Lolo Creek is a beautiful run in the Clearwater basin in Idaho. It's fairly remote down in the deep canyon, not a place you'd want to hike out of. The rapids are mostly class 4 at normal flows. As the water rises, the river gets extremely pushy and the individual rapids approach class 5. Wood is a constant danger because the canyon sides are steep and occasionally landslides will push more dead trees down towards the river.
The take-out is just up from the small town of Greer. On an Idaho map, Find Orofino on Hwy. 12, east of Lewiston. Greer is just 11 miles east of Orofino. Turn off Hwy. 12 onto Hwy 11, which crosses the Clearwater, goes through Greer, and winds its way up the grade towards Weipe, Pierce, Headquarters, and the NF Clearwater. About 1 mile past Greer as you head up the grade you'll see a small marked gravel road heading down to your right. Drive a mile or two down that gravel road to a bridge that crosses Lolo Creek. This is the take-out. Check the gauge from the bridge.
To get to the put-in, head back out to Hwy. 11 and turn right up the grade. Follow Hwy. 11 all the way up the hill. As the road flattens out, you'll pass the small "town" of Frasier. A couple miles before Weipe, look for 3-Mile Road on your right. Turn right onto 3-Mile Rd. and follow that for maybe 8 or 10 miles. Be on the lookout for roads on your right. The one you're looking for is called Lolo Creek Rd., and it is marked with a sigh but the sign is blocked by some mail boxes, so it's easy to miss. Turn right on Lolo Creek Rd. and follow it all the way back down to the creek. There's a Forrest Service or BLM trailer here, and there's usually a rotating fish trap just under the bridge. This is the put-in. (Grant Amaral's guidebook references an upper put-in, but the copuple extra 3+/4 rapids you'll get to run aren't worth the added time it takes to get there, and the potential for getting lost trying to find it...)
From the standard put-in, you'll float around a left bend and immediately have to deal with your first log. This one goes all the way across the river. There's some space to push yourself under on the left when the flow is below 11 feet or so. Above that, expect to get out and make a quick portage.
From there, you'll wind downstream through some easy class 3-type stuff for a mile or maybe two before getting to the first major rapid. Look for a logjam piled up on the left as the river bends right out of sight. Get out to scout or portage on the right side. This is YMCA (because of all the people swimming, I guess), but I think Grant Amaral calls it Maniac in his guide. It's not a particularly difficult rapid, but there are a couple bad spots at the bottom. Most notably, there's a 4'-wide exit slot on the left that always seems to have wood stuck in it. The entrance of this drop is sometimes blocked or obscured by wood, but generally once you're through the first part, the middle opens up. The rapid gets very pushy starting at about 11.5, and above that it can sometimes be hard to make the twisting move to avoid the left slot at the bottom.
If you don't like the looks of YMCA, start hiking back upstream to the put-in car. In fact, if you decide anywere along Lolo to hike off, it is ALWAYS better to hike either upstream or downstream. There isn't a single spot where the hike will be easier or faster to hike up and out of the canyon.
After another mile or so of nondescript class 3, you'll come up on a living-room sized bolder in the river, often with a log or two on its river-left side. This is fine, as the most common line is down the right side. Again, scout and portage on the right. This is Zig Zag, or, I think, Mad Bear in Amaral's guide. The river-right line will put a smile on your face if you hit all the twists just right. You can zig right, zag left, zig back right, then zag left and into a slot with a huge overhanging/undercut bolder on your left. Watch for wood. (UPDATE: As of 2007, a rock has shifted in the right lane making this option considerably less attractive, and a pin is much MUCH more likely now. Scout before running this line.) There's also a river-left slot that you can run instead of the zig-zag line. At higher flows (12'+), it's an intimidating move in front of the big undercut rock at the bottom.
Just downstream is Lame Duck, my personal favorite. You can scout from either side, but the right side is easier for portaging. The moves aren't hard, but there's a nice undercut rock with most of the current pushin into it at the bottom left.
After Lame Duck, settle in for another bit of splashy class 3. You'll feel the gradient and intensity pickup as you approach Little Schmidt, a long bolder garden along a right/left bend. This leads right into Big Schmidt. Scout or portage on the right. The main line is down the middle over a boof flake hidden just over the lip of the main ledge, then through a short distance of wickedly-boiling funny water with a couple rocks in there that sometimes you can see, and sometimes not. Keep your bow up (UPDATE: There is currently a huge Ponderosa down immediately above Big Schmidt where the river makes a quick 90 degree right turn. Eddy hope carefully down the bank and portage along the bank. Most portages have been on the right but the left might be easier).
