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Kayaking the Murtaugh section of the Snake River in the Magic Valley

Posted at 2:06 PM, Mar 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-30 16:06:46-04

The Murtaugh section of the Snake River east of Twin Falls is currently running. Flows have hovered around 2,500 cubic feet per second since Wednesday.

A crew from Twin Falls who call this stretch their backyard run was nice enough to invite me to join them on a lap through this 13-mile canyon.

"There are a lot of big ledge holes that will change with flows so it is good to come down with someone who knows it and can point out those dangerous spots," said kayaker Justin Smith. "Other than that it is a pretty fun safe run once you know where all the hazards are."

This is a class four section of whitewater that provides a different type of run at low water from the sections we frequently paddle on the Payette River near Boise. Boaters need to know the flow before committing to this canyon.

Running the ledge at Misty Rapid

"Every river changes significantly with water level, but nothing changes as much as the Murtaugh," said Smith. "Some refer to it as three rivers in one. When it is low there is a microchannel, right now we have a technical run with some small drops and waterfalls and at 4,000 cfs to 20,000 cfs it is bank to bank full Grand Canyon-sized rapids."

Pair of Dice is one of the signature rapids just past the halfway point, it's right before you reach the Hansen Bridge. At low water the right side can be run, but as the water increases this becomes a dangerous river-wide hole forcing boaters to the left side or to walk.

Pair of Dice from above at low water

After that is Let's Make a Deal which features five doors from left to right in between the rock pillars. At low water, there is only water on the right side with doors five and 4.5 where we went on Wednesday.

Justin Smith tells us that high water door two is the safest way to navigate this rapid. I haven't run the Murtaugh at high water, but I remember my being here as a kid when my father made high water laps. Smith has a similar story as his dad ran this stretch during the record flood of 1997 when the river was at 36,000 cubic feet per second.

Justin Smith advises door two at high water

“I’ve seen it at 21,000 and that was unreal," said Smith. "It had crazy big waves with towering huge wave trains for miles and miles. 36,000 sounds even crazier, the stuff of legends and maybe we will see that flow again, but who knows."

Justin Smith runs the Murtaugh at high water

The Murtaugh finishes with a bang at low water with Redshank, which I've swam before, and then the hardest rapid Duck Blind to end the run. I decided to walk this rapid, but Justin fired it up and made it through clean.

"At 1,500 cfs it will flip nine out of ten rafts and eat about nine out of ten kayakers," said Smith. "It is the one that makes you nervous the whole way down and today it wasn’t too bad, it was a little bit smoother, but it is one that will give you a wild ride."

Duck Blind Rapid at low water

Running the Murtaugh does require a long day because of the shuttle from just outside the small town of Murtaugh to the take-out at Twin Falls Park.

There is a decent amount of flat water, including a paddle out to the reservoir. Paddlers usually have to fight against a strong wind coming up the canyon to get to the take-out.

A warning sign at the put-in

"The Murtaugh is a really good backyard run for Twin Falls," said Smith. "We got 20 major rapids in 13 miles, so it is a blast."