Lolo Creek - 2. Cottonwood Flats (near State Meadows) to Clearwater River


Lolo Creek, Idaho, US

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2. Cottonwood Flats (near State Meadows) to Clearwater River

Usual Difficulty IV+ (for normal flows)
Length 15 Miles

Photo#13208

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
LOLO CREEK NR GREER ID
usgs-13339500 250 - 500 cfs IV+ 00h35m 78.6 cfs (too low)


River Description

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.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2006-06-16 13:50:59

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Rapid Descriptions

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