After the Schmidts, it's a long paddle before the next rapid, formed by a landslide from river-left. You'll know you're close when the river current slacks and you feel like you're in a big lake. Portage or scout the drop from the left. The landslide occured in 1997, well after Grant Amaral wrote the guide, which is why it's not mentioned in that description.
After the landslide rapid, you've got 8 or 9 bends in the river until you get to the take out.
We ran it yesterday. I have a few points people could find helpful. 1.) We had around 450 CFS. It was a great level for a low water run, I do not think I would run it much below 400. 2.) One of the guys had a Garmin tracking him and it showed the run was 18.8 miles. It is a long day. 3.) There is a new rapid below Land Slide. The new rapid is also caused by a landslide. Yesterday it is was a trashy class 3 drop. It has an overall drop of several feet and will be worth a look for a couple of years as I am sure it will be changing from year to year
Ran Lolo May 29, 2017 @ ~525 cfs on the new gauge. This was LOW. Might be considered a fine flow for southeast boaters but Idaho folk would want 800-1000 to consider it a worthy day out, and likely would want much more if you know the river. Occasional obvious wood in play but for Lolo i think it would be considered quite clean.
Youtube helicopter scout of Lolo posted by Clearwater County:
The old bridge has been replaced, and the river channel yunder it has slightly changed. The stick gages that were on river-left just under the bridge are now gone. They're working on a new gage rating, and hopefully they'll replace the stick gage.
Until then, be careful!
Got word from a friend that the stick gauge on river left has been removed.
I just changed the rating on this stretch from III-IV to IV+.
Lolo Creek is long and remote. Stories of hike outs range from daunting to epic. Most of the rapids are not super hard, but they will definitely be a serious test to anyone who is not super comfortable running continuous and sometimes blind class IV boulder drops.
In addition, portaging these rapids is difficult. You should probably plan on running just about everything except for the Landslide Rapid (an easy portage...but the drop is also cleaning up lately). While Zig Zag and Big Schmidt are definitely portageable, portaging these two rapids could potentially add an hour to an already long day.
That said, this is an awesome run that should put a smile on the face of all but the most jaded gnarstar.
Paddled it last weekend on 3/18/07. It was at 11 Ft. Portaged 3 Logs. Check my website: www.infinitymountain.com for photos. Have fun.
As of June 2006 there was a big log jam after big schmit when the river turns....Must eddy hop close to it to portage...a member of our group was able to sneak it in his boat on the far right....The rest of the run was clear of logs
As of 6/17/05, there is a bunch of new wood from a windstorm in the canyon.
The worst is two river wide trees with branches in the lead in to Big Schmidt. The river makes a 90 degree turn to the right and the logs are parallel with the current when you first see them. Eddy hop down on the right and portage over the boulders at river level.
Below here, there are at least 4 river wide logs in class II water. The riverbanks are also full of poison ivy, so be careful portaging.
There are three separate ways people gauge the flows on Lolo Creek: there's a painted gauge at the upper put-in bridge, a painted gauge on the river-right concrete bridge support at the take-out, and a USGS-style stick gauge on river-left at the take out.
I personally prefer using the stick gauge, as it's easier to read. The levels referenced in this guide will be based on the stick gauge.
The lowest level I'd want to run Lolo Creek would be around 9.5'. At this level, the creek has lots of exposed rocks, and very little push. A great medium level (for me) is around 10.7' to 11.3' or so. The highest I've run it is 12.7'. At that level Lolo was almost unrecognizable compared to lower flows. Eddies are hard to locate, and if there's a new tree in the channel, kayakers can get into trouble quickly. I've heard of people running Lolo over 13'. Maybe they can add some comments on their experiences... Plenty of people, after boating down to the first rapid and seeing it at ~12', have ditched their boats and hiked back up to the put-in...
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Landslide low water
Lolo Creek Hydrograph
Lolo Creek Gage Correalation
Lolo Creek Idaho
Lower Lolo Creek with Deciduous Riparian Trees
Jesse running the portage (ie Landslide)
Jesse Sears Styles His Home Run
Ellis on Big Schmidt
Lolo Creek at low water
A calmer spot in the upper canyon.
River-left stick gage
Big water in Lolo Creek
YMCA (aka Maniac)
Lolo Creek, Idaho
Lolo Creek, Idaho at Low Water
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The bridge at the takeout for Idaho's Lolo Creek has been replaced since the 2007 paddling season. The construction eliminated historical parking areas adjacent to the bridge, and also remove the USGS staff gage used by paddlers to determine the flow. The BLM and USGS are working to remedy both of these issues, and access is now available.
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