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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Bruneau River, Idaho

Raft or hike this desert paradise's secretive canyons -- but don't pass up the hot springs.

by: Steve Howe

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Contact Information:

Bureau of Land Management Boise District Office 3948 Development Ave. Boise, ID 83705 (208) 384-3300 Location: The Bruneau runs from the Jarbridge Mountains of Nevada north into the Snake River near Boise, Idaho. The town of Bruneau, a few miles below the mouth of the canyon, offers basic needs -- lodging and food.

Getting There: From Boise, drive 45 miles east on I-84 to Hwy. 51, then 20 miles south to Bruneau. Follow the gravel Bruneauen dash Three Creeks Road south for 40 miles to where a sign gives directions to the river. This last 12-mile spur requires patience and dry weather. The final half-mile from rim to river demands a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Seasonal Information: For river running, March 15 to May 15 is your best bet; for hiking and tubing, June to early October.

Access is sometimes possible in winter. Summer is hot and dry with highs from 80 to 100 degrees F and nighttime lows from 80 to 50 degrees F. Inner canyon temperatures in July, August, and early September routinely exceed 100 degrees F. Weather conditions are unpredictable in spring and fall.

For river conditions, call (208) 327-7865.

Wildlife: Most notable are California bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, river otter. Mergansers skim downstream, and pairs of Canada geese shepherd pods of fluffy goslings.

Insects: No information available.

Plant Life: Look for the native Bruneau river phlox. Willows and wildflowers dot the shores in this riparian paradise.

Facilities: Primitive campsites are located along the river.

Parking: No information available.

Permits: Permits are not required, but registration is mandatory.


  • Maximum party size is 15.
  • Boaters must carry a life preserver for every person in the party.
  • The use of gas stoves or fire pans is required. There are fire pans at campsites, but stoves are recommended. Kayakers may use a wire-framed fire blanket provided it is covered with a metallic-type material.
  • The use of portable toilets is required.
  • Pets must be under control at all times.


  • Rattlesnakes are common.
  • The lower 25 miles of the 40-mile canyon are badly infested with poison ivy.
  • Sturdy boots, hiking staffs, and dry camp shoes are handy due to repeat stream crossings. Wetsuits are necessary for through-trips.
  • With no trail system, it's a tough trip for hikers. The area is essentially unhikable March through June in an average year, because spring river runoff fills much of this very vertical canyon from wall to wall with cold, fast water. When the water recedes in July, it reveals a tangle of ankle-busting rocks.
  • Logjams, resulting from an abundance of western juniper trees, demand the continual attention of boaters.
  • Remember that the area is isolated. There are very few roads and access points, so you must be self-sufficient for everything from food to medical aid.

Leave No Trace:

  • To prevent overuse of the river, limit your trips to one per year.
  • If water levels permit, camp on gravel or sand bars to avoid trampling vegetation. Always avoid riparian areas which are the fragile green areas along the river banks.
  • Due to limited carrying capacities, kayakers without raft support may dispose of ash in the river current after they have removed the charcoal from their fire pan or blanket.
  • Carry a tarp large enough to cover the entire area of your kitchen or lunch spot.
  • Respect private property.
  • All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: A good map is included in the BLM's Bruneau Jarbridge River Guide. Also available from the BLM is Owyhee/Bruneau River Systems Boating Guide for $6.50 by mail.

Another excellent resource is Idaho Whitewater, the Complete River Guide by Greg Moore and Don McLaran (Class VI, P.O. Box 1794, McCall, ID 83638; (208) 634-2075).

Other Trip Options: Boise National Forest lies north of Bruneau.

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