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

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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 on the entire South Fork Payette. 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 stunning, high mountain valleys and tight, exciting whitewater gorges.

The upper 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, due to the amount of shifting wood. There is one major rapid, Canyon Creek (class III/IV), located about a mile upriver from Highway 21.

The lower section runs for another 27 miles from FR524 to the Deadwood river, with lots of options for access. The major whitewater is confined to the mini gorge around Warm Springs Guard Station, and to the Kirkham Gorge near Kirham Hot Springs, just above Lowman. Either put in just off FR524, or at Warm Springs Guard Station. See logistics section for details. Warm Springs has the easiest access for rafts, but cuts off significant whitewater and some great scenery. Taking out at Mountain View Campground is a good option for rafters, as it cuts out around 5 miles of flatwater, and includes all the whitewater. Kayak access is nearly unlimited along the entire run.

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Launch at Warm Springs Guard Station: Photo Copyright Todd Hoffman 2018


There are several major, difficult rapids on lower Grandjean. The first is at Chapman Creek (class IV), just above the Warms Springs put in. The second is Little Surprise (Class IV), just below Warm Springs. Both are very technical drops, and can quickly sneak up on you. Below here the river mellows, exiting the mini gorge into an open valley with fast moving class II/III swiftwater.

About a mile above Kirham Hot Springs the river enters another low-walled gorge and the gradient picks up. There is one significant, technical drop right near the start of this gorge that is hard to see from the road. At Kirkham Hot Springs is a very long, technical drop (class III/IV), followed by another quarter mile or so of gorge.

Wood is a very serious hazard on the entire run. Scout all rapids and tight spots carefully, and seek reliable, recent beta. Due to the technical nature of the run, it is recommend for class IV boaters only. Swims could be very long with high consequences on Grandjean, especially at high flows. Dress warm, bring snacks, and be ready for a very long day on the river. 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

Logistics:

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 upper-most put in for the lower, 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. The Warm Springs put in is 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. Warm Springs can be a busy, popular camping spot.

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.

A popular midway put in / take out is at Helende campground. It makes a good place to camp if you want to divide the run into two days, or only have time to run the upper or lower half. Kayakers have nearly unlimited put in and take out options all along the entire run. 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 on Highway 21.

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Copyright Todd Hoffman 2009 - All Rights Reserved