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South Fork Payette: Grandjean to Deadwood River (aka Grandjean)


Grandjean scenery: Photo copyright Todd Hoffman

Run Description:

Grandjean is one of my favorite raft runs in Southern Idaho. In my opinion, it has the best combination of access, whitewater and scenery in the South Fork Payette drainage. Even though roads follow the entire reach, it has a very remote feel, and a completely different character than the rest of the river. It is a fast-paced run through high mountain valleys and exciting whitewater gorges. The run consists of three distinct sections between Grandjean Campground and the Deadwood River.

The uppermost section starts from within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area at the end of Forest Road 524 (FR524), at Grandjean Campground. From here it runs roughly 7 miles down to Highway 21 through a narrow gorge with a creekish feel. While this section can be rafted, it is best suited to kayaks. There is one major rapid, Canyon Creek (class III/IV), located about a mile upriver from Highway 21. This section has a tendency to accumulate wood.


Little Surprise Rapid @ 3,500 CFS @ Lowman: Photo Copyright Todd Hoffman 2018

The middle section runs for roughly 16 miles from FR524 to Helende Campground. It includes some of the best rapids on the entire reach, . The first is Bonneville Rapid (class III+/IV-), near Bonneville Hot Springs, just above the mouth of Warm Springs Creek. Next is Chapman Creek (class III+/-IV), just above the Warms Springs Guard Station. The third, and most difficult, is Little Surprise (Class IV), just below Warm Springs Guard Station. Below Little Surprise the river mellows, exiting the gorge into an open valley with fast moving class II/III swiftwater for 10 miles down to Helende. Launching at Warm Springs Guard Station cuts off both Bonneville and Chapman rapids, but still leaves Little Surprise.

The lower section, from Helende down, starts with a long, meandering section that runs for 8 miles to Kirkham Hot Springs where the river enters another low-walled gorge. At the entrance of the gorge (about 1/8 of a mile above the Hot Springs) is a fairly stout, unnamed drop that can be hard to see from the road. Next, where a bridge crosses, is the beginning of Kirham Rapid, a long class III+ on a tight, left-hand bend. Take out at either the Deadwood confluence or at Mountain View Campground. Taking out at Mountain View cuts off the last 4 or so miles of flatwater. It is around 13 miles from Helende to Deadwood, and around 9 miles from Helende to Mountain View.


Grandjean is known for collecting wood: Photo Copyright Todd Hoffman 2018


Wood is a very serious hazard on the entire run, and is known to shift around frequently. Scout all rapids and tight spots carefully, and seek reliable, recent beta. Swims could be very long with high consequences on Grandjean, especially at high flows. Due to the technical nature of the run, it is recommend for class IV boaters only. Dress warm, keep your group tight, and get an early start.

Flow Information:

I ran from Warm Springs to Mountain View with 2,300 CFS on the Lowman gauge, which I would describe as a near optimal level for rafting. Outfitters raft it at much lower levels, going quite late into summer. I estimate it could be rafted as low as 1,500 CFS, and could be kayaked almost year round if you don't mind boating extremely low flows (ELF).

Stream Stats:

Ave Gradient: 40 fpm
Distance: Variable
Difficulty: IV
Consequences: IV
Min Level: 1,500 (raft)
Season: May - July
Quality Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Planning Tools:

USGS Gage - South Fork Payette at Lowman


To get to the upper put in at Grandjean Campground, take Highway 21 up the South Fork for roughly 25 miles past Lowman. Watch for the signs for Grandjean and Forest Road 524 on the right, just as the highway starts to climb and to turn North. Continue roughly 5 to 6 miles to the end of the road. There is great camping at Grandjean, but it is a popular spot. It is a major trailhead into the Sawtooth Mountains used by both hikers and horse packers. There are a few undeveloped sites on the way into Grandjean.

The take out for the upper, and the put in for the middle, is located at short distance up FR524. Just after you turn off, start watching for a spur road on the right, leading to an undeveloped campground. Stay on it till you reach the river. You can also put in at the Warm Springs Guard Station, located about 3 miles downriver from the FR524 turn off. Just after Highway 21 crosses the South Fork, watch for a dirt road on the North side. Continue on it for roughly a mile, watching for a spur on the left, leading down to the river, immdeately below the ranger station. Putting in here cuts off Bonneville and Chapman Creek Rapids.

The put in / take out at Helende campground can be tricky to find. Use the main entrance for Helende Campground (undeveloped), and follow the primitive road as far upstream as you can till you reach the river. Note that the launch site is popular with campers so avoid encroaching and respect their privacy and peace. Check in advance to make sure boat trailer access isn't blocked. There is no ramp here, but you can usually get fairly close to the river.

The take out at Mountain View campground is located a short distance upstream from Lowman. Parking there is extremely limited, and requires paying a fee. Note that it is not an officially designated take out site, but literally just an opening in the timber wide enough to fit a boat through. Be extremely discrete and stealthy, and do not block access for campers or other boaters. It is best to park on the side of the highway, outside of the actual campground. Use common sense, and do your best not piss off the campground host, or to do anything that would jeopardize access.

Kayakers have nearly unlimited put in and take out options all along the entire section. Rafters can peice together any combination of access points to custom tailor the run. I have rafted all the way from Warm Springs to Mountain View in a single day, but it was a very long day. Hitching can be difficult, especially late in the day when traffic on Highway 21 is sparse. Bicycle shuttles are not recommended due to the narrow shoulder and many blind corners.


While there is plenty of nice camping in the general area, it fills up very fast, even in late Spring. If you're coming from out of town, you may want to consider reserving a site in the area through If you camp at developed sites like Bonneville, Pine Flats and Mountain View, expect to lots of RV's and noisy generators. The undeveloped camps are fantastic, but can be extremely hard to score. Note that many undeveloped sites are not included on Camping is permitted in designated areas only. Vacation rentals are available around Garden Valley and Crouch, and there are restaurants in both Lowman and Crouch. Fuel is available in Garden Valley.

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Copyright Todd Hoffman 2009 - All Rights Reserved