Potlatch, Idaho, US
1. Little Boulder Campground to Cedar Creek
||IV-V (for normal flows)
The Potlatch Canyon run is the most reliable and easily accessible creek to anyone living or
traveling through the Moscow/Pullman area known as the Palouse. Its typical run-off season starts
in late February/early March and can run through April. A combination of warm days and rain-on-snow
can occasionally bump this creek up to runnable flows in December and January for a day or two (or
more!). In the winter and early in the run-off season, expect very cold water, snow and ice on the
banks, and keep an eye out for huge ice chunks built up on mid-stream rocks. Ice dams can block the
entire river in some places during the winter.
From the put-in, the river drops away from the access road and into a basalt canyon. You'll have a
couple miles to warm up in fast-moving class 2 and 3. In this warm-up stretch, there is one short
but quality rapid that comes after a sharp left turn in the river. There are small eddys on either
side above the drop. Two offset boulders create three routes: the left and right are a bit rocky
but fairly straightforward. The center route is a diagonal slot between the boulders. Boaters who
experience trouble with this rapid would be best off hiking out at this point, on river left. The
road that passes the put-in is a short hike straight uphill. Turn left at the road and head back to
the put-in car.
After another mile or so, the gradient picks up and you may feel yourself pushed along a bit
quicker. You'll also notice that the rock structure is primarily granite now. Keep your eyes open
for a large tributary spilling in on river right. The first and most critical rapid of the canyon
is around the next bend to the right: Coleman Falls. It's not a waterfall in the traditional sense.
There are eddys above the horizon on river right for scouting and portaging. The rapid consists of
two parts. At the top, you'll punch through a small hole, and then have three options, right,
center and left. Center is a small 4' pour-over, and is probably the most obvious line. From there
you can drive to the left side over another (~5') pour-over with an undercut left wall and a creepy
roostertail to your right that you'll want to avoid at all costs. Easier is the river right line.
You can eddy out on the right after the top move, and either walk, scrape or bash your way over a
small ledge, then paddle through a narrow slot against the right wall and over the final ~3' ledge.
This is the easiest route through the bottom of Coleman. An all-out portage around the whole thing
is almost impossible. You could walk the top part and put back in just above the river right slot
above the last (simple) ledge.
After Coleman, the creek winds through a couple miles of quality class 3+/4 rapids. At lower flows,
there's plenty of time between the rapids. At higher flows (say, above 4'), they start to stack
together more and the eddys start to wash out and the current extends from bank to bank.
None of the individual rapids are overly difficult on their own for a comfortable class 3 boater.
If this run was roadside, I'd say it would be a great intro to creeking. However, due to the
remoteness of this area and the depth of the canyon, as well as the potential for hypothermia in
the typical run-off season, boaters should have class 4 skills to safely navigate the rapids of the
canyon. Wood shifts around constantly and most of the lines through the rapids are fairly narrow.
Keep your eyes open.
The put-in for the Potlatch Canyon run is at Little Boulder Campground, south of Helmer. Find Deary
at the intersection of highways 8 and 3. Head East out of Deary about three miles to Helmer (don't
blink or you'll miss it). Turn right at the sign for Little Boulder (the road is also called
NF-1963 on some maps). Follow this road, staying left at the "Y", and park in the paved
lot on the left just before crossing the bridge over the Potlatch. The stick gage is on river
right, just below this parking lot.
You have two options for the take-out. Option one is to paddle all the way out to the next roadside
access, about 17 miles downstream from Little Boulder. This option offers you about 2 miles of
warm-up before the canyon, about 3 or 4 miles in the canyon, and over 10 miles of class 2 rock
bashing to the takeout. (It's not that bad at flows over 4', but I'll never do it again lower than
that...) There are 3 distinct class 3+/4 rapids in the long paddle out, as well as a couple decent
little waves and a fantastic splat wall if you're in a playboat for some reason. To run this
shuttle, find the town of Kendrick on highway 3. Head NE out of Kendrick on 3, towards Deary. At
the base of the grade (before you head uphill), turn right onto road P1 (also called Cedar Ridge
Road on some maps). Just a bit up this road, you'll see a concrete bridge over the Potlatch on the
right. Don't cross this bridge. Instead, continue straight and follow the road along the Potlatch
for a few miles. The road gets up and away from the river, but then comes back to riverside before
crossing another concrete bridge over the Potlatch. Just upstream from this bridge is the take-out
for the lower Potlatch run. You could park your take-out car here, or anywhere reasonable upstream
between here and about 2 miles up. From experience, I can say the farther upstream you park, the
more you'll appreciate it after your long paddle out from the canyon. If you take this shuttle
option, get an early start and allow at least 4 hours on the river. If the water is low, and/or
you're not super-comfortable on class 4 and up, give yourself more time to account for scouting,
portages, and incidents. The fastest I've ever run the whole 17-mile canyon is about 3.5 hours.
I've been on trips that have taken more than 6 hours, too. Bring a snack and an extra layer, just
in case. From your selected take-out, turn around and head back to hwy. 3, turn right, head up the
grade, into Deary and follow the directions above to Little Boulder.
Shuttle option number 2 cuts out the entire paddle out and replaces it with a ~2 mile hike up an
old 4-wheeler road. Surprisingly (at least until you've done the paddle out), this is the better of
the two options. To find the parking area for your take-out car, go south from Deary about three
miles on Hwy. 3. Turn left (east) on East Road. This road gets very muddy and slick when wet, so be
careful. After about a mile you'll come to a crossroads. Stay straight, and watch out for a
surprise right-hand bend just after the crest of one of the small hills you're driving over. After
the surprise right-hand bend, the road heads slightly downhill. Watch for a 4-wheeler trail on the
left, just before the road you're on starts climbing again. Park your take-out care here (off the
road), and then head back to Deary and on to the put-in following the directions above. To find the
bottom of this trail from the river, watch for two old concrete bridge supports after the
whitewater of the canyon has ended. The bridge is gone, and the trail is a bit obscured behind the
thick vegitation on river right. Take out just down from the bridge supports, and start hiking
uphill. You'll hike up past a couple switchbacks. At one switchback, you'll have the option of
turning right or left. Stay right, continuing uphill. A while later you'll arrive in somewhat of a
clearing and a trail intersection. Stay left this time, again continuing uphill. You're almost
done! Your car is a couple hundred yards up from here.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-03-14 19:51:16