Big Sand Creek, Idaho, US
Swamp Creek Trail to White Sand Creek
||V (for normal flows)
First big rapid
First big rapidPhoto of Ira by Jesse Kodadek @ slightly uphill
Big Sands Creek is a full day mission for most mortals that dishes out long, high quality Class IV
and V rapids in a beautiful canyon.
The trip begins with a fairly long (45 minutes+) drive from highway 12 on dirt roads to the take
out to drop a car. Then you drive back up the mountain to the Swamp Creek trailhead high on a ridge
over the creek. Once all this is accomplished all that stands between you and Big Sands is a 2-3
mile hike on the Swamp Creek Trail, mostly downhill, and depending on conditions over lots of blown
Big Sands is a big creek - don't expect a low volume scraper unless you go at low flows. The creek
is placid at the trail's terminus, but quickly drops into a class IV rapid with an undercut wall
and a 90 degree left turn at the bottom. At this point the gradient begins really dropping out. A
notable 8-10 foot waterfall can be run early in the trip. Other than this drop, which begins and
ends in a pool, Big Sands offers only long rapids with multiple drops and holes. At higher water
the rapids are very stompy and offer little or no chance to stop once committed to a rapid - and
did I mention the rapids are long, often disappearing around blind corners? In the middle of the
steep stuff is a mandatory portage called pancake which is a 10+foot drop that lands on rock, and
is followed by a stout class V multi-drop rapid. There are alot of rapids on Big Sands. They are
high quality and often stout. Wood is always a concern, and there are several seives that paddlers
should be aware of.
After negotiating all the rapids on Big Sands, paddlers still have about a mile of great Class IV
whitewater on White Sands, followed by a mile or two of class II run-out.
The scenery in the Big Sands Canyon is truly stunning. Talus fields generally border the entire
river and vertical granite walls tower over its entire length. Thankfully, portaging and scouting
is relatively easy throughout the run if you are comfortable carrying a boat across talus fields.
The river is in the Bitterroot Selway Wilderness and is certainly worthy of the designation. Hiking
out would range from epic to impossible depending on your location.
Idaho, the Whitewater State, G. Amaral (Watershed Books; 1990)
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Last Updated: 2007-06-21 11:58:31