inflating basecamp “Therm-a-rest” pads. These are very comfortable and fit very nicely in our gear bags.

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 pack-able 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 30-35 pounds.

Logistics

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Boise the day before your trip is scheduled to begin no later than 5:30. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend. Some examples in Boise include REI, Cabella’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods or Boise Gear Collective.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. Boise does have Uber and Lyft, which you will need to coordinate.

What happens if my trip has to be cancelled because of water levels?

The Jarbidge-Bruneau is a river that is dependent upon spring runoff, which is factored by snowpack in the Jarbidge Mountains, as well as what pace and at what time of year the snow melts. This is one of the things that makes this trip so unique and coveted, but also means that it is not completely predictable. WRO does our best to watch the snow pack and weather forecasts and be upfront with our booked guests on the outlooks for the trip as early on as possible.
With booking trips that cancel due to water levels, your deposit will not be lost. WRO is happy to reschedule with you and offer an alternative trip with your same deposit, or issue a refund. For more information, check out our "Cancellation policy" page.

Miscellaneous

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Boise the day before your trip is scheduled to begin no later than 5:30. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend. Some examples in Boise include REI, Cabella’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods or Boise Gear Collective.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. Boise does have Uber and Lyft, which you will need to coordinate.

What happens if my trip has to be cancelled because of water levels?

The Jarbidge-Bruneau is a river that is dependent upon spring runoff, which is factored by snowpack in the Jarbidge Mountains, as well as what pace and at what time of year the snow melts. This is one of the things that makes this trip so unique and coveted, but also means that it is not completely predictable. WRO does our best to watch the snow pack and weather forecasts and be upfront with our booked guests on the outlooks for the trip as early on as possible.
With booking trips that cancel due to water levels, your deposit will not be lost. WRO is happy to reschedule with you and offer an alternative trip with your same deposit, or issue a refund. For more information, check out our "Cancellation policy" page.

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