Jarbidge River

 This is a multiday backpacking trip in a remote corner of southwestern Idaho. The Jarbidge River has one of the most beautiful river canyons around. The vertical rhyolite walls have been eroded into spires and buttresses and even some small caves. Wildlife include elk and mountain lions. A small number of people kayak the river in the brief spring run off. After that it is deserted. It is comparable to hiking the Virgin River in Zion National Park but much longer and more isolated. The author took four days to hike the 28 mile length of the canyon in early September. This may be the ideal time to hike since the water level is low, and the hottest summer days are over. You should pack your camping gear in water proof gear bags. Take a walking stick. The river bottom consists mostly of very slick cobbles. Like many rivers in Idaho and Eastern Oregon, the Jarbidge has poison ivy on its banks. Although the author did not find this problematic, others may be more sensitive. Since you are walking near exclusively in the river, exposure is minimized. Be careful at campsites.

A very useful map which covers the entire river and surrounding area is published by the BLM. It is the surface management status Sheep Creek 1;100,000 scale. The BLM also has a very useful boaters guide which has topomaps showing campsites, rapids, and approach roads.

To get there from Interstate 84 take state highway 51 south to Bruneau. Then go south on the Bruneau Three Creek Road past Hot Spring. Continue south on the graded gravel road. Eventually you will reach a paved T. Turn right and head southwest to the hamlet of Murphy Hot Springs, which is just north of the Nevada border. You can also get there from Rogerson on highway 93. Two miles north of Murphy Hot Springs there is a small campground from which you start the hike. The first two miles are on a crude trail on the right side of the river. After it fades out the easiest way to continue is to wade in the river for most of the next 26 miles. It is seldom more than knee deep. You may encounter deep wades and possibly a short swim so the water proof gear bags are important.

There are several side canyons. The most noteworthy of these is called Arch Canyon after an arch found near the rim about three miles up from the confluence. Those who have hiked up Arch Canyon ( also known as Cougar Creek) report that there are some narrows, at least three short swims and a lot of brush, so it’s a good idea to wear long pants.

The Jarbidge River meets the Bruneau River at Indian Hot Springs. There is a dirt road that comes down to the river on the right side. It leads in 18 miles back to the above mentioned Bruneau Three Creek Road. The two miles leaving the canyon are four wheel drive only. The rest can be driven in a pickup truck. The author, lacking a shuttle, spent a fifth day hiking the 18 miles back to the Bruneau Three Creek Road from which he was easily able to hitch hike back to his car near Murphy Hot Springs. There are supposed to be people in Bruneau who run shuttles for kaykers, so they can certainly do it for hikers too. Inquire locally.

Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge.


The following photos were taken by Hank Hays on a spring kayaking trip on the Jarbidge River.


The following photos of arch canyon were provided by Joyce Fabre.