Lusk Creek is the most well-known whitewater run in Southern Illinois. It is one of the most pristine waterways in the state and is up for consideration as a National Wild & Scenic River. It is currently protected as a National Forest Wilderness area and sections as an Ecological Area.
The creek starts out in woodland bottoms with relatively minor gradient but soon is surrounded by rocky hillsides and cliffs. The culmination of these cliffs come in Lusk Creek Canyon where the cliffs rise from water's edge to heights over one-hundred feet. After the canyon section, the cliffs recede and the creek is surrounded by forest for the final mile.
Rapids on this creek are Class II in nature (at normal, low-to-moderate levels). However, this is not a good beginner run. This creek flows through forests before entering the canyon. With regular flash flooding, this run is strewn with wood. Much of the run is boat scoutable but quick eddy turns or upstream ferrying may be essential to avoid strainers. Routes around these strainers can generally be found, but be alert! There is one mandatory portage at the end of the canyon where two large boulders seem to catch every log that has ever floated into them. The safest portage is through a small boulder garden on river right.
For a good look at a run of this river in flood, check out the following footage at 3000 cfs!
Editorial note: These boaters handled themselves quite well at these flows, but take careful note of the log they had to limbo (at 0:10) and all the trees and branches they had to dodge and duck. Before doing this creek at moderate or high flows as this, carefully assess whether your skills are up to negotiating such hazards. And, yes, we would have preferred to see helmets on all these boaters. Protect your heads! We also can't help but notice . . . the paddler in the blue boat (with yellow paddling jacket) initially has a paddle (seen around 1:00 - 1:14) but later is paddle-less (around 2:18 - 3:07). Our guess is he either broke it or lost it (tangling with some trees at some point), and does a fine job of negotiating what is shown of the remainder of the run 'hands-only'. However, it does show the likelihood of loss of equipment when doing rivers in flood! (As is also echoed by the comments at the bottom of the page!)
Drainage area at our listed put-in is approximately 10.5 sq.mi. (as calculated via USGS StreamStats Beta software) and has increased to 17.7 sq.mi. by the take-out.
FYI, here is the detailed trails system map of Lusk Creek Wilderness:
A word about the "Directions" tab for this section of Lusk Creek. Under "Directions Description" it reads "It appears there is likely an alternate route to the put-in (which GoogleMaps fails to see). After passing through Eddyville (2.8 miles north of CR5/Eddyville Road crossing), turn right (East) onto New Home Road, go 0.6 mile to a slight jig-jog (passing Straight Street) to continue East onto Stone Bottoms Road for about a mile. This becomes a double-track (dirt road) which should lead to (or near) the river. (Assuming this is not marked/contested as private.)"
That's almost exactly correct. However, New Home Road connects to Hwy 145 (the main road in Eddyville) in two places. If you turn right onto it at the southern intersection, the shuttle is more scenic but the road less developed. The faster (and only slightly less direct) route is turning right onto it at the northern intersection. After passing Saddle Rd (left), you must turn LEFT onto Stone Bottom Rd; if you don't, you'll just end up back at Hwy 145 at the southern intersection. Stone Bottom Rd goes north then east. In wet conditions, it will be impassable by virtually vehicles that aren't 4WD trucks. (My AWD Subaru Outback could go only so far before it became a fool's errand.) Stone Bottom Rd will eventually lead to the creek, and the road is public.
I'd like to spend a little time touching upon some comments made by others while offering my own two cents.
As already warned, Lusk Creek can double or triple in height in hours. Conversely, the creek drains about as fast as it crests. Even in just a moderate light rain, I saw it rise from 4’/150 cfs to 8’/1600 cfs overnight on 3/29/2018 and then drop down to 4.5’/300 cfs by the following afternoon on 3/30/2018! Catching it at a sweet spot that’s neither dangerously high nor disappointingly low will be a mix of luck and lust (or “Lusk”). At high levels with pushy current there will be genuinely dangerous obstacles and difficult-to-nonexistent portaging. And accesses off the creek and out of the wilderness forest are very limited, via arduous trails, and far from any main roads.
