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The Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers System

Boater Skill Requirements: Bruneau River | West Fork | Sheep Creek | Jarbidge River
Spring Boating Season | Summer Boating Season | Flow Information

Permits are required for all river entry. All parties launching on the Owyhee, Bruneau or Jarbidge River Systems must complete a registration form at the launch site. The top copy goes in the registration box at the launch site. The bottom copy is carried by the trip leader on the river. While on the river, the registration form must be presented upon request by any BLM, State, or County employee. --Download a fillable Bruneau-Jarbidge River Permit--

Four of the 16 Wild and scenic River segments that were designated by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (the Act) are located within the Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers system.

The four Wild and Scenic River segments include: 

  • Bruneau River (wild) - 39.3 miles; (recreational) - 0.6 miles
  • Jarbidge River (wild) - 28.8 miles
  • Sheep Creek (wild) - 25.6 miles
  • West Fork Bruneau River (wild) - 0.35 miles

Boater Skill Requirements

Bruneau River

The Bruneau River flows north from the Jarbidge mountains of northern Nevada through the Owyhee Uplands on its way to the Snake River in southern Idaho. The river has cut two principal canyons in the plateau: the Jarbidge River and the West Fork Bruneau River canyons. The Jarbidge River carries the majority of the system’s flow and becomes the Bruneau River where the West Fork empties into the Jarbidge about 24 miles north of the Nevada border. Only very experienced boaters should float the 69 miles of the Bruneau and Jarbidge rivers due to challenging rapids, log jams and other hazards. Some hazards can’t be seen until boaters are on top of them.

The Bruneau and Jarbidge rivers can be run by kayak or raft. The most difficult segment of the Bruneau River is a five-mile section in the lower portion of the canyon. Your ability to run the Bruneau should be judged by your skill in running the sustained Class IV whitewater found in Five Mile Rapids, beginning at river mile 58.5.

West Fork

The West Fork should be run only by kayak and only by expert kayakers. It is extremely challenging due to its small size, numerous Class IV and V rapids and potential for strenuous portages.

Sheep Creek

Sheep Creek is the mystery run in the Bruneau Drainage. It flows into the Bruneau River 13 miles downstream from Indian Hot Springs. Runable river flows are dependent on heavy rain fall and it is rarely boatable in any craft. When it does have water, Sheep Creek is a challenging run with a handful of Class IV and V rapids such as Gun-shy, Blind Date and Grants Slam. This is a 19 mile run for expert kayakers, in addition to the 27 miles of the Bruneau. The launch site is upstream of Marys Creek at a bridge off of Highway 51. 

Jarbidge River

The Jarbidge River is a narrow technical river. Navigating around the many obstacles in a raft requires constant maneuvering in tight spaces. Boats over 14’ are not recommended on the Jarbidge.

If you boat the Jarbidge River, you should be aware that there are two or more long, rocky and arduous portages, depending on your skill and the water level. Additional hazards on the Jarbidge are the ever-changing log jams. Be cautious of blind corners and constricted areas where logs can stick on rocks and trees lean in off the banks. Due to rising and falling flows, the locations and severity of logjams can be different from one day to the next.

Spring Boating Season

The normal float season is during spring runoff from about April 1 to June 15. The flow of the Bruneau River generally peaks in mid to late May. However, cold or warm weather or heavy rain can cause dramatic fluctuations in water levels at any time. You should be prepared for severe weather conditions, including strong winds, accompanying rain, and snow storms.

The ideal time to float the Bruneau River is when water flows are between 500 and 2,500 cfs at the Bruneau USGS gauge. The river is best for rafts when flows are over 1,000 cfs. It is recommended that the Bruneau and Jarbidge rivers not be boated in any craft when the USGS gauge reading is above 2,500 cfs.

The Jarbidge River is normally floatable in rafts beginning the first part of May when the Bruneau gauge reading exceeds 1,000 cfs, and/ or the Jarbidge USGS gauge reads 100 cfs or more. The Jarbidge USGS gauge is in Nevada and represents one third to one half of the flow at the Jarbidge put in.

The West Fork Bruneau River is a lower-elevation watershed that has an earlier snow melt than that of the Jarbidge River. It is runnable in a kayak with around 300 cfs and above on the Rowland USGS gauge, located on the Idaho Nevada border. Go to http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nmis/ to find water levels at the Rowland USGS gauge.

Summer Boating Season

The Bruneau River is usually floatable with inflatable kayaks from about June 15 to as late as July 31, when water levels are between 200 and 500 cfs. Due to a number of large, exposed boulder fields in the river channel, you should expect to make several portages and numerous linings. Low water conditions also demand that you be prepared to deal with punctures and other equipment damage.

Even with an inflatable kayak, you should avoid the Jarbidge River at flows under 350 cfs because of nearly continuous, shallow rapids. To avoid running Five Mile Rapids on the lower Bruneau, you can make an arduous portage up the Roberson Trail to the canyon’s eastern rimrock at river mile 57.8. Refer to the river access map to find this location. Otherwise, a full day of scouting and lining is required to get through the first three miles of Five Mile Rapids.

Flow Information

Idaho Department of Water Resources (208) 327-7865
USGS gauge website

New rapid created by a 2009 rock slide

A remote and challenging 29-mile float trip takes boaters through a maze of spectacular canyons, “hoo-doo” rock spires, junipers and red volcanic cliffs. 

Wedged between rocks.

Birth of a Rapid

A rock slide in 2009 formed a new rapid on the Jarbidge River. In this sequence of photos, the red dot on the same rock in each photo highlights the different conditions during high, medium and low flows.

2009 rockslide in high water on the Jarbidge River
high water

2009 rockslide in low water on the Jarbidge River
low water 

Last updated: 12-10-2013