I paddled this probably somewhere in the 250 cfs range, as it was dropping at the time. I recognize that for serious whitewater paddlers this is an almost laughably low level. However, it's plenty paddleable at this stage. Sure, there will be some scraping in the shallows and fords, and nothing rises about Class II. But it's still really fun and breathtakingly beautiful.
The thing is, at high levels, all manner of huge debris will be whisked downstream and inevitably lodged against the larger boulders. Immediately upstream of the Saltpeter Cave ford crossing is a big, long log pinned against a boulder on the left that juts to the right in a right-hand bend. In other words, the current pushes you toward the log pretty formidably. Skilled paddlers should know how to dodge such an obstacle, but it bears mentioning that the higher the creek, the greater the number of such dangers.
Also worth mentioning are two sets of double boulders to watch out for -- the first upstream of the canyon, the second immediately downstream from the canyon. The first is preceded by a 2-3' chute right above the rocks. In other words, at the base of the rapids one has to pivot a full, hard 90-degree turn to the left (where the current flows) to avoid being swept into and pinned against the rocks. The second set, mentioned above as a recommended portage, does collect a ton of trees and debris, but there was plenty of open water on the right to thread through without having to portage -- at least at low levels. Nonetheless, it's prudent to keep these in mind and anticipate them beforehand.
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Kayaked Lusk from Blanchard Crossing to the Eddyville Bridge on 4/24/2011. Two friends and I got on the water at 4 p.m. with the USGS gauge downstream reading 2,630 cfs. It would rise while we were on it to almost 4,000 cfs. It was certainly Class III+, with some Class IV spots that looked impossible because of strainers. The Rock Garden, just downstream from the Kitchen, was unrunnable. My buddy flipped on some huge waves just upstream from where Bear Branch enters and had to kick out, losing his kayak. Found it the next day at the Rock Garden, pinned 10 ft. up. We were very lucky. Anything over 1,000 cfs is serious whitewater, and proper gear and training are an absolute must. That being said, it was the float of my life and couldn't be happier to have experienced it.
On Lusk Creek, the canyon itself has no rapids, but it is a very impressive site with the vertical walls and small, tall waterfalls. However, there are several class II to class III rapids leading up to the canyon if the flow is above 400 CFS. There is also a large standing wave immediately downstream from the mandatory portage at the bottom of the canyon. At flows above 1000-1500 CFS, Lusk becomes more difficult and it is not recommended.
Bear Branch is much steeper and more difficult than Lusk Creek. It has a much smaller drainage area and, therefor, lower flows than Lusk, which can be nice. However, if you follow Bear Branch (at a decent flow) all the way to Lusk, Lusk may be over 1000 CFS.
1 year ago
by Timothy Bauer
10 years ago
11 years ago
This gauge is located just downstream of the Canyon and is quite accurate. However, Lusk Creek is very flashy and will not stick at any one level for very long. The lag in online updates to the gauge therefore make relying on the gauge a bit problematic, as this creek can easily go from 50 CFS to 5000 CFS in less than 2 hours! (In the canyon, that easily translates to a 20 ft jump in stage level.) If there is heavy rain while you are setting shuttle or are on the run, it can flash flood while you are on it!
Permits are not required for this reach.
It appears there is likely an alternate route to the put-in (which GoogleMaps fails to see). After passing through Eddyville (2.8 miles north of CR5/Eddyville Road crossing), turn right (East) onto New Home Road, go 0.6 mile to a slight jig-jog (passing Straight Street) to continue East onto Stone Bottoms Road for about a mile. This becomes a double-track (dirt road) which should lead to (or near) the river. (Assuming this is not marked/contested as private.)
Detailed overview map of put-in options
Overview map of put-in options
Double boulder hazard
Entering the canyon...
Saltpeter Cave Shelter
Rainbow glow on the Whiskey Aqua-Bound
RIP old canoe...
Ad hoc put-in at Saltpeter Cave crossing
Lusk Creek Canyon (low water)